Drew Rausch & Jocelyn Gajeway: Coming of Age...Zombie Style

A comics interview article by: Alex Rodrik
I recently got the chance to sit down and chat with Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway, the creators behind Sullengrey and the new Sullengrey: Sacrifice.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out this greatly entertaining and beautifully drawn comic you can order your copy here.


Alex Rodrik: In the not so distant past, two individuals were born which would one day bring to life the universe known as Sullengrey. Who are Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway? How’d you guys get involved with the business and what drew each of you to comics?

Drew Rausch: I really want to say that we're robots. But we've settled with just being a couple of creative types from the other side of the tracks that share a fondness for spooky things, bizarre music that sounds like a computer ate an orchestra, drive-in sci-fi movies, and alcohol.

I won't bore you with what specific titles I read as a kid - just lots of random stuff. I enjoyed the UK books like 2000 A.D. (they always had the most unusual art) and anything horror themed. I will say that once my parents gave me one of those subscription forms from the back of a Marvel comic to fill out. I checked off like 4 different titles. And for a year, all I got was issues of ALF. For me, comics are just a part of my life, so working in comics just seems natural. Plus, it beats retail.

Jocelyn Gajeway: I've been into comics since I was a teenager - I started reading Sandman and the other great Vertigo books, and spread out into more independent books. Meeting Drew at Wizard World Philly in 2003 got me involved on the business side of things, though. When we met, he asked me to look over and edit a script that he'd been working on (a mutual friend had mentioned that I was a pretty good editor and writer, even though I wasn't pursuing those skills as a career). He liked the changes that I made, and asked me to take the story a little further, and I was able to restructure those rough scripts into the the first Sullengrey miniseries. I enjoyed working on the story, and with Drew, so I've kept with it.

AR: For the readers who have yet to check out Sullengrey, what can you tell us about it?

JG: Sullengrey is a coming of age story set in a horror movie -- sort of what would happen if Tim Burton were to direct “Night of the Living Dead.” While the horrific elements are an integral part of the story, it's really about watching the main characters grow as people, and how they interact with the world around them. The stories are framed within their mini-series, each standing alone, but each story leads on to the next, providing another layer of the town and the characters.

AR: You have a very identifiable art style. Who were your greatest influences and how’d you get in the business of art?

DR: Greatest influences? Most artists absorb the things they see, whether that be movies, drawings, photography, or music, that appeal to them on a creative level. I grew up on Addams Family comics, so Charles Addams for sure and Edward Gorey as well. Now a days, I have a fondness for painters and the German expressionism era of the 1920's. Guys like Dave McKean, Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith, Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ted McKeever -- I count them as my inspiration for experimenting. For me the best reward in doing all this is to not just look outside the box, but to tear the box up, manipulate it into something cool and tasty.

As for getting into the business of art.- sheer luck, time, and patience. And lots of medication.

AR: What can the readers look forward to in the upcoming Sullengrey: Sacrifice?

JG: Well the horror fans have plenty of gore to look forward to -- I've put plenty of shocking, cringe inducing moments into the story, even managing to make the editors squirm. We delve deeper into the characters of Grey and Salam, as well as the town. We laid the foundation in the first mini series, rather like the pilot for a TV program, and now we're starting to build the walls. It's a discrete story, telling one chapter of what's going on in the town, but it will lead into the next series, as well.

DR: One of the things I like about working with Jocelyn is we always start out the process with a question. "What does Drew want to draw?" And for the last mini-series it was a zombie c-section, lots of tombstone scenery and a kitty playing with intestines. So in “Sacrifice,” trying to keep things very dark in tone, we introduce a cult that has a very specific plan for the town. There's also girl scouts that sell more then cookies. And we'll meet Salam's landlord, who has some mommy issues. And since I have a new fascination with tentacles, there's lots of those too. There's also this one scene in the second book which may have been the most disgusting and vicious sequence I've ever drawn. Like Jocelyn said, it made the editors rather uncomfortable.

AR: What brought about the original idea for Sullengrey? Did you know that you wanted to do this project together from the very beginning or is it something that just kind of came together that way?

DR: I actually approached Jocelyn with what was the original idea, and probably looked like transcripts from a mental patient. The first Sullengrey story, "Cemetery Things", is a very personal story for me, and one that I needed to tell. Call it therapy, if you would. Strip away all the "fantasy elements" -- the magic, the zombies, the creepy crawlies - and what you end up with is an almost biography of sorts with a lot of symbolic imagery. When you view it from that perspective you get a very different take. In fact, that's what drew me to Jocelyn as a writer. Most of her work was very real sounding. It was unpolished. And that's what I felt fit within what I wanted. A very raw story with very real emotions. And as we went through all the scripts and notes and started piecing it together, we learned that we shared a lot of the same experiences. However, Jocelyn was attached to the story in a different way than I, so she was able to sort out all the shit and make a cohesive narrative out of it.

AR: How’d you guys get involved with Ape Entertainment?

