Fresh from Heroes Con, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with Dalton Deschain, writer of the horror anthology comic Monocul, to discuss how he balances horror and comedy in his stories, along with the storytelling similarities and differences in writing for comics and writing for a band.
COMIC BOOK YETI: I am joined here by Dalton Deschain, writer of Monocul. Thank you for joining me, Dalton.
DALTON DESCHAIN: Thank you for talking to me.
CBY: Honestly, I was gonna say this as part of a later question, but I was absolutely floored by the preview pages you gave me for Monocul. Can you give us an elevator pitch for the anthology?
DD: Yeah. So Monocul is a horror anthology series in the tradition of Tales from the Crypt, and those old EC Comics. So, every issue that we release has three short stories in it, all written by me with a variety of different independent artists that I seek out and work with. Basically, the premise of it is that it all revolves around a fictional tech company called Monocul.
So this is like our stand-in for Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. All the stories are sort of disconnected horror stories that all revolve around this company. The idea is to explore all of the real-life horrors that these ultra-powerful tech companies with no restrictions enact all around the world and blend it with old pulp horror tropes, like zombies, Dracula, mummies, Frankenstein, and all that kind of stuff, you know? So, yeah, it's like pulp horror mixed with sort of Black Mirror-esque real-world commentary.
"...Yes, this is silly, and it's okay to laugh at it, but also, I'm going to scare the shit out of you."
CBY: Okay, so was EC Comics your main inspiration behind the idea?
DD: Definitely for the format. I've been a horror fan my whole life. When I had the idea to make a horror comic that was a series of shorts, I think the most obvious blueprint for me were the old EC Comics. I'm also such a fan of the Tales from the Crypt series. And Creepshow is like my favorite horror film of all time, which is also based on the EC Comics, loosely.
I also had the idea of a Cryptkeeper-type host of the comics named, Mack The Mummy, who is a mummified version of Steve Jobs. And every issue opens with this mummified Steve Jobs, cracking jokes, and he closes the issues as well. So yeah, that was definitely sort of the inspiration for the format.
CBY: Like I was mentioning earlier, I was really impressed with how horrifying some of those stories were. They have a basis in reality, obviously. So like, I think that helps. But then there are some bits where it can also just go so far into the spectrum that it's like morbidly funny. So, I noticed you were treading the line between horror and comedy with that. Can you go into what your scripting process was like trying to find that balance?
DD: Well, I think comedy works really well in horror because it disarms the audience a little bit. I think if you go into writing horror as like, this is all grim, death, mood all the way, you're sort of creating this expectation in the reader that it can sometimes be hard to jump that hurdle. But when you make your story funny, that kind of puts people's guard down, they get a different sort of tone from it. And then when it turns scary, it catches them off guard more and is more impactful.
You know, that's sort of my philosophy about horror. I also just like writing comedy stuff in there as well. And I think the premise is inherently funny, right? There is something morbidly funny. And this is very darkly funny, but like about, factory workers killing themselves, and then using Frankenstein technology to resuscitate them, like that is super dark, because it is something that happens, right?
And that's the scary part about it is that like, you do have this thing happening. But the idea of like, then mixing that with, like a mad scientist from Palo Alto is like, there's a comedy to that. And so you kind of have to ride that line of like, Yes, this is silly, and it's okay to laugh at it, but also, I'm going to scare the shit out of you.
CBY: Yeah. It's like even before the resurrection bit when they're just mentioning suicide, that's like, you know, I guess a small trigger warning for people there. It's like, I was equally horrified. But then, my guttural reaction was also a small chuckle. I'm just like, "oh God." (Laughs)
DD: Yeah. And that part is fully based in fact. A lot of these start from actual articles that I read. There was an iPhone assembly plant where all of the workers got on the roof and threatened to jump together unless their working conditions improved. And so, part of the goal of the comic is to put that in front of readers in a way that is digestible, but also sort of opens your eyes to how scary this world is, and how scary these companies are.
CBY: Agreed. Not to be on a soapbox, but especially the last couple of years, you really can't put anything past them now.
DD: Exactly. And you know, there's nobody keeping them in check. That's the scary part. And we try to balance that with some humor.
CBY: And I think you did a wonderful job of threading that needle. But another thing I was curious about, is whether each chapter has a different artist on board? Or do you have a rotating list of artists that you work with?
DD: I try to constantly find new artists, but I definitely have a rotating cast that I lean on. For example, Danny Buksa is in most of the issues. I love working with him. Y. Sanders is a great artist who has done, I think three or four stories, and has one coming up. And Don Cardenas has done a couple at this point now. So I try with every issue to have at least one or two new artists, but I definitely have some that I just know, I work with really well. I know exactly what they're gonna do and that they're gonna nail it. So I definitely try to use them as much as I can.
CBY: Ok, and has your collaborative process with each one been about the same, or do you adapt it to their strengths?
DD: I think as I get to know, an artist, I can play into their strengths better. For example, there's not a print issue of this yet, but I just did via Patreon, an issue that's all about cryptocurrency. So it's three stories that are all about Crypto and NFTs and stuff like that. And one of the stories is about a monocoin mining farm in Alaska, that gets attacked by like a Bigfoot, Swamp Thing type creature. And I know that Danny Buksa is really good at drawing monsters. So as soon as I knew that, I was like, Oh, he's gonna be my guy for this because I know he can draw a gnarly-looking terrifying monster.
