Raven Gregory serves as "executive editor" of Zenescope Entertainment, and he's also the writer of plenty of that company's comics — including the current "Dream Eater Saga" that's crossing over the Grimm Fairy Tales world, and creator-owned books Fly and the upcoming The Theater. Approaching an auspicious career benchmark, Newsarama talked with Gregory via email about his career thus far and what's coming up next for the oft eyebrow-raising publisher.
Newsarama: Raven, let's start off by talking about the impending debut of The Theater. Obviously you've got experience in the horror genre, but what differentiates this book? Some of the teasers from a few months back were pretty grim — does it delve a little deeper into darker territory than you've explored in the past?
Raven Gregory: It definitely does travel over into some darker subject matter than I have dealt with in the past. Most of the horror I’ve worked on has been more action and adventure in nature, where these stories are more about the horror we experience in our everyday lives, but amped up to a much greater degree. There are some universal themes running through the series that I think are really going to shock people in the way a horror story can be approached.
Nrama: And when talking about horror comics, it's always interesting to hear about a writer's approach to the genre. At first glance, comics might not seem like the perfect venue for horror comics, because a lot of the elements that go into horror on film (music being the big one) aren't available, but horror nonetheless has a long legacy in the industry. What do you think makes comics uniquely suited for telling horror stories?
Gregory: At the end of the day it all starts and ends with the story. If you present the story in a way that makes the reader care about the characters you have a win. I think it’s the reason why movies like [the original] A Nightmare on Elm Street worked so well. Same with Halloween. You care about the characters. The characters are what makes the horror work.
And even though music and the elements of a darkened theater and suspense plays into the experience of what a good scare is, it's the reader’s personal connection to the characters in the story that seals the deal. With comics, it’s really the horror story boiled down to its bare essence. Much like a novel horror story, if done right, it can really strike a chord with the audience.
Nrama: Moving to your other creator-owned series, Fly has been on shelves for a few months now. You've spoken before about how the material was very close to your heart — has the response to the book met your expectations?
Gregory: It really has been amazing. Everyone involved in that book has stretched themselves up and beyond creatively to such another level that we have at times sat down and talked about if people are going to get what we are doing — the subtext in things that surround this very emotional, action-packed story. From the different art styles conveying the various timeframes in these characters' lives, to the abstracts in color conveying the innocence and youth and even the metaphor of getting high and crashing and how everything comes full circle.
It’s just layer after layer and at times we all step back and have to think… I wonder if we’re overdoing it. And the response we’ve gotten has been amazing. Readers are smart. They see all the little things and get how personal this story is and I really feel like that comes through in the characters. They feel real and I think the readers enjoy that the most. These are easily kids you could have grown up with or folks you knew who went down the wrong path as they entered adulthood. I couldn’t be more pleased. We all are. Every story you do is special but this one… this one is just really something we all care about very deeply.
Nrama: Over in the Grimm Universe, the "Dream Eater Saga" is nearing its end. Seeing as how it was the first crossover of that nature with the characters and thus a bit of an experiment in that regard, how do you feel about how the series progressed?
Gregory: I need some more distance to really be able to answer that. Right now, I’m right there. In the middle of it. We just sent the last issue off to print that concludes the story and the whole time I’m reading the finished version I can’t help but say to myself how cool it is to see these characters interact with each other. When Sela and Baba Yaga meet for the first time, knowing their past, you just look at that stuff and it’s all so bloody cool. Cindy meets Samantha and Samantha knows Cindy killed her master Shang. So there’s all these cool bits wrapped around the major final battle between the Dream Eater and everyone that just has me like a kid on a sugar high in a candy store. It’s all so pretty right now. So once the rush has faded I’ll be able to look at it all with a better eye. But from just watching the characters grow from one point to the next and taking them to the other end of their spectrum has been great to watch.
Nrama: Earlier this month, we ran a teaser for a Zenescope version of "Alice in Wonderland" — but we don't know much more about it other than clearly being a prequel to the Wonderland trilogy. What can you tell us about the project?
Gregory: Ah, yes, teasers. They can be such a tease. I can’t say much about it now, as the official announcement won’t be made for a couple weeks. But I can say that when we finished the original Wonderland trilogy that everyone at Zenescope agreed we wouldn’t run this thing into the ground. That the only way we’d revisit these stories was if there was a good story to tell. And after writing Wonderland for four years I had wanted a nice long break from that universe. But then ideas began being tossed around and the idea that became this upcoming story just had such a cool appeal that suddenly I find myself right back in wonderland and loving every minute of it.Nrama: Myths & Legends launched this year, and is now on The Little Mermaid arc. What made that fable right for the Grimm Fairy Tales treatment?
Gregory: We originally did the Little Mermaid story back in GFT #25. And we always wanted to revisit some of these characters and see where they are now. Most of the stories you’ll find in Myths and Legends are about why the original people were read these stories by Sela and Belinda and how those tales has affected their lives and even more so why each of these people were chosen. With the Little Mermaid, you’ll get to see firsthand what happens when one of these beings known as "False bloods" get out of control.
Nrama: You shared with us that you're approaching your 100th comic published. In what ways do you think you've evolved as a writer since 2003 and The Gift?
Gregory: I’m still evolving. I’m still writing stories I feel a personal connection to. And I still have a lot to learn. I think one of the biggest things I do nowadays is I try to go back and reignite that hunger I had when I was first breaking in. You get docile in this business when you have three and four books on the shelf month in and month out and you start to remember how good it felt when you just had one book on the shelf and it was so cool seeing it for the first time.
So I keep trying to get back that feeling because the guy who felt that was young and fresh and the world of comics was his therapy couch for him to work out any and all issues that floated around in his head just to turn it into a story — versus the guy who loves writing comics but is just so busy writing writing and writing that it’s much harder to enjoy that one happy, perfect book that left your head and made its way into a fan's hands for the first time.
Nrama: Beyond these many writing projects you're involved with, you're still executive editor of Zenescope. How busy does that side of the job keep you?
Gregory: Ralph Tedesco (editor-in-chief) and Anthony Spay (art director) handle most of the day-to-day stuff. It leaves me a lot more room to focus on the stories that I am writing as well as working up ideas and concepts like the Dream Eater saga and Myths and Legends which is my favorite part of the job. So while the day-to-day stuff does run me ragged, I’m still afforded a lot more free time to focus on the story side of the business.Nrama: And as the executive editor, what's your assessment of Zenescope's public image? As I'm sure you've noticed, there has been plenty of criticism lobbed Zenescope's way over the years, due to things like the provocative — some have said exploitive — nature of many of the comic covers. Does that bug you, or does it just come with the territory?
Gregory: At one time it did but I think we’ve proven ourselves over the last five years. If we were all gloss and no substance I doubt many readers would have stuck around.
Nrama: To wrap up, with 100 comics down, what are your goals for the next 100? Are you aiming at all to expand into more mainstream work?
Gregory: One of my next big goals is about to come true next year. There won’t be an announcement until early next year but it’s something that’s been in the works for some time over at Zenescope. I’ve dabbled in things that were ongoing series but never anything that was just me solely writing without the ability to hand it off to another writer if need be. The next big project I have will be just that. Me doing a full ongoing series on a character that a lot of Zenescope fans have been waiting to see get his or her own series.
As for mainstream. the little kid inside me is never going to stop wanting to play in the sandbox that is Marvel and DC. Hulk, Wolverine, The Punisher, Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, Supergirl are all characters I’ve grown up with and while it would always be a dream to write these characters, I’m completely happy developing and writing my own stories and playing in the wicked sandbox we have built over at Zenescope for many years to come.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!