Friday, October 7, 2011

Interview with Chris Sims, Writer of Dracula the Unconquered

Today is a red letter day for the blog, as today I feature my first-ever interview!  And I couldn't be happier than for it to be with comic book blogger and writer Chris Sims!

Chris began writing about his love for and review of comics at his Invincible Super Blog while working at a comic shop full time.  He later was inspired to begin writing his own web comics with some like-minded friends, who together formed their own comics line, The Action Age of Comics, which produces such high concept titles as The Chronicles of Solomon Stone, Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N, and my personal favorite, Awesome Hospital. In addition, he also continues to write about other comics for AOL's comics news site, Comics Alliance.

Chris is also the inventor of the Nerd Hat.

Chris is here to talk about his latest comic, Dracula the Unconquered, premiering on Halloween.

Brian:  This isn't your first time writing about a vampire (Solomon Stone), but now you're taking on the most famous one of all.  What is it about Dracula that makes him such an intriguing character, and do you plan on doing something different or unexpected with the character?

Chris: Ha!  Well technically, Solomon Stone is a half-vampire, half-wizard skateboard champion.  It might seem subtle, but trust me, it makes a big difference in how you approach the characters.

As for Dracula, what really drew me to him was the fact that there's been so much done with the character in pop culture.  In America, Bram Stoker's novel was in the public domain since it was first published, and as a result, there have been so many interpretations, reinterpretations, reimaginings, and sequels that he's become one of those characters that works in any sort of story.  You can do a serious take, you can do comedy, you can put him in a castle on the moon, and it all makes sense because he's gone so far beyond that original story.  That pop culture aspect is really what I love about him. 

At the same time, that makes it hard to do something truly new, but you don't often see him as an all-ages adventure hero, so hopefully I'll be able to put my own spin on it.

Brian: Most of your previous work, such as Solomon Stone and Awesome Hospital, have been very funny, but the solicitation for Dracula The Unconquered makes the project seem a bit more serious. Is that correct, and if so, why take a different approach now?

Chris: It  wasn't until halfway through writing the first issue that I realized that by giving Dracula a teenage girl sidekick -- an English one, no less -- I was basically writing the "serious" version of Solomon Stone, but that's kind of what it ended up being. 

That said, there are still scenes that I think are pretty funny about it, even though it's not strictly a comedy like Awesome Hospital, or a parody like Sol.  I really have no interest in writing something that's completely dour or humorless, and while Drac's first and foremost an adventure story, I don't think action and comedy are mutually exclusive.  I've described it before as Indiana Jones starring Dracula, and if you go back and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are moments in that film that are absolutely hilarious. 

When I think about the comics that I really love that are coming out right now, there are guys like Jeff Parker, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente.  These are guys who never shy away from putting funny moments in their stories, and it never detracts from how thrilling the action is, or the danger their characters face.  It just makes a more well-rounded story, and that's the feeling that I'm going for in Drac:  A fun, solid, entertaining comic.

Brian: You've previously spoken highly of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, and Steve Downer's design seems a bit reminiscent of Marvel's version of the character.  What is it about that series that was so captivating, and will we see hints of those elements in DTU?

Chris: I don't think I'm blowing anyone's mind when I say that Gene Colan's version of Dracula is far and away my favorite visual of the character.  He captured that monstrous haughtiness so well, and that moustache!  Dracula just doesn't look right without facial hair. 

So yeah, Tomb of Dracula is definitely an influence, specifically in the idea of Dracula traveling around the world and dealing with villains that are even more monstrous than he is.  Also, I can't lie, his whole attitude, that crazy pretentiousness and absolute disbelief that anyone would ever dare to stand against him, it just cracks me up.  It's set the tone for how I think of Dracula speaking just in general, so there's a lot of that arrogance in my version.

Brian: What can we expect from Dracula's assistant Thalia?  From the looks of her on the cover image with her sly grin, she seems to have a few tricks of her own up her sleeve.

Chris: Thalia has her origins in me feeling like I needed a viewpoint character.  I love Dracula as a character, but he's also an immortal sorcerer who used to be King of the Vampires, so if you're following him as a protagonist, that can be pretty hard to relate to.  At the same time, I didn't want her to be just a prop to have thing explained to her, which is exactly what I was parodying with Minxy in Solomon Stone

Mark Waid writes a comic called Ruse that I love, it's a big Sherlock Holmes-style Victorian mystery series, and the detective's assistant, Emma Bishop, is such a great character.  She comes off as smart even when she's next to this super-genius, she's really quippy and active in the story.  She's great, and since there was a Ruse mini-series coming out while I wrote the first two issues of Drac, I really studied it and tried to reverse engineer how he made this lady sidekick so compelling in her own right.

Brian: I loved Ruse!  I instantly saw Thalia as the Emma to Drac's Simon when I first saw the image.

