Roberson Interviews Gregory: DRACULA: COMPANY OF MONSTERS

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Next week, on Jan 26, 2011, Dracula: The Company of Monsters Vol 1  comes out as a trade from BOOM! Studios. The trade takes a story by Kurt Busiek and novelist Daryl Gregory, bringing a unique story of the king of vampires “owned” by a corporation. To talk about the story, BOOM! enlisted another of their writers, Chris Roberson, to interview his friend Gregory about the book.

Chris Roberson: So Daryl, let’s start with some basics. Dracula: The Company of Monsters is your first published comics work, right? So tell the nice people who the heck you are, and what you’ve been doing with yourself before breaking into comics. (That is, tell them about your fantastic PROSE work.)

Daryl Gregory:The first published comic, yes. Sadly, the comic I drew and wrote in fifth grade (it involved a guy whose armor was a completely different color than Iron Man’s) never got picked up. So, I became a science fiction writer. I broke into SF the same way you did, writing short stories. It was a great way for me to learn the craft. I just collected rejection slips until I figured out how to tell a story.

A few years ago I started writing novels that have trouble staying inside one genre. My first book, Pandemonium, involves demonic possession, Jungian archetypes, and a Philip K Dick inhabited by the artificial intelligence VALIS. When it came out nobody was sure if it was SF or fantasy, and I still don’t know. My second novel, The Devil’s Alphabet, I call my Hard SF Southern Gothic Murder Mystery. It has everything but a Broadway cast recording.

My next novel, Raising Stony Mahall, comes out in June, 2011. It’s about the life and times of the zombie messiah, from his miraculous birth to his second death. And later on in the year Fairwood Press is putting out a collection of my short stories.

Roberson: So having written scads of amazing stories and fantastic novels, you’re now doing comics, as well. Is this a passing fancy, or something that you’ve wanted to do for a while?

Gregory: That fifth-grade Daryl has never stopped clamoring for his shot at comics. Just yesterday I had a Proustian flashback when I picked up the Marvel Masterworks book on Captain America and realized it reprinted the first comic I ever owned, Tales of Suspense #79, Cap versus Red Skull’s invisible assassins. Zing, I was right there back in my garage in Illinois, reading this hand-me-down comic, which I think I got from an older kid. And from then on I read every superhero comic I could get my hands on.

Roberson: Speaking from personal experience, I know that breaking into comics is difficult, and for writers it is especially difficult. So how did you manage it? (And please, feel free to say as many nice things about me as you like.)

Gregory: This is all about you, Chris. We got to know each other at SF conventions -- or more specifically, at SF convention bars. And then you introduced me to Paul Cornell and Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges, and I was so… jealous. You all work in prose AND comics. I wanted that, as well as Matt’s ability to spit acid. But then you and your amazing super-wife, Allison, mentioned me to the folks at BOOM!, and as I understand it, you forced a copy of Pandemoniuminto their hands. It must have worked, because when Kurt Busiek came to them with his idea for Dracula: The Company of Monsters, Matt Gagnon thought of me for writing the scripts. I carefully considered his offer before I… aw, who am I kidding? I didn’t have to think at all. The chance to break into comics, and work with Kurt? A no-brainer. 

I feel very very lucky. And I owe you a bottle of rum.

Roberson: Were you a fan of Kurt Busiek’s work before BOOM! tapped you to collaborate with him on this project? What do you think are his particular strengths as a comic writer, and how do you see yourself contributing to the process?

Gregory: I’ve been reading Kurt since Thunderbolts. I’m a huge fan of Astro City, and Marvels is a touchstone for me. What Kurt does so well is show everyday people caught up inside superheroic tales -- the human scale and the mythic scale, in one story. I’m amazed by how he can tell stories with vast scope that are at the same time very personal. I’m very attracted to that angle of attack.  In my own stuff, the main characters are usually not the coolest guys in the room, and they often get freaked out by these mind-blowing things going on, but they hang on.

