A Chat with Indie Comic Book Creator JOSEPH DUIS
Today on the Witch Haunt, please welcome Joseph Duis, creator, writer, and letterer of Dr. Orange, and the founder, owner, and operator of Heresy Studios. An intelligence analyst by day and an historian by training, he spends 12 months a year wishing it were Halloween, so he formed his own comic book company to write horror comics. He wrote and published standalone horror comics The Order of Dracula, Bless the Children, and Cat & Mouse, and he also contributed a story to the anthology Nerd Nation Presents # 2.
WH: Welcome to the blog, Joseph! Clearly, you have three feet firmly planted in horror comics. What other career would you have if not writing/creating/publishing?
Local late-night cable-access horror host.
WH: Nice. I see a pattern here. :) What is your creative process like?
Usually I’m doing a household chore and my mind starts wandering. I get a story idea and I run through it in my head several times, usually while doing other mindless tasks, for weeks to years. It is then when I work out the basic story beats, sometimes even the entire story depending on length, and I’ll have a few scenes and some dialogue entirely fleshed out. By repeating the story to myself in my head for a while, I work out sticking points in the plot or clever lines of dialogue or whatever. When I finally get a chance to write it down, I try to sprint through a script just to get the plot written out and paneled so I have a good idea about how long it will be. Then I do some research and tweak everything, name or rename characters, add visual references if need be, revise it at least three times over several months or years, then go looking for collaborators and get it illustrated. Once the pages come in, I give any necessary feedback to the artist, then letter it (during which I change most of the dialogue), then have it colored, then lay everything out and do all the technical stuff.
WH: A labor of love for sure. Which of your projects/comic books are you most proud?
Although it’s not out yet, DOCTOR ORANGE is probably my favorite. It’s the story of a schizophrenic woman with a history of hallucinations who carves a jack o’ lantern for Halloween, only to find that it comes after her in revenge . . . or is it all in her mind? Multiple reviewers have said it’s my best work yet and I agree; it’s not coincidental that it’s also the latest (drorangecomic.com is the website for the Kickstarter going on now). The theme I seem to come back to lately is whether what we’re experiencing is real or not and this book tackles it head-on and from multiple perspectives.
If I were to pick a second one it would probably be BLESS THE CHILDREN, our horror Western comic. It’s the story of a man who is the sole survivor of a failed Westward settlement. After the settlers get trapped in the mountains of Northern California, he becomes separated, making his way to a small, nearly abandoned town. Once there, he begins seeing silent children of whom no one else is aware. He then has to discover whether they’re real and, if so, who they are and what they want. I did a lot of experimenting with the “traditional” comic book format with this to get it into the style of the earliest comic books – no dialogue bubbles, black and white, landscape orientation, an “etching” feel, numbered panels, etc. It was risky and not everyone appreciates it. But I am very proud that we got this book out because it was just so different from everything else out there.
WH: I’ve always been fascinated by passion projects and how they may not be the most successful, but they say the most about their creators. If you could interview any horror author, gone or alive, who would it be?
Robert Chambers. Although he mostly wrote in genres other than horror, his Yellow Sign series of short stories was inspired. I’d really like to know where he got the ideas for those because they are so different from everything else he’s written, and they’ve had a huge cultural impact within the cosmic horror subgenre.
WH: How have you changed as a person from your early life until now?
I’m better in most ways. I’m more productive, a harder worker, more open-minded, wiser, I take more risks, I’m more well-rounded, I’m more social, and I have a better diet. I just regret that it took so long to get here. Youth is wasted on the young.
WH: Very true. I try not to think about how my life would’ve turned out differently had I known these secrets earlier, but I guess you have to learn it for yourself, Dorothy. :) How do you like your coffee? Do you have a favorite libation? What’s your favorite dessert?
I don’t drink coffee or alcohol so I’ll go to the third one. My favorite dessert is probably those giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes.
WH: Oh, hell, yeah. What about Halloween? What’s your favorite tradition?
