Yeti Cave Interviewer, Ty Whitton, sits down with Jay Stephens over his new comic book, Dwellings. Ty shared Jay's vast, yet incredibly cool history in creating fantastic projects with publisher Oni Press, saying this project has the potential to be one of his best as an artist and writer! Dwellings is horror book that contains two stories within. The art and writing are sure to please anyone into the horror genre or fans of Jay's prior work, so make sure this comic book is yours on new comic book day, August 9th, 2023!
COMIC BOOK YETI: I can’t help but appreciate the time you carved out of your schedule to meet with me in The Yeti Cave for an interview on a wonderfully dark project that is Dwellings! Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the interview, how has 2023 been for you so far?
JAY STEPHENS: Despite the sick and twisted tone of Dwellings, I can assure you I'm quite fine, really! The growing success of this new series of cute-looking horror stories has been the hands-down best thing of my 2023 so far. Or should I say, 'severed hands-down'?..I can't believe the overwhelmingly positive reaction to this book!
CBY: Now, your book Dwellings isn’t just a regular one-shot, but happens to contain two stories that make up a larger 72-page action-packed comic book! The two stories, “They Know” and “Second Tongue,” totally could have had their own comics dedicated to each story. Why did you choose to go the route of combining the two stories into one?
JS: Well, Dwellings actually did originally appear as single-issue, crowdfunded comics through Black Eye Books, oozing out of the small press in irregular spurts over the last three years...my old friend Michel Vrana and I had a blast returning to our underground comix roots. Oni offered an exciting opportunity to reintroduce these tales to a whole new group of eyeballs, and are repackaging them as gorgeous, bi-monthly double-size issues. Like a late-night double-feature combined with those old "giant-size" Harvey Comics I so adore.
CBY: The writing and art were incredibly attractive, with the art bringing forth the aesthetic of Harvey Comics (i.e. - Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich). What inspired you to let so many panels stand alone, visually, without including text?
JS: I really do love old kids comics, so there's a lot of love there. John Stanley's Melvin Monster, Dick Briefer's funny Frankenstein, Gold Key's Mr. And Mrs. J. Evil Scientist... And Harvey artists like Howie Post and Warren Kremer did often let the action stand alone without dialogue, with maybe just some sound effects. The main reason I'm letting it breathe narratively, though, is that horror really does require the build-up of tension, and sometimes you need awkward eerie silence to make the mood as dreadful as possible.
CBY: The first story, “They Know” contained lots of information and facts about crows, which was really cool to read within a horror comic. What made you want to educate readers within a riveting story, instead of just pushing the narrative?
JS: I guess my weirdo brain just hangs on to strange facts when I come across them, and something in me wants to believe I'm not the only one that would find this weird stuff interesting! I'm an over-sharer. When I read that a murder of crows will pair with a pack of wolves in a symbiotic hunting relationship, my mind wanders immediately to horror.
CBY: The book touched on very popular topics within horror - murder and possession - with an enjoyable dash of mystery and detective work. How did you go about deciding the horror topics for the story?
JS: I'm always writing notes to myself with little scraps of story ideas. I sifted through and built the best ones into the terrible tales in this series, and varied the characters and content from story to story to keep it as fresh and surprising as possible. It's a mash-up of mid-century retro art and Art House Horror... I wanted the stories themselves to feel at least a little familiar so that the shocks hit harder.
CBY: While reading Dwellings, I thought of the movie The Birds regarding how the crows were used in the first story. What specific influences and ideas inspired both stories?
JS: Big Hitchcock fan, for sure, but Dwellings is mostly inspired by real life! There are a lot of crows that hang around the building where I live, constantly chatting to me when I step outside, and there had been a random murder by a seemingly nice young man a few blocks away at around the time I wrote "They Know." "Second Tongue" is inspired by the Satanic Panic that was everywhere in the news when I was a kid, mixed with scary street stories I heard from some marginalized folks downtown. It all blends together and grows into the horrors you see on the page.
CBY: The second story, "Second Tongue," includes a diagnosis of Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). This condition is very real and the story shed light on how the syndrome associated with Brandon and how it affected the story. Why did you choose to utilize FAS for Brandon in the story, and as accents are often easier to speak than write, what went into depicting the condition on the page?
JS: Another example of some fascinating and obscure fact that I tucked away in my brain for later use. I love the idea of the way we speak being part of our 'mask'... our persona. The idea that changing your accent suggests you are now somebody else entirely. Of course the case of Foreign Accent Syndrome that kicks off the story turns out to be anything but a simple clinical case! As for sound, I do try my best to use old-school sound effects and other visual cues to help the reader better imagine the soundscape.
CBY: You’ve stated in your comments on Dwellings that the book, “...intertwined with your personal fears…” Can you elaborate on this? What fears did you include into Dwellings to give this book more of a personal touch?
JS: It's all fiction, and none of it is real... But it's all coming from my genuine fear. I'm trying to scare myself with these, like any decent horror writer would.
CBY: As you’re now back with Oni Press working on this fantastically-done project, with congratulations in order, do you have any other future plans for projects that readers can look out for?
JS: Thank you! Yes, Black Eye Books and I will continue to crowdfund collections of older works of mine, like we began with Dejects and Jetcat & Friends, and I wrote a delightfully strange miniseries for Dynamite that ought to be announced pretty soon. There's another new project coming up that I wish I could talk about, but it'll have to stay under wraps for now. And I'm sure Oni and I will have some sort of future together... I'm booked solid!
CBY: With Dwellings only being a three-issue series, do you have any plans to branch off from this story to create a universe of sorts, with other side stories to tell?
JS: I have more tales of Elwich to tell at some later date, yes.
CBY: After reading this story, I can imagine many would be interested in seeing more of your work. Where can readers find other material you’ve released or find you on social media to stay current with your upcoming work?
JS: Instagram is my primary social media @jstephenscomics, and there's a link to all my other stuff there, like my humble little YouTube channel with behind the scenes stuff and all the old Nickelodeon Jetcat cartoons we did back in the day. Best place to start.
CBY: I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had reading Dwellings #1 and that the book is certainly one of my favorite horror titles already this year! With that in mind, thank you for spending some time with me in The Yeti Cave for this interview and I certainly have high hopes for Dwellings’ future! I would love to bid you good luck with this project and in your future works, as well as hoping to join you again in another interview!
Dwellings hits comic book store shelves on August 9th, 2023! Check out the YouTube video Oni Press created for this project!
*Please go take a look at Dwellings via PreviewsWorld HERE, or inquire with your local comic book store about the book and upcoming issues. You will be happy that you did!!