If you’re thirsting for quality original horror comics, Vault is the place to be right now (well, there and American Gothic Press, but we figured that was a given). Whether it’s the meta goodness of FEARSCAPE or the narrative elegance of THESE SAVAGE SHORES, Vault is consistently delivering great stories and art. Now, coming this September is THE PLOT, a new tale of family horror by writers Michael Moreci and Tim Daniel (CURSE, BURNING FIELDS) and artist Josh Hixson (SHANGHAI RED) that explores the hidden demons and tangled vines of the long-abandoned Blaine house.
Like many tales of horror, THE PLOT begins with a death.
Straight from the opening pages, you know someone is doomed; however, it might not be the person you think. And it is quite the dramatic death, as well as a unique monster moment. You’re not quite sure if this monster is real or just a figure of the character’s imagination… but the consequences are real enough, and it sets in motion a story of two strangely precocious and sullen orphaned children being returned to an old family home that hasn’t been lived in for years.
Moreci, Daniel, and Hixson were lovely enough to provide Famous Monsters with a bit of a behind-the-scenes preview of THE PLOT, and let me tell you, this is a sold first issue that is positively dripping with melancholy and foreboding. We went to pick their brains, and they had this to say…
Famous Monsters. “Family secrets” are a popular topic amongst gothic and horror stories, from JANE EYRE and “The Dunwich Horror” to more recent examples like HEREDITARY and GET OUT. What inspired you to take this angle in THE PLOT, and how does your story differ from others in the genre?
Tim Daniel. Family secrets are indeed popular, because what family does not have them? The trope makes the fantastic elements of a story universally identifiable. Fiction, specifically horror, enables us to drag the dark nasty business out into the light and somehow make sense of what troubles us most deeply — and thank goodness for that. I think it comes from wanting to make things personal without being explicit about our personal lives — sort of giving shape, in a way, to our fears, frustrations, and secrets. Working them out on the page, so to speak. The Plot is not necessarily different from other tales in the genre so much as it us hoping to add something new to the horror tapestry, just as Ari Aster or Jordan Peele have done with their films. We want our tale to stand alongside AMITYVILLE HORROR or SALEM’S LOT, and our monster to harken back to classic creatures like the Universal Monsters or ALIEN’s Xenomorph. Nothing like small goals, right?
Michael Moreci. You know, someone recently — speaking of HEREDITARY — said that family is the disease we’re all born with. And while I think that’s a tad harsh, there’s a nugget of profundity to what’s been expressed. In one way or another, we all have to reckon with even just the idea of family and what it means to be part of a descendance. All this history, it shapes and influences us, whether we like or not. And what is horror if not people being harmed by forces beyond their control? So, when you turn that lens on family, it becomes about how it comes for us, and one of the most common ways are through its secrets — the things that have been done over the years that shouldn’t have been done, and how they rear their heads on unsuspecting targets. The people who fall victim to the secrets and lies, they probably had nothing to do with them. But that’s horror, that’s fear — the bad things, one way or another, always come for us. Family is just an infinitely relatable way of expressing that.
FM. It seems like THE PLOT is going to be very much a haunted house story as well.
TD. Definitely. Mike was insistent on this point. What haunts the Blaine family haunts the house and the grounds. The way water permeates almost anything it touches, the horror of The Plot has seeped forth from the bog on the Blaine grounds into the very bones of the family’s ancestral home.
FM. Do you believe in ghosts and/or hauntings yourself, or are you a die-hard cynic?
TD. Seems rather myopic and unimaginative to dismiss things that are supernatural, or in the very least unexplainable. I don’t want to live in a world where everything is knowable and all magic and mystery is drained out of the experience. I don’t want all the proof — I’d rather marvel at the mystery. There are times where I desperately wish for something miraculous to reveal itself — I don’t care if it’s an alien species or the Loch Ness monster. Such a revelation would, I think, stop us all in our tracks, perhaps give us a moment’s pause. Then again — in a broader sense, the uncertain may be the only thing keeping our collective hubris in check.
