by Jarrod Jones. Submitted for your approval: The case of Jerri Bartman. Part-time television reporter, full-time boozehound. Living the type of life where you can’t hit the journalism beat without a bit of the ol’ hair of the dog. Jerri’s life is spiraling into an impenetrable fog of drink and demons—and her last shot at personal and professional salvation, hosting a late night creature feature, is about to bring a slew of literal monsters into her bleary-eyed existence. The precarious balance between eldritch terror and a personal hell, the makings of a proper horror story.
Now pull back. We’re looking at a comic book. A story written by a man, an actor, looking to share his experiences fighting similar demons and finding a sense of salvation in television’s midnight bursts of circus peanuts and candy corn. His name is David Dastmalchian. This is Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter, a new kind of scary story from Dark Horse Comics, illustrated by Lukas Ketner, colored by Lauren Affe and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic.
Look at the whole picture and you’ll see a story that dares the darker shadows of addiction, but holds on to the hope that redemption can come in various forms—it can even come with caked-on makeup and Dracula’s cape.
“I find that this juxtaposition of Jerri’s external and internal battles are a constant source of inspiration and layering in my writing process,” David tells me.” [I believe] that the battle against my internal demons are epic! Maybe I don’t arm myself with holy water or silver bullets, but I do have an arsenal that I continue to maintain and develop like anyone entering battle—I have my therapy, my support system, my medication, my spiritual practice, my healthcare routine, etc., etc.
“There’s not a huge difference between what any of us have to face on a day-to-day basis and what Jerri will be facing on her adventure—in my opinion.”
David Dastmalchian spoke with DoomRocket about Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter, the journey that led his story to the hallowed halls of Dark Horse Comics, and his personal favorite midnight monster memories.
1. Film, theater, television—’Count Crowley’, as a project, could have landed anywhere, but you chose comics. Could you tell our readers how ‘Count Crowley’ came to Dark Horse Comics?
David Dastmalchian: I have been reading and collecting comics since I was about 12 years old and it was around that same time that I became fascinated by the magic of classic horror cinema and the mythology of monsters. I began to daydream about battling monsters and how a “horror host” would be a great secret identity for a monster hunter. As the years passed and the story in my imagination evolved, I began to wonder if this would make an exciting TV series which would be told like an old serial. When I asked [producer and R.I.P.D. co-creator] Peter Lenkov for his advice about my idea, he leapt from his chair and was very excited. You see, Peter and I are both old fans of Kolchak [The Night Stalker TV series] and he is also both a comic book creator and collector. He thought that my story would make a marvelous comic series. I was so blown away and excited by the idea of this. Peter told Mike Richardson at Dark Horse about the idea and they said that they wanted to help me develop my story into a comic. It has been a dream come true… bringing nightmares to colorful life!
2. I did a little digging, and it turns out there was a Kansas City TV reporter who had moonlighted as a late-night horror host back in the early 80s: KSHB 41’s Roberta Solomon, also known as Crematia Mortem, “The Ghostess With the Mostess”. The time she spent on television would have placed young David Dastmalchian around 8-10 years old. Did you watch Crematia Mortem? If so, how did her performance inform the story of ‘Count Crowley’?
Crematia was my first full-fledged “fan freakout”. I would sneak downstairs every Friday night as a kid and stare mesmerized at the TV as she introduced me to some of my favorite characters and creators. I have been fortunate enough to become friends with Roberta as an adult and she has been incredibly supportive and excited about Count Crowley. My whole idea grew out of that excited and scared feeling I got as a kid and she is wholly responsible for those marvelous, monstrous nights in my memory!
3. Tell me about your comics experience so far. What has it been like for you to see the illustrated pages to a story you’ve written come into your inbox? How much interaction have you had with artist Lukas Ketner and colorist Lauren Affe creatively?
There aren’t words that properly describe the feeling I had when Lukas Ketner sent his first round of sketches to us. I opened the .pdf and was suddenly staring at Jerri Bartman! My Jerri! There she was—in the colorful, cartoon flesh! And she was glorious! She looks more amazing than my wildest dreams and the great thing about Lukas is that he doesn’t just capture the nostalgia, the horror, the atmosphere that I wanted to convey… he also captures the complex emotions that I want this comic to explore! And then you add Lauren’s amazing colors and [Frank Cvetkovic’s] incredible letters… I am so lucky. It’s been a dream. My editor, Megan Walker, has facilitated and supported my vision in every sense of the word. Everyone at Dark Horse has been so supportive and worked so hard to get this to its ghoulish, beastly best.
4. Underneath the ghoulish garb of Count Crowley is Jerri Butler, a perpetually between-bottles TV anchor who’s perilously close to hitting bottom. I don’t want to talk around Jerri’s addiction, because that’s what drives the narrative of ‘Count Crowley’, for better and worse. It gives this story its dramatic heft. How did you render Jerri in your mind? How did she lock all the components you wanted to have for this story into place?
