Detailing the Monster Hero (1999)

Interview with Dan Brereton for Sequential Tart
by Lee Atchison

Dan Brereton is the creator and illustrator of the new Giantkiller comic published by DC Comics. A painter as well as a wordsmith, Dan has brought to life a whole horde of monster heroes, those ill-shaped and macabre creatures who fight for justice and the right to exist in a culture that only seeks to destroy them. There's something approachable about his characters; their torment and angst make them more human than those who prosecute them. And besides being such a great creator, Dan's a pretty cool guy. Visit him at booth 663 at the 1999 San Diego Comic Convention. And for more Dan related fun, visit his website at www.nocturnals.com.

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Sequential Tart: When did you first become involved with comics?

Dan Brereton: When I was 8. My friend Eric Messinio gave me some comics from his considerable collection (he was this kid from Back East whose family moved out to California and I guess comics were a bigger deal out there...) and I was instantly hooked. We're talking about 1972-73, when Marvel comics were cool and the coolest Marvel comics had already come out in the late sixties. I had never seen anything like them, and I soon came to care about pretty much nothing else but the Marvel universe from that point on, for many years. It was sick, but it got me thinking early on that maybe I could be an artist when i grew up, tell stories, create characters... I was already doing it anyway.

I decided when I was in High school that I wanted to go to art school. I did, and when I was in my last year of school I began working on THE BLACK TERROR miniseries for Eclipse Comics. It changed my life. From then on, I was working full time and loving the freedom of the medium and the fact that people seemed to regard my work as worth publishing... It was like the dream job come true.

ST: What was the first comic you read? Did it have any influence over you?

DB: I think it was three comics I saw in one afternoon: Man-thing, Conan and the Avengers... I don't really remember, but it was that kind of Trinity of fantasy, superhero and monsters... I was influenced from the first cover. It was like someone had plugged me into another universe, one instantly understood and embraced.

ST: Did you always want to work in comics?

DB: Yes, since that tender age. I remember getting into these 'drawing contests" with older kids to see who could draw better. I remember one kid telling me I wasn't a good artist because I erased too much....that hurt! I used to come up with these lame attempts at superhero characters and I would send the drawings to Stan Lee at Marvel with a letter that said "you can use these characters if you want to." Never got a reply.

ST: Awww. (grins) That's all we heard in my art class. That subtraction was just as good as addition, I mean.

DB: Yeah. 'Lost and found' they called it in my school. Once you get into art school, you realize that editing is just as important or more so than detailing...

ST: Have you had any formal training or are you self taught?

DB: I attended CALIFORNIA COLLEGE OR ARTS AND CRAFTS, and THE ACACEMY OF ART COLLEGE in SF for a total of four years. I will always cherish those years. They made the difference in my life. Without the formal training as an Illustration major, I wouldn't be a comics pro.

ST: How do you approach your artistic work? Do you illustrate exclusively in painting?

DB: Yeah, but sometimes I'll do inkwash stuff for fun or for commissions. Monochromatic paintings are fun too. But watercolor is my medium. But I'm not a purist; I'll use whatever works to get the effect I want, though I don't use an airbrush nor do I work in oils. For me, though, working with a brush is always preferable to using a pen, unless I'm dooding. My pencils are much to untamed and not at all tight in the way most pencillers are. I do what works for me, and that has led me to painting stuff. I don't care for the term 'fully painted art by" though. I wish they'd just call it "illustrated by".

ST: Your figures show a remarkable sense of form; do you use models for reference?

DB: Yup! Friends, family, anyone who volunteers or who I can corral. Usually I don't have much luck with strangers I meet on the street. I have enough friends and family to help me out. It's useful in spades: lighting, proportion, angles, perspective on the figure, etc... Trying to do everything out of your head results in a look that I'm not entirely satisfied with so I combine real-life with the stuff in my head and I'm happy with that result most of the time.

ST: Who or what has influenced your artistic style?

DB: In comics: Kirby, Buscema, Colan. Walt Kelley, Chuck Jones. Children's book artists: Mercer Mayer, Bill Peet. Illustrators like the Hildebrandts, Moebius, Gil Elvgren, Heinrich Kley, N.C.Wyeth, Rockwell, Cornwell. Painters like John Singer Sargeant, Waterhouse, Klimt. My biggest inspiration is probably Frazetta, which should come as no surprise.

