Themestream interview (May 25, 2000)

This Interview is from

Interview with Dan Brereton
by Rick Beckley
May 25, 2000

How did you get into comics?

I was in my third year of art school when I landed my first gig in comics; I was introduced to Mike Mignola and Steve Purcell by my illustration and anatomy professor. They came to visit my teacher and saw my work on the walls. Mike later told Art Adams that my work was the only stuff on the wall that still looked good when you got close up to it. Mike later hired me to design seven or eight characters for a Doctor Strange Doctor Doom hardcover. Mike was pretty happy with what I came up with (if you check out that book you'll see my characters there; they're these sorcerers that Strange is in competition with in the beginning of the story) and he and Steve suggested I do some pencil samples of comic book pages, which I did. I later took them to WonderCon and got my first comic book job as a penciler working on this back-up series in Eclipse's Merchants Of Death. The back up was written by this nice relatively unknown by the name of Kurt Busiek. Rich Howell inked my pencils and the thing is still hard for me to look at: it was my first time penciling for an inker and I stunk. Kurt is far kinder about that job than I am. After that, I was told that Cat Yronwode was "mildly unimpressed" with my work on that job and it seemed my promising career in comics was over. I went to the San Diego ComicCon that year (1988) and went home a day early I was so dejected. No one wanted to talk to me, no one gave a crap. The next fall at school, I diverted all my focus back on school.

But I had seen the painted work of Dave McKean, Kent Williams and George Pratt at that show and was both inspired and intimidated by it...that fall we were given a semester project to do and I chose to do painted comic book pages; a sort of short story using my design for a revamped Black Terror (the golden age superhero). Eclipse had been thinking about taking the character out of public domain and doing a 90's revamp and
Beau Smith and Fred Burke were supportive of my being the artist, although Cat and Dean weren't buying it at first...

I did these seven pages, fully painted and right away things took a turn for the better: my fellow students seemed to get a kick out of them and when I sent them to Eclipse to check out during Christmas break, they bit right away; 'we want this done yesterday" was their response. They even insisted the seven pages I had done on spec for class be used as a 'dream sequence" in the story (which they were: pages 1-8 of Black Terror #1 feature those pages). From then on, things were in full swing. I had the Psycho set up before I was halfway done with The BT, and after that came a Clive Barker graphic novel DREAD, then LEGENDS OF THE WORLD'S FINEST with Walter Simonson, THE NOCTURNALS, both THRILLKILLER projects, NOCTURNALS WITCHING HOUR, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and now GIANTKILLER.

What is your favorite of all the work that you have done?

The NOCTURNALS, hands down. The first mini-series (collected last year as BLACK PLANET by Oni Press) was a turning point, a proving ground for me. I conceived it, wrote and illustrated it without anyone's help, save for Howard Chaykin's practical advice on writing scripts and structuring story and my attorney Harris Miller who closed the deal that made the Nocturnals happen with the Bravura line (Malibu Comics). The Nocturnals characters are the nearest and dearest to me and I feel their potential remains untapped. I feel like just about any kind of story I wanted to do could probably be done within the world of the Nocturnals.

What was it like to work on Thrillkiller with Howard Chaykin?

Howard is brilliant. Please don't tell him I said that, though ;). He's pretty easy to work with: he's into listening to ideas other than his own and he gives an artist room. He can be very critical but his honesty is important. He's comfortable enough in his abilities to entertain ideas from others without having to shoot them down all the time. I came to him with the Thrillkiller story idea and instead of trying to change it or dismiss it (because I was an artist, and not considered a writer by any stretch at the time) he took my original concept and adopted it: he made it his own without discarding the meat of what I wanted to do. (The only other time that happened to the same degree was with Walter Simonson, who was also a dream to work with. Walter is a great guy and I would like to work with him again some day). One thing about Chaykin that I found interesting to learn from him is that he considers the process of drawing comics a huge chore. Howard insists that drawing well does not come easy and he has to work very hard at it. As I am a fan of his art, it surprises me to hear that. It doesn't look like work, it looks beautiful. But Chaykin insists that the pages are covered in white paint. In a way, it's comforting because my mistakes and re-dos when I work in pen and ink are all over the place too.

Tell us about Giantkiller.

I love Godzilla movies and I love feudal Japan samurai films, which are both huge inspirations for GK. Kirby's monster comics, children's books like Where the Wild Things Are, shows like Ultraman, all percolated upstairs, but most of all, since I was 4 years old, I have loved drawing monsters. Giantkiller is an excuse for me to do just that. But it is also a comic with interesting characters and mystery. I wanted to tell a compelling story, set in the area I grew up in as a child, of what would happen if these creatures invaded our backyards. It's a fantasy that has captivated me since I was small.

Why are there 26 of these monsters that correspond to the alphabet?

The Giantkiller's field guide is a bestiary. There are 26 monsters that have been catalogued in the Field Guide. They have been named alphabetically, the way hurricanes are named. I suppose too, the guide is also a symbol of Jack's youth and innocence in that the guide is his companion, a sort of primer for him, like the books we read in the first grade," A is for Apple, B is for Boy," etc.

What do you have coming out after Giantkiller?

I'm still working on finishing Giantkiller now, so whatever I do after that won't be seen in print till next year. It's too early to say what they will be, but I do have several irons in the fire, including a possible Nocturnals project...

Will there be more Thrillkiller?

Howard and I have both voiced interest in a third TK, but it remains whether DC wants another one. It's entirely possible.

How did Nocturnals come about?

From my wanting to do my own comics: I wanted to do something that combined things I love, monsters, crime fiction, the supernatural, a pulp sensibility. It's funny, but for every 20 people who love the Nocturnals, there's one critic who says " Brereton seems preoccupied with monsters and his people are weird, his work is dark..." as if those are bad things...basically, its what I like to do. Everyone has their milieu, and monsters are mine. Halloween Girl came about after my four year old(at the time) daughter told me she wanted to be a "halloween girl" for trick or treat...that name stuck with me and later the character was born, as was Doc Horror, Komodo, the Gunwitch...the name 'Nocturnals' came last, after all the characters and story were conceived.

Will there be more Nocturnals?

That is the plan. Its not easy setting up creator-owned stuff that pays well, so its a struggle to do more Nocturnals...but I also working on the idea of a Halloween Special for next year. If I could do a Nocs special every year, that would be ideal. I'm toying with the idea of seeing other artists do back-up stories as well , chiefly Bruce Timm, Adam Warren, and Jay Stephens.

What's the strangest experience you've had working in comics?

I guess having fans. That's weird. Like in the real world no one gives a damn, they just see this fat guy in a speed racer hat, but the same guy walking across the convention floor is the creator of the Nocturnals or the guy who wrote that Buffy comic or did that Thrillkiller thing...I love that feeling of having people know what you do and like it. Artists spend so much time cloistered away drawing or writing that its really refreshing to go to shows or signings and have the audience show up and say "I liked this". It makes the whole artist thing have meaning. I'm not talking about people kissing your ass or being sycophants, I mean just knowing that there are folks out there who cared enough about what I spent like a year or more working on, to buy it and then come over to my table and tell me they liked it. That's special, and its kind of weird too, because it's not really the real world, its like a secret world only us comic book people know about. I like that. The Society of Comic Book People. I just wish there were more of us!

Copyright Rick Beckley
About the author: Rick's been working in the comic book industry for the last five years. He's written for Dark Visions Publishing, @venture, and has a column at Digital Webbing. He's also put together 'Occupational Hazards' a benefit book for the CBLDF, out in September.