It’s October, and you hear it all the time—usually in reference to film, but coming up in all sorts of discussions about horror and Halloween-related media: “Will this actually scare me?”
Cue the skeptics. “Oh sure, it’s horror, but it’s not scary.” “It’s been so long since something really terrified me.” I’m guilty of saying such things myself—mostly because I enjoy being scared by movies and books, and it’s such a rare treat these days. I’m not talking about shock-factor dime-a-dozen jump-because-the-music-tells-you-to scares. I mean a story that is genuinely unsettling, with imagery that lingers in your brain like a default synaptic firing and makes you see things in mirrors that aren’t there.
Look no further, friend. Independent publishing company Fanboy Comics have released two graphic novels that manage to tap into terror in a way I haven’t seen since Alvin Schwartz’s SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK books. (Come on, you know what I’m talking about.)
SOMETHING ANIMAL and IDENTITY THIEF are searingly dark, low-dialogue dreamscapes that boast surreal art styles and inconclusive narratives—much like a nightmare does. IDENTITY THIEF is a harrowing tale of a couple moving into a new apartment where a hatch in the hall closet proves to house something unidentifiable and yet horrifying. SOMETHING ANIMAL moves a bit more like a traditional vampire or werewolf story, but with a time-delayed twist and true sense of dread. The dark backgrounds and murky outlines, rendered by Meaghan O’Keefe (IDENTITY THIEF) and Robert Burrows (SOMETHING ANIMAL), make it almost difficult to discern exactly what is happening, requiring rereads and immersing you even more in the story. While reading I kept having flashbacks to an independent (and underrated) horror movie called HEAD TRAUMA—slow, nearly silent sections; relentlessly spooky. Lots of shots in the dark, and sketchy imagery burned into haunting silhouettes.
FM recently spoke with Fanboy Comics’ president and creative force Bryant Dillon about both books, and what we can expect from them in the future.
Famous Monsters. My questions mainly involve the approach you’ve taken to these stories with regard to atmosphere. They are very disturbing, light on dialogue, and have similar art styles. What made you choose this direction for Fanboy Comics’ first books?
Bryant Dillon. Well, funny enough, both SOMETHING ANIMAL and IDENTITY THIEF were originally conceived and written as part of an independent horror anthology film similar to CREEPSHOW or TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE. The other co-founders of Fanboy Comics, Barbra Dillon and Sam Rhodes, were both involved with that project and when it fell apart, as some projects do, we eventually formed Fanboy Comics and developed the film scripts for the sequential art medium.
Obviously, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the art styles are similar, but they’re also their own specific styles. Much of this has to do with the fact that SOMETHING ANIMAL artist Robert Burrows and IDENTITY THIEF artist Meaghan O’Keefe were in a relationship during the production of the art for each book, and their styles were heavily influenced by one another. Both Robert and Meagan are very talented artists and their styles were perfect for the themes and imagery in both SOMETHING ANIMAL and IDENTITY THIEF, so one answer for the sparse dialogue/text is the fact that we knew comics were a visual medium, and we trusted our artists to be able to create images that would reflect what was written in our scripts. The lack of text also plays into the themes and plot of each story. SOMETHING ANIMAL is a tale of isolation and full of paranoia, so the main character spends a lot of time alone. The lack of text helps the reader to feel that same isolation. IDENTITY THIEF has more dialogue, but it still thrives on its visuals—which is, in my opinion, a good sign for a visually-focused medium like comics.
FM. Are you shooting for a particular audience?
BD. While we started out heavy in the horror genre, Fanboy Comics doesn’t have a specific bend to the content it offers fans. Our next graphic novel, THE ARCS, is very much rooted in fantasy more than horror. When it comes to Fanboy Comics’ publishing line, we just aim to offer inventive, original, and exciting stories that bring something new to the comic field. In all honesty, our current horror-heavy bend probably has more to do with my writing tastes than anything specific with regard to the company’s audience. I love the horror genre and have been a huge vampire fan since I was a teenager, so it makes sense that the stories I’ve had a hand in writing end up reflecting that.
FM. Did any existing works influence your storytelling?
BD. When it comes to SOMETHING ANIMAL, my co-writer Sam Rhodes and I were influenced by a few specific films. We really wanted SOMETHING ANIMAL to be almost the “vampire equivalent” of 28 DAYS LATER, in that that film was incredibly successful with applying a gritty, realistic tone and making something supernatural seem plausible and even horrifying in its normality or believability. We also noticed a lot of similarities between our story and the George Romero film MARTIN, which involves a “realistic” depiction of a vampire. Visually, when we began looking for an artist, we discussed a tone similar to a David Fincher film, especially SE7EN. That film has such a dark, suffocating atmosphere to it and, lucky for us, we found Robert Burrows, whose dark and terrifying style was perfect.
As for IDENTITY THIEF, I actually have a hatch just like the one in the story in my hallway closet. Obviously, my own vivid nightmares turned that hatch and my fear of the unknown into the story that is now IDENTITY THIEF. The story also owes a lot to my love of ALIEN and the childhood fear of E.T.
FM. What can we expect from your upcoming title, THE ARCS? I see it also involves monsters, to some degree.
BD. THE ARCS is a fantastic graphic novel which will be released in early November. It was written by Michael D. Poisson, features the art of Matt Jacobs (PROTOTYPE, THE BOYS), and tells the story of the final archangels in Heaven fighting a losing battle against the forces of Hell after God has abandoned them. It’s an epic and surprising tale that Michael has crafted, and Matt’s art is phenomenal in this book. While THE ARCS isn’t specifically based in horror, there are plenty of demons, and lots of gory and maybe even some “undead” surprises to ensure that fans of SOMETHING ANIMAL, IDENTITY THIEF, and the horror genre are not disappointed. You’re not going to want to miss this one!
We certainly won’t. Check out Fanboy Comics’ graphic novels (and other endeavors) at www.fanboycomics.net. THE ARCS will be debuting at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles this November.