Back in 2018, writer Evan Dorkin and artists Veronica Fish and Andy Fish first enrolled comic book readers in Blackwood College, a supernatural place where surviving to see another day takes precedence over getting passing grades in your classes. Following the macabre mayhem of the series' first four-issue run, Dark Horse Comics is bringing readers back to Blackwood College for another round of gory fun in Blackwood: The Mourning After. With the first issue coming out on February 12th, we recently had the pleasure of catching up with Evan, Veronica, and Andy for our latest Q&A feature to discuss what deadly pleasures readers can look forward to experiencing next at Blackwood College.
You can read our full Q&A with Evan, Veronica, and Andy below (as well as preview pages from the first issue), and to learn more about Blackwood: The Mourning After #1, visit Dark Horse Comics' website.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Evan, Veronica, and Andy, and congratulations on Blackwood: The Mourning After! Did you always have a sequel to Blackwood in mind, or did you come up with this idea after the positive reception to the first four issues?
Evan Dorkin: We've always had a long-term plan for Blackwood. There's a map in mind. Even if the route changes over time, we know where we want to get to.
Andy Fish: It felt like we never left, we spent a lot of our “off time” from the first series developing more characters and researching settings for it.
Was it easy to dive back into this world with a new story for The Mourning After?
Evan Dorkin: It was, actually. There were a lot of hiccups getting through the first arc—condensing the storyline from five to four issues, laying in some basic world building, and just trying to get a sense of how everything works. Beginnings are tough, you're not exactly sure of your tone or how things will play out exactly. With Mourning, things felt more natural, we're past a lot of the set-up, so we can just start playing the game.
Veronica Fish: I think a reader can’t feel a sense of suspense unless the stakes are actually high. And you can’t care about a character’s death unless you care about their living, so the humor helps that.
Andy Fish: While I can’t speak for Evan’s script—which I think is brilliant—we did try to up the horror element in the art and the humor comes through with the reactions we give the characters.
There’s a lot of great humor in The Mourning After, but there’s also a real sense of danger and consequences for your characters. How important was it for you to continue exploring that balance between humor and horror?
Evan Dorkin: Blackwood was always supposed to be a horror-comedy, I take the same approach to a lesser degree in Beasts of Burden, but for Blackwood I wanted to ramp up both the humor and the horror, make both more explicit and over the top. I don't worry about the balance much, to be honest, a lot of the humor comes from the characters, so it plays out pretty naturally in most situations.
Veronica Fish: We feel it’s much more like Return of the Living Dead or Kolchak: The Night Stalker, or X-Files Goes To College, which are also influences.
This story feels like a horror film set in the Harry Potter universe, while still maintaining its own unique identity. Were you influenced or inspired by any other comic books, movies, or TV shows while working on The Mourning After?
Evan Dorkin: Blackwood was influenced by movies like Return of the Living Dead, Fright Night, Re-Animator, and Evil Dead 2, as well as a few school comedies like Real Genius and Animal House. You can tell by those references how old I am (old). My main inspiration in writing Blackwood and Beasts is horror fiction and folklore. Weird Tales and other pulps, weird fiction/cosmic horror, supernatural stories. Blackwood leans much more towards horror and weird fiction than fantasy. We don't have brooms or wands, magic co-exists with science, and conventional tools and weaponry. Our students will reach for a beer more often than a spellbook. Most of them won't learn traditional magic because they'd suck at it.
Andy Fish: This is a question for Evan, but I don’t see the connection to Harry Potter other than it’s a school with some supernatural elements. Visually a lot of the influences come from classic Universal Monsters and some ’60s and ’70s Italian horror films with a good dose of Junji Ito’s Japanese horror comics.
Readers went on quite a creepy ride in the first four issues of Blackwood. What can they expect to experience in The Mourning After? Did you feel like you had to raise the stakes even higher this time around?
Evan Dorkin: We've got ghosts, demons, cultists, monsters, murders, masks, mirrors, magic tomes, necromancy, bodysnatching, death and destruction—it's pretty packed, like the first series. But in some ways we lowered the stakes a bit. If you raise the stakes too early, too often, then nothing less than an apocalypse every issue will seem to matter. I think there has to be a balance of crucial smaller events and over-the-top emergencies—Hellboy is an example of a comic that manages that incredibly well. Horror works best on a more personal, smaller scale. It's fun to wipe out a crowd of people with a dimensional monster, but that doesn't convey horror or dread as well as a person or small group in danger. You have to build and have patience, or you paint yourself into corners.
Veronica Fish: Oh, and we go hard at the gore, so expect buckets of blood.
Andy Fish: I think if you liked the first arc you’ll like this one because it continues the story, which gets even more intense.
There’s so much to explore in the world of Blackwood, and it feels like this is a series that could go on for a long time. Do you have other story arcs beyond The Mourning After that you’d like to bring to life?
