Rachel Deering on Bringing Horror Back with Anathema

A comics interview article by: Keith Silva

Have you ever seen a blacksmith take a slug of metal and turn it into something? It doesn't have to be a blacksmith; a woodcarver works too, any craftsperson, really. To smith something from a raw or blocky form and will it into a bear or a door handle or even a comic book takes a will born only from confidence. Without belief in one's ability to create said bear or hasp or latch, nothing emerges or exists.

Rachel Deering's Anathema is a wrought thing, one of beauty, craft and confidence. On its face Anathema is about a woman who becomes a werewolf – an act that howls confidence. As below, so above, Deering shows a determination and the brass to will her idea, her Mercy, her werewolf into being. To watch as a craftsperson works kindles creativity and inspires one to pick up a brush, a guitar, a laptop and get to work. Confidence is contagious. Rachel Deering personifies confidence. She has to; after all, she creates comic books.


We also happen to have a review of Anathema #2 up, which we've conveniently linked for you at the end of the interview.


Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: Anathema #1 and #2 are available now, what is the publication timetable for the rest of the series?


Rachel Deering: My goal is to have everything running on a bi-monthly production schedule. Everyone involved in this book is working on something else, so I like to leave room for alterations in plans. My editor works for Dark Horse, so you know she’s insanely busy, Chris Mooneyham, the artist, is working on a graphic novel project at the moment, and Ian Herring works on lots of superhero books for the big two and plenty of other indie books on the side.

I don't script too far ahead, because I like to thoroughly evaluate the reader response to the previous issue before I commit to anything on the next book. I like to see which bits work and which might need a bit of tweaking. I like to see where people relate and which elements they simply pass over. By doing this, I can build up and play down the necessary elements in the next book. I think that's going to help me create the best reading experience possible with this series. That said, I've outlined issue 3, and the script will be finished after I return home from Baltimore Comic Con.

CB: Anathema was funded through Kickstarter. How was that process for you and what advice do you wish someone had told you about crowd-source funding before you started your own project?


RD: Stressful. Really stressful. First, it was about relentless promotion of the campaign, day in and day out, through social media, cold emailing, doing interviews, begging for coverage, etc. It really takes a lot out of a person when they're doing nothing but begging for 30, 45, or 60 days. After that was all over, and I thought I'd done something great, I realized that I'd failed to calculate so many expenses.

With these oversights, I'm now looking at being about $10,000 in the hole by the end of the series. I'm hoping I can make up that difference with the sales of the issues, but I'm not counting on it, ha-ha. The only real information I wish I'd been privy to prior to starting the campaign would be the insanity of international shipping costs. That's the real killer. I also didn't factor in things like paying Mooneyham for his pinups and original pages and the printing and things like that. I never claimed to be a great business person; just an okay writer.


CB: You state in your Kickstarter video that any and all of the money raised to fund Anathema goes to pay your art team and any publication costs. This is, obviously, not a sustainable business model, what are your goals beyond your passion to tell this story and get it into the hands of readers?


RD: First off, my wife has a really great job, so we manage to keep the bills paid, food in the fridge, and our dog gets a new toy every once in a while. I also do work on the side as a freelance writer, editor, and letterer. I get work here and there, so I'm able to kick in my share without much worry. That doesn't leave me any money for making comics, so that's why I needed to use Kickstarter.

I don't really care about having money for myself, honestly. As long as my wife, my puppy, and my artists are happy, I'm happy. If you give me a pizza once in a while, I stay content. I'd REALLY love to find Anathema a home with a respectable publisher. If I could do that, I'd be able to take some pay for myself and maybe start saving for possible calamities of the future.


CB: What’s been the biggest obstacle to getting Anathema published?


RD: It's been a number of things, really. I've heard every excuse in the world from publishers. They all love it, but they are either booked solid until 2014, or they already have a successful werewolf book, or they don't want to publish something that could have come from another publisher, or they are focusing more on licensed properties and less on creator owned books.

I've heard all that, and I've heard no responses at all. I still have two publishers who are looking at the book, and they're the two I REALLY wanted to appeal to, so we'll see how it all goes. I should know something soon.


CB: How did the artist, Chris Mooneyham, get involved with Anathema?


RD: I posted an ad on Digital Webbing looking for an artist, and I guess one of Chris’s teachers from the Kubert school picked up on it and sent it out to a few of his recent graduates. Chris's style stood out to me the most, so I offered him the job.