CBY: That's awesome. I imagine with a short story sometimes, by the time you start to figure out, an artist's strengths, the story is over. Since we've been on the subject of horror for this long, what are some of your all-time favorite horror films?
DD: Creepshow as I mentioned earlier, is one of my absolute tops, the original Suspiria by Dario Argento, I think, is maybe the most beautiful-looking film I've ever seen in my life. And I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre is maybe the best horror movie ever made. I don't know that it's my favorite. It's not the one that I'm watching constantly, because it scares the shit out of me. But I think it is the platonic ideal of a horror film.
CBY: Okay, I want to unpack that a little bit. What makes that one hit for you?
DD: I mean, first of all, it's terrifying. Like, I'm a person who has been watching horror my whole life. Not a lot of horror movies actually scare me. But that one really gets under my skin because I think it's a perfect blend of the way it's shot, almost very documentary style, it feels very real and tactile and tangible of everything that's happening. The performances are so natural, the script is so natural and every like moment, like that first Leatherface kill, is just, it's just punctuation. It's like every frame of it hits.
And so it just seems maximum calibrated for fear and the ability to like stick with you in a way that I think is very rare. It doesn't feel like there's any artifice to it even though it's obviously all artifice, you know?
CBY: I think what helps with that one, and I'm just honestly riffing right now, just because I saw that one in a theater a couple of years ago, pre-pandemic. It hit different at that time for me as well, since it was a theater experience. I think that movie is the epitome of the, "you went somewhere that you had no business being" And just some horrible stuff happens if you come across the wrong corner of the world.
DD: Yeah. like you said, sort of in that vein, it feels like it could happen to you. There's not a supernatural element to it. It's like, oh, if you end up in the wrong place like this, this could be you. The fear of spaces outside of your comfort zone is a very relatable one.
CBY: I couldn't agree more. So I have to give complete credit to Jimmy, my editor for this one, because I was focusing purely on your book for this interview, but he made me aware that you also have a band. Dalton Deschain and the Traveling Show. So, I did listen to about half of the album for a little prep as I was working through some stuff and I really dug the flow of it. So, what was your inspiration behind making a band?
DD: So, I was a musician long before I was a writer. In fact, the band actually is what got me into writing. So I've been playing music for almost 20 years now. And I started this band a little under 10 years ago. And we're a concept band. So like all of the songs on that album, tell one long story and it's actually represented here at the convention because when you buy the album, it's a novel.
So this is a novel that I wrote that tells the story behind the songs. So they're kind of a companion piece to each other. And they're both written so that if you aren't interested in reading the novel, you can just enjoy the album and enjoy the music. But if you want something more, you know that a novel backs that up.
And so I really started writing because there was more to the band that I wanted to express. And I wanted to get the story out a different way. I started out by writing short story books that we released with our EPS that eventually moved into the novel writing for the full album. And all that writing got me into comic writing, so that was sort of my gateway to the whole thing was actually the music.
CBY: That's a fascinating intro to comics. So what differences are there for you in writing a song versus writing a comic?
DD: You know, the thing about writing comics is that it's structure all the way down, especially with short comics, because I know I have eight pages to tell a story. And I only have so many pages, each page only has so many panels that I can fit, and each panel can only fit so many words. So I really need to break down an outline and break down everything for the comic strip. I start with like a general outline, a detailed outline, I break it into pages, I break it into panels, while with music, you can just sort of follow your instincts to a degree.
I mean, obviously, music also has a lot of structure, you've got your pop song structure, a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, whatever. But you can kind of find that as you go and you can adjust it to your needs. I can write a two-minute song on the album, or I can write a nine-and-a-half-minute song, which is one of them on there, you know? So I would say with music writing, I much more just go based on instinct and emotion, while with the comics are all moving parts that I have to find the right way to make them interlock.
CBY: And obviously similar to comics, I mean, obviously you have bandmates too, right? So, there's a degree of, you don't have complete control in that product. But you're all working together to make this thing come to life.
DD: Yeah. Which is also kind of the thing with comics, right? Because you're working with an artist and a letterer, you know, and so I can put things down on the page, but I know that's gonna be better when I get the art back and be like, "Oh my god, this is something I didn't even think of" that you have is and it's the same thing of like, I take a song to the band, and our bass player, Daisy, comes up with a plan like, "oh, my god that fits so well. "You know, like that elevates the song. So in both, you're sort of relying on your collaborators.
CBY: It's interesting seeing the differences and similarities between the two in a way that I never really expected to have this conversation with someone. Which, I really appreciate.
So, where can people support Monocul along with your other works?
DD: Right now I run everything through Patreon so you can sign up for my Patreon at patreon.com/daltondeschain, or I also have the vanity URL spooky.zone. So if you type in spooky.zone, you'll get to it as well.
That is where Monocul's primarily published. So every month, we put an eight-page story out digitally. And then it's only a few months later that we compile them into the print issues. So that's the best way to stay up to date with Monocul is by signing up for the Patreon. It's like four bucks a month, it gets you all the stories.
Everything else if you head to daltondeschain.com, you can find the band. We're obviously on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, all that kind of stuff. But yeah, Patreon and the website are the best ways. I am on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. I'm @daltondeschain everywhere. I'm the only one out there. So if you search for me on any of those, you'll find me.
CBY: Dalton, thank you so much for your time
DD: I appreciate it!