Interview: Patrick Alexander and David Chelsea on Dark Horse Presents

Two of the stand out stories from the first two issues of the rebooted Dark Horse Presents are easily David Chelsea’s SNOW ANGEL, and Patrick Alexander’s THE WRAITH. So it was a pleasure talking to the two of them about their work on the book, their process, and what other stories they’ve been digging in the collection. And it will be a pleasure for you to read that chat, I bet, so here we go:

MTV Geek: Just to start off, for both of you, how’d you come to be in Dark Horse Presents?

Patrick Alexander: As I understand it, some malevolent criminal working at Dark Horse printed out a gag strip from my website, and pinned it to the office wall for the unauthorised enjoyment of others. Mike Richardson saw the comic, laughed at it, and contacted me to offer me work. You can see how I’ve been damaged by this copyright violation.

David Chelsea: l had originally drawn Snow Angel for an independent anthology called Snow Stories. After that anthology was cancelled, I submitted the story to the Myspace version of Dark Horse Presents. I had no idea that DHP was actually launching up in print again, or that Mike Richardson was taking over as editor, so it’s just dumb luck that my story wound up in issue #1.

Geek: What’s the process been like? How hands on – or off – has the DH brass been?

PA: Mike is the owner and boss of Dark Horse, so he’s more than the brass — he’s the conductor. And John Schork, the assistant editor — we’ll call him the lead trumpet. That would make me a composer, I suppose. This analogy isn’t going anywhere; it’s totally unnecessary. I don’t know why you brought it up.

Mike has been hands-on in the right ways and hands-off in the right ways. He’s the boss, so he can make the calls; I haven’t spent weeks dealing with middlemen, waiting for an answer to a simple question. “Mike, can we change the contract to say such-and-such?” “Okay, except something-or-other.” “Mike, I’ve done this comic, maybe you’d like to publish it?” “I’d love to.” It’s great; it’s what I’ve always wanted. I don’t have the temperament to deal with bullshit, and there hasn’t been any bullshit with Mike or John.

DC: Mike asked for a few changes. My original submission was 14 pages long, and he asked for 24 pages in three eight page installments, so I had to add ten pages and rejigger frames slightly so that pages eight and sixteen end on more of a beat. Otherwise, he was totally cool with what I came up with.

Geek: David, let’s chat about Snow Angel… You actually started this for another anthology… What’s it like, getting to continue it in DHP?

DC: I have been bowled over by by the response, both the favorable reviews I have seen and the number of people who came to the Stumptown panel and the opening event. I did not realize how much Dark Horse Presents meant to fans, and how much attention the relaunch would attract. It’s hard to imagine that I’d have seen the same response if Snow Angel had appeared in Snow Stories.

Geek: What was the inspiration for Snow Angel? It seems not-so-secretly TV inspired? Or is that way off?

DC: Like most people alive in the last sixty years, I have watched a lot of television, and I suppose some of that may have filtered through, but I wasn’t copying any particular show. I was more trying to do a goofy kid’s comic in the style of Little Lulu or Richie Rich. I was also influenced in this story by M.K. Brown, an artist with a one-of-a-kind style who drew comics for the National Lampoon in the 70s. By the way, Snow Angel herself is modeled on my daughter Rebecca.

Geek: The tone seems is both bright and cheery, and also terribly dark… Is that what you were going for?

DC: l was trying to amuse my kids, and they both have a pretty dark sense of humor.

Geek: The mother in the stories is kind of awful… Why doesn’t she want her daughter to become Snow Angel? I mean, come on, Snow Angel’s Mom, what’s the deal?

DC: She’s not awful, just protective. A kid could get hurt flying around stopping crime.

Geek: Artistically, what’s your process on this?

DC: This story began as a 24 Hour Comic in black and white, which meant that all the line art was drawn in a single day. After I sent the story to the original anthology’s editor, he asked me to add color to it, and I used a combination of watercolor and airbrush. He also cut the last ten pages, which were admittedly pretty weak. When I put those ten pages back in for DHP I drew a new sequence trying to match the original style, which meant spending no more than an hour drawing the line art for each page.

Geek: You’re pretty big on perspective, having written two books… As sort of an object lesson for budding artists, how does this play into Snow Angel #2?

DC: Drawing each page in an hour, there was no time to set up the perspective the way I ordinarily would. I can only hope the result is free of blatant errors.

Geek: Each story almost seems to play like an episode of a show… Are we going to see more of an arc coming up? Or is it one-offs?

DC: There is an arc to the three installments because it is really all one story divided in three- though if readers expect all loose ends to be tied up at the end they’ll be disappointed. I’m not that interested in story arcs that continue for years, at least for this character. I prefer the Richie Rich model, where the basic concept never changes, and nothing that happened in a previous story ever gets mentioned. That’s also the model for nearly every animated series, which may be why this story reminds you of a TV show. Another thing that may remind you of TV is that the third installment ends with a theme song.

Geek: What’s coming up next for Snow Angel?

DC: Mike and I have talked about Dark Horse putting out a comic collecting all three installments. Beyond that, it all depends on how readers respond and how busy I happen to be.

Geek: Okay, Patrick, sorry for making you wait in the corner so long… Tell us about The Wraith.

