Home Publishers Dark Horse INTERVIEW: David Dastmalchian on the return of Count Crowley and the monsters...

INTERVIEW: David Dastmalchian on the return of Count Crowley and the monsters within and without

Count Crowley returns to battle vampires with an agenda

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Actor David Dastmalchian has turned in memorable performances in many comic book films – including The Dark Knight, the Ant-Man films and most indelibly, Polka Dot Man in The Suicide Squad – but he’s also a long time comics reader. And as of 2019, he joined the ranks of comics creators with Count Crowley. A horror tale set in the 80s, it stars Jerri Bartman, a struggling TV journalist who returns to her Midwest hometown to take a gig as a midnight monster movie host. The first mini-series, Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster, published by Dark Horse , chronicled Jerri’s ongoing struggles with alcohol dependence – and her discovery that monsters are real.

In the sequel, Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter, out this week, Jerri continues her path to redemption and discovers that vampires are stalking her small hometown – and gore and danger follow! Artist Lukas Ketner, colorist Lauren Affe and letterer Frank Cvetkovic are all back for the scary ride, along with Dark Horse editor Megan Walker.

Dastmalchian had a great chat with The Beat’s Samantha Puc when the first Count Crowley tale was released and it was time to catch up with him as the second is coming out. Dastmalchian is incredibly personable and so much fun to talk to – and he really loves Count Crowley!

[This interview has been edited for clarity and length.]


The Beat:  Hey David, how’s it going? Happy Friday!

David Dastmalchian: Happy Friday, the world is doing a shitstorm. But man, it’s great to get to talk about comics with you. This is why it’s the right time for Count Crowley. Jerri exists in a totally problematic, toxic world. And so we all do too, right now. And hopefully that will change by the time we’re old people, but I’m not seeing any signs of it yet.. So one of the few things I can do to keep myself from feeling like I’m just utterly drowning in a losing battle is telling stories and writing things like Crowley. So thanks for wanting to talk about it.

The Beat: Of course! Just for a little background for our readers, as well as being known as one of our favorite actors, you have been writing for quite a while, and not just comics. Count Crowley was your first comic, but you’ve written screenplays as well. Was this always something that you wanted to do alongside acting?

Dastmalchian: You know, it was a dream. I started journaling and writing short stories in about sixth grade, maybe a little bit younger, but I really loved writing poetry, short fiction, stage scripts. I used to write kind of, I guess, little mysteries and horror scripts that we would perform in my basement when I was a kid in Kansas. Writing has always been a big part of my life. Now, that being said, it’s definitely not a talent or skill that has come easily to me – I’ve had to work very hard at it. And I do feel like perhaps I had more natural inclinations and instincts as an actor. So my acting career started to move forward, and things started to happen. But I just kept investing in my writing and trying to utilize the opportunities I was getting as an actor to parlay that into getting to make movies, like Animals, the first feature that I wrote and starred in. My friend Collin Schiffli and I had been writing short scripts together and making short films and I’ve been writing all kinds of stuff and then we premiered it at South by Southwest. And now here we are. I’ve made a couple of movies since then with more in the works, and I have my dream come true. I’m writing a comic.

The Beat: I’ve read that you really enjoyed the whole experience of writing it, and working with Lukas Ketner, who, by the way, I’ve always adored his work.

Dastmalchian: He’s so good, a Berni Wrightson for our generation.

Issue #2, out in May.

The Beat: He really is so good. You really lucked out on that team-up!

Dastmalchian:  To be honest, that luck should be attributed to my editor, Megan Walker. Basically, when I got approved and Dark Horse said that they were going to do a limited run and see how it goes, they paired me with Megan, and we were immediately the perfect fit. She’s a very close friend of mine to this day. And still my editor, even though she’s moved over into film and television. But she said “Tell me what this book looks like to you.” So I had created a big document with lots of my favorite images from old Creepy, Eerie comics, some of the ‘80s comics that I thought it would evoke. Obviously, tons of Wrightson and stuff. And she immediately said the perfect match for this is Lukas Ketner. After we sent him the script, he immediately sent us sketches of what he dreamed that Jerri would look like. I was so blown away that I couldn’t sit down and I couldn’t stand up! I was walking around freaking out my wife, Eve, who’s been the biggest champion of Count Crowley since I first told her about the idea years ago. She was screaming, we were jumping up and down!

