The Method to the Madness of RagemoorA comics interview article by: Zack Davisson
If you’re a horror fan and you haven’t been checking out Ragemoor from Dark Horse, you are missing something really cool. Writer Jan Strnad and comics horror legend Richard Corben have been putting out a quirky, captivating mix of Poe and Lovecraftian horror that is like nothing else on the stands.
Recently Strnad and Corben answered some questions about Ragemoor and the upcoming collected edition.
Zack Davisson for ComicsBulletin: I have been enjoying the hell out of Ragemoor, but at the same time I have had a hard time explaining just what kind of comic it is. How about you two give it a shot? What is Ragemoor?
Jan Strnad: I think of it as a Poe-esque, Lovecraftian gothic horror tale written by Jane Austen and directed by Roger Corman.
Richard Corben: As I see it, Ragemoor is a cosmic Lovecraftian creature that came to earth through some strange trans-dimensional conflict. It grows and reshapes itself out of earthly rock. It uses earthly materials and life forms for its own unfathomable purposes.
CB: From the first issue, you have been giving me left turn after left turn for the story of Ragemoor. At first I thought it was a classic Poe-inspired Gothic manor and madness story, then we started getting all Rats in the Walls as we went into the basement and crossed over into Lovecraft territory. Now in issue three we have a full-on giant tentacle monster and insect men. Is there any particular inspiration behind Ragemoor? Are you following any particular horror style? Or just letting the id flow and take you where it goes?
JS: It's actually one of the most carefully plotted stories I've written, thanks to Scott Allie, our editor, who wanted a synopsis of all four issues before he would commit to the series.
My goal was to escalate the horror with each issue, to give each issue some twist that would keep readers' interested. I thought that #1 was pretty straight forward, except for the baboons, which seemed to come out of left field. With #2, the reason for the baboons becomes apparent and, as you say, we realized that we're in Lovecraft territory. We also see the insect servants who were hinted at in #1. In #3, we go full-bore Lovecraft, hit the romantic triangle heavily, and reveal Bodrick's transformation, which began in #2. #4 goes to the final level.
The story itself, aside from the Poe and Lovecraft influences, comes from my deep and abiding love for 1950s monster movies and the 1960s Marvel monster comics. And Woody Allen, for the "obsessive love" angle.
So there isn't any particular "horror style" behind it, but an amalgamation of a number of influences.
RC: Each chapter is as much a surprise to me as it is the readers. Jan and I discussed generally the direction of the story, but I didn't know the specifics until each script arrived.
CB: Who was the initiator behind this project? I know that you two are frequent collaborators. Jan, did you come to Richard with the idea? Or was it vise-versa?
JS: Richard came to me about doing a short gothic piece. I'd just done a couple of shorts for Joey Cavalieri at DC Comics for The Spirit and Weird War, and although I enjoyed doing them very much, short stories are a lot of work. You need a good idea, then you have to tighten and tighten and tighten until it fits into six-to-eight pages.
I wanted room to stretch, so I happily accepted Richard's offer, since I so enjoy working with him, but I wanted it to be at least one full issue long. Scott saw it and wanted at least four issues. I agreed, so did Richard, and there we were. Richard's desire to do an eight-page horror story turned into a graphic novel.
RC: It is true that we've collaborated many times in the past, and each time I had a preconceived idea of what I wanted. Jan usually stayed within the ballpark but beyond that he always surprised me. Not that I'm all that keen on surprises, but with Jan, the result is usually better than my preliminary ideas. My career and age have reached a phase where I feel if I want to do certain projects, I had better get with it. I wanted to do some Poe-esque gothic horror stories and if I could convince Jan to join me, it would certainly be worthwhile. So if there is a bit of Poe in Ragemoor, it must be the remnant of my original goals.
CB: Is this a creator-owned comic that you brought to Dark Horse? Did you always have Dark Horse in mind for the publisher?
JS: Yes and yes. Richard was in charge of the selling of the book and he had an on-going relationship with Scott, so that's where he started and ended.
RC: Dark Horse was the logical starting point in my solicitations because I had just finished several Hellboy collaborations with Mike Mignola, which seemed to be successful. They were receptive but thought it should be longer and in color. My first concept was a 24 page one shot in black and white. Jan also wanted a longer story so I compromised on that, but I insisted that Ragemoor would be in black and white. Mainly for artistic reasons.
CB: Was the intention always to release this as a collected edition? And do you have any surprises or extras we can look forward to in the single-volume release?
JS: Yes, the idea of doing four issues was so that we could issue the graphic novel. Monthly comics come and go in a week or so. An album can hang around a little longer.
The collection will include several pages of Richard's pre-production sketches. Other than that, I think it just benefits from being all together in one set of covers.
RC: I love the comic’s format and I would be very happy with a 24 page one shot. Jan and the executives at Dark Horse think a little further ahead than that. In fact it is a rare one shot that makes money. I had to agree that there should at least be the possibility of breaking even. The collected edition will probably have some sketches or something.
