Monster madness: 11 Questions with Dan Brereton

by Billie Rae Bates
Tuesday, January 11, 2000

You've seen his wildly photographic and edgy art ... the gorgeous and eerie Nocturnals through Oni and Dark Horse, the bold and busty and bored Batgirl of DC's Elseworlds Thrillkiller books, the fiery landscapes of DC's Giantkiller series (which, like Nocturnals, he created).

Using watercolor and acrylic paints rather than traditional ink, Dan Brereton has forged a successful freelance career from his mountain home. Since his first gig in the comics world, Eclipse's three-issue Black Terror series in 1989, the 34-year-old Brereton has carved his niche -- and created his own look -- in comics. And he writes, too: a Superman story on Silver Banshee (for which he also illustrated the cover), the Buffy the Vampire Slayer books Dust Waltz and Buffy: the Origin. Plus, he's sprinkled in other projects like illustrating X-Men trading cards, the videogame Machinehead and an album cover for the band Toto, as well as some illustration for musician Rob Zombie. Next up, he's looking at a 48-page JLA graphic novella called JLA: Seven Caskets. He describes it as "a sort of horror thing with some Lovecraft vibes, some Robert E. Howard vibes." You can learn more about the artist and his work at www.nocturnals.com. Meanwhile, though, The Continuum posed 11 questions to Dan Brereton, just to see what the heck is on his mind ...

1. First of all, where do you live, and why?

Brereton: I live in the Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 15 minutes from where the Donner Party was stranded. I moved back here from the San Francisco Bay Area about five years ago. I like it up here. It's cold and we get a lot of snow, especially for California, but the community is a safe and peaceful one and the kids like living here. My family is here and several old friends. It's comfortable. One good thing about being a freelancer is you can pretty much live anywhere you want, as long as Fed Ex delivers there ...

2. What was the very first thing you drew as a kid?

Brereton: My mom has a watercolor I did at 2 that's done in bright primary colors. I titled the painting "Pecos Bill" when I was 5 or 6, just because the thing reminded me of that Disney short of the same name. I don't know why -- surely not the image, just the colors. When I was 4 or 5, I was drawing horned monsters with tails and big sharp teeth and bug eyes ... that's my earliest memory of an actual image. From then on, it was all monsters, superheroes and not much else. In high school, I started adding spaceships, animals and women to the repretoire. When I discoverd comic books at 7 or 8, I exploded: It was a major epiphany for me as a youngster. Jack Kirby ... wow ...

3. What has been your favorite project so far, of anything you've done in your artistic career?

Brereton: The Nocturnals, hands down. I love the characters, and I'm really as proud as I could ever be of the Black Planet graphic novel. After that, Giantkiller, and then probably Thrillkiller.

4. Your characters are wonderfully photographic, but with a dark, gothic edge. The facial expressions that they communicate are particularly amazing: When you read the Thrillkiller books, you see each character's face saying something beyond the dialogue. What real-life people have you used as models?

Brereton: I use whoever I can: family, friends, my kids, and people I meet who want to model and are into comics. I put my dad into almost everything I do. He has a great face, and it's kind of a fun little irony that he hated my comic collecting as a kid, but now loves what I do and loves being in the books. It's pretty cool.

5. You've done plenty of work on the creations of others -- Batgirl, Buffy, Silver Banshee and beyond -- but The Nocturnals and Giantkiller are your own creations. They're both also, incidentally, about monsters. Where does this love of monsters come from?

Brereton: An early age. I was pretty afraid of the dark as a kid, and I think drawing my own creatures helped me cope with an overactive imagination. Plus, there are no restrictions with monsters. No one can tell you you're doing them wrong. And they are an expression of pure creative joy. They're a big part of me. I'm sure there's some other psychological explanation for it, too, but who cares? Monsters are fun to draw! The funny thing is, I was afraid of monster and horror movies as a kid, and I didn't care for Godzilla movies. I remember being into the Sinbad / (Ray) Harryhausen films and loving dragons and Disney films. But monsters were personal. If they were too scary, I wasn't with it. Now that's completely changed, I think.

6. You're part of the very creative Generation X, like a lot of folks in comics these days. Do you identify with this rowdy crowd, and in what ways do your born-in-the-'60s, raised-in-the-'70s sensibilities come out in your work?

Brereton: I think for me, there's a greater connection to the really wonderful flavor of comics that were out in the late '60s and early '70s. Comics were way more fun and more colorful, even though technology now has surpassed the printing and separations of yesterday. Something about the saturated, lurid quality of comics I read as a kid, and the abandon that the artists drew with, really took my breath away. I grew up on Evel Kneivel, HR PufNStuf, All in the Family, Ultraman, Speed Racer, Space Ghost and Norman Rockwell prints. The '70s were the greatest time, the time of my childhood. It was an adventure. It was so different from the '90s ... less slick and more colorful, less stylish and more hip. I think I'm less absorbed with perfection than the artists of today, less anal-retentive, and I really do love stories and low-tech imagery. We're the pre-Star Wars, pre-video gamers. We're not tied to technology as much as we are the wonder of stories. Hey, I dunno, I'm just a comic book guy.

7. Which do you find easiest, writing or drawing?

Brereton: Writing is easier from the point of view of time: In the time it takes to paint a 48-page book, roughly six months, I could write six books. However, for me, writing takes more concentration and effort; I love doing it, but it's less about style and method than it is about inspiration and immersion into character. I love both equally, that's for sure.

8. What kind of work would you like to do beyond comics?

Brereton: Screenwriting, mainsteam illustration ... I had a ball working on the pieces I did for Rob Zombie. I did a Toto album cover that was weird but cool too.

9. What projects do you have tripping around in your head right now that you'd like to bring to the light?

Brereton: A vampire saga set in the future. More Nocturnals. A Giantkiller project with giant robots that features the Nocturnals as supporting characters. I'd love to do a full-blown hard-boiled crime story. A feudal Japan fantasy epic ... I have started to think about other things, too, that would be more suited to film or TV as well. When you stop thinking "comics" for five seconds, you start to get these cool ideas for stuff that you never would have come up with before. I'd love to not be tied to any one medium. I'd love to be able to branch out more. I'd love to do a story that features arch-criminals as the protagonists.

10. How do you spend your time outside of work?

Brereton: With my kids, mostly. I'm a single parent and it's a lot of work, but I love spending time with my family, my parents, my brother and sister. One of my favorite things is to take the whole family to dinner or a movie. There were seven of us Breretons in the movie theater at 9 a.m. last May to see Star Wars. That was fun. I really get along great with my folks now that I'm a (sort of) grownup, too. I love going to conventions and hanging with my comic book pals, too.

I rarely write or paint for myself. Most freelancers don't have time. I try to concoct and sell creator-owned stuff so I can do the personal stuff and get paid for it.

I love film and movies. I get a kick out of getting the pants beat off me in a video game match with my 6-year-old.

11. What are you going to be doing when you're 99?

Brereton: Hopefully not still drawing, but still drawing breath.