Chris: I actually asked Waid about it and he told me that he just never has one character tell another something she actually knows.  As simple as that might sound, and as much as I'm aware of it from my absolute hate of sentences that begin with "as you know..." it was a really good piece of advice to keep in mind.  When you ditch all that unnecessary exposition, you have a lot of room to work in actual character stuff.

To be honest, Thalia does end up getting a lot of things explained to her and she is in need of rescuing in the first couple of issues, but I've tried not to have those be the things that define her.  She's really fun to write, because for all of Dracula's arrogance, she's meeting him at his absolute low point, and as much danger as she faces, there's a lot of eye-rolling on her part.  After he read the script, Steve Downer pointed out that it was interesting that I'd given Dracula a teenage girl sidekick, because he has this predatory history towards young women.  It wasn't something that I'd considered at first, but once he pointed it out, it became something that I've had in my head.  If you're going to have Dracula as a hero, that's something that probably needs to be redeemed.

Brian: The solicitation also states that the events in Bram Stoker's novel "may not have gone down the way Harker & Co. wrote about them." Does this mean we'll see Dracula in a more positive light?

Chris: It's not so much that Dracula was a good guy during the novel as the "heroes" were trying to make themselves sound more heroic than they actually were.  Before I started writing, I read through Leslie Klinger's The New Annotated Dracula, which is an excellent resource, and the thing I really came away with was that I really just did not like any of the main characters, especially Harker.  Even Van Helsing just comes off as this bumbling crackpot professor who's always suggesting transfusions from random-ass guys to help out vampire victims!  It's hilarious!

So there are certain events in the novel where the "Good Guys" made the wrong assumptions, but all of the actual events happened.  Dracula was still the bad guy, he was still coming to England to eat people.  One of the things that gets addressed later down the line is that Thalia's a librarian and she's read Dracula.  So that stuff's going to come up.

Brian: Tell us more about DTU's cocreators, Josh Krach and Steve Downer, and their contributions to the book. They both have experience in multiple aspects of comic creation (Josh as a letterer and writer, Steve as an illustrator and colorist). What roles will they play in the making of DTU? I believe Steve is illustrating issue #1.

Chris: Steve and I first worked together when he colored Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N., a comic I wrote that Chris Piers drew, and while he makes his living as a colorist, he's an amazing artist as well.  We've been wanting to work together for a while, and a few years ago, we even talked about doing a story about an immortal character so that we could skip around from place to place, so when I decided I wanted to do Dracula as an adventure hero, he was the first guy to pop into my head.  He's been amazing to work with, and he even made a call about the way he wanted to draw something in the first few pages of #1 that changed the whole layout of the first seven issues.  I think people are really going to love what they see out of him.

I've known Josh for several years, and again, he's great.  He's been the letterer on Awesome Hospital since we started, but he's another one of those guys that's talented at everything he does.  He's a great writer -- he does a webcomic called Troop Infinity that's darn near perfect as a kids' adventure comedy, and he's written an upcoming AH short as well -- and he's even pretty good at drawing, too.  Like Steve, he's been an excellent collaborator, and when I sent them my plots for the first arc's worth of stories, he made a few great suggestions that made my job so much easier.

Brian: 'Fess up Chris.  This is just your way of counterbalancing all the Anita Blake comics and Twilight products, isn't it?  Next you'll write a witch comic to cancel out Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose.

Chris: The only way to fix bad comics is to make better ones.  You have to try, right?

Brian: You've been involved with comic creation for awhile now through your site the Action Age of Comics.  Are you happy with the progress the projects available there have made, and what can we expect in the future?

Chris: It's weird, because even when my schedule's so packed that I'm barely sleeping, it never really feels like I'm doing enough.  I'm just impatient, I guess.

In addition to Drac, Awesome Hospital is still going every Tuesday and Thursday, and Chad Bowers and I have our first graphic novel coming out next year from Oni.  I wish I could tell you more about that one, but for now, that's all I can say.  Plus, you know, there's my day job over at ComicsAlliance every day.  And one day... maybe not this year, maybe not this century, but one day I'll be able to put out Solomon Stone #3.  It's got succubus pirates.

Brian: Finally, and this is an important question: does Batman prefer beef barbeque or pork barbeque?

Chris: Oh, definitely pulled pork.  South Carolina Mustard-Based sauce has the delicious sharp taste of justice.

Dracula The Unconquered makes its debut October 31st, and will be available for download in cbr format for $1.  Check out the official site here.

Thanks Chris!


Todd Mason said...

Cool. Still need to read this closely, but Ray Nelson/R. Faraday Nelson instituted the propeller beanie as the Nerd Hat (only initially it was the Fannish Hat) some 60 years ago...a cartoonist, fiction-writer, and journalist...

Phillyradiogeek said...

I had a propeller hat once. To my parents' chagrin, I wore it. Frequently.