ST: You're both a comics writer and an artist. Do you find yourself responding to one aspect more than the other? How does each appeal to you?

DB: For me, I've always been a writer. I've always been interested in the story, the characters... being able to write my own stories is a natural progression for me and not new for me, except professionally. I love being able to write the stories I'm illustrating and I love writing for another artist as well. Neither writing nor illustrating seems to hold importance over the other for me all that much, except in that the art is what got me recognized and what pays the bills for the most part. If I could make the same living by just writing, I would do that too , and paint occasionally, just because I enjoy it, not because I have 11 pages to do that month.

ST: What sorts of themes do you tend to repeat in your work?

DB: Outcasts finding each other and banding together against a world that either fears or has rejected them. Characters who may seem frightening and weird but are genuinely heroic. Issues of family and loyalty. Violence, monsters, heroes. Beauty and the Beast... I dunno, really. I'm not all that conscious about it when I'm writing, but the themes do tend to roll out onto the page... I tend to write characters based on how I or my friends or family might react to the things that are happening in the stories.

ST: You seem to be drawn to the macabre and the folks who just don't blend in well; any reasons why?

DB: There are plenty of reasons why, mostly childhood issues I guess I'm still working out. It's a bunch of personal stuff that makes me the high-functioning mess of a humanoid that I am... I will say that every character in the Nocturnals probably has a little of me in them. One thing that does interest me is the hero who is grotesque or flawed. That feared, misshapen (whether its on the outside or the inside) creature who is at heart heroic and undervalued. That and the outlaw character, the rebel.

ST: Which project do you hold closest to your heart?

DB: The Nocturnals. They are my babies.

ST: How much of the Nocturnals backgrounds do you have worked out? Are there stories there all ready to be written?

DB: Most of the Nocturnals backstory is all thought out, some of it even written out. I have many more stories I wish to do that are backstories and continuing stories... I have a timeline roughly worked out for them all, and hopefully I'll be able to explore them. But even if I don't, I'm satisfied that the stuff that's out there has been of interest to people and the characters seem to mean a lot to some readers and I know I have struck chords with many people, which makes me happy. If fortune smiles on me and I can further their exploits, that would be great. If that's not possible, they'll always live in my imagination. Having them live there means less work for me actually putting it all down on paper with paint and words, so I can live with that too.

ST: You mentioned working with Rob Zombie for the upcoming Nocturnals miniseries. How did this collaboration come about?

DB: Rob contacted me to do some work on the Crow movie he was supposed to write and direct; they sent me the script and it was this amazing horror epic that was fantastic. Rob referred to it as his "dark star wars" in that it had the potential to become a franchise set in a fantastic world full of cool characters. I did three large paintings and they were used to promote the film at MIFED, a film festival in Italy. Later on, the whole thing's regressed into a big nothing, due to creative differences Rob had with the producers. I personally think Pressman had a hit on their hands that would have really pumped some life into horror films, but they opted for a Crow film that's formulaic and will probably suck like the last one did. That's life.

Anyway, from there on, Rob hired me to do a painting that appears in the CD booklet for HELLBILLY DELUXE and as a shirt design. Since then, we've been working on the plot to a Zombie-Nocturnals storyline as well as other little side projects. It's fun.

ST: What is the basic storyline for the miniseries? Are there plans to do more after that?

DB: We haven't discussed whether or not we'll do more than one, but I would imagine it won't end our working relationship if the first one does well... There's always more ideas to explore... The current story involves the resurrection of a dark and twisted carnival mastermind from a hundred years ago... A member of the Nocturnals has ties to the past of Dr. Zombie and his travelling sideshow of monsters and freaks and in the present day, when the Zombie comes back to wreak havoc, the forces of evil come into play. Hell, Satan, demons, the undead and the Nocturnals caught up in the middle of it all... It's not a rock-and-roll comic, not a gimmick book to sell records; it's Rob and I doing a cool horror comic using the worlds we've created in our different mediums. Rob wants to record a new song for the project too, to package as a single in the collected edition, most likely.

ST: Now that you have a certain name recognition in the comics industry, do you foresee other Nocturnals miniseries on a regular basis?