Carving jack o’ lanterns is my favorite Halloween tradition. I go with a new design every year, and it’s the only tradition I’ve observed throughout every phase of my life. In fact, I was carving a jack o’ lantern in 2011 when I first got the idea for DOCTOR ORANGE, although it was originally in the form of a short story called “The Pumpkin.” I ended up losing track of the story but I remembered the main beats so I completely rewrote it last fall (just after Halloween).
WH: I love carving jack-o-lanterns and always try to involve my kids, though now they’re older and feel they’re too cool for such things. What is the witchiest thing about you (we’re all a little witchy)?
I’d like to think that our comics cast a spell on you.
WH: Ha, indeed, they do. Who would be your favorite Addams Family character?
I’ve always liked Thing. Despite lacking a way to communicate except through hand gestures, Thing is very expressive, and you get the sense that he’s the most intelligent of them all, at least in terms of common sense.
WH: It’s amazing how much he can express with so little. What do you feel makes you different from other horror comic book creators out there?
I’ve been called the Rod Serling of indie comics, and I take it as the highest compliment. My fiction isn’t loaded with gore or jump scares. Instead I focus on irony, existentialism, and building a sense of dread. I don’t use “traditional” monsters or mythologies unless they’re there to turn the audience’s expectations on their heads. They may look like ghosts or vampires, but you don’t know how they work (even if they seem to meet your expectations at first). Some of my upcoming comics are also not exactly horror, but more about horror, or about storytelling, or they may fall more easily into the war, crime, thriller, or suspense genres. I’ve gotten pretty meta lately. In my stories, nothing is a given. In horror, the more you know about a threat, the less scary it is. I leave a lot of ambiguity.
WH: That’s important. It’s the mystery that builds dread. What is the most awesome thing happening in your life right now that you’d like to share with us?
My kids are learning to read and I couldn’t be happier about it.
WH: Aww, that’s awesome. Read to them every night, even when they’re older. They’ll always ask for the next chapter and boom, you’ve created readers. What’s next for you? We can’t wait to see what you have coming up!
I mentioned our next comic, DOCTOR ORANGE. The Kickstarter runs August 14th through September 7th at drorangecomic.com, with the book released by the end of this year.
I have two other short stories that will be out in anthologies soon. They are “Mary, Revised,” an 8-page story in which a teenage girl recounts two contradictory stories of her dead best friend’s life, one mundane and one fantastic; and “How the West Won,” a 12-pager in which seven 1950s public domain superheroes find their lives threatened when two unassuming ranch hands immune to their powers break into their secret HQ and begin to gun them down a little too easily. The secret behind the unknown force controlling the gunmen threatens the heroes’ entire universe. They will be published in NERD NATION PRESENTS issues 3 and 4, respectively, out by the end of this year and early next year, respectively.
Our big book for 2019 is the beginning of our first three-issue miniseries, THE CRUSADE OF DRACULA. A standalone sequel to our first comic, THE ORDER OF DRACULA, CRUSADE follows Dracula as he tries to collapse the Ottoman Empire against the backdrop of World War I and the Arab Revolt. But he cannot do it alone, so he must begrudgingly pay the price of Scheherezade, the most ancient, powerful, and dangerous information broker in the Arab world, to enlist her aid. We’ll probably do a Kickstarter in the summer or fall of next year for Book One, “Angels, Demons, and Djinns.”
Wow! What a great lineup! Looking forward to all these new creations coming out of your lab, Joseph. Have a great kickstarter and Halloween season!
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Joseph Duis is the creator, writer, and letterer of Dr. Orange, and the founder, owner, and operator of Heresy Studios. An intelligence analyst by day and a historian by training, he spends 12 months a year wishing it were Halloween, so he formed his own comic book company to write horror comics. He wrote and published standalone horror comics The Order of Dracula, Bless the Children, and Cat & Mouse, and he also contributed a story to the anthology Nerd Nation Presents # 2. He lives in the suburbs of Nashville with his patient wife and three impatient toddlers.
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🔮 GABY TRIANA ☠️