I think that’s my job in this comic, to deliver both the epic and the personal elements that are in Kurt’s story. Our main character, Evan, is a regular guy in over his head, being manipulated and influenced by Dracula, his uncle, and other forces who want to use him… and for several issues it’s not clear if he’s going to step up and take action. I can relate to that. Not that Kurt is Dracula. I’m not saying that. For one, Kurt rarely impales people.

Roberson: So what IS this Dracula: The Company of Monsters comic all about anyway?

Gregory: It’s about a family-run corporation led by Evan’s uncle, Conrad. Conrad’s discovered Dracula’s body, and decides to resurrect the vampire and use him as a corporate asset. This goes about as well as you’d expect. The book follows Evan as the man in the middle in a three-way war between Conrad, Dracula, and a team of kick-ass Romanian vampire hunters. He has to find a way out without winding up dead or turned.

Roberson: There have been loads of books, comics, TV shows, and movies about Dracula done over the last century or so, and even more about vampires in general. What makes this story different? How do you find something new to say about a character that has already been interpreted so many different times?

Gregory: Wait, what? Are you saying Dracula’s been DONE before?

Our first strategy was to ignore everything except Stoker and some historical details about Vlad Tepes. Kurt’s idea was to compare and contrast this 15th century warlord with a modern CEO. Say what you will about the impaler, but at least he had an ethos: he believed in protecting his people. In Romania he’s still a folk hero for defending them from the Ottoman empire.

But as for CEOs… well, we’re writing this comic during the worst recession since the great one, and it’s hard to feel that the captains of industry are looking out for anyone but themselves. But then again, Dracula is a warrior who WILL throw you onto a stick if you cross him. So maybe neither warlords or CEOs are good role models.

Kurt’s second idea was to focus on something mentioned in Stoker, but rarely talked about: Vlad learned to become the first vampire at the Scholomance, a school for sorcery supposedly run by the devil. It’s really the sorcery that makes Dracula so dangerous. One of the questions we’ll answer is what Vlad’s contract with the devil entailed -- what he has to deliver in return for his immortality.

But the other thing you figure out as a writer is that are no new stories. There’s only how well you tell the tale. So I hope people try the book out, if only two see how beautifully Scott Godlewski draws Dracula slaying dozens of people.

Roberson: So what’s the process that you and Busiek are using here? What kind of guidance do you get from him about what should happen in the story, and how much is up to you to decide?

Gregory: Kurt provided a story outline of the first twelve issues, a description of the main characters, and a clear statement of the theme of the book. We went through a couple of drafts of that outline, tossing around ideas, but then Kurt said, have at it. He was clear that there’s got to be room for ideas we’ll think of as we go along, and that’s certainly happened here. (Has _any_ outline survived contact with the page?)

So, some details have changed. I’ve added historical information from my research,  some characters have become more prominent than we thought, and I’ve reshuffled some events. It’s also been fun to invent a few plot turns and lay the plot seeds for stories beyond issue 12. But the bones of Kurt’s story are intact.

Our process now is pretty straightforward. I write the scripts, injecting my brand of dark comedy into the dialogue, and I send them to Kurt and the editor, Dafna Pleban, for feedback. We go through another draft or two, and then send it to the artist for the issue. The main man is Scott Godlewski (did I mention that he’s kicking butt and taking names in this series?), but some issues are being done Damian Couceiro, who’s also delivering gorgeous work. Their character and equipment designs have a huge influence on the story.

Roberson: Any hints about what’s coming up in Dracula: The Company of Monsters? Where can readers expect things to go from here?

Gregory: Kurt’s designed a beautiful three act-structure for the first 12 issues. The first four bring Evan to the brink, where things can’t possibly get worse. And then things get much, much worse. Evan eventually takes radical action, and then the action just gets insane. I can’t wait for people to see where this is going.

Roberson: And anything else you’d like to tell all the nice people? Any other projects you’ve got in the works, in comics or novels or elsewhere?

Gregory: Chris, you know I can’t discuss THE SECRET PROJECT. But I’m hoping to announce certain new comic series soon…

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