DB: It's anybody's guess. I have other characters and stories I want to do other than the Nocturnals. If I can't get another Nocturnals project going after the thing with Zombie, I will always have other new ideas to explore... I have a vampire sage in mind, as well as ideas for future Giantkiller series... If possible, I'd like to do a Giantkiller story that guest-starred the Nocturnals. Think MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. It's a novel that features Captain Nemo, but in a roundabout way that doesn't make him the main character. I love that film.

ST: What was the most interesting con experience that you've ever had? Funniest, craziest, most frustrating, most embarrassing …

DB: While I try to think of one that befell me, I’ll tell you what happened to fellow creator Adam Warren. A guy asked him to draw the Dirty Pair characters, Kei and Yuri, in his sketchbook. The guy requested Adam do something "I can look at when I'm in bed."

Guys like that seem to know better than get freaky on me like that, but occasionally you get a guy who spends too much time living in his head...

As for interesting for me: the time I sold this painting (of my son sitting on a potty seat, reading an old comic) to a woman who told me it reminded her of her own son at that age...then she revealed to me that she was Quentin Tarantino's mother...thats was kind of cool.

I don't really have any wacky con stories to tell: most of the wackiness, when it does occur, is after the show, hanging out with fellow pros: like the antics that take place when certain people room together. It's a lot like my experiences at the dorm in art school... But on the convention floor, things are mostly cool. The craziest things I could think of would seem tame. In general, conventions are wacky because the kinds of fans and folks they attract are from such a diverse and colorful group... I love the San Diego convention for this reason. It's never dull.

ST: Are you a Quentin Tarantino fan?

DB: I was. I love his films, but the guy seems to be getting drunk and in fights all the time and smacking people. Plus he dissed Chow Yun Fat on Howard Stern, which I thought was lame since he was a huge fan of Fat's and was credited as being instrumental in getting US producers to notice him and seems to have helped given Chow some cache as a star... Maybe CYF and QT didn't hit it off in person or something, I dunno, but to bad-mouth Chow Yun Fat and say he sucked in Replacement Killers was strange and uncool. I hope Tarantino makes some more films, though: I think he's a great director and a good screenwriter. As much as people might like to pan From Dusk Till Dawn , with the possible exception of QT himself being in the film, I thought it was a cool horror/crime cross-genre flick and a daring bit of filmmaking in that respect.

ST: Are you a movie buff?

DB: Yes.

ST: Any movies you'd recommend to people?

DB: Hmm...let me list some current faves.

Miller's Crossing, Sanjuro, John Carpenter's The Thing, Ronin, Heat, Manhunter, Gamaera 2: Advent Of Legion, Alien Ressurection, Leon: Integral Version, Out Of Sight, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, The Big Heat, Lolita (The Kubrick Film), Being There, The Party, The Faculty, A Bridge Too Far, Point Blank, High And Low, Seven Samurai, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (70's Version), Carlito's Way

I have so many favorite movies....the list is really long.....

ST: About Jack the Giant Killer's cast of beasties. Were you influenced by old American monster movies? Or Japanese Godzilla movies?

DB: I wasn't really a fan of big monster films as a kid, but I really liked Ultraman. I also loved, and still do, the films of Ray Harryhausen. I didn't get into Japanese kaiju films until about four years ago, watching the new crop of Godzilla and Gamera movies with my son. We really enjoyed them, and after seeing the improved look of the films, I was even entertained by the older stuff like Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, etc... I was captivated by the imagination inherent, despite the huge budgets you see in blockbuster films.... I was always a fan of the Kirby monster comics and all these things inspired Giantkiller. The third major element that helped shape GK are all the feudal Japan samurai westerns I love to watch... I am a huge fan of Kurosawa (like, really into those films, not just because it's de riguer for film buffs to say they love Kurosawa, you know?), a devotee of Toshiro Mifune, the Zatoichi films, the Lone Wolf and Cub films. Ever since I saw the tv miniseries Shogun, I have been captivated by feudal Japan, samurai warriors and their code.... So all that kind of stuff sort of finds its way into my work (Firelion in the Nocturnals is a sword-wielding pyrokeneitc samurai) in one way or another.

ST: Thank you for your time. And as another reminder for our readers, Dan Brereton's Giantkiller is on sale now. Issue 2 of the miniseries has just been released. Check it out now.