There are so many things about Count Crowley I could talk to you about, but there’s so many things about it that I wanted to achieve. But one of the most important visually was evoking a classic sense of art while pushing the envelope and doing something contemporary and progressive with it, which Lukas is perfect for. I needed Jerri to be one of the first manifestations of the woman as Monster Hunter in modern comic book, mythology who does not need to have her belly showing in action shots. She doesn’t have to fight in short skirts.  She doesn’t need to be the traditional definition of sexy. I wanted her to be sloppy punk rock, ill-fitting stuff and combat boots. To me, there is a sexiness in that kind of power, but I definitely didn’t want the schoolgirl outfit or cheerleader look. It had to be something totally different. And Lukas just ******* got it, man. Like when I saw those images, I was like this is what we can relate to.

The Beat  Yeah, he’s just so talented. So tell us a little about Jerri and where she is as this second series begins, and what kind of journey she’s going on.

Dastmalchian: Jerri has come to realize that in order to not only live, but in order to help keep the people she loves safe and alive, she’s going to have to battle to really, seemingly insurmountable wars.  One is with the demons within, which for her includes her addiction to alcohol and her struggle with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. And two, the demons without, which include a worldwide cabal of actual supernatural monsters, who work at the behest of grand demon head generals, in an effort to finally take over the world and get vengeance against humanity for wrongs committed millennia ago. And as they’ve been plotting and planning over thousands of years, they’ve learned the power of misinformation and fake news. They’ve disseminated all of this false mythology into the human consciousness about what monsters are, how they can be defeated, and Jerri is one of humanity’s last remaining hopes to stop them. She has now embraced the battle, but she has no clue how to go about the battle – either the monsters and demons without or the monsters and demons within. But she’s going to learn and that’s why she is no longer reluctant. She is now an amateur monster hunter.

Count Crowley Vol. 1

The Beat: I know you are a big horror fan and obviously Count Crowley is a tribute to that great heritage of the Universal Monsters and local horror hosts. But in talking about the monsters within, and  monsters without, all of the great monsters have really always been a symbol for something that was inside all of us trying to get out, haven’t they?

Dastmalchian:  Yes. I was introduced to horror at a young age by my local horror host in Kansas City, that great Crematia Mortem, who was my first horror host, my first crush, my first you name it. She was just the coolest person to me. She introduced me to the magic, wonder, fear and beauty of the classics, the Universal horror, the Hammer Horror, the Castle horror. Through that, we are all collectively able to stare down the barrel of our fear of our own mortality, of our own insanity, our fear of being alone. I think is one of the biggest struggles we all face as humans is that we always get tricked into believing that we’re alone on this journey. Thinking that nobody really gets, understands or truly cares about us is a plague that seems to haunt the human psyche. I think horror gives us, in a compressed hour and a half experience, an opportunity to go through the motions of something really terrifying about all of that. And then at the end of the hour and a half, it’s cathartic and we really are safe. We made it. We’re going to be okay.

The Beat: Hopefully, most of the time.

Dastmalchian:  Yeah, we can be, as long as we surround ourselves with people who love us. We practice the importance of self-care, we get the help that we need, we connect with community, we do the things we need to do educating ourselves and helping others. It’s like, it’s possible, and that’s what Jerri’s gonna have to do.

The Beat: So what kind of monsters are we gonna see in the sequel?

Dastmalchian: Well, the vampires are now aware that there’s something fishy with this Count Crowley down in Missouri. They have been given a little notification that there’s something going on. So we’re about to meet some of the first vampires we’ve encountered in the world of Count Crowley and man, they’re bad news. And, again, what we’ve been taught as the way you can stop a vampire is complete nonsense and will not stop the immortal beating heart of a vampire. Some garlic and holy water? They’ll laugh. Sunlight, they don’t mind. They just wear sunglasses. So Jerri is going to have to figure out the way that you do stop a vampire. And as we’ll learn in in these upcoming issues it’s not only next to nearly impossible, but it’s also incredibly gory and grotesque and terrifying. Among the many reasons that I’m grateful to Dark Horse, pairing me with Megan, Lukas, Lauren, Frank, my whole team, all the people in marketing – they also gave me an incredibly long leash. And with the new issues, they let me push boundaries visually when it comes to the horror and gore, that I did not know we were going to get to do so I can’t wait for people to see it . It’s really beautiful and artful but but Lukas does bring the viscera in a way that we’ve never seen before.

