It was my pleasure recently to chat with one half of brother and sister team, Ian and Nicole Welke about their web comic Nightmares by Day. Ian has been a great friend of mine for a few years now, a generous, funny and insightful bloke. He’s also very very clever when it comes to conceptualising and delivering dark fiction. I began by asking him why he is drawn to reading and writing dark fiction before we moved on to chatting about the comic Nightmares by Day, its website and H.P. Lovecraft.
IAN: For me I think dark fiction is the most tempting because it’s got the most on the line, the world is in danger, someone might lose their sanity and their soul. Also my favorite writers have all written dark fiction of some sort. My favorite scifi writers write dystopias. Hell, even Tolkien: one of the best parts of LOTR is where they have to evade the dark riders – say what you will, but I found that to be some of the most frightening storytelling I’ve read.
PETE: “because it’s got the most on the line, the world is in danger, someone might lose their sanity and their soul. “ – that resonates with me, Ian. I think I write it because it feels like what happens to the characters matters, everything’s at stake. (You said it better, though). So: Nightmares by Day. A great website and comic. Very creepy stuff, beautifully illustrated. I imagine the work that Nicole puts into those panels is phenomenally time consuming. She paints them??
IAN: Yes indeed, and yes she really puts a lot of hours into them. She paints them and then hands them over to me to scan.
PETE: So, tell us about the concept and what we can expect from Nightmares by Day over the next few months.
IAN: The concept is based on a combination of things, but it started with my sister and I remembering a game we used to play with friends of ours when we were children.
Due to a fascination with Scooby Doo, we’d get together and “solve” paranormal mysteries. So as adults Nicole and I had the idea “what if that were real” and I always wanted to do a series of stories with young paranormal investigators. At this point we’re nearing the halfway point of the first story arc. The first story arc will conclude around December, if we manage to stay true to schedule, and has a resolution that I think will please people, especially any Lovecraft fans reading the comic.
PETE: Okay. Who was Lovecraft, what’s Lovecraftian “stuff” and why do I keep seeing it everywhere when I look at horror publications?
IAN: H.P. Lovecraft was a dark fiction writer during the first part of the 20th century. Lovecraft created a mythology for his fiction, a set of monsters, dark gods, ancient tomes, that are often reused throughout his stories. He then encouraged other writers to expand upon this universe. I think it’s partially the depth of this universe that is why he’s so popular today. But it’s also that what makes those stories “Lovecraftian” resonates with readers.
As for what constitutes Lovecraftian, that is a big question. I’ve seen entire panels on this at cons. I think for me there are a number of different things that I’d call Lovecraftian. The sense that the universe is completely different than what you would think or what you should think. The feeling that one’s craziest, darkest, most paranoid dreams are also correct, is Lovecraftian — that the delusional person is seeing the real truth. That there are, and have always been, dark forces working against our interests. And certainly the thought that there is a parallel world (or are parallel worlds) is pretty prevalent in his mythos. And our comic story starts off with a story where the characters travel to another world, one where there are monsters that are trying to break into our world.
For me, so much of my developmental years was spent in collections of his short stories, and the stories of people who were in turn influenced by him, so much of my time today is spent either reading Lovecraftian fiction, playing games based on his work, or writing stories and game materials along a similar vein… It was very tempting to kick off the comic with a Lovecraftian story. For one thing, I think if we started with a classic movie monster for the first story: vampire, werewolf, or Frankenstein’s monster, it would be harder to tell a Lovecraftish tale later, whereas if we start with something Lovecraftian we can use one of those classic monsters in a story later without feeling like we’ve broken something.
PETE: The story arc for Nightmares. How did you plan that out together? How did you decide where the story’s going?
IAN: Initially we envisioned it as a graphic novel, so in terms of length and pacing we were thinking to go a certain distance with that arc. In terms of pacing, we figured we’d do six page-posts since I was a big fan of Freak Angels by Warren Ellis, which posted six pages at a time. Six pages is also a nice way of having a set up and hopefully a pay off, hook, or both at the end of each post.
PETE: It’s worked well for me as a reader.
IAN: As for the story itself, this first arc is seen as a big introductory story, but it puts the characters into the danger pretty quick I think. The second arc will be a different kind of interesting because they’ll have to deal with supernatural dangers but also the more normal real world dangers, which are often worse… or at least more embarrassing.
PETE: So you’ll raise the stakes?