CB: And most-important—who came up with the skull-faced baboons? Because those are cool.
JS: I said "baboon." Richard gave them skull faces. And you're right, they're cool. I'd like a model of one.
RC: The idea of baboons living in subterranean caves in northern Europe is kind of bizarre. And I wanted them to be scary looking so I took the idea a bit further and gave them skull heads.
CB: With Richard doing the art, I was expecting the comic to look brilliant, and it did. But there were still surprises. What about the decision to keep the series in black-and-white? That surprised me. I thought it might be a flashback at first and it took me a few pages to realize that the entire series would be black-and-white.
JS: It was an economic decision, frankly. We weren't sure that a comic as strange as Ragemoor would find a large enough audience to warrant a color book. Given the material, I think that black-and-white is a perfect design choice anyway.
RC: As I said it was mainly for artistic reasons. I've always thought line plus tone art creates a special somber mood. Just by itself it puts the viewer in a dim shadowy world where the characters seem more melancholy and the settings more sinister. There was a pragmatic reason also. I would be responsible for the art, including tone or color. With its reception unknown at the planning stage, I was apprehensive about committing a year to the project instead of 6 months. I do have a few project blunders in my history where I deeply regretted following a business partners advice about such matters.
CB: Also, the ethnicity of the characters seem to be ambiguous, and the black-and-white makes that more ambiguous. Was that a stylistic decision, a conscious one? Or am I just seeing things that aren’t there?
JS: I never specified any ethnicities. I like variety but leave it up to Richard to design the characters.
RC: I think a bit of both. If Anoria had some mixed blood in her history, I think she's a more interesting person. I'm certainly not implying that her racial origin made her a "woman for hire". Sometimes, I think of little nuances, put them in, just to see if it will provoke Jan into taking the story on a slightly different path. So far it never has, ever. The story was pretty much set by then and only a major tantrum on my part could result in a change.
CB: I loved the scene in issue three of Herbert peeking out from the eye of the skull-face painting. That was classic Gothic horror. It seems like I have seen that scene countless times, but aside from Scooby Doo I don’t know where. Is that a nod back to some of the black-and-white horror films?
JS: My description in issue #1 said that there was a painting on the wall that would be used later as a peephole, so it should have some figure with eyes that Herbert could peer through. Richard made it a skull. I loved the image, and you're right, it probably goes back to a cartoon or a Three Stooges movie or something.
RC: That was an element that is important to the story. But it is definitely reminiscent of many gothic, horror, and mystery movies from the forties and fifties. I had some difficulty with that scene, not because of the character using the peephole to spy on the lovers, but because of the dialogue of the lovers. Here we have the pair copulating with great passion, yet the girl Anoria is talking about the fix they are in with Ragemoor. I tried to set up the action and body language so it is apparent that she is really bored with her lover's efforts.
CB: I’ve also really enjoyed seeing the slow degradation of the characters. In issue one, Herbert is dressed in finery, looking every bit the master of the manor. By issue three, he is dishelmed and shoveling food for his skull-faced baboon pets. Does he have much further to fall? Does he depend on Ragemoor for survival, or does Ragemoor need him for some dark purpose?
JS: Oh, yes, he has further to fall, and Ragemoor does have a dark purpose in mind for him. But I don't want to say more!
RC: I will say that Herbert has not quite hit the bottom at the end of book three, but how much further? This and more will be revealed in book 4.
CB: As a reader, one of my favorite things about Ragemoor is that I have no idea what will happen each issue. Most series I have some idea of the writer’s intentions and where the story is going, but with Ragemoor I just open each issue and let the weirdness wash over me. We are still waiting for the concluding issue. Is it going to make sense, or should I just prepare myself for more weirdness?
JS: It actually does pull together, believe it or not!
I really hate TV shows like Twin Peaks and Lost that just get weirder and weirder without coming back to tie everything back together. I gave up on both of those series once I realized that there wasn't any plan, that the writers were just throwing more and more balls in the air every week.
I also was a big fan of another J. J. Abrams (Lost) production, Alcatraz, which followed the pattern of getting more and more complex with each episode. At one point, maybe 6-8 episodes in, I saw a promo that proclaimed, "The mystery deepens!" I shouted back at the screen, "I don't want the mystery to deepen! I want something to be figured out!"
So, I wanted to make sure that Ragemoor started somewhere and ended up somewhere.
RC: I must say I was in the same boat with you at the end of book 3. The original synopsis didn't seem right. A major fit was brewing on my part. I requested that Jan and I have a final conference to review how the diverse elements would be resolved. He compromised. I compromised. It all worked out, thank God.
CB: And do we get to see more skull-faced baboons?
RC: I think this must remain unknown until it's published.
JS: Actually, there's one in your bathroom. Don't open the door...ever!