PA: It’s partly based on Othello, although with some changes and additions, obviously. I’ve made the main character white, which is bound to attract criticism, and my ending is more ambiguous than the original, because of how clever I am. I’ve tightened up the plot and excised some minor characters, like Iago, Cassio, and so on, and the distracting romantic subplot is gone. I think THE WRAITH™ is much closer to what Shakespeare would have written, if he had stuck to his vision instead of being distracted by commercial considerations.

Geek: He’s like Batman, if he was little, cute, and a murderous jerk. How far off would you say he is from the regular Batman?

PA: I take issue with that; THE WRAITH™ is an original creation and not like Batman at all. For one thing, Batman has the Batcave, whereas THE WRAITH™ has his Secret Underground Wraith Room™. Furthermore, the violence, juvenile wish-fulfilment, and clumsy, unnatural dialogue in THE WRAITH™ is an artistic statement, whereas in Batman it’s just trash.

Geek: Do you have a Batman-esque origin for The Wraith waiting to be told?

PA: Having established that there is nothing in common between THE WRAITH™ and any other comic book character, I assume you are now referring to the celebrated John Batman, founder of Melbourne, the city in which I currently live — in which case the answer is yes. I’m in the planning stages of a story set during the Black War, although, in line with my artistic vision, I’m replacing the Tasmanian Aborigines with blood-sucking tar monsters who have escaped from the Death Zone to feed on the toe-sweat of virgins, and must be atomised. I’m aware the Black War is a sensitive topic for some people, but I’ve run my idea past all the fat white nerds I’m friends with, and no-one’s been offended so far. Besides, I’m not afraid of a little controversy! Heh.

Geek: Clearly, the character lends himself to comic strip or one page length stories, but do you think there’s a longer story to be told with The
Wraith? Wraith: RIP, maybe?

PA: ’RIP’ isn’t a story, it’s a sound effect.

Geek: It was a little unclear to me whether he totally gets his just desserts at the end – what’s your take on it?

PA: I haven’t seen issue #2 in print, yet. Along the very bottom of the final panel, there’s supposed to be — well, I don’t want to spoil the ending for people who haven’t read it. It’s quite subtle; sort of a statement about the nature of fate. I just hope that part hasn’t been cut off due to a printing error! Without it, the whole comic’s just a string of idiotic visual gags.

Geek: Do you have more Wraith coming up? Or anything else in DHP?

PA: THE WRAITH™ may reappear one day, if/when I continue my comic series, Raymondo Person. As for Dark Horse Presents, I think Mike and John are planning some more single-page gag strip reprints for the next two or three issues, but I’ll continue to work on new, longer comics like THE WRAITH™ as well.

What other stories from the collection are you enjoying?

DC: Hey, Patrick- love your work. Besides that, I’ve always been a big Richard Corben fan and it’s been cool to encounter Michael T. Gilbert’s stuff for the first time.

PA: First of all, I’m really digging the spot illustrations by Geof Darrow. They need more acknowledgement; they help to make each issue feel like a complete and cohesive object. I like good linework, and I like oddness, so I like those spot illustrations.

I enjoyed the Concrete story in issue #2; the author knows how to say a lot with a little. Plus he doesn’t ruin his line art by over-colouring. Finder, for much the same reason, is pleasant to look at; my eyes lock onto the pictures instead of sliding off the page with boredom. The dialogue’s good, and you get the sense of a wider world going on out there, outside of the little story we’re following. So I’m looking forward to reading more Finder.

Snow Angel is a lot of fun, and makes me feel like there ought to be more cartoonists taking direct inspiration from Winsor McCay, given that we’re all at least indirectly influenced by him anyway. And I like looking at Richard Corben’s amazing pictures. They don’t even need to be in a particular order. I just like looking at them.

Finally, a lot of reviewers are heaping shit on Blood, calling it poorly written, and that’s true — it is poorly written. But then the same reviewer will go on to praise some other comic whose writing is, from where I’m sitting, equally bad or worse, but diguised as good writing using cheap tricks for the easily pleased. Whereas Blood has this great, pulpy naïveté to it; it has a messy, energetic enthusiasm that makes it quite fun to read. You just have to approach it with the right attitude.

Geek: Lastly, why do you think those who are anti-anthology should pick up DHP?

DC: I don’t speak to people who are anti-anthology.

PA: I dunno! Maybe they shouldn’t! It depends on the individual. I’d much rather read an issue of Dark Horse Presents than two or three boring-as-shit superhero comics for the same price. On the other hand, the guy who buys superhero comics clearly has a brain that functions in a very different way than my own, so maybe it’s a moot point.

’Anthology’ is a strange word for Dark Horse Presents, anyway. That word, to me, suggests something self-contained. The exciting thing about Dark Horse Presents is that it’s a periodical, with various short stories and adventures being serialised in it, from what will hopefully become a regular stable of authors — each complementing the other, but at the same time, trying to outdo everyone else. In time, a new reader might pick up his first issue of Dark Horse Presents, and he’ll find one story launching, another story ending with a bang, and another just reaching its climax. There’ll be something exciting happening!

I would like Dark Horse Presents to create its own continuum; a sort of ’world’ of authors and stories and characters and readers, into which new readers will feel welcomed right away. Think of it as a magazine, if you like, but with comics instead of articles.

Or, short answer: Dark Horse Presents has quality in it. It will entertain you more than Green Lantern issue #4982. The stories in Dark Horse Presents will reach a conclusion one day, within your lifetime. Isn’t that exciting?

Dark Horse Presents #3, which features a new chapter of SNOW ANGEL by David Chelsea, will hit comic book stores on August 24th.