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VICTORIAN ERA HORROR - LAURA MARKS & KELLEY JONES TALK DAPHNE BYRNE

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

Hill House Comics, the pop-up imprint under DC Black Label curated by Joe Hill, is about to debut its fourth title with Daphne Byrne from writer Laura Marks and artist Kelley Jones. The Victorian-era horror tale is creepy from beginning to end and is a welcome addition to the lineup. I had a chance to speak with Laura and Kelley about the project and how the character might fit into the DC Universe.

In the gaslit splendor of late 19th-century New York, rage builds inside 14-year-old Daphne. The sudden death of her father has left her alone with her irresponsible, grief-stricken mother – who becomes easy prey for a group of occultists promising to contact her dead husband. While fighting to disentangle her mother from these charlatans, Daphne begins to sense a strange, insidious presence in her own body...an entity with unspeakable appetites. What does "Brother" want? And could she even stop him if she tried?

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James Ferguson: Daphne Byrne has been described as “Victorian Era Horror.” That's a term that's not used as much as it could be. How did you arrive at such a specific time period for the book?

Laura Marks: I've always wanted to do something set in the late 19th century. I live in Brooklyn and a lot of the architecture around here came from that time. That's part of the inspiration. I've always found that a very evocative time period. I thought that comics would be a perfect medium in which to explore that. Unlike TV, you don't have to costume a bunch of extras and hire horses to drag a carriage down the street. [Laughs] Kelley can just draw whatever I dream up and do it brilliantly. This was a chance to try something that I've always wanted to try.

I think it's a great setting for horror as well. You don't have cellphones. You've got gaslights. There's so much beauty alongside so much ugliness.

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JF: Daphne Byrne seemed to come together in a perfect storm of sorts. Laura, you had worked with Joe Hill on some Locke & Key TV stuff and he was putting together Hill House Comics at TV. Kelley, you seem always down to draw some horror. Did the idea come first or did it come about because of this opportunity?

LM: I was in a writer's room during Locke & Key's development process and that's how I got to know Joe. A few months later he reached out and asked if I ever thought about writing a horror comic because he was curating this new imprint for DC. He said it could be anything as long as it was horror. I came back to him with a pitch and this was it. I think they sent the pitch document to Kelley, is that right?

Kelley Jones: I was looking to do something different. At that time I was just finishing Batman and then doing an issue of Lucifer that happened to be taking place in early 18th century. It was something that DC was surprised it looked of the time as much as it did. It didn't have any modern stuff going on. I was to do something else after this, but as that issue was progressing, DC said they really liked this. They sent me a paragraph description of Daphne Byrne and it was everything on my checklist. They didn't know that. When they sent Laura's proposal, it was terrific. It was completely formed. It was all there. In a horror story, I always look for stuff people will be bothered by, not blood and guts and all that. A horror story may only have one if any of those stereotype shots. It's got to have tension and a lot of humanity. It has to make it hurt when something happens. I was reading this and realizing I didn't want anything to happen to this girl.

For me, that's kind of the trick with horror. You have to have someone make you care. If it's just an axe murderer, who cares? You don't have to be a good artist of those kind of shots to make a horror story work. You have to be a good one for the stuff leading up to it, then they'll forgive you what you can't do, as long as it pays off. It was just the outline, but when I was reading it, I thought that this is something I would pick up if I wasn't involved. It's written as a comic. It's not written as a movie or a television show, so it lingers in the places it needs to. It does the things that comics don't do as much anymore. It revels in its comic-ness.

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JF: Laura, how has this experience differed from your work in television?

LM: It's not too terribly different. You only have 22 pages, so that requires a certain economy of language, but I like that. I really love that about it. The limitations of the medium are freeing in a paradoxical way. Coming from writing for TV, it feels like getting to direct for the first time with Kelley as the amazing cinematographer.

KJ: All I ever tell Laura is that people get to linger on it. Things go by in a movie or a television show. That's why an image becomes even more important. I think that's why they're compelling as of now in film because people are attracted to that kind of magic. It's much harder to replicate though.

LM: In Kelley's work, you really want to linger over every panel. I think this period style suits your style so well. It gives you a chance to fill every panel with so much. I'm sitting here with the artwork for issue #2 in front of me and just saying how I never get tired of seeing this. It's all so richly detailed and evocative of the period.

KJ: If you get that jazz thing going where you go back and forth, then something great happens. It's a different time. It's a physically darker time. You lived by daytime more. You do want to make it look different than other comics that are out now. I dig emotional stories. No one was going to ask me to draw a 13-year-old girl, but when I'm reading this, I realize the emotions are all the same. The feelings that she's going through are great. None of it matters though if it doesn't pay off in the scary stuff and this definitely does.

LM: It does. There is true horror in the book, beautifully rendered by Kelley and then you turn the page and you see these three middle school girls who are tormenting our heroine. They're every bit as scary as the demons and skeletons.

KJ: Thankfully I had sons. If I had daughters, I would be scared. When I asked my friends with daughters about some background, they said no, it's the scariest thing ever to have daughters at that age. I hope my nieces will forgive me when this book comes out. That's emotion though. That's just what makes it work. You can go from this to a supernatural world and they intertwine. That's the energy that connects. I just want this to be something that years after it comes out, people would like to pull it out and read it again.

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JF: What DC Universe character would Daphne most get along with?

KJ: I think she would totally get along with Deadman.

LM: I think Wonder Woman would help her channel some of her more destructive urges in a more positive direction.

KJ: Characters in the DC Universe would look at her and think, “I don't want to mess with that.” Laura wrote these great little moments and I told her I would try my best to get into the head of this stuff, but this is a 13-year-old girl, so it's going to take some work. In reading it, I realized these moments work for me too. I can relate to this. There's that kind of human level to it, so having said that, I think everyone in the DC Universe would be afraid of her.

Horror DNA would like to thank Laura Marks and Kelley Jones for taking the time to speak with us. Daphne Byrne #1 is set for release on January 8th, 2020.

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About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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