Elvira has seen and done it all. From dodging crazed fans at comic conventions to facing Satan himself, the beloved Mistress of the Dark is celebrating 40 years of bringing her audience adventure, cheesy horror, and plenty of dirty jokes. Now, she takes a stand against death itself.
Writer David Avallone and Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, chatted with the Beat about the upcoming epic tale–The Death of Elvira–from Dynamite Comics, currently funding on Indiegogo (art is by Silvia Califano).
Deanna Destito: So what brought about the death of Elvira?
David Avallone: They asked me to do a 40th anniversary comic because it was the 40th anniversary of Elvira. And I thought that whatever story I could come up with for that wouldn’t be so special. The best way to make something truly special for the 40th anniversary was to retell the whole career of Elvira. And I knew Cassandra was writing her book. She wasn’t finished yet. So I thought it would be funny to find a vehicle to tell the whole story of Cassandra’s life as if it had been Elvira’s life.
And the way to get a perspective on that, I thought of Broadway Danny Rose, actually, of people sitting around a diner telling stories about Elvira. I was like, well, what would the context for that be? The context could be a wake. And then I went, yeah, well, then let’s drop an Agatha Christie style “why is she dead?” mystery on top of that. And all of those ingredients made up that plot.
Destito: How did you plan out your retrospective of Elvira’s history?
Cassandra Peterson: Martinis. We just talked over drinks and kind of skimmed through my life. I was still in the process of writing my autobiography, and David and I just talked, and he just asked me a million questions about this time in my life, that time, things I’ve done, and I threw everything out there. He grabbed the ones that he thought lended themselves to a comic book, not the really depressing awful things. But anyway, that’s kind of how we did it. We hashed it out. And then David went back and did all the heavy lifting.
Destito: Were there any stories that almost made it but got cut at the last minute?
Avallone: No, not in this one. We weren’t out drinking for that long! So I got the highlights. I got the funniest stories. Not that she shares anything else in common with the character, but there’s a certain Forrest Gump, “Look, it’s Elvis. Look, it’s Sean Connery. Look, it’s Federico Fellini” aspect to Cassandra’s actual life that I thought was sort of a funny thing. And even minor characters. We have the scene where she auditions to be in the cabaret in Paris. That’s also a real person, not a famous one, but we make fun of her name. I think she’s Madame Bluebell, and I think I called her Madame Blueball in the comic because I’m solid class like that.
Destito: Being a public figure you have adoring fans, but there is a darker side. Have you personally experienced that darker side or is it mostly positive stuff?
Peterson: 99.9% of the time I get positive stuff. But over my career, and I mentioned it in my autobiography, there have been death threats. There have been very serious ones. There have been stalkers. There have been all the beautiful things that go along with being a celebrity. I think being Elvira tends to bring out the freaks. I’ve gone through that for many years. Then you just get rid of one, and then another one comes along. It’s crazy. And now I’m, like, old, and I still have one. It’s like, why do you want to stalk a 70-year-old woman?!
I’ve kind of grown a little thicker skin, so now it’s kind of like “Oh another stalker. What am I going to do?” Back in the beginning, the first one really freaked me out. I mean, to the point I literally got agoraphobia. I would not leave my house for a few months. I wouldn’t even go shoot the show. I didn’t want to do anything. I was scared to death to leave my house. Then the next one was scary, and then I calmed down. Now this one, I actually see him kind of creeping around at conventions I go to, and I’m usually like, hey, how are you doing?
Destito: Is it better to confront them with kindness?
Peterson: Yes, I almost think it does diffuse them a little bit. If you’re angry and scared, I think it gives them more ammunition, so to speak.
Destito: Do you share an Elvira brain at this point?
Peterson: Absolutely. The first time I met David and the first time he did a comic book–it is very hard to find a straight man who talks like Elvira, I’m telling you! All my writing partners have been gay men. And I’m like, wow, David, I have to wonder about him sometimes.
Avallone: Yeah. She was very surprised to meet my delightful wife and discover I was not, in fact, yet another gay man writing Elvira.
Peterson: Because Elvira is essentially a drag queen. And a lot of the spiel is very campy and I don’t know, it just lends itself to gay men helping me write, so David, I was very shocked about that, but I think you really had the lines down. I’m still wondering about you, David.
Avallone: I think the secret sauce is, and Joe Rybandt who came to me with this job knows, that I am married to a burlesque dancer. She’s semi-retired now, but she produced a very successful burlesque show in LA for twelve years. So I spent a lot of my adult life around female drag queens, for lack of a better term.
Peterson: The whole world is pretty similar. I’ve got to say, I was in that world, too. And anyway, David really has it down. The bottom line is, when I heard his jokes, I was like, oh my God, this guy gets Elvira’s brain. So I don’t have to give David very much guidance at all.
Avallone: And when she does give me guidance, it’s almost always to make it dirtier.
Peterson: Yes, that’s true.
Avallone: The Elvira meets Vincent Price story had an Egyptian angle. And I wrote an issue called Ankh–the symbol–”Ankhs for the Memories.” And she wrote me back, “Come on, David. Mammaries. Come on. I can’t believe you. How did you miss that obvious joke?” I was trying to not do the obvious joke, but you’re absolutely right. It’s an Elvira comic. It’s got to be called “Ankhs for the Mammaries” because that’s what we’re doing here.
Destito: Without giving away spoilers of course, if Elvira can conquer death, what could she possibly tackle next?
Peterson: We have some great ideas coming up. I guess we can’t really talk about that, can we, David?
Avallone: We can talk about Elvira in Horror Land, which drops May 22, I think. And that’s a sequel to the Vincent Price series, which wrapped up last month. The premise of that series, which I think is just like, I’m amazed we didn’t hit on it earlier, is Elvira discovers that all movies create little pocket dimensions in which the story plays out over and over again in “reality,” and she gets stuck bopping between those dimensions. So the first issue, she’s in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The second issue is my favorite title I’ve ever come up with, which is “She’s a Kubrick House.” You can probably guess what movie that is. And the third issue, I’m thinking of calling either “Geiger Encounter” or “Ridley’s, Believe It or Not.” Again, you can do the math and figure out what movie that is. And I just saw some sketches for the fourth issue, which I don’t have a title for yet.
Peterson: We have another project that we can’t talk about.
Avallone: That one we can’t talk about, but we’re super excited about it.
Destito: No hints on that super secret project, not even a little?
Avallone: I’ll just say it’s not unrelated to the Death of Elvira comic.
Peterson: It’s brilliant. Okay?!
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