Russian Oven Ghosts (Really) At Heart of DHC's DOMOVOI

[Editor's note: In the following interview, originally published February 6 2013, creator Peter Bergting claims Image comics owned the rights to his project The Portent, a claim Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson disputes, based on the fact Image Comics does not own any comic book property, a fact Newsarama overlooked when editing this interview.

As Stephenson states, "To be generous, Peter is mistaken. Image never owned, nor claimed to own, the rights to The Portent. Peter's agent wanted to buy up the remaining inventory on the trade paperback while the book was still in the red so that he could take it to another publisher, and we complied with that request.

"There is no copy of The Portent in existence that lists anyone other than Peter Bergting as the holder of both the trademark and copyright for the property, as is the case with every creator-owned title published by Image Comics. We do not own the rights of the comics we publish. We leave that to everyone else."

Newsarama apologizes for the error. We have asked Bergling to respond to his correction.]

Original story: Swedish comics creator Peter Bergting is uncovering dark Eastern European spirits in a new graphic novel coming from Dark Horse in May titled Domovoi.

Originally intended as a sequel to his 2006 Image series The Portent, Bergting’s Domovoi has grown in scope and tone, influenced by his subsequent work with Rick Remender on Strange Girl, adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, along with the rise of Bergting’s second career as a prose novelist in his native Sweden. Now returning to comics , Bergting is telling a modern story of girl named Jennie who inherits some sinister family secrets when her grandmother passes away. From Slavic ghosts to Polish field spirits and the erstwhile Russian spirits for whom this creator-owned graphic novel is titled after, Domovoi looks to follow in the long line of myth-tinged, Mignola-ish adventures Dark Horse is known for.


Newsarama: Peter, what is Domovoi about?

Peter Bergting: Domovoi is a story about Jennie whose life is turned upside down when her grandmother dies and leaves her with a dubious inheritance and a big ugly taint on her family's honor. It's got Slavic ghosts, critters from Swedish and Eastern European mythology, like two poleviki, impeccably dressed, Polish field spirits and also ruthless hit men (with a taste for sausage).

Nrama: Who’s Jennie at the center of this?

Bergting: She is sort of the granddaughter of Lin from my previous series The Portent, and I guess originally were the same character before the setting changed. She is an every day girl who is pushed around by everyone trying to decide for her what to do with the inheritance. She is more or less stuck in a matriarchal society, much like the movie Winter's Bone. Come to think of it, Domovoi is pretty close to Winter's Bone in tone and setting. But funnier. And with fairytale creatures.


Nrama: What does the work “Domovoi” itself mean?

Bergting: Domovoi is a Russian spirit, they live in the oven of homes. The Domovoi of the story has taken human form and appears as Jennie's uncle in the story. He takes care of her, or rather, the other way around.

Nrama: In the solicitations for this book, it says that some sinister people are trying to unlock the Domovoi. Who are they?

Bergting: Yeah, things changed from when we wrote the blurb text for the book. The story was bloated, overblown, bombastic. And it didn't gel for me. So I cut and edited my way through the script to something much more low key and somber. People get killed, run over, there's magic in there and cats. But it's a far cry from my recent batch of books I've done. So no one is trying to free the Domovoi, people will just have to check out the book to see what it's all about. I'm happy with the description – people will pick up the book and have no idea what’s going to happen.


Nrama: You mentioned how this exists roughly in the same work as your 2006 Image series The Portent. How’d you end up doing a second book but doing it here at Dark Horse?

Bergting: Yeah, I have nothing against Image, we did a couple of books and I still love those guys. Dark Horse was always a company that I wanted to publish my books since they are close in style and tone to the stuff I do than Image. Now, Image owned the rights to The Portent obviously and had first refusal on The Portent 2. The Portent sold out and came out in 7 languages but made very little money for me, so I thought I'd put out The Portent 2 for free on the web. If I don't get rich I can at least get eyeballs. I love doing comics so I didn't really care about not making money. I illustrate children's books for that.

So… Scott Allie saw Domovoi: The Portent 2 and said it could be something for Dark Horse. I was excited. Finally a chance to get something out on Dark Horse until I realized Image owned the rights to The Portent. And at this time Domovoi was still part of that franchise. And so began the process of buying back the rights to The Portent so I could control the property myself. For practical reasons, The Portent now resides with Stranger Comics in Los Angeles (who I do The Untamed for). I own part of the company so it makes sense to have it tied up there for all sorts of reasons).

But back to Domovoi. I showed it to Scott again, and it's now years later. And he was still happy to publish it but needed a script and all that stuff. I had the script finished years earlier so sent Dark Horse what I had and got a contract in January last year.


Nrama: The Portent was your coming out as a writer after years of being known just as an artist. What did you learn from The Portent and you other writing works that you’re putting to use on Domovoi?

Bergting: I still like The Portent but looking back on it I can tell it's my first own book, first comic I did as well. Over the years I've probably learned as much from working with others, like Joe R. Lansdale and Rick Remender. But even when working with some of the best writers in the business the one thing I took from The Portent is that I draw a hell of a lot better when drawing my own stuff. I challenge myself but never write stuff that I know will look crappy. The writer has a story to tell but I approach my own stories from another angle. Hence, I guess, my books use the art and the words more intertwined than when I illustrate someone else's words.

Nrama: Domovoi takes places inside Stockholm, a city you’ve lived in and around for years. What made it the place you wanted to set this book in?


Bergting: Parts take place there, and only in Gamla Stan (old town) since it's both magic and scenic. But I relocated after 15 years and am now back in my very small hometown. Much of the book takes place in the sticks and I bring in a lot of the locations from around here.

Nrama: In addition to doing comics like, you have a burgeoning career as a prose novelist in Sweden. What can you tell us about your prose books?


Bergting: Yeah, I enjoy doing that but it's a lot of work. I've written three full length novels now and I've gained many more fans than any of my comics ever did. But still… doing that has made me think more of my craft and that I should probably focus on comics in the future. I enjoy drawing, I can make pretty pictures and if I can write my own comics I think I have an obligation to not throw that away. I've missed doing my own books. It's been seven years since I made The Portent and I can't wait to get back to finishing up Domovoi (still coloring the last pages).

Nrama: With Domovoi coming out in a few months, is there a possibility we could also see your prose novels translated and available in English anytime soon?

Bergting: I'm translating now actually. Set for publication sometime in 2013. Yay!

Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!

Twitter activity