Jimmy Gaspero welcomes Son M. and Dri Gomez into the Yeti Cave to discuss their comic Judas Complex, what has made their collaboration so successful, and what they look for in the stories that most interest them.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Son and Dri, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave to discuss Judas Complex, a queer fantasy mystery, currently available to pre-order through the Dauntless Stories website. I am so excited to talk about this new graphic novel, which just met its funding goal. How are both of you doing?
SON M.: I’m doing well! October has been a crazy month for me, and it’s so exciting that Judas Complex has reached its pre-order goal!
DRI GOMEZ: Doing just fine! Glad to be here finally sharing all the work we've been carefully putting together to such a warm reception.
CBY: The story starts in the '90s with a college football team, the Red Wolves, that take a drug meant to ensure their victory, but instead they seemingly transform and massacre everyone, except for lone survivor Desmond. The story picks up a few years later with Desmond working as an assistant to a P.I. named Constantine and, lo and behold, bodies start appearing. Where did the idea for Judas Complex start and how long were you working to develop this story?
SON: Dri and I have been talking for a while about wanting to do something together. We’ve been friends for a long time and I adore her approach to horror and her art. When creating Judas Complex, we asked what we really wanted to indulge in. Turns out, vampires, werewolves, inspectors and crime just spoke to us.
Furthermore, the reason we went with an enhancer drug is because we’re big nerds for sci-fi!
DRI: I feel like both Son and I are big fans of horror and paranormal media and we'd been talking for forever about how much we also like the camp/slasher aspect to it that isn't always fitting to the tone of more serious stories. We really wanted to make something intense and true to form but tonally lighter and, most of all, fun. Son came up with this brilliant take on werewolves I've never seen before and it was so exciting to think around it, it became the key point of the plot.
As for Constantine, the vampire detective... is there really any more I need to say about it? He's a vampire detective, an instant sell for both of us! More than that, if Desmond was going to be on a journey to uncover the truth about the night that changed his life and haunts his present, then what is a more perfect foil than an ancient being who has seen history over and over and is, at this point, just unsurprised by it? The contrast of a high-strung character going through things the more detached one can no longer really relate to makes for just the right detective team if you ask me.
CBY: Without spoiling anything, can you talk about the name Judas Complex and what that means for the overall story?
SON: It actually stemmed from what I consider the opposite of Martyrdom Complex, in that it’s a selfish obsession to act in your best interest. I won’t spoil it, but it’s definitely involved with the story.
DRI: This was all Son's genius. I’ll let them take this one.
CBY: Son, with a character like Desmond, who, when the story picks back up, might still be in the process of moving on from a horrific, traumatic past, what do you have to do as a writer to make sure the dialogue and action is authentic, and do you need to decompress after a writing session or are you able to turn that part of your brain on and off, as needed?
SON: I’ve never really felt stuck in a mood or emotion, thankfully, despite writing it. I have a very visual mind, so I often imagine comics as a storyboard in my mind, including the pacing of discussion and the fluid way conversation moves. Dri and I are also no strangers to grief, so we often talk about how we feel Desmond would react together.
CBY: What do you hope readers take away from this story?
SON: Werewolves and vampires can get along, don’t take drugs you don’t know enough about, and that supernatural mystery can be modernized in fun ways.
DRI: Ultimately this is a passion project for both of us to decompress and give people all the tropes we love in the same place in a fast-paced, fun package. We want them to join in on the ride and enjoy the excitement.
You can have vampires, werewolves, slashers and sci-fi horror all at once and no one can stop you!
CBY: What do you look for in the stories that most interest you?
SON: Horror, queerness, and violence. I’m kidding mostly, I’m interested in new perspectives on classic horror stories. I like strong characters, dynamic interactions, and themes that diverge from the standard mainstream storytelling tropes.
DRI: I like a lot of different genres and types of media, so I feel that I've always consumed it through the lens of whether it knows what it is and what it's trying to do. I like stories that feel true to themselves and stick to that.
I've also always been a character reader who clings to dynamic and psychological analysis which is what lands me so often in the horror/mystery section.
CBY: Have the two of you worked together before and how did you come together to work on this?
SON: Dri and I have known each other for a long while! We actually came together from being mutual fans of the same series and now, we play weekly D&D together. It felt natural to tackle a supernatural project together. Especially because we have the same indulgences.
DRI: Son and I have been good friends for the better part of a decade at this point! Working together has always been an idea we both wanted to embark on and have had ideas for multiple times so it's really exciting that we finally get to do it!
CBY: How would you describe your collaboration? Son, are your scripts tightly scripted or is there more room for artist interpretation of certain panels/scenes to convey more mood than action?
SON: I always leave room for artistic interpretations unless it’s imperative otherwise. Dri and I are fully collaborating, so I actually go back and forth on scripting choices with her often. We discuss mood together, themes, and what we love in other works that we feel we can emulate!
DRI: It's completely collaborative. I think the good thing about having a writer/artist team is the comfort that comes with working with someone who can see things from a different perspective than you and as such we can cover way more ground than with a single point of view.
CBY: Dri, your artwork is exquisite. How do you create your art – traditionally or digitally? What’s your process?
DRI: A lot of blood. A lot of sweat. Some tears. Sometimes an image appears in front of me at the end.
Well, for Judas Complex the process is purely digital and pretty standard-batch thumbnailing, moving on to sketching, moving on to lining, etc. Honestly, the key is in the boring details, like doing the research before you even start doing anything. I feel like even thinking about how to do a scene sometimes entails me sitting down to watch full movies to get in the right aesthetic place mentally and know well what kind of resources and ideas I want to portray.
