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.
Bad Wolf: How did you come up with the concept for Beasts of Burden?
Evan 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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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
The Big Bad Wolf: How has it been working with Jill Thompson on this series?
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?
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
The Big Bad Wolf: Have you received lots of feedback from animal lovers for creating this book?
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.
The Big Bad Wolf: When is the release date of the hardcover?
It's scheduled to ship on June 16.
Big Bad Wolf: Where can our readers get more information about Beasts of Burden?
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?
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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