Monkeys Fighting Robots spoke with writer Dan Watters about THE PICTURE OF EVERYTHING ELSE, his new horror series steeped in the lore of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The series is by Watters and artist Kishore Mohan, with letters by Aditya Bidikar, and design by Tim Daniel. Issue #1 hits your local comic shop on December 23rd.
About the series:
As the 20th century dawns, art promises to change the world…and steep it in blood. A rash of impossible killings sweep through Paris, tearing the rich and beautiful apart in their beds. When two art thieves stumble upon the portraits of the victims damaged in the exact same manner they died, it appears the man who once painted the immortal portrait of Dorian Gray has returned-with darker plans for future works. From the minds of Dan Watters (Coffin Bound, Lucifer, Deep Roots) and Kishore Mohan comes a haunting balance of depravity and beauty.
We’ve read the first issue, and it is a beautifully unsettling horror story about art, friendship, vanity, and so much more.
Preview the first issue of THE PICTURE OF EVERYTHING ELSE right here:
And read on for our interview with Watters:
Monkeys Fighting Robots: What inspired you to tell this story, and how did you and Kishore come to work together on it?
Dan Watters: This story was pretty much inspired by seeing multiple TV series and books and things revisiting Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and focusing entirely on the immortal decadent with his painting in the attic, while I sort of pointed with confusion at the man in the background who’d painted an immortal painting, and said “what about that guy? Isn’t he more interesting?” So as no one else seemed to want to tell his story, I realised it was probably my job.
As soon as that seed had taken root, I called up Kishore. We’d been developing something quite different — a gothic fairy-tale set during the Klondike gold rush, which I hope we come back to one day. He’d already drawn some beautiful pages for that when I called and said “I’m really sorry. But you’re the perfect artist for this. I think this needs to be our book.” And to Kishore’s eternal credit, his reaction was entirely one of excitement and the next thing I knew we were discussing the right sort of gas lamps for 1890s Paris.
MFR: What can you tell us about your protagonists, Marcel and Alphonse?
DW: Marcel and Alphonse have been great fun to spend time with. They’re two poor up-and-coming Parisian artists who moonlight as art thieves in order to meet their rent. They’re thick as thieves (or more accurately thick and thieves) but have very different ideas about what art is, and what art can do for the world. And that’s going to lead them to make very different choices.
MFR: And I feel like I know both Marcel and Alphonse intimately already after just the first issue. What’s your development process like to create such fleshed out characters?
DW: It’s horrible and cliché’d, but you mostly listen to them. They’ll tell you who they want to be. The main trick, I think, is to make sure each of them is distinct. Every one is different, and they aren’t just mouthpieces for the ethos of the story, if the story has one of those at all. Instead, the job of the writer is to be a bit of a horrible bastard, really. The job is to make them care about something, and then not to let them have it. That’s when people reveal themselves.
MFR: How did the themes of the story and the time period it’s set in influence the art style, i.e. the color palette and the choice to use watercolors?
DW: I don’t want to overly speak for Kishore and his process… but as I mentioned, I knew he was the right artist for the book as soon as I had the idea. He does these beautiful watercolor images, mostly cityscapes, but I hadn’t seen him do them for a comic before. He spent a lot of time on the palette, and will redo pages more than once sometimes if he’s not happy with them. He’s also been mixing in other methods and materials — switching over to acrylics to get across certain moods, for example.
MFR: Between the title and one of the characters, there are major connections between PICTURE OF EVERYTHING ELSE and Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. What is your personal connection to the source material, and why did you choose to pick up its mantle?
DW: I love The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s one of those books I come back to again and again, and it always reads so differently, depending on how old I’ve been, and what life’s looked like. It took on a whole different dimension as I learned more and more about Wilde’s life too. For example, I think most people see either Dorian or Lord Henry as Wilde’s stand-ins. I’m certain he was Basil. A great artist, destined to be betrayed by his work. Which is maybe daft, because Wilde wrote that book before his tragic downfall at the hands of his lover Bosie and his imprisonment. He couldn’t have known just how betrayed he was going to be. Maybe he tasted it in the air, or maybe the reality just added another facet to the book after the fact.
MFR: I love how you use Marcel’s letter to build suspense — it lets the reader know that something sinister is coming, and then we’re turning every page waiting for the shoe to drop. What other methods do you like to use to create dread in your horror comics?
DW: Well, I have quite particular ideas about how horror can and can’t work in comics. You don’t have jump scares, you don’t have musical cues to tell your audience how to feel. So building tension has to be done in other ways. I get labelled a horror writer a bit, which is probably fair, since I’ve written Lucifer and Home Sick Pilots and Coffin Bound; but I gravitate towards horror because I’m working in comics, and comics mean you have to do something different with the horror every time. You have to lean into the metaphors to make us feel for the characters, to make us really care if something bad happens to them. You can’t get away with simple life and death stakes and expect us to empathize with the character just because they’re human and we are too. I suspect that can work on screen because you’re looking at a real breathing moving person. That’s why bad horror films still make us jump. Comic images are that bit more removed from reality, they wear their artifice in every balloon and gutter, so you have to work that bit harder, innovate that bit more.
All of which is to say, I don’t know if I’d be quite as much of a horror writer in other mediums. I think it’s very interesting in comics.
MFR: Comic book covers are crucial in setting a tone and getting people to pick up your book, and your guys’ main cover pulled me in immediately. What was the thought process behind such an unsettling and haunting image?
DW: All the credit for that goes to Kishore! The cover image was entirely his idea. We knew we wanted everything to have a Belle Epoque feel to it, and that’s what we immediately started talking to designer Tim Daniels about for the logo. We wanted each cover to feel like an invite to a party as scary and anticipatory as the 20th Century.
MFR: In this story, there is a literal danger in art. How metaphorical is this? Do you as a creator find it’s dangerous to invest yourselves too much in your art, to use your “life as a brush” as Alphonse does?
DW: Ha! I guess this is kind of what the story is about, and it’s sort of what I’m asking myself by telling it. I do wonder if there’s a danger for artists — and definitely writers — to take themselves too seriously, though. Your work, and the response to it, should never be the thing that defines your life. That way lies echo chambers, and you can lose focus of what the point was in the first place — which was to talk about the world, and to marvel at it.
MFR: And, finally, what do you hope readers take away from this series?
DW: I hope they enjoy themselves. I fear that hoping for anything more than that would lead to a certain form of madness. I’m not convinced stories like this should particularly lay things out for us. They should show us things, make connections between them, and then say, “what did you make of that?” Those are my favourite kinds of stories.
Thanks again to Dan Watters for taking the time to chat with us. THE PICTURE OF EVERYTHING ELSE #1 is on sale 12/23/2020; Final Order Cutoff is 11/13/2020, which is TODAY if you’re reading this the day of publication.