Calla Cthulhu’s Sarah Dyer & Evan Dorkin Discuss Suburban Horror & Unexpected Career Paths

Comics Features Sarah Dyer & Evan Dorkin
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<i>Calla Cthulhu</i>&#8217;s Sarah Dyer & Evan Dorkin Discuss Suburban Horror & Unexpected Career Paths

When Paste first chatted with Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin about Calla Cthulhu last year, we called it “the first Lovecraftian coming-of-age tale”; a description accurate enough for Dark Horse to emblazon it across the print edition’s front cover. Melding aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s vaunted, sprawling Mythos with chosen-one tropes à la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Calla Cthulhu introduces Calla, a green-haired teen girl with a cosmically creepy uncle and a doomed destiny in which she wants no part. The story first took full advantage of the Stela app’s unique vertical format, unleashing artist Erin Humiston to splay tentacled horror across panels optimized for an iPhone screen. Now, with reworking from Humiston and the Dark Horse editorial team, Calla exists in a standard trade format to begin an eldritch second life in print. Paste caught back up with Dyer and Dorkin to discuss their long careers, Calla’s move to print and what’s next for the Elder God’s young-adult offspring.


Paste: Congratulations on your Eisner win with Jill Thompson for Beasts of Burden! Is there a rough plan in place for when you return to that series, or is it just dependent on getting an idea and everyone having time in their schedules?

Sarah Dyer: Thank you! We were very excited to win for that issue.

Evan Dorkin: Thanks very much, and thanks for asking about the status of the series. Basically, I have the main Burden Hill storyline plotted out in advance, including the ending. I also have several one-shots plotted that I hope we can do, about the main cast as well as the Wise Dog Society. Fans should be getting some new stories in 2018.

Paste: Looking over both of your careers, it’s hard to find too many recurring themes, but both Beasts of Burden and Calla Cthulhu deal with the suburban occult. What keeps you returning to the idea of supernatural hideousness in everyday neighborhoods?

Dorkin: To be honest, the fact that Calla and Beasts both take place in a suburban setting is a coincidence. Beasts started out as a one-shot short story about a haunted dog house, the story called for a small, sleepy town. Calla developed very quickly from Sarah’s concept, and, again, called for a suburban setting—two, actually—where crazy things can go somewhat unnoticed. It’s just a good trope for folding hauntings and monsters into, [and] horror and weird fiction tends to take place in towns and isolated areas [rather] than in cities, so you have breathing room. The further adventures we have planned for Calla involve a variety of locales, including some Lovecraftian hotspots.

Dyer: I think we also both like the idea that the horrible exists in mundane everyday locations—it’s not just evil towns and creepy woods. It’s everywhere.

Calla Cthulhu Interior Art by Erin Humiston, Mario Gonzalez & Bill Mudron

Paste: Is this where you saw yourselves headed when you got your starts in zines and self-publishing? You spent time working in animation, too—is that still something you both want to pursue, or is the comic world your exclusive home for the foreseeable future?

Dyer: Ha, I don’t think I ever really thought about where I was headed! I just sort of did one project after another and there was a pretty natural progression. No master plan or anything.

Dorkin: I’ve never self-published, actually. I don’t have the head for that. I came up in comics through small press publishers and zines while also doing mainstream work. I never saw myself heading anywhere, I never had a plan. Most of my friends and I feared comics would be dead by now. I definitely never expected to be doing animation work. Animation is great, but my focus is on my own comics.

Dyer: And while we don’t really pursue animation work, we still do it from time to time; we wrote the “Xingo” episode of the rebooted Ben 10—it’s in Season 2 in the U.S., but it’s aired overseas and is up online.

Paste: The two of your chatted with one of my Paste colleagues last year when Calla launched on Stela. How did you get from the digital vertical scroll to publishing in print with Dark Horse? And was it a challenge to adapt Erin Humiston’s work for traditional page layouts?

Dorkin: It was pretty simple, really. I’ve been freelancing at Dark Horse since 1991, and these days they’re my home base, collecting my old work and publishing Beasts. It just made sense for us to give Dark Horse the first shot at the print version of Calla.

