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BEASTS OF BURDEN interview with Evan Dorkin

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When supernatural occurrences sweep the community of Burden Hill, it's up to a heroic gang of cats and dogs to keep residents safe from harm.

We caught up with writer, Evan Dorkin, to talk about Beasts of Burden.

The Big Bad Wolf: How did you come up with the concept for Beasts of Burden?

BEASTS of burden comicEvan Dorkin: Scott Allie contacted me back in 2003 to contribute a story to a horror anthology he was putting together called The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings. I had eight pages to fill, and eventually worked out a story about a haunted doghouse, called Stray.

The characters were all animals, neighborhood dogs, a stray cat, and a Wise Dog, which is a sort of sheepdog shaman. The script was influenced by books like Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, and movies like Poltergeist and The Excorcist, and while working on it I had Jill Thompson's watercolor art in mind for the visuals. Thankfully Jill agreed to partner up with me for the story, and it got a nice response, which led to our doing three more stories for Scott (for the Book of Witchcraft, The Book of the Dead and The Book of Monsters) which eventually led to last year's mini-series. I wasn't planning to do a series about talking dogs and cats fighting the supernatural, it just worked out that way.

The Big Bad Wolf: Have you always been an animal lover?

Evan Dorkin: Yeah, I've always been partial to animals, I've always had or wanted to have pets in the house. Unfortunately my mother was never crazy about animals that weren't cooked and on a plate, so I didn't have too many pets in the house growing up, and my one cat had his time with us cut short. I've had cats since 1991, we had four at one time but are now down to two. I'd have a dog if I could, hell, I'd have a Red Panda if I could. And a monkey.

The Big Bad Wolf: Can you tell us a bit about each of the main characters in this book?

Evan Dorkin: There are six main characters in the book, although at this point it's more like ten as some supporting characters have become more involved. But the core group are the normal animals from Burden Hill. Their leader is Ace, a husky, the strongest of the group after being bitten by a werewolf. Jack, a beagle, is the heart of the group, and the one most inclined towards learning about the occult. It was his doghouse which was haunted in "Stray". Rex is a doberman, it turned out that he was all mouth early on but he's since redeemed himself. Whitey is a Jack Russell Terrier, he's easily frightened, very high-strung, a bit dim, unfortunately, but he's a sweet character. Pugs is...a pug. He's the big mouth in the group, the doubter, the complainer, the occasional pain in the ass, he's cranky but he's loyal. The Orphan is a stray orange tabby cat, unlike the others, he's never had a home and he's more streetwise than they are.

Beyond that core group there's Red, a spiritual Irish Setter who has joined the group, the Wise Dogs, who have recruited the Burden Hill animals into the fight against evil, Dymphna, a former witch's familiar, and The Getaway Kid, leader of the Swifties, a local cat gang.

The Big Bad Wolf: For those unfamiliar with Beasts of Burden, can you give them some information about what types of monsters/villains the team faces?

Evan Dorkin: So far we've had ghosts, witches, black cat familiars, the Egyptian goddess Sehkmet, zombie dogs, a werewolf, an occult rat society, graveyard golems, a warlock, and a giant frog demon. I think that's everybody.

We used traditional monsters and ghosts in the first four stories to go along with the theme of the various anthologies, but because of the animal angle we get to present them a little differently. Our zombies were walking roadkill rather than the usual human undead, and when the animals took on a witch coven they did so through the black cat familiars.

Because our heroes are dogs and cats, it does affect how we work out the villains. It can be a bit of a trick to get the animals our of danger because they don't have hands or cell phones and can't read the papers or surf the net for information on defeating the supernatural. So the villains have to be worked out as a serious threat that can still be defeated by some animals and, at times, a small amount of magic. Right now the only recurring-type villain we have are the rats, led by the Rat King and the Bloodletter, his/their oversized rat second. There's also a major, unseen menace lurking about, the evil force drawing monsters to the town, rallying the night creatures and raising the dead and causing all the distrubances in the area. We've got a lot going on in the comic, creature and critter-wise.

The Big Bad Wolf: Can you tell our readers what they can expect from this book in terms of creepiness and gore? Beasts of Burden comic

Evan Dorkin: I'd say there's more creepiness than gore in the book, but we do have both. The animals fight with tooth and claw, and we don't avoid showing the damage they can do. The same goes for the monsters, some of whom have a habit of eating or dismembering the animals. And occasionally people.

Jill and I have a different approach to horror, in that she prefers to infer violence and gore, while I like to have it all ways. I like the Val Lewton, turn of the century horror story approach, where everything is in shadows, inferred, so it plays out in the reader or viewers mind. But I also like the shock of showing the effects of violence, and I think combining both approaches helps keep the reader off-balance and kavoids repetition.

Comics are a visual medium, so after a while, keeping dessicated zombie dogs and dismembered bodies off-panel would feel like a cheat. At the same time, I'm not interested in rubbing the reader's faces in blood and innards. I think we strike a good balance of creepiness and gore in the book.The main thing we try to do is make readers like and care about the characters, so that what happens to them, or threatens to happen to them, matters, whether it involves shadows or blood.

The Big Bad Wolf: What stories are collected in this hardcover edition?

Evan Dorkin: The book collects all eight stories Jill and I have done so far, the four stories from the Dark Horse horror anthologies that were done from 2003-2006, and last year's four issue mini-series. There will also be an 11-page sketchbook section featuring Jill's art and an extra story page. It comes in at about 168 pages, if I recall correctly.

The Big Bad Wolf: How has it been working with Jill Thompson on this series?

Evan Dorkin: Pretty much a dream. I have loved the work she's put into these stories from the first page of Stray and she's only gotten better, which is amazing. I can't believe how much effort and care she puts into her pages. She makes the characters live and breathe and her settings and backgrounds are just beautiful.

The Big Bad Wolf: What has impressed you the most with her artwork?

Evan Dorkin: Well, besides what I've already mentioned, I'm always impressed with how Jill manages to render the animal's facial expressions without compromising them as dogs and cats. I think it really helps readers get past the admittedly ridiculous concept we're working with here and lose themselves in the stories. And for someone who doesn't like to depict blood and guts, she can paint some beautifully grisly blood and guts.

Beasts of Burden comicThe Big Bad Wolf: Have you received lots of feedback from animal lovers for creating this book?

Evan Dorkin: A lot of the letters we've received have been from readers who are pet owners, especially in response to the second issue, which is not a very upbeat story. People wrote that they had to go hug their dogs or cats after finishing it. I think it's pretty clear that a large portion of our audience is predisposed to liking animals. And monsters.

The Big Bad Wolf: When is the release date of the hardcover?

Evan Dorkin: It's scheduled to ship on June 16.

The Big Bad Wolf: Where can our readers get more information about Beasts of Burden?

Evan Dorkin: They can go to the Dark Horse Comics website http://www.darkhorse.com to see the solicitation material for the comics and the book collection. They can also read the first three short stories for free on the website.

The Big Bad Wolf: In closing, what would you like to say to our readers about Beasts of Burden?

Evan Dorkin: I just hope folks will give our book a shot if it sounds interesting to them. And if they pick it up, I hope they enjoy it.

The Big Bad Wolf: Thank you for your time, Evan. Best of luck with Beasts of Burden!

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Published on: 2010-02-04 (3649 reads)

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