Shawn Aldridge and Scott Godlewski Unveil Backwoods Terror in The Dark & BloodyThe Dark & Bloody Cover Art by Tyler Crook Comics Features
Iris Gentry, the protagonist of new Vertigo series The Dark & Bloody, lives a complex life. He’s married, with one child and another on the way; he makes his living distilling moonshine in an isolated area in Kentucky; and he’s still tormented by his wartime experiences. All the more, a mysterious creature with murder on its mind lurks in the periphery of Gentry’s life. The first issue of The Dark & Bloody, out this Wednesday, builds slowly, inserting the reader into its protagonist’s head as the atmospheric art ratchets up the tension. We talked with writer Shawn Aldridge (Vic Boone) and artist Scott Godlewski (Copperhead) to learn more about the series’ origins and to get their thoughts on what makes for a great horror comic.
Paste: There’s a lot happening in the first issue of The Dark & Bloody: the introduction of Iris and his family, a mysterious girl who has befriended Iris’ son, an ominous scene at the end and glimpses of a very unsettling monster. What came first—the character, the premise, the setting or something else?
Shawn Aldridge: The setting and title came first. I knew I wanted to do a book set in Kentucky, but had no idea of what story I wanted to tell. In trying to brainstorm, the title popped in my head. Of course, that title, Moonshiner, isn’t the title anymore, but it did open the gates for everything that followed. Moonshiner sounds like a horror title taken out of context. From there Iris started developing in my head and his story started to unfold.
Paste: The central character of the series is a veteran with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). What are the challenges for you as a writer in terms of balancing this very realistic experience with some of the more fantastical and horrific things that take place in the first issue?
Aldridge: For me, I don’t want serious conditions like PTSD to be undermined by fantastical elements of a story. I never want it to come off as trivial. Like any character trait, you have to know, or you hope to know, how much to show. If you overexpose it, you run the risk of it coming off as gimmicky.
Paste: What first brought you two together for this series? Has your working process changed over time?
Aldridge: [Vertigo Editor] Jamie S. Rich brought us together. He asked me what I thought of Scott’s art and if I felt he fit the book. I told him I thought Scott was perfect. I think there’s some subtle character things that push the story forward, and Scott does a great job on those. After seeing how Scott handled pages and panels, I started tailoring my writing to that. I didn’t need to go in-depth with panel descriptions and such. I trusted Scott’s skills and judgement enough to know he’d take what I would describe to another level.
Scott Godlewski: Shawn had already had the series approved at Vertigo. Jamie contacted me about doing a story for the Vertigo anthology SFX. At the time I couldn’t make that one happen, but a couple of weeks later he came back with the pitch for The Dark & Bloody. I really couldn’t say no. Getting to work with Shawn and [colorist] Trish [Mulvihill] on this story was too good to pass up.
Paste: Although not a lot of it is glimpsed in this issue, there is a monster that makes its presence known. What was the process like of coming up with a design for it?
Aldridge: Well, I had hammered a general idea of what the monster would look like, but as story elements changed that idea evolved. I handed Scott a general idea of what the monster was and he just took it and made it brilliant. There was a little back and forth and something here or there, but mostly he just has a knack for taking bits and pieces and transforming them into something better than you imagined.
Godlewski: I love drawing monsters. If I could work on a book with all non-human characters, I’d be in heaven. Getting to the final design of the creature only took a couple of passes as Shawn and Jamie already had some good ideas. It ended up being one of my favorite creature designs. I hope it scares the crap out of everyone.
Paste: The series has a title that’s immediately gripping. How far into the process of working on this did that come to you?
Aldridge: I believe it was right before or midway through writing the first script. The title is actually owed to Jamie S. Rich. He found the phrase. At some point, it was realized that Moonshiner might not be as strong of a title as we would like it to be. I was asked to brainstorm for new ones. That’s a really hard thing to do, because once you name something, that name gets stuck in your head. Everything else sounds off. I liken it to someone saying, “rename your kid.” Luckily, Jamie came through with The Dark & Bloody, which is a reference to “the dark and bloody ground,” which is a term that was used to describe how much bloodshed Kentucky has seen in its past from tribal wars. I can’t think of a more fitting title.
Paste: How far have you plotted into the series?
Aldridge: It’s only six issues, so it’s fully plotted and written. I turned in the last script in December.
Paste: What, for you, makes for a good horror comic?
Aldridge: I think the same thing that makes for a good comic in general—you want the reader thinking about it long after they’ve set the book down. In comics, we don’t get the benefit of jump scares or mood music; so much has to be delivered visually and with the words. Visually, the art and colors have to set the mood, the atmosphere. Trish Mulvihill does a fantastic job of that with her color choices. She and Scott make a fantastic team. If it all works, no matter how unbelievable it is, the reader is on edge and thinking, Well, it could happen. Maybe you can make them jump in fear turning the page, but your goal is to manipulate them enough that a knock at their door does.
Godlewski: It takes a combination of things—character, tone and an air of unpredictability. Without relatable, compelling characters, no one cares what happens to them. Shawn has crafted some fully-realized, sympathetic people that easily connect with the reader. Trish has created a tone and mood that creates a world that’s both familiar and haunting. The plot that both of those things are tied to really keeps you on the edge of your seat, not being able to see what’s in the dark corners of the room. I’m just trying not to mess it all up.
Paste: Which horror comics have impressed you the most over the years?
Aldridge: American Vampire, Black Hole, The Drifting Classroom, Harrow County, Nailbiter and Uzumaki, just to name a few.
Godlewski: Hellboy is the obvious answer. One of the first horror comics I remember being really unsettled by was Warren Ellis’ run on Hellblazer. It was tragically short, but there wasn’t a single page that didn’t make my skin crawl. Fantastic stuff.