IAN: I think the stakes will be raised in each story, but in some ways the second arc might speak to people more directly since there will be more that people have had to go through in their own lives…Except for people that had to rescue their brothers from a nightmare alternate reality: those people will have plenty in the first arc to relate to.
PETE: You said earlier, “So as adults Nicole and I had the idea ‘what if that were real’” — Did this project arise from one of those sitting-round-the-table-at-the-diner brainstorming sessions, like the one that created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
IAN: We wanted to work on a project together since I moved back here. I’d been living up in Seattle and when I came back to Southern California we decided we should work on something together. I had a few ideas, but especially after looking at the paintings she did that appeared in HBO’s True Blood, I thought we could do something that made good use of her art style.
PETE: I read about Nicole’s art being in True Blood. That was for one episode, yeah? I didn’t see it, but having seen your comic, I can guess why they asked her to do it. The thing that first grabbed me with Nightmares was the style of the artwork. It reminded me of the warm and rich illustrations in childrens books I’d read to my kids…only there was this sinister undertone to it, and a dark storyline developing. Beautiful counterpoint.
IAN: Her paintings are in the bathroom in the vampire bar, Fangtasia, which was originally Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. There’s an episode in the first season, episode 9, Plaisir d’amour, I believe, where they first appear in the show. I believe in the latter seasons these have been reproduced for a set. I finally got around to watching season 4, and you see a bit more of them then. Yes she has this innate ability to combine cute and creepy. It works beautifully for the material I think.
PETE: What else have you and your sister done? I’m interested in the experiences you bring to this project. I know I’ve read several of your published short stories (and I’m lucky enough to have read some drafts of others you have in the pipeline), but tell our readers about yours and Nicole’s backgrounds.
IAN: Nicole’s art has appeared in numerous forms: gallery art shows, covers for albums and tour posters, as well as tattoo flash. She’s also a talented musician, playing all sorts of instruments and singing. As for our background, we grew up in a very suburban neighborhood in southern California, much of which will be reflected in the pages of the comic. As for my background, I have a degree in History with a lot of additional studying in literature and mythology. I’ve spent most of my life lost in books or stories. Escapism to me is almost an ideology.
PETE: What made you decide on a web comic rather than a print edition?
IAN: Well were planning for, if not planning on, a print collection eventually, but it’s our goal to first build an audience this way, and then there’s things we can do with the web that might not fit as well with a print edition. We have plans for lots of one-shots in between story lines for instance. Also, although it’s not my favorite thing, since I am a caveman when it comes to computers, it’s still nice to do something new, and I’ve been learning bit by bit on how to make a website and hopefully make the website nicer eventually. One slow step at a time on that web learning. Kind of like mastering fire.
PETE: Only this doesn’t burn. I hope.
IAN: Jury’s still out on that. 🙂
PETE: A caveman when it comes to computers? Didn’t you work for Blizzard Entertaiment? I googled you and one of the hits placed you in the credits for Starcraft (one of my all time favourite games).
IAN: I did work at Blizzard, for eight years, and then at a THQ company, and finally at Runic Games. But I was never a real technical person, I worked in the testing departments where it was my job to break things, much different than building things.
PETE: I wanted to ask you a side question, writer to writer: how the heck do you manage the various projects you have and the ideas that won’t stop coming? How do you keep all the balls in the air?
IAN: Right now I’m fortunate enough that my wife likes my cooking and tolerates my cleaning, which while it can be time consuming, does allow me more time to write. For one thing working in the home… well it’s hard to beat the commute. As for how to write multiple projects, that’s a big work in progress for me. It seems like what works changes from project to project, and by the time I figure out how to keep a couple different stories going, I’m usually finishing them. Maybe that’s just because my main focus has been short stories though.
PETE: Where do you hope to take the project over the next year or two? What’s the future for it?
IAN: Good question. Well I have over five years outlined, but obviously we’ll have to roll with the punches somewhat to see how it goes and adapt when the story changes on us. We have so much detail and background material written and so little of that comes out in the comic because of the nature of the posts, that it’s hard to tell at this point. If all goes well, sometime after the second story arc begins, we’ll look to sell some prints, t-shirts, and maybe even a collection of the first arc. As for the story, like I say, it’s there, but it will likely evolve as it gets produced.
PETE: Well, the care and attention you both put into the project really shines through. I wish you both good luck and godspeed with it. Been great to talk.
IAN: Thanks! Always love to chat about writing with you.
You can find Ian and Nicole’s web comic at http://www.nightmaresbyday.com/index.html What are you still here for? Go look!