[In honour of Women in Horror Month, Mike DeShane and Aaron Von Lupton are spotlighting three of the many ladies working in the bloody trenches of the horror comics biz. In this installment, Mike and Aaron talk with writer Rachel Deering. (Click here for Part One of the series, which featured an interview with artist Becky Cloonan.)]
It might seem that every idea in the horror genre has been used at least once, but comic book writer Rachel Deering managed to come up with a new one for her series Anathema: lesbian werewolves. Deering mines Hammer movies, Gothic novels and old EC comics to create an atmospheric period piece that tells the tale of Mercy Barlowe, a woman who becomes a lycanthrope to save her lover’s soul.
While Anathema has understandably become known as “the lesbian werewolf comic,” the narrative has more depth than that exploitative label would imply. The story begins with Mercy’s puritanical father burning her lover, Sarah, at the stake. As Sarah dies, ravens descend and steal her soul. The birds are emissaries of a cult out to resurrect Count Karnstein, a man who in life made a pact with demons and fed on the suffering of women. Realizing she is not powerful enough to stop the raven cult, Mercy makes her own devilish deal, becoming a werewolf, and races to prevent the sect from completing the resurrection and feeding the collected souls to Karnstein.
Armed with a strong concept, Deering crowd-sourced to bring Anathema to life – not once, but twice. She sourced more than $8000 through Kickstarter for the first issue of the series, and in a second campaign raised over $24,000 to fund the final five issues. So far three of the six issues have been published, and the books, with their impressive art by Chris Mooneyham and Wes St. Clair, have garnered positive reviews and an army of fans.
You can see for yourself with a five-page preview of issue #1 here.
Rue Morgue caught up with Deering recently to discuss love and werewolves.
Sure. People tend to notice sensational headlines on newsstands, so I figured the same principle would apply with online promotions. Even the most heartfelt plea for money would be passed over by many, but with a slogan like mine, people are automatically taken to this mindspace where they stop what they’re doing and say to themselves, “There’s a lesbian werewolf out there? AND IT’S IN DANGER OF DYING?!” I feel like it was pretty effective at drawing potential backers.
Monsters and bloodshed aside, would it be fair to say Anathema is a love story at its core?
Absolutely. What’s horror without emotion? I mean REAL emotion. Are you going to feel more dread at seeing two goofy teenagers getting it on and then being hacked to pieces by a featureless madman, or watching two people who truly love each other being torn from each other and murdered by the people they know? I really wanted my readers to share the torment of the characters in Anathema. You can go to the theater any day of the week and soak your brain in mindless gore, so I wanted to give potential audiences a bit more to chew on, so to speak.
Do you think Anathema would have gained the same funding or acceptance if the relationship portrayed was between two men?
I have no way of knowing for sure, but I would really and truly hope so. The nature of a loving relationship doesn’t change whether it’s between two women, two men, or a man and a woman. It’s still love. The only organ that matters when it comes to love is the heart. Forget about what’s going on between the legs. Now, that’s my fairytale answer. If I’m being honest with you, and with myself, I’d say it probably wouldn’t have sold as well, and that’s just plain awful. I didn’t write lesbian characters because I thought it would get crowds hot and sell more books. I wrote lesbians because I am a lesbian, and that’s what feels most natural to me. Don’t worry, I’m writing a straight couple in my next series.
The up is pretty obvious, really. I got the money needed to bring my dream to life. That’s pretty amazing. In the process I’ve been able to make new friends and fans and share my story with them. There’s no better feeling than that. On the other hand, I feel quite a bit of pressure to pump out the material more quickly than I would if I’d financed the whole thing myself. I know that people are out there waiting for the next issue, and that kills me. I’m not a hasty person when it comes to creativity, so I take my time with each idea and make sure I’m putting out the best-quality book possible. In doing that, I feel like I am keeping people waiting for too long. I get emails and messages every day asking when the next book is coming, and it really does a number on my nerves, haha. Also, shipping all those books and hand labeling every envelope makes me feel pretty raw after a while.
Anathema is a labour of love, all the money raised goes to producing the comics. What are the costs associated with putting a project like this together?
Right from the start, I had to figure Kickstarter and Amazon were going to take about 10 percent of whatever funds I raised, so kiss that goodbye. Then, with what’s left, I paid my artist, colorist and editor. I never took a cent for myself as the writer and letterer. After the book is complete, I have to order a nice-size print run to fulfill the Kickstarter rewards. That’s definitely not cheap for someone who requires less than say 2000 to 5000 units. After I receive the books, I have to pay for shipping materials and then the great big bill that hits me at the post office. Even with all the money I raised through the Kickstarter, I am going to have to pay for the final two issues out of my own pocket. This kind of thing takes a lot more money than I would have ever guessed.
Will there be an Anathema trade paperback for those who missed the Kickstarter campaign?
Almost certainly, yes. I have been talking to the editor-in-chief of a publisher, and they are interested in releasing the trade version of the series. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve got my fingers crossed. I will worry about that when the time comes, though. I’ve gotta get through this beast first.
Was Anathema planned as just six issues or will we see more of Mercy Barlowe?
It will only be six issues. I am not a fan of ongoing titles. I like a story with a definite beginning, middle and end. Keeping up with a series becomes daunting after so many issues, so I wanted to give my audience a nice chunk of story with a satisfying end, then move onto other characters and other worlds. I am a creative gypsy, I guess you could say. I don’t really want to dwell in one place too long, I gotta move on to the next thing.
Sure thing. Womanthology is a massive comic anthology with an all-female creative team. I’m not sure [of] the final count, but there were several hundred ladies who took part in this thing in one fashion or another. I came on at first as the letterer for the book. It didn’t take long before I was pairing up artistic teams, editing several sections of the book, and writing a how-to article. It was really a lot of fun for me, especially working with the younger ladies on their stories. Oh yeah, working with Gail Simone wasn’t so bad, either.
You are working on a project with artist Christine Larsen; can you give any details about it?
It’s dark, and gorgeous, and creepy, and fantastic. It’s an all-ages graphic novel called The Other Side, and we’re hoping to have it out sometime this year. We went through a few rough patches with publishers, almost getting the thing published, but then getting dropped due to budgetary concerns, etc. After a few close calls, we just decided to release the thing ourselves, so maybe we’ll give crowdfunding another go. No matter what, it will see the light of day in the near future.
Has the praise you have received for Anathema opened doors for you? Are there other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Oh, sure. I have been offered writing gigs for big companies. Companies I would have NEVER dreamed would approach me. As with most things in creative industries, I am required to keep hush-hush about it, but all will be revealed when the time comes. The biggest opportunity that has come with my success is being able to talk to fellow creators, editors and publishers freely about what I want to do in the future, and have them take notice and show interest. It’s always been a dream of mine to work in comics, and now here I am.
Finally, the question we’ll be asking all the creators we speak to this month: Is a “Women in Horror Month” necessary, and more specifically, is it needed to draw attention to women working in comics?
Is it necessary? Probably not. Is that delicious meal and scrumptious dessert necessary? Not at all, but it makes us feel good, doesn’t it? I, myself, have never experienced a dearth of recognition as a woman in horror, but it feels good to have that little extra bit of exposure and appreciation for who I am and what I’m doing. At the end of the day, it makes a lot of people happy, and it doesn’t hurt anyone in the process. Why wouldn’t we have a Women in Horror Month?
Mike DeShane and Aaron Von Lupton