I have been clean and sober now for 17 years. It’s one of the most difficult demons I’ve ever battled—my addiction. Combined with my depression and anxiety, it was nearly a losing battle. But thankfully I was able to get the help I needed and find the courage within myself to ask for help—over and over again. This is all going to be very tricky for Jerri. Jerri is a proud woman who has fallen into the bottom of a dark well of self-destruction and misery. Terrible things have happened to her and she has done terrible things to herself and others. Her world is spiraling. When I first started to attempt sobriety (as Jerri will have to soon), I was most often defeated and frustrated by the fact that I’d “cried wolf” so many times, no one believed me about anything any more. Imagine how Jerri feels when she’s trying to sober up and learns that zombies aren’t just characters in movies… Yikes!
5. ‘Count Crowley’ is kind of the last shot Jerri has before she completely loses what little footing she has in her life. It’s this perilous leap—not of faith, necessarily; I think Jerri may be a bit too cynical for that—but a leap to the next precipice. The white face paint, the vampy get-up, that’s the mountain she has to hug—and then later, learn to climb—if she wants another day of semi-stability. Before the monsters even saunter into this story we know what’s at stake for Jerri. Have you ever taken a similar leap in your career? Not knowing whether you’d make it, jumping anyway, and discovering later that that leap turned out to be a defining moment in your life? If so, what was it?
I have taken so many of these leaps of faith and attempted to jump across the fire of fear—and every single time I have landed into a better situation and have reached a place in my life that I didn’t think was possible. I am what you call a “grateful alcoholic and addict”. Grateful because I no longer resent the fact that I have this disease of addiction. Grateful that I found the path of serenity before my disease killed me. And grateful that through my sobriety I have come to believe that all things are possible. There is a concept in recovery of a “Higher Power”. What that means and how it’s defined by each individual is intensely personal and it’s very important. I hope and pray that Jerri can find and discover the strength of self-preservation and a Higher Power before the forces of darkness rip her to pieces…
6. Let’s talk about the nature of monsters in ‘Count Crowley’. There are the beasts Jerri will have to trounce in later issues, and then there’s the monkey on her back destroying her relationships, her job, her ability to hold down a place to live. What difficulties do you face when telling a story about a character who has to fight a battle on two fronts?
I find that this juxtaposition of Jerri’s external and internal battles are a constant source of inspiration and layering in my writing process. Personally I believe that monsters are real. I believe in “bad” monsters and “good” monsters. I also believe that the battle against my internal demons are epic! Maybe I don’t arm myself with holy water or silver bullets (which we’ll discover are all useless anyway) but I do have an arsenal that I continue to maintain and develop like anyone entering battle—I have my therapy, my support system, my medication, my spiritual practice, my healthcare routine, etc., etc. There’s not a huge difference between what any of us have to face on a day-to-day basis and what Jerri will be facing on her adventure—in my opinion.
7. There’s a moment early on in issue #1 where Jerri is accosted by what could be a werewolf in a TV station parking lot, and we see the beginnings of a skirmish reflected, inverted, in a widening pool of spilled whiskey. Before, there’s an image of Jerri framed by an eldritch moon, her lips pressed to the sky—only she isn’t howling at the night, she’s drinking hootch. ‘Count Crowely’ has a very specific visual language that hearkens to the midnight movies Jerri is hosting on television, but it’s also beautifully-realized shorthand into where she is in her life at this moment. Did you have this imagery in your mind when you’re scripting these issues? What kind of effect did the visual language of horror movies have on a you?
I do! Thank you for acknowledging those moments. I will try to write scenes and images with specificity while still leaving an open door for Lukas to just go wherever his creative genius leads him. It’s been a pretty remarkable back-and-forth as he takes my scripts and then brings them to visual life. I also made it very clear to our entire team from the beginning that I want this comic to evoke the feelings and imagery stirred by classic monster movies and mythology while simultaneously inventing an entirely new language of monsters. It is much more difficult to kill a monster in the world of Count Crowley than you’ve ever seen. Because monsters have been infiltrating and swaying news and information for generations, they have fed a bunch of “fake news” into our society regarding the means by which you would kill or stop a monster. This is a whole new game.
8. Share with us your favorite late-night horror movie watching experience, please.
I have so many favorite moments so I will just pick one out of my memory… I remember watching Crematia’s Friday Nightmare and seeing Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf. I was so scared of his transformations and werewolf rampages that I was hiding under a blanket in my parents basement while everyone was asleep upstairs—but I was also so concerned about this poor man and the curse that he’d been given that my heart ached for him! Oooh—another moment I will never forget was the first time I saw myself on an episode of Svengoolie! And it was during a broadcast of Universal’s classic, The Wolfman! What a dream. Be sure to check out The Svengoolie Stomp!
‘Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter’ #1 is in stores now. Issue #2 drops November 20. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: SEP190281)
You can read the DoomRocket review of ‘Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter’ #1 here.
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter’ #1, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!
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