Halloween only comes once a year … or does it?
This June, Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals returns with the Nocturnals: The Sinister Path. Continuing the “monster noir” story of a band of creatures straight out of a classic Halloween movie, the cartoonist introduces his protagonists to an even older group of monstrous creatures: The Hemlock Children!
We sat down to talk with Brereton to discuss the process of bringing Nocturnals: The Sinister Path to “unlife” and what fans can expect once the book is released through the direct market.
Newsarama: You’ve taken this series across the comics publishing industry. In 1994, the series’ first hit newsstands via Malibu Comics, and since that first mini-series, various one-shots and other mini-series have seen publication from publishers such as Dark Horse, Image, and Oni Press. This latest entry in the series was actually begun in February 2015 at the conclusion of a successful Kickstarter, which raised over $62,000 and was backed by almost 900 fans.
Can you talk about how crowdfunding the publication of Nocturnals: The Sinister Path compares to your previous books, which were published in more conventional venues?
Dan Brereton: I like to think of a crowd-funded project as being fueled by the enthusiasm of our backers. Kickstarter allows us to reach avid and supportive readers directly, which translates into funding the project and making it go. Once a 30-day campaign has concluded, we know very clearly what we're working with and who our audience is. We've pre-sold the product, funded the production, printing and shipping, which removes much of the guesswork beforehand. With a crowd-funded project, you're also in direct contact with your backers, as a community forms around the project. And backers can choose from cool rewards which makes it even more exciting. Everyone comes away feeling rewarded. It's a very exciting way to pursue a project on both sides. Granted, it's a smaller audience, but we are then able to widen the circle by offering the book - a product we might not otherwise have at all - to the direct market, so our loyal retailers can stock it in their shops.
Nrama: Ultimately, what led you to take this path versus shopping your book with those previous publishers?
Brereton: I really had no interest in shopping it around. Steve Morger (who is Big Wow Art) and I ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, my first, for an art book called Enchantress. We had little expectation, but were very pleased it become a success. Quite a few fans of Nocturnals made it very clear if we ran a campaign to fund a new comic they would support it. We knew we'd have to be even more successful to fund a graphic novel, but Steve was game, and we gave it a shot. We more than doubled our goal. This allowed us to expand the original page count of the story, and let me work on the art and story without having to divert my energies to other work to make ends meet. It was very liberating to realize I could effectively do it on my own, with help from Steve as a co-publisher.
Nrama: For readers who may not be familiar with the Nocturnals comic bookss, what can you share to get them caught up to speed?
Brereton: Nocturnals is set in a sleepy, spooky coastal town populated with supernatural creatures and criminals. The stories focus mainly on Doc Horror and his cheerful daughter Evening, whose nickname is "Halloween Girl". He's a sort of brooding mad scientist who chases monsters and gangsters out of their little hamlet, and has a reputation for being the scourge of the criminal and supernatural underworlds. Eve has powerful medium abilities and befriends lost spirits, who live in her toy collection. She has a strong bond with these ghosts, and as she's getting older, her powers are increasing. Doc and Eve form the nucleus of a group of night-roaming creatures who protect the sleeping world from the dangers lurking in the shadowy nighttime world they inhabit. Eve's protector and Doc's right hand is the Gunwitch, a silent revenant who is a cross between a spaghetti western drifter and a zombie servant. They're also joined by a beautiful wraith named Polychrome, and Starfish, a feisty amphibian firecracker who bonds with the leviathans of the deep when she's not intimidating crooks in town.
Nrama: And what can you tell us about your inspiration behind the Nocturnals when you first conceived the characters and those early stories?
Brereton: Nocturnals stories are equal parts crime fiction and supernatural thriller, with a strong Halloween vibe, and roots in 70's superhero traditions. My friend, novelist Christopher Golden, refers to it as "monster noir". When I first conceived of Nocturnals, I wanted to draw monsters, but tell hard-boiled crime stories mixed with horror- weird pulp tales. It wasn't exactly a contradiction as much as a natural extension of the stories I enjoy. Add to the mixture a kid who lives in a sort of Halloween world of her own making, and the entire package has a very unique style and texture. The first Nocturnals book, Black Planet, is me trying to juggle all these influences and archetypes, and bring them together coherently. If I'd failed to pull it off, I guess the experiment would have ended there. But it was so much fun. I've still got the Nocturnals running around in my head.
Nrama: And that brings us to the present moment with The Sinister Path, which will see the introduction of a newer, or perhaps more appropriate, older breed of Nocturnals arriving on the scene. What can you tell us about them?
Brereton: You're referring to the Hemlock Children. The monstrous brood of a powerful magistrate in league with these arcane forces. I like to think of the Judge and his children as the prototypical Nocturnals. This story bridges the gap between their dynasty, and the current Nocturnals. It also opens up the past and links to things to come - because of the revelations in the new story, I'm now looking at The Sinister Path as the first in a trilogy.
Nrama: What led to your creation of the Hemlock Children in both the characters but also their design?
Brereton: Once I knew there was going to be this clan of monster children in the story, I had so many characters crammed in my sketchbooks - but four or five of them kept persisting. They were really fun to design, with the idea they were all unique - like the Monster spawn of Echidna and Typhon, in Greek mythology. With the Hemlock children, I tried to imagine a feral and wholly unique group who fit into the Nocturnals' world.
Nrama: Like all of your Nocturnals books, you paint your art versus what may be seen as more traditional pencil and ink or the growing popularity of working digitally. What do you think this brings to the reading experience that fans can’t get elsewhere?
Brereton: I'm not sure, because it's just how I work - how the stories are envisioned. Maybe what readers get with the painted stuff is a more immersive feel? I certainly experience this when I'm illustrating the stories - I have to inhabit the places as well as the psyches of the characters- probably as much as when I'm writing them. When I got into comics in 1989, it was painting the art that got me noticed and kept me working for the decades that followed- and also kept me from more mainstream work as digital became more the norm. I suppose I could draw the stories, and see them digitally colored, but it wouldn't feel right - it would be missing a dimension, I think, the painted work has. If I'm one of the last guys still making wicker chairs, so be it.
Nrama: As a final question, I know Nocturnals: The Sinister Path has been years in the making for you. What new projects are you working on now, and are the Nocturnals involved in some way?
Brereton: I have a set of fun old school wax wrapper trading cards still available through an extended Kickstarter called Creeping Flesh, featuring a set of my monster girl art. Polychrome and Eve makes one or two appearances in the pack. I'm currently outlining the next Nocturnals comic, which picks up where Sinister Path leaves off.
I'm also painting covers here and there (I just finished a cover for The Black Flame Archives, and I'm doing a variant cover for Low) and a lot of commission work for private collectors. I particularly enjoy commissions because of the freedom involved. I have enough paintings to fill the new art book we'll be funding through Kickstarter this summer, called In the Night Studio. It will feature quite a few new Nocturnals pieces, too. I wrote and painted a 4-part Batman story "Six Fingers" available digitally in Legends of the Dark Knight #85-88, currently available on Comixology and DC Digital. It has a Nocturnals vibe for sure.