Evan Dorkin: Our final pitch for the project covered a number of story arcs, including what happened to Wren, Reiko, and Stephen before they were recruited for the scholarship program. We've been setting things up throughout the first two arcs that point towards future events.
Andy Fish: Evan has dozens of storylines for these characters. The back covers are Easter eggs because each one features one of the cast and tells the background of their own personal story—in one case we see a flaming house and a bunch of kids in creepy vintage Halloween outfits—that has to be a great story!
Like other Dark Horse comic book series, Blackwood: The Mourning After is a very cinematic story, and I feel like this would translate really nicely as a TV series or movie. Have there been any talks about an adaptation? Do you have any dream casting in mind for your characters?
Evan Dorkin: No, and no.
Veronica Fish: If that happened and it was done well I’d be happy for the success, but not even sure if I’d watch it to be honest. I’d probably become a nutty armchair quarterback.
Andy Fish: Can’t talk about any of that—for me I’ve never thought about casting, and anything I watch is from a long time ago—so I doubt we could get George Sanders or Jack Cassidy for Mortlake, but that’s who I’d see in the role.
What has it been like to continue working with Dark Horse Comics to bring more stories to life in the Blackwood universe?
Evan Dorkin: I've been working with Dark Horse since 1991 and they became my home publisher almost ten years ago. It's been a pretty consistent process since DHC started collecting my old SLG work and publishing Beasts, Blackwood, and Calla Cthuhu. The only thing that really changes is when an assistant editor like Brett Israel leaves the team after being promoted to full editor. Daniel has been a constant for many years now, and it feels like Chuck has been our assistant editor forever. Stability helps a lot, you can concnetrate on the work.
Veronica Fish: We feel so fortunate to get this opportunity, DH are such wonderful people to work for and are so supportive.
Andy Fish: Dark Horse is great—we really like when Rose City Comic Con invites us out for their annual show, because we are on the other side of the country from them—so once a year we get to interact with the folks we work with every day—and they’re all great. Dark Horse has such an amazing universe of books—we’re proud to be part of it.
Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from Blackwood: The Mourning After?
Evan Dorkin: Comics are fun. Two-headed mummy chimps make for terrible house pets. And store-bought Rice Krispies treats are bullshit. You have to make them yourself.
Veronica Fish: I hope they feel genuine intrigue, then I’ll feel like our job has been done.
Andy Fish: I hope they feel like they get their money’s worth, that they are entertained for the time it takes to read the book. I’d encourage them to go through the pages after they’ve read it the first time and look for hidden eggs.
In addition to Blackwood: The Mourning After, you all have other horror-themed comic book projects that you’re working on. How do you balance working on multiple stories at the same time?
Evan Dorkin: I make a lot of notes and take my anxiety medication.
Veronica Fish: Wrist brace.
Andy Fish: It’s not easy—but it’s easier than doing two series that are in totally opposite camps. So having come off one dark and sometimes magical book and moving into another dark and magical book makes for a nice transition.
What advice would you give to aspiring comic book writers trying to break into the industry?
Evan Dorkin: I can't say I know how anyone breaks into comics these days as a writer, especially a writer without an artist. Telling someone to become an established YA author or screenwriter isn't exactly helpful advice, but that's how we seem to get a number of writers in the paying market. Making comics is always the best way to make more comics, and getting yourself into a paid or funded situation. There are a lot more entryways into comics than when I started out, most of them involve the web, and I'm not going to pretend I know enough to be of any help there. Some practical suggestions: read your contracts, ask questions, ask for more money, don't work for people you hate, don't sign away your rights to your ideas, don't work for free for people who pay themselves, work hard, do your best, have fun.
Veronica Fish: Enjoy the long, arduous journey that it takes to keep upping your skill set. Once you start working, your stuff keeps evolving anyway, so think of it as a long game.
Andy Fish: Find Evan Dorkin at a show, buy him things and get his opinions. Bring a notebook, Japanese toys and candy, and be ready to learn.
With the first issue of Blackwood: The Mourning After coming out on February 12th from Dark Horse Comics, what other upcoming projects are you excited about, and where can our readers go online to keep up with your work?
Evan Dorkin: I've started a script for an upcoming mini-series and if things go according to plan I'll be writing another series this year. Sarah and I have also done a few variant covers, one for Blackwood, and two more that haven't been announced yet. I've been posting new comics and stuff at my Patreon, which is at https://www.patreon.com/evandorkin.
Veronica and Andy Fish: The sequel to our Sabrina The Teenage Witch series for Archie is going to be in stores in April, and we had a lot of fun with that, too. You can find us at AndyTFish.com and on Instagram (although I don’t know what I’m doing there) @andytfish.
Thanks for your time, Evan, Veronica, and Andy!
Evan Dorkin: Thanks for the interest in Blackwood!