JG: We ran into Ape at SPX 2004 in Bethesda, MD. They were exhibiting and while we were browsing their books, co-partner Brent Erwin asked Drew what he liked to read, Drew replied "Zombie stories". Brent must have noticed Drew's portfolio, and as we were walking away, called back "Do you have one?". I heard, Drew didn't, and I pulled him back to the table. Brent was impressed with the pages and portfolio Drew had, and the relationship was born.

DR: In my defense, I actually thought Brent had said "gangster stories" Let this be a lesson to all you aspiring creators out there, when shopping around your work -- IT HELPS TO PAY ATTENTION!

AR: You know, and I’m sure you’ve NEVER gotten this before, but…the characters kinda look like some real people I once saw. I dunno. Maybe I’m just seeing things but I coulda sworn I saw some real people at a convention that looked liked…ah, nevermind. :)

Does the close resemblance between yourselves and the characters represent a deeper reflection? Do you find that the characters share a lot of your personality traits?

JG: Not really. I mean superficially, they resemble us, mostly because it's easy reference. I suppose that they were loosely based on us in the beginning -- Salam's a photographer, and that's my background, but as the stories progress, the true personae of the characters move further and further away from our true personalities.

DR: I don't know. I think most creators put a bit of themselves in their work. It's the whole "you write (or draw) what you know" way of thought. Sure, people see us at conventions and they see the wild hair and the way we dress and draw their own comparisons. But like I said before, Sullengrey is a very personal story for me so of course there are elements that unintentionally get slipped in. But we definitely try to give the cast their own distinct voices. We want to avoid the reader saying "Everyone sounds like how Jocelyn talks."

AR: In a previous interview you expressed your dismay about Sullengrey being called “goth.” In the process of creating “Sacrifice” have you taken any extra steps to distance yourselves from this label?

JG: People will pigeonhole, label, and stereotype. Rather than try and fight what people do, we simply tried to create the highest quality product that we could. Quality will over come a lot of labels, as we've found -- regardless of people's initial impressions, we've been able to win people over by simply getting the book in their hands and letting them read it.

DR: The most rewarding moments are when we're able to entice someone who reads a lot of mainstream superhero fare and is a bit tired of the massive crossovers and change-everything-you-know events. It's a bit of a challenge to convince those that would probably pass us by that it's a well crafted story with tons of layers and emotional consequences, simply because Sullengrey has that "goth" look to it. So when a person who only had collected Marvel or DC books comes up to us and tells us that they really enjoyed our book, we get the sense that we've done something right and that's rad.

When we started work on “Sacrifice,” we wanted to try not to alienate those that felt they weren't going to enjoy the story because they weren't a part of the subculture, so we pulled back a bit on the "spooky" in-jokes and focused more on just telling a strong narrative. Readers are going to be able to pick this up and not feel like their missing something by not wearing all black.

AR: You’d stated on your Twitter that you are in support of Longbox Digital Comics. Most artists I’ve spoken to have a general distaste for digital/pdf prints of their artwork, considering it an injustice to the work. Why do you feel this project is something that artists should get behind? And how do you feel this can help the industry as a whole?

DR: I am totally behind Longbox. Right now, with the way the times are, it's becoming more and more difficult to get retailers and fans to try out new product. As an industry we need to use every available resource to make it as hassle free as we can. Think of it in this scenario. Let's say someone wants to try a certain book out but are finding it difficult to throw down 3-4 dollars for something their not sure they'll like. They're more willing to download it on to their desktop or their mobile device for 99 cents, read it at their leisure and then if they like it, maybe they go into the store and buy it or order it from their retailer. I'm a firm believer that the digital format is the next step for comics. I'm not saying this going to be the definite case for everything, but it's worth a try. And in all honesty, if it makes it easier for more people to enjoy my work then I'm all for it.

AR: Do you have an interest in taking your style and working in one of the more mainstream universes -- DC, Marvel? What character do you think your style could give the most interesting twist to?

DR: Sure, sure. I think a better question would be if they had interest in me. If the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn't mind working on a spooky Spider-Man story, or something Batman for DC. But it would have to be out of continuity. There's so much going on right now, I would want to have the freedom to really play with the characters without pissing off the fans.

AR: Are there any other upcoming projects our readers should look out for? Anything you’d like to get out there to the fans and your peers?

DR: Right now I'm working on Winchester for Slave Labor Graphics, which is based on the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. And Jocelyn and I are starting the pre-production work for the next Sullengrey installment. Beyond that the future is pretty much open. I want to get back into painting again, maybe set up a few gallery shows.

To our fans... wait a tic...we have fans? Holy crap, that's a bit shocking. Well to those who's picked up anything we've ever worked on, we would just like to give a big thank you from the bottom of our black little hearts. You guys are aces! And we hope you continue to stick around, things are really going to get scary!

AR: Thanks for taking the time!

DR: Thanks for having us.

* Sullengrey: Sacrifice is available to preorder from Previews this month using the code JUL09 0664, or if you can order directly from Ape Entertainment via www.apecomics.com.

**If you’re interested in more info on Sullengrey you can visit Drew and Jocelyn’s blog at sullengrey.blogspot.com (where they just posted a 32 page preview of the first issue).

***Or follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Sullengrey.

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