The rest is just a lot of time and methodical organization.
CBY: Additionally, I believe it’s the 6th preview page, right after Desmond takes the pill, there’s a certain almost imperceptible doubling effect. It is so compelling and conveys so much about what Desmond is experiencing in that moment. How did you create that effect?
DRI: My background is in visual communication and graphic design and it's a voice that is constantly whispering in my ear. Whenever I'm reading the scripts or coming up with ideas for it, the most important thing for me, before any line or sketch, is to know what feeling I want the scene to convey. How can I show that Desmond's grip on reality is slipping before you get confirmation from the script? How can I increase the sense of gravity and the shift in tone of the scene from action sports fun to paranormal massacre? How can I use the format of the comic itself to help me and use the panels in the page to take you as a reader on that trip too?
The effects themselves are always just an answer to those kinds of questions and they're usually a click away with the right tools.
CBY: You are also coloring your own work. The palette for the preview pages is quite dynamic, how did you decide on the overall look for the book?
DRI: I just happen to love old horror movie posters and take loads of inspiration from the use of complementary colors and saturated contrasts. My main focus is that each scene looks different than the last, but cohesive within itself.
CBY: Son, what was the biggest surprise or particularly favorite page or panel once you started seeing Dri’s artwork? Dri, what was the most challenging page or panel for this that you’ve had to create so far?
SON: GOD, I LOVE ALL OF DRI’S WORK! If I had to pick a favorite sequence because "page" is too hard, it would have to be the adrenaline scene showcased on the website. When the game starts, Dri begins blending colors and linework to make an intense, trippy feeling. The brewings of a transformation impending. It feels and looks awesome!
DRI: The full page showcasing the massacre taking place for sure. Both because it’s quite gory but also so important for the rest of Desmond’s story. I kept thinking, “This is a page I will likely have to reference many times and he might have flashbacks of a lot so it needs to be just right,” so I definitely felt the pressure.
CBY: I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Toben Racicot recently about Crown & Anchor, and he’s a delightful person and fantastic letterer. How did he become involved in the project?
SON: Marcus brought him in and his work has been wonderful! The lettering looks phenomenal.
CBY: Dri, I saw that you had a link to a Spotify playlist called “Desmond’s no good very bad night to remember.” Was this something you created yourself, and do you listen to this while creating, or was this something you put together for fun? How did you pick the songs on the playlist?
DRI: The title is a little bit me making fun of him. Affectionately. I feel that music is the most direct line to convey mood and emotion, so having a playlist for both of our protagonists really helps not just to further communicate to the reader what they're about, but also for myself and Son to get in the mood for them whenever we need to sit down and tell their story. For Desmond, I wanted a slightly chaotic, yet vulnerable sound to match his chaotic mental state.
CBY: How did Judas Complex end up at Dauntless Stories? Had you pitched it to them? What has been your overall experience with Dauntless and the pre-order process?
SON: I’ve actually been in contact with Marcus and Dauntless for a while. We’ve even talked about the business model as it was coming to life, so seeing it come to life and the pre-order system bringing some amazing comics to our hands is super exciting. I love the pre-order process, I’ve done a few Kickstarters in my time, so it’s quite familiar! All in all, it’s been great.
CBY: I have to acknowledge that I first became aware of Son through the “small fictions” Twitter thread about a grim reaper at a 24-hour diner, which I was delighted to find you can still read through your website under the section titled The Spaces in Between. Please correct me if I get any relevant details wrong, but you wrote a screenplay based on that, which became a film directed by Ravenna Tran with a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The original “small fictions” Twitter thread is one of the finest pieces of writing I have come across in a long time. I will link it here and everyone should read it if you haven’t. Can you tell me what that entire experience has been like, in as little or as much detail as you’d like?
SON: Ahh wow! Thank you for the kind words! So, I spend a lot of time writing fiction threads, and honestly, I’m so happy they’re liked! For Death’s Diner, it went pretty viral and Ravenna commented that she would love to film a short. I reached out and we came together! I wrote the screenplay and Ravenna directed the lovely film, the Kickstarter coming after to recoup funds, pay for color grading and edits and graphics needed. It’s now complete, being submitted to film festivals and soon to be shared with all the backers! I’m truly excited about it, as we’re teaming up for two more projects. One is Ravenna’s feature, which is already amazing in its premise, and the second is actually based on my thread The Artist, about a tattoo artist who arms you with weapons in your dreams.
CBY: The tough question I ask everyone, if you were a curator for a comics museum, which 3 comics would you want to make sure were included?
SON: Oh no, I hate this.
Berserk (the entire series), huge fan of Hellboy, and lately, The Nice House on the Lake has been wonderful.
DRI: Junji Ito's entire library perhaps, which I am personally on my way to collecting, the 2012 run of More Than Meets The Eye, and a collection of all the BL manga I’ve loved in my life.
CBY: Are there any other projects you both are working on that CBY readers should check out?
SON: Check out my webcomic series ANIMALHEADS that I write, co-created and illustrated by Sam Curtis. We’re on Tapas! We might have another surprise coming too. And also Bone Marrow & Other Tunnels to Travel Through, co-created and illustrated by Cathy Kwan. A beautiful illustrated webnovel: www.bonemarrowtunnels.com.
CBY: Where can you be found online?
CBY: Thank you both! I appreciate it very much. I cannot wait to read Judas Complex.
SON: Thanks for having us!
DRI: Thank you for taking the time! I hope we can share more content with everyone soon!