Dyer: Adapting Calla to a traditional format definitely was a challenge; especially since we never wanted to restrict the digital version in any way. (We could have asked Erin to set it up so it was easier to print, and that’s definitely a valid approach, but we all thought it was better to do the best digital version we could and worry about formatting it later.) Once we knew we had a home at Dark Horse, their design department and our editor worked with us doing tests until we’d found a way to preserve as much of his layout and the story reveals as possible, and I think they did a fantastic job.

I will admit that I was not sure it would work! But when I saw the first pdf of the book I was thrilled at how well it came out. In fact, everyone’s work looks great! Mario Gonzalez’ inking was no problem of course; and Nate Piekos (of Blambot!) had worked to make the lettering very clear at any size. The colors did need a little adaptation, my original color designs and Bill Mudron’s excellent coloring had been done for backlit RGB so we did need to tweak it a teeny bit for print, but it translated really well.

Calla Cthulhu Interior Art by Erin Humiston, Mario Gonzalez & Bill Mudron

Paste: Now that you have a hefty tome complete, can you talk a bit about Erin’s work on the series and how the three of you conceived the looks of the Mythos beings that appear? The King in Yellow is particularly fun, as you hint that readers haven’t seen his true face quite yet.

Dyer: We really wanted Erin to create most of “our” Mythos, and he was pretty much unfamiliar with the visual look as it’s been established; so (with the exception of Cthulhu itself) we would give him some pretty vague notes and let him come up with a bunch of designs. We would try and boil any being down to what we saw as the essentials and just give him that. Our ghouls for example—we wanted to retain their pallor and suggestion of sharp teeth, but that was about all we told him. The King in Yellow is a really good example—the only visual I sent him was Robert Chamber’s original illustration, and we told him that we wanted the “tatters” to suggest something living like flames or tentacles, and to give him a staff and a deeply hooded robe with a masked face. He came up with several takes and the final version is just amazing.

Dorkin: I did a rough sketch of one monster for Erin because it was hard to describe, but that was as far as that went. Erin has an animation background—in fact he just joined Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age, Rio)—and one of the reasons we asked him on board was because of his character design and acting chops. That goes to the Mythos creatures, as well. For this project we made a conscious choice to steer clear of the way most Mythos art looks. I love that stuff, I’m a fan, but there’s no law that says the Mythos has to always look like a black metal CD cover.

Paste: Sarah, you mentioned last year that Evan was a wider Lovecraft reader than you are, and that you’ve been approaching it as “an anthropologist of the Mythos.” Does that hold true now that you’re further along into the series? Is that helping you pick and choose from Mythos aspects added by later authors?

Dyer: Yes, it is! I still haven’t read a single Mythos work since we got started on all this (although I may be forced to read one story soon for research purposes!)—I think that having Erin and I both come to the project with as little baggage as possible is a big part of why our world works the way it does. It really helps us all think outside the non-Euclidean box.

Dorkin: The funny thing is, Sarah actually has a good working knowledge of the Mythos as an outsider of sorts. I’m the cultist nerd, she’s the academic researcher. Like a Call of Cthulhu RPG campaign, only without the death and insanity. I hope.

Paste: Now that you’re in print with Dark Horse, what’s next for Calla? Are you exploring serialization again, or purely print OGNs from here on out? And will that change how the two of you and Erin approach the book’s visual identity?

Dyer: Well, we have the next two installments outlined and a long-term plan, but right now Calla doesn’t actually have a permanent home. I personally would love to use the same process and have both a vertical digital version and a print collection because those are different audiences and it’s a different experience. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

Calla Cthulhu Interior Art by Erin Humiston, Mario Gonzalez & Bill Mudron

Calla Cthulhu Interior Art by Erin Humiston, Mario Gonzalez & Bill Mudron

Calla Cthulhu Interior Art by Erin Humiston, Mario Gonzalez & Bill Mudron

Calla Cthulhu Interior Art by Erin Humiston, Mario Gonzalez & Bill Mudron