CB: What has Mooneyham brought to Anathema (and Mercy) that was beyond how you thought of the character on your own?


RD: I think Chris's style adds a lot more mystery to the characters and the settings. While he doesn't skimp on detail, he also doesn't spell everything out for you on the page. He uses a lot of dark, heavy areas of shadow, and that gives the overall feeling of the book a much more gritty atmosphere and a sinister tone. I think if the book had come through the way I had envisioned it, we'd have something more closely resembling a high fantasy book mixed with a cheesy 70s horror film. I'm glad that's not the case.


CB: Ian Herring replaces Fares Maese as colorist for issue #2. How does one go about hiring a colorist and is Herring going to be the permanent colorist going forward?


RD: I pay a lot of attention to colorists in comics simply because I hate most color comics. I'm a huge fan of black and white stories, so when a colorist can actually grab my attention, I take note. Jordie Bellaire was one of those people who didn’t offend my delicate sensibilities, so I found her on twitter and started talking to her about the project.

She was very interested, but totally booked up by Marvel at the time, so she recommended several of her friends and provided me with links to their work and their email addresses. Ian was among them, and I instantly fell in love with his style. I emailed him, told him what was up, and offered him the job. Lucky for me, he accepted, and he's slated to be a member of the project until the end.


CB: As a writer and the creator of Anathema, how important is it to have a consistent art team?


RD: It’s extremely important to me. I put a lot of pressure on Chris to be on time with his pages, which probably drives him crazy at times. It's a common sense thing, though. If I'm paying a high page rate for art, I expect to have things coming in on time, and on a regular schedule. I'm probably the least patient person I know, honestly. I don't care to admit that, it's just one of my flaws.

I need to have constant reassurance that things are on track, and my personal goals for the book will be met. I don't think about the fact that this is an independently published book. I treat it like I have an editor or publisher over me who demands timely production. I think I do that just to set myself up for future success, really. If I get into that mindset now, I won’t have a hard time adjusting to it when I finally find a home with a publisher.


CB: Besides producing and creating Anathema, you also work as a freelance letterer. How did you get into doing lettering and do you think letterers get enough respect/credit when it comes to creating comic books?


RD: I started lettering because I'm a control freak. Lettering is something I figured I could do with some studying and practice, and that would allow me to control the overall flow of the pages in my books, so I did it. I went out and bought a book, and read tons of websites, and talked with letterers I looked up to, and that set me on the path. I lettered two of my own short stories before going on to letter the majority of the Womanthology: Heroic book from IDW.

After that, I started getting gigs pretty regularly. Letterers are often completely overlooked by the comic's community, but it's probably for good reason. A proficient letterer will always go unnoticed. If you actively take notice of the lettering, that’s pulling you out of the story, which is the biggest flaw a letterer can make. It sucks for the letterer's ego, but it's good for the overall quality of the book. It's just one of those things.


CB: What was the most challenging aspect of going from someone who (only) reads/enjoys comic books to making a living making comics?


RD: I actually stopped reading comics when I was pretty young. It was the 90's, and Warren Publishing and EC were gone. I couldn't find any more great horror comics in my area, and I hated superheroes, so I was out. The only writing I was doing was prose and lyrics. I was in a heavy metal band, and I had hired a comic artist to do some album art for us. I got to talking with him at length about comics and how we both missed those great old horror books from the 70's, and so on and so forth, until we decided to try making our own.

So, by the time I started writing comics, I was completely out of the game. I had no idea how a script was formatted, I had no idea that there were any limitations to comics, or how I should write. I just wrote what I wanted to read. Now, of course, I've found a few comics on the shelves that have caught my interest, and things are completely different than when I read them as a kid. I notice lettering the most (boy, I wish I didn't, cause a lot of it is awful.) I'll also notice the pacing of the story. If it seems jumpy and clunky, I can't bring myself to finish the book.


CB: Mercy doesn’t always make the best decisions (especially in issue #2) which, of course, creates tension, adds to the character’s complexity and makes for a good story. How did you develop Mercy as a character; did you think of her as a hero, anti-hero, etc.?


RD: Mercy isn't a hero. She isn't an anti-hero either. She's a person and a monster. That's what I wanted from the very start. I hate archetypal characters because you expect them to act a certain way. You think you should be able to predict their actions and what's right or wrong for them to do. That's why plenty of people think that Mercy made a bad decision in issue 2. I don't think she did. That's one of the best things about the story and about Mercy as a character; you're never going to be able to guess how Mercy will react to a situation.

