Although Mike Carey is better known to DC fans for his fantasy work, the author has an established career in prose as an acclaimed writer of horror.
Now DC readers will get to experience Carey’s horror side with The Dollhouse Family, a new limited series that re-teams him with Peter Gross and Vince Locke, who worked with him on The Unwritten.
The Dollhouse Family kicks off when a little girl named Alice is given a dollhouse as a gift. But this dollhouse is more than just a toy, as Alice discovers that she can not only shrink down and interact with the house’s doll-residents, but can also be granted wishes by the house.
The Dollhouse Family, which kicks off in November, will be part of Hill House Comics, DC’s new 'pop-up' of horror comic books being overseen by best-selling horror author Joe Hill.
Well-known for his Eisner Award-winning series Locke & Key (which is being adapted for live action by Netflix), Hill is also the son of legendary horror author (and sometimes comic book writer) Stephen King.
Other titles under the Hill House Comics logo will be Hill’s own Basketful of Heads with artist Leomacs (starting October 30), as well as The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado and Dani (December), Daphne Byrne by Laura Marks and Kelley Jones (January 2020), and Plunge by Hill and Stuart Immonen (February 2020).
Newsarama talked to Carey to find out more about working with Joe Hill, how he was reunited with the team from The Unwritten, and what readers can expect from The Dollhouse Family.
Newsarama: Mike, you were challenged to come up with a horror comic. What was the genesis of this idea for The Dollhouse Family?
Mike Carey: I met up with Joe at a signing in London, when Hill House was still mainly an idea in his head. He told me what the basic concept was, which was to take the aesthetic of, say, a Blumhouse horror movie and render that as a self-contained comic mini-series, with him as the sort of guiding spirit for the whole enterprise.
It just sounded like really crazy fun.
When he invited me to pitch for it, I had already started to think about dolls and dollhouses. I think they’re inherently creepy. I had an idea for a story that would sort of use that iconography and play into the overall inspiration for the line.
Nrama: It sort of combines the idea of creepy stories about dolls and toys with the feeling of a house that’s cursed — taking two horror elements and bringing them together in a new way.
Carey: Yeah, I guess that’s the initial spark for the story. You’re absolutely right — it’s kind of a new take on the haunted house mythos. In this instance, the haunted house is a dollhouse, and the dollhouse is, itself, in some ways a character in the story.
You have the sentient dolls that live in the house, but you also have the house’s own voice and the house’s own agenda. And through successive issues, you get a sense of what the house wants and what’s at stake for the dolls and for Alice, our protagonist.
So yeah, it’s bringing together a lot of creepy visuals, a lot of creepy ideas into one, hopefully, chilling whole.
Nrama: As you mentioned, the main character in the story is Alice. Can you talk about her as a character, but also how the story revolves around her?
Carey: I love telling stories with child heroes, and I love coming-of-age stories. We meet Alice as a child, and we follow her through all the stages of her life.
I think she’s easy to sympathize with because she has to put up with a lot. She has an abusive father. She and her mother both have to put up with a great deal of emotional and, in some cases, physical abuse.
She’s very brave. She’s very warm-hearted. She’s indomitable. It doesn’t matter what the world throws at her; she always figures her own way through.
In the first issue, we see that there are traps set out for her — supernatural traps set out for her — that she doesn’t fall into because she has her own way of doing things; she has her own way of seeing the world. And that’s very much something that will play out through the remaining issues. Alice never goes exactly where you expect her to go.
Nrama: The abuse in her childhood makes the dollhouse all that more enticing, though, doesn’t it? Of course, I get the feeling we’re going to see some twists and turns as the story continues with this house.
Carey: Yeah, when Alice is given the house, it seems to be a child’s wish come true. It’s a dollhouse with a family of dolls inside it, and there’s a magic word — or really a magic phrase that you can speak — and you can actually shrink down to doll size and go into the house. And the dolls suddenly become real people, a real family.
They play with Alice, and they’re kind to her. They’re more loving and more welcoming than her real family — certainly than her real father is. So it starts out as this kind of wish fulfillment fantasy.
But then … it almost immediately modulates into some much darker places. The dollhouse is capable of granting wishes. But there’s always a price to pay for what it gives you.
And Alice quickly realizes that she has some hard choices to make. The dollhouse can make her life a lot easier, but it won’t be cheap.
As the series goes on, we start to see that there’s a bigger mystery about where the house came from, who the dollhouse family are, how the dollhouse’s history ties into the history of Alice’s family, and where it came from — not to mention what its ultimate goal is, because none of this is random.
It’s building to something very specific, and it’s been building a long time.
Nrama: Any plans to return to this world after the mini-series ends? Is it that type of story, where there are more stories possible?
Carey: I don’t think so, no. You could tell other stories that were in the same mythos. They wouldn’t be about the dollhouse or Alice. But there’s an overarching mythology of which this is a small piece, which I could definitely return to.
Nrama: With a scary story, it seems like it’s even more important to have the right artist to set the mood you want. I know you’ve collaborated with this art team before. Were you part of the decision on the art for this?
Carey: I did make some throat clearing noises — ahem-Peter Gross-ahem — because all of the best work I’ve done at DC over the years has been with Peter. We seem to bring out the best in each other.
In this case, we were sort of resurrecting the team that had worked really well on The Unwritten, which was Vince Locke working over Peter’s roughs.
It’s a very different look. It’s still recognizably Peter, but it’s kind of like a different flavor of Peter. And I think it’s really, really striking, especially in the flashback scenes, which I only got to see quite recently. I think the shift from present into past works beautifully. I think Vince captures period better than almost anyone.
So I think it has its own flavor, and I think that’s partly because we all know each other really well. We have a way of working together that’s already tried and tested.
Nrama: A lot of DC fans know you best for your fantasy work, particularly at Vertigo, although you’ve always been comfortable in the darker side of that genre. Does this purely horror book allow you to explore something new as a comic book writer?
Carey: Yeah, it does feel new. I’ve done a fair bit of prose horror, but I’ve done very little horror at DC. Most of what I’ve done with Peter is fantasy inflected. I guess Faker, which I did with Jock a few years back, was kind of a horror concept. And certainly, Lucifer strayed into horror, but it was overwhelmingly a sort of dark fantasy work.
It’s a joy, actually, to do full-out horror with Peter, and to explore that slightly different space — in some ways familiar, in some ways different. It does feel like we’re treading new ground here.
Nrama: Have you seen the other titles that are in the Hill House comics?
Carey: I’ve seen glimpses of Basketful of Heads, which I think is awesome. And I’ve heard what some of the high concepts are of the other books. I think it’s going to be an amazing line with a lot of variety — a lot of really different takes on horror. It’s going to be really, really amazing. And I’m really happy to be a part of it.
Nrama: Mike, what else are you working on, or do you have anything else coming out where your fans might want to check out your work?
Carey: My last novel, which came out last year was Someone Like Me, which is kind of a psychological horror story set in Pittsburgh, and it’s about a woman who is kind of possessed, but the entity that’s possessing her is sort of stronger than she is and is able to do a lot of things that she wished she could do and couldn’t.
Again, it’s a situation where her wishes are coming true, but she’s having to figure out what the down side of the arrangement is. So that’s already out in the world.
And then I have a trilogy coming out next year from Orbit which are called the Books of Koli, or the Rampart Trilogy. And the first one is out next April. I’m very excited about that.
I also have a short story collection that just came out from PS Publishing, and that’s kind of cool. It collects all of the short stories in prose that I’ve written to date.