The fall brings chilly temperatures, pumpkin spice everything, and the perfect setting for a creepy horror tale. In The Autumnal, Vault Comics’ new title for its Nightfall imprint, the season plays a major role in creating the right atmosphere and tone for an unsettling story. At the center are Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil after their move from busy Chicago to a tiny New Hampshire town.
New York Times bestselling author Daniel Kraus (The Shape of Water, Trollhunters) leads the series with Chris Shehan on art and Jason Wordie on colors. Jim Campbell rounds out the team on letters.
The Beat chatted with Kraus about the inspiration behind the comic and how the atmosphere is everything when it comes to delivering a good scare.
Deanna Destito: You’ve mentioned in a statement that the visual of fallen leaves sparked the concept for The Autumnal. Can you elaborate more on that?
Daniel Kraus: Those are the kind of ideas that set your brain on fire, right? Seeing something so commonplace but in a totally new light. Fallen leaves look like the paw prints of a horde of invisible beasts, which is already scary, and on top of that, they are so uncontrollable! They’re rather like a plague of locusts, taking over entire states once a year. Add on top of that the fact that they are already dead and it just seems like a horror goldmine. I tossed the idea around for a few years before the larger story started to take shape.
Destito: Small town creepiness is important for the story. When you write, how do you approach atmosphere, especially in horror where the setting is so vital?
Kraus: Isolation is such a key component of fear. And you can be isolated anywhere. Kat, our protagonist, starts out in a crowded apartment building in Chicago, but she’s quite alone. She moves to an isolated town and, at least for a while, she’s actually far less lonely. It’s all a matter of how you frame it; atmosphere is a state of mind, and you just have to put the reader into that state of mind, tint their vision so they can see things as your characters do. Domestic horror, they sometimes call this: the everyday becoming unbearable.
Destito: How has it been working with the creative team and Vault?
Kraus: I’m not just saying this: it has been one of the greatest joys of my creative life. I threw my weird shit out there, and they have been absolutely excellent in telling me straight-up when it doesn’t work and also impressive in not blanching from those moments where I go really, really dark. I’ve learned so much with this project and am just dying to go off half-cocked now with some bloated, over-ambitious second comic, as you do.
Destito: How is writing comics different or the same for you compared to novels?
Kraus: It’s far more of a puzzle, far more about efficiency. How does this scene break down on a page, on a page turn, on a spread? At the same time, you can stretch out in a way inaccessible to every other media; you can jump temporally and geographically with no effort whatsoever. What’s shared with novels is that the heart of the thing goes unchanged: I still want to write beautifully about terrible things, except this time I have people like Chris Shehan adding explosives to the mix that I’ve never had before.
Destito: Would you like to work in this universe again, maybe a minor character or a completely different story in the same setting?
Kraus: I rarely revisit characters in my work but I have often revisited locations — and The Autumnal is very location-based. This book has made me obsessed with trees. I go out walking now and see these massive, Lovecraftian trees with their tentacle-like arms. How easily they could crush us! We’re lucky their roots are dug in deep. With thoughts like that always racing through my mind, yeah, I guess I’m open to the idea!
The Autumnal #1 hits stores today, Wednesday, September 23. A second printing with a new Martin Simmonds cover is slated to release on October 28. Check out a few preview pages below.