CB: Mercy is your creation and from the post-script in issue #2 you clearly love your creation, but you are not against putting her in harm's way and making her life very difficult. As a writer how do you go about striking a balance between 'loving your darling' and serving the story?


RD: I find that the people I relate with the most in the world have all lived very hard lives. I, myself, came up in an awful home environment where abuse and neglect and drug use and molestation and suicide and every other horrible thing you can imagine was an everyday fact of life. I feel like I understand people a little bit better because of how I was raised. I have seen the lowest of low, and I know how to deal with it. I know that you can take those harms and use them to make yourself a better person. When I'm writing Mercy, I'm just writing what I know. You go through some pain to get what you need.


CB: Anathema #2 reveals that as a werewolf, Mercy cannot communicate/speak with humans. This creates a challenge for you as the writer and for the character as well. Why did you choose this fate for Mercy, and what difficulties has it presented you as a writer?


RD: Beyond the fact that I think talking werewolves are incredibly cheesy, I wanted to force the reader to consider Mercy's position and maybe lead them to draw a parallel to modern issues. Minority groups have small voices that often go unheard. They have real concerns, and there are real people behind the labels people give them. Gay people are still viewed as abominations, they're attacked for how they feel, and the ''agendas'' given to them by those conservative groups are often way off base. They don't have a voice to communicate with those who would see them suffer.

So by looking at Mercy, we can see that she's trying to be peaceful, she's trying to do the right thing, but false motives are being forced upon her, and she suffers because of it. It's very difficult to write all in captions, but I think it is effective in getting across the point I was trying to make. I'm sure a lot of people will take it the wrong way, but hopefully they can ask me about it, or stumble upon this interview. Issue 3 will feature lots more dialogue, I promise. Mercy is a human for most of it. Sorry for the spoiler.


CB: Mercy doesn't have a sidekick (yet) so any emotions, thoughts, or character development has to be internal. How challenging is it to 'always' have to be in Mercy's head?


RD: It's not easy, but I am up for the challenge. I knew going into this series that I would be forced to write in this way. I knew I wouldn't take the easy way out and make Mercy a talking werewolf, or some other hokey plot device that would make the storytelling simpler. I've set myself up for more outward character building, though. If you've read the end of issue #2, you know what I'm talking about.

CB: Mercy is on a quest to stop the resurrection of the vampire lord, Aldric Karnstein; she's also hoping that she can save the soul of her lover Sarah that was taken by Karnstein's minions in the opening of issue #1. Do you think of Anathema as a revenge story, a quest, a love story, something else?


RD: It's a human story. It's everything. Mercy wants redemption for herself and her inaction, she wants salvation for Sarah's soul, she wants revenge against the ravens, she wants to prevent the destruction of the world, she wants all that. Ultimately, she just wants what she feels is right. Even in that, she struggles to see things from all perspectives.

She tries to understand the villagers who burned Sarah, she seeks to see things through the eyes of the cultists who love their master and long for his return. She knows she is acting on selfish impulses and doesn't sway from that, but she also wants to try and understand why she's been put in this situation and who her ''enemies'' are.


CB: Mercy is or was(?) a lesbian before she became a werewolf. What's been the reaction from readers in regards to the gay/lesbian/queer angle of this story?


RD: Mercy is, was, and always will be a lesbian. Werewolf or not. I didn't write her as a lesbian to get a reaction from readers, I just wrote what I know. I don’t think I could have written as effectively if I was trying to build a world with straight characters. I don't think like straight people. Other than the fact that LGBT sites have covered the book, I don't think people have really even given second thought to the fact that Mercy is gay. Not most people, anyway. I have had people at conventions turn down the book because of Mercy's sexuality. It's sad, but I expected that on some level.


CB: Are the themes of tolerance/prejudice in Anathema a political (personal?) statement about issues facing LGBT people today?


RD: When I first set out to write the book, I didn't give it any thought. I was just writing a lesbian character because that's what I know. Now, after hearing how people have reacted to it, I think the personal statements are kinda starting to creep in there. The whole encounter between Mercy and Daniel in issue 2 was a big statement on my part, which I explained earlier with Mercy not having a voice to communicate. I don't want it to become a big aspect of the book, though. Mostly, I just want this book to be a fun, atmospheric, gritty adventure.

