The late 1800s were a frightening time. Modern medicine wasn’t a thing yet, Jack the Ripper was loose in London and corsets were the height of fashion (I don’t care what anyone says, those things are torture devices). In short, it was a nightmare, which makes any horror story set during the Victorian Era particularly terrifying. And when said Victorian horror story also happens to be drawn by Kelley Jones…well, you can say goodbye to sleep for a little while. Then again, considering we’re talking about Daphne Byrne here, the newest series to be released from Joe Hill’s scary-cool Hill House Comics imprint, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same line that was launched by introducing us to a basketful of talking, decapitated heads, after all.
Daphne Byrne tells the tale of a misunderstood 14-year-old girl who has just lost her father—the one person in life that she felt close to. After a visit with a medium, Daphne finds herself intermixed with a presence that calls himself “Brother,” only don’t expect him to act much like a loving sibling. From there, things just get more and more terrifying, but why take our word for it? We asked Jones and writer Laura Marks what we can expect from their new miniseries, along with how it came together and what keeps them up late at night. If you’re brave enough to read to the end, we’ve even included an exclusive preview of the first issue and the just-released Daphne Byrne trailer. Sleep tight…
Daphne Byrne seems tailor-made for your style. How did you get involved with it?
Daphne Byrne was one of those weird moments for me. I wanted to do a project I was in love with. I wanted to do a project set in the past, something truthful and human. Something with real horror. Real, awful, wonderful horror. Just wishful musing. Then an email came from DC with a paragraph or two describing a horror title in the works and asking if I would like to see more and if I would consider doing it. The book had things that I hadn’t done, and things I hadn’t seen. It was a book I would read if I came across it. I think I damaged my keyboard typing ‘Yes’ so hard.
Has it been fun working outside the superhero genre for a bit and doing something that’s pure gothic horror?
True gothic horror has tremendous range to it. I am having a great deal of pleasure finding and polishing all the delicious nuggets in this piece. So yes, it’s been a blast!
What’s your collaborative process with Laura Marks been like?
I worked hand in glove with Laura. Our collaboration is like we’re sitting before a fire late at night telling each other ghost stories. It’s just that ours is in print.
After all the work you’ve done in horror, do you ever get scared reading horror comics (or comic scripts)?
Sure! I have been scared by horror comics produced by EC, Warren, Charlton and DC. I’m always looking for that rush of a story well told.
What’s the last book you’ve read that’s frightened you?
The collected horror comics of Bob Powell, a comics artist and writer from the early fifties. He produced some really great gothic terror!
Laura, you’ve written for TV, film and the stage, but this is your first comic series. How did you wind up getting involved with Hill House Comics?
I was part of a writers’ room for the Locke and Key TV adaptation when it was in development. That’s how I met Joe Hill and got to know his incredible work. A few months later, Joe reached out and said, “Hey, I’m curating this new horror imprint for DC… have you ever thought about writing an original comic?” Writing a comic was a bucket list item for me, so saying yes was a no-brainer.
Right from her first appearance, I found Daphne to be a very likable character that you quickly come to care about. How did she come together? Is she based on anyone?
I’m so glad to hear that you empathized with her. No, she’s not based on anyone in particular, but I have two daughters who are 16 and 12 at present, and I remember all too well how it felt to be a girl of that age. Of the three of us, I suppose I’m the one who’s most like Daphne. My girls are far more well-adjusted than I was.
Kelley Jones is something of a horror comic legend. Were you familiar with his work? How has it been working with him?
I confess I didn’t know his work beforehand, but I did a deep dive and quickly realized how lucky I was to get paired up with Kelley. I can’t imagine anyone better to create this 1880’s world and populate it with terrors. What I appreciate most is the way he conveys emotion and intention on a character’s face. You mentioned caring about Daphne, and much of that comes from Kelley inviting you into what she’s feeling. And this period setting allows him to run riot with detail. I kind of wish I could live in the world he’s drawn—minus the odd demonic possession. It’s seductively beautiful, even when it’s horrifying.
Has it been hard adjusting to writing for comics? What’s something you’ve come to appreciate about the medium?
Fortunately, I’m working with a terrific editorial team at DC, including Joe himself, and they’ve helped me get comfortable in this new medium. I have to say that I love it. I love the precision it requires: when you have exactly 22 pages, no word or image can be wasted. And since I come from screenwriting, it also feels a bit like getting a chance to direct—with Kelley as the brilliant cinematographer.
What’s something that you personally have always found really frightening?
Exsanguination. Definitely my least preferred way to die. Also, the witch in Snow White. I was once grabbed and tickled by a mentally ill woman when I was a small child, and I was convinced she was that particular witch. I’ve never forgotten it.
Daphne Byrne #1 by Laura Marks, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen is in stores Wednesday.