An Interview with Joseph Duis

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Today, I’m talking to Joseph Duis- the writer, founder, owner and more of Heresy Studios about his gothic comic ORDER OF DRACULA which is a must for any Hammer Horror fan.

Hi Joseph, Thanks for taking the time to speak to me.

Thank you! It’s a pleasure.

You’ve been interested in comics since childhood. In the afterword of ORDER OF DRACULA you mentioned how Batman was who brought you into comics. But what where the storylines that got you hooked?

I didn’t realize anyone read the afterword but my mom!  Mostly I got hooked on one-issue or storylines with short arcs. The Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle team was fantastic at these. They also introduced some intriguing new characters like Anarky that were morally ambiguous. They had this great talent to take one villain and do a short story focusing on them, whether it was Catwoman, Penguin, Joker, or whomever – and told some of the greatest Batman tales I’ve ever read.

As well as being a comic writer you also letter. What’s it like lettering as well as writing?

Letterer me hates writer me!  Writer me writes too much dialog and letterer me can’t fit it all in so I always end up revising dialog at the lettering stage, and it’s always for the better. That’s one reason I like lettering my own stuff – I wouldn’t have a last chance to fix the dialog otherwise. But also, I just love learning how to letter.  I’m still learning it to a large extent. I’m a little unhappy with my lettering in ORDER. I’m still considering re-lettering it and re-releasing it but I decided for sanity’s sake to just move forward for now.

The story and characters of ORDER OF DRACULA are heavily based on DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (the 2nd Hammer Dracula film starring Christopher Lee) with the exception of the Irish plot obviously.  Where there any other influences?

History is the other influence, mainly. The story of the Irish National Invincibles (the book THE IRISH NATIONAL INVINCIBLES AND THEIR TIMES) and Dracula’s own history, from a couple of good books, IN SEARCH OF DRACULA and DRACULA:  PRINCE OF MANY FACES. The other influences were the original Bram Stoker story and the other Hammer movies, primarily SCARS OF DRACULA.  After watching PRINCE OF DARKNESS, I realized the story could be a lot better if there were a different ending. After watching SCARS OF DRACULA, I was reminded of all of the times when Dracula has a living, witting accomplice, but who never really has much agency.  In the original DRACULA, he’s insane; in SCARS, he’s being tortured. I didn’t like that. I wanted to write a story where Dracula has a living, witting accomplice who had agency.  I tried to think of a reason why someone might willingly ally with Dracula, and I came up with politics. The story evolved organically from there, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

One of the great things about fiction especially gothic fiction is it gives an insight of the times and in the late 19th early century Britain was heavily concerned with the Irish problem. What research did you do in regards British history?

Enough where I had to force myself to stop. I’m a historian by training, and while I focused academically on American history, I’ve done a lot of research on the history of other cultures since school. I read as much as I could on it but I purposely tried to make the colourised portions of the story seem fictional whereas the B&W portions were portraying real events. So that’s why we have English characters who have very stereotypical names and were essentially caricatures, and fantastic things happening, with the B&W portions more grounded.

The second part in your Dracula series, CRUSADE OF DRACULA will see the focus shift to the Middle East with Dracula’s crusade against the Ottomans and the involvement of the Saudis. Are politics a big part of your work?

Yes, I’d say so. It’s kind of the nature of both my academic training and my day job as an intel analyst, so I always love playing with it. The story will be a 3-part miniseries revolving around Dracula’s trying to collapse the Ottoman Empire during the Great War. James Fitzharris will be involved again, as will some new characters (and there will be one character who only appeared in the background of a panel in ORDER but will be a main character in CRUSADE). It will be structured like ORDER, with a flashback sequence showing Dracula’s dealing with the Ottomans in life and a current-day sequence showing the involvement of the characters in the Arabian Campaign.

Like the Hammer films, ORDER OF DRACULA wasn’t the goriest story and didn’t even show Nigel’s body which if the comic follows the PRINCE OF DARKNESS film would have been gruesome to say the least. Is there a reason there’s isn’t a lot of bloodshed?

I tend to believe that disgust and fear are two different reactions, and I generally go for the latter rather than the former. I feel like keeping some things hidden will allow the reader’s mind to imagine something that’s far worse than anything actually drawn could evoke. I do a lot of horror books but I don’t generally put in much gore.

Dracula is the most adapted character across the screen and must be in the top five when all media is considered. Why do you think that is?

Dracula’s a very compelling character.  He’s a character of many contradictions – historical vs. fictional interpretation; hero vs. villain; monster vs. human; idealist vs. pragmatist. Characters that are inherent contradictions have been fascinating to humanity since the dawn of civilization. Such characters have traditionally been revered as gods, monsters, or both.

 You’ve currently got a Kickstarter going for SUPERHERESIS which is three short comics about public domain comic characters from the 1940s. Most people won’t have heard about these characters so what’s special about them?

I love that these are characters that had so much potential but were abandoned, many times without getting a proper origin or much character development. There is a lot of space there to make new stories about them. I also love the idea that we have behind SUPERHERESIES of using them as metaphors for the comic book industry. I feel it’s appropriate to do so given how poorly they ended up, only because of market forces. So our first story in SUPERHERESIES involves them being folded, spindled, and mutilated to a large extent, underlining how unpopular fictional characters fare.

Lastly, are there any other literature characters you are planning to write about?

Aside from the public domain comic book characters, Sheherezade, the narrator of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, will play a large role in CRUSADE OF DRACULA.  CRUSADE is structured similarly to the NIGHTS, with multiple characters telling different parts of the story, and, even, in some instances, will have nested stories, much like the original NIGHTS, so it gets a little meta in places. I really hope people will dig it.  It’s probably the thing I’ve spent the longest on, and the most ambitious. All three scripts have been written and are being edited. I’m hoping to finish all three issues next year and launch them either at the end of 2020 or early 2021. By then it will have been over three years in the making.

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