MM. I’ve seen a ghost, so, yeah, I’m a believer. And I’m not kidding either — in fact, I’ve seen the same ghost more than once. Aside from that, I do believe that energies of existence not only never extinguish, but with the way space and time works, in a physics sense, I think our spirits can certainly get locked in a certain place. I know I sound super nerdy, probably even a little weird, but I’ve given considerable thought to the proof of ghosts, and there’s nothing that tells me they can’t exist.
FM. Josh, location plays a large part in this story. Do you reference existing photos of places you’ve never been, or make it up in your head?
Josh Hixson. It’s a mix of both, but I try to use as much reference as I can. Drawing from my head can be useful in lots of areas, but when it comes to locations and the setting of a period piece, I find it’s best to always go back to the reference to get it right. There’s just so much information that you can easily gloss over if you’re not drawing from life.
FM. Issue 1 introduces us to a rather… unique looking monster. What cues from existing animals and monsters did you take to create him?
JH. I got a lot of really great reference from Michael and Tim on how they thought it should look, which was quite helpful. It was a treasure trove of creepy images that the they wanted to take bits and pieces from — a lot of weird sculptures and mummified corpses. We did several passes on how the face should look and behave, though. The tricky part was figuring out how it would look when it moved. You can have the most horrific looking monster, but if it doesn’t move and behave in a way that feels believable, then the whole thing kind of falls apart.
FM. Tim and Michael, how is writing with a partner different from writing on your own? Do you each have different strengths?
TD. I’ve said this since the very first book Mike and I co-authored: having a writing partner is having a second pair of eyes in the car warning you of the blind spot. Collaboration is rewarding because of its challenge, the pursuit of merging two voices seamlessly into one. Mike and I fortunately have had a lot of practice in that regard. Having an extraordinary Editor-In Chief in Adrian Wassel certainly helps.
MM. Also, you’re always trying to up your game when you’re working with someone else. Not because of competition, but because there’s someone there keeping you honest. If you turn in garbage, you’re not only short-changing your partner, but you’re also setting a tone where you’re saying that doing work that’s less than your very best is acceptable. Which is never the case.
FM. Josh, what kind of layout dynamic do you have with Michael and Tim? Are they very particular panel planners, or do you have room to mess about with the page?
JH. Tim and Michael have fairly descriptive scripts, which is great. They have a lot of specific notes and directions for how certain sequence should play out, and I always do my best to make them come together the way they intend, but ultimately the layout and economy of the page is left up to me. Which I think is needed for any artist working on a book. There are just so many small things that are working with or against one another when laying out a page; I try to go with the focal point of the scene and building everything around that.
FM. How many issues is this series planned for? Could it run longer, or would you want it to?
TD. Readers will get the complete tale of the Blaine family in the planned eight-issue series. While there’s an opportunity to run longer, I’m always most interested in delivering the best possible story to readers. I don’t want to cheapen the experience for myself or readers by thinking about what might lie beyond.
MM. We can certainly do more, but it would be like THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE — an anthology, you can say, though maybe THE PLOT would have some overlap in characters and places. The story we’re telling here and now, though, is eight issues, all of which are oversized, and it’s going to be both satisfying and complete by the end, and epic.
FM. What other horror comics are you all reading right now?
MM. I’m loving Tim Seeley’s DARK RED right now — it’s a fresh take on vampires and really salient for our times. ICE CREAM MAN is terrific, consistently, and I’m working my way through HARROW COUNTY as well. I’m also always reading prose, and right now I’m in the middle of Nick Cutter’s THE TROOP, which is awesome, and I’m about to dive into Josh Malerman’s INSPECTION.
TD. I’m currently reading prose horror, having recently wrapped up Stephen King’s OUTSIDER and started in on Mallory O’Meara’s THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. O’Meara’s look at Creature designer Milicent Patrick is deeply fascinating on many levels and highly relevant to today’s fractious attitudes towards women. There are several horror comics I’m eagerly anticipating this fall — the second title from Vault’s Nightfall imprint (yet to be announced), and a Scott Snyder-Francesco Francavilla book teased only thus far as NOTG.