The Beat: Something to prepare ourselves for! You know, when you talked to Samantha a couple of years ago, you spoke about learning to write comics. I love interviewing first time comics writers, because they always shed some light on the whole process. You had Megan and Lukas to help you along, so how was the process this time? Did you have it down more?

Dastmalchian: You’re only as good as you’re willing to learn in any art form. I hold that to be true with acting. So now I understand the format in a way I didn’t before. Or I should say, I understood and had learned better ways of communicating my ideas with my editor and artists. But that being said, it was still a very incredible learning experience getting into volume two, there were themes, ideas and visuals, that I wanted this new series to embody, and figuring out how to communicate that best to my artist and my editor involved new techniques, like doing some of my own scrappy storyboarding work. I would take pictures of my notebook and upload them into either the scripts or the outlines so that they could accompany some of the stuff. It was less for artistic directive and much more for just trying to explain the mechanics of this person’s running out of this door here, and they’ve got to hide. And I want them to dive under this thing. So trying to draw that out with stick figures so that I could better explain it than I could in words, and then Lukas could figure out how to make that work in the panels. I trust Lukas so much that I just really felt empowered in this new series of scripts to go into even more depth when writing about the emotional, internal experience that Jerri and other characters were having, mentally and emotionally and psychologically, because I realized when I did that, how much he was perfectly evoking it in the characters’ expressions. There are times when the words that the character is saying, especially if it’s Jerri, is something that might reflect confidence. But what’s going on internally is not. And so he really just nails that.

The Beat: We have to wrap this up, but I must mention Polka Dot Man – I just have to. The Suicide Squad is just one of my all time favorite superhero movies, so thank you for that.

Dastmalchian: James Gunn is just a genius.

The Beat: He is. And the fact that he’s kind of creating this whole universe now at DC is pretty amazing. But you know, that had to be just an incredible experience making the film with the cast alone, right?

Dastmalchian: Let me just say, we all know, that James Gunn is a genius. He’s time and again made films that completely redefine the genres in which they exist. And he has time and again completely usurped all of our expectations with the worlds that he creates, but for me to get to play this character that nobody  – including myself – knew really anything about, and the way that he incorporated the character into the story that he needed to tell and, and the way that he told it, is something that we’ll look back on for the rest of our lives as fans and nerds. It’s yet another time when James Gunn changed the language of superhero storytelling and redefined the landscape of superhero cinema and changed the way that we look at losers and outcasts. He really, really did. And I’m just so honored I get to be a part of it.

The Beat: I’m so glad – you were an amazing part of the film. But to just to wrap it up, anything else for Count Crowley coming up that you can talk about?

Dastmalchian:  No, just please support your local comic shop. If you are curious about Count Crowley go to your local comic shop and get Volume Two, issue one, which is coming out March 23. And if you really are curious about Count Crowley, you want to get in to learn about Jerri’s origin story, you can pick up the trade paperback at your local brick and mortar comic shop or order it online. Go to Things From Another World or whatever online vendor you like. But please, coming through this pandemic, we’ve got to support our local comic shops, we need them, so go pick up a couple comics and a couple toys, knick knacks, whatever, keep comics alive.

The Beat: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time. Really great talking to you about this and be well, stay healthy.

Dastmalchian: That’s a great message. Everybody out there reading this, just take care of yourself. You might feel alone, you might feel like the world of the universe is conspiring against you. We all have felt that way. Jerri feels that way all the time. Me, David, I feel that way, very often. But there are people out there ready to listen, ready to help and you’re not alone. And don’t give up.


The first issue of Count Crawley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter, is on sale wherever fine comics are sold today, March 23.

 

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