CB: What was your process behind making Mercy a werewolf?


RD: First of all, I just really love werewolves. I have been in love with them since I first saw The Howling and An American Werewolf in London back in 1989. To me, they are the most frightening creature ever imagined. I knew I wanted Mercy to make the ultimate sacrifice, so I naturally turned her into the thing I fear most.


CB: What appeals to you about the horror genre; do you see yourself always working in genre fiction?


RD: I honestly don't know. I never broke it down and analyzed WHY I love horror; I just do. Like Guillermo Del Toro, I have a deep love for creatures and all things spooky. I am a person of extremes, so I either love something or hate it. Very rarely am I on the fence about anything. I think the fact that horror tends to be so extreme was appealing to me, and so I was just naturally drawn to it. I figure I'll write horror and fantasy until the ideas stop coming, and maybe then I'll try and write something else. Not before then, though. Unless I'm paid very well.

CB: Vampires and zombies have been on a good run (flight? stagger?) as of late. Are these tropes played-out? Has True Blood, The Walking Dead, Twilight and the rest over-saturated the pop-culture horror landscape, and what sort of pressure does this over-saturation present to you as a writer/creator to say something new about this horror cliché?


RD: I don’t think any of those properties you mentioned are horror, and therein lies the problem. People THINK of those things as being horror, but they're wrong. All of those things are dramas to me. Outside of that little nitpick of mine, I do think that those creatures have been run into the ground.

I've long had a distaste for zombies, and I'm starting to really get sick of vampires. I loved the 80's and 90's vampires like those in Fright Night and Lost Boys, but the romantic vampire trend bores me absolutely to death. I know the romantic seed was planted with Bram Stoker's Dracula, but I really blame Anne Rice for driving the stake through the heart of the modern vampire.

I don't feel any pressure, myself. I'm not writing horror like other people. I'm not writing zombies or vampires. I'm writing like Rachel Deering, and I'm writing about werewolves and creatures people have never seen. If I let the weight of other people's shortcomings bear down on me, I'd crush myself into submission and start writing romantic comedies. That's a horror scenario I don’t want to face.


After the completion of this interview, some big news regarding the future of Anathema came out and Keith Silva went back to Rachel for a few more questions:


CB: What happened with your artist, Chris Mooneyham?


RD: From the start, Chris would ask for extensions on deadlines and tell me that he wasn't able to meet them, that he'd need a few more days or even a few more weeks. Eventually, it got to the point where he would go a week or more without producing a page, then he'd suddenly have a stack for me, and I could tell they were rushed. In one such rush session, Chris admitted that the art was subpar and that he hoped Ian (the colorist) could fix the pages.

I could tell Chris just wasn't into the book anymore. I sent an email a few days ago asking when he would be ready to start on issue 3, and when he got back to me he said that it wouldn't be until late in September. Maybe. He couldn't give me an exact date. I guess he'd started to take on other projects that suited him more (bro stories with action and swords and dudes getting laid), and wanted to put those ahead of his obligations on Anathema.

So... I fired him. He didn't have a problem with it, though, and actually said he was relieved. He immediately went over to his Facebook and shouted about his newfound freedom. He's happy, I'm stressed.


CB: How does this impact Anathema moving forward?


RD: Well, the look will obviously be slightly different. Chris's style wasn't hugely unique, so it won't be too tough to find a replacement. It won't look exactly the same, but it won't be a shocking difference.

I'll do my best to find someone who enjoys the subject matter of the book, and hopefully it will show through better with more passionate artwork. Chris didn't have anything completed in issue 3, so it was a clean cut after issue 2 wrapped.


CB: In a perfect world, who draws this story going forward and why?


RD: I would love to work with someone like Becky Cloonan, Fiona Staples, or Joelle Jones on this book. I think they could maybe relate to the subject matter a bit more and really give the book the emotional edge it needs.

If not them, then just someone who understands the story and what it needs in terms of style and energy.


Face it, you need Anathema. May Mercy have mercy on your soul! Anathema #1 and #2 are available in print and digital at http://rdeeringonline.bigcartel.com/

You can read Keith Silva's review of Anathema #2 here

Keith Silva works in television, it's a small space, but, hey, it's show business! The rest of his time is spent trying to make one woman and two smaller women happy. Follow him @keithpmsilva and read his blog, Interested in Sophisticated Fun?.


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