At the 2017 Silver Scream Film & Comic Festival, our Best Graphic Novel Script award went to first-time writer Matt Dreiling, whose sense of the macabre in BLACK SUNDAY (no relation to the Mario Bava film of the same name!) perfectly matched American Gothic Press’s horror output. BLACK SUNDAY first went through revisions to its original version; then, finding an artist to match the script was a challenge. Finally, finished pages coming in by illustrator Polychrome proved that the book had become a force to be reckoned with.
The stark, desolate landscape of Dust Bowl Kansas becomes an eerie harbinger of doom in Dreiling’s atmospheric script, which eventually takes on a feel similar to Ken Burns’ Dust Bowl documentaries meeting a classic Hitchcock or Hammer film. Dreiling recently spoke with AGP about his writing process and initial anxiety about entering the comic book industry.
American Gothic Press. What made you enter the BLACK SUNDAY script into the 2017 Silver Scream Festival?
Matt Dreiling. After I finished writing BLACK SUNDAY, I didn’t really know what to do with it. I was new to the comics industry, so I didn’t quite know how to go about turning it into a book. This sounds ridiculous, but I think I started Googling “publishers of American Gothic stories”. I figured BLACK SUNDAY is nothing if not American Gothic [Ed. Note: It’s true!]. AGP came up, and I saw that the Silver Scream Fest was advertising entries for scripts. I thought, why not? It being my first story I had pretty low expectations, so I was shocked when I got selected as the winner. I had never submitted anything to a contest before.
AGP. Why comics? Did you visualize the story as a film or fiction book first?
MD. I used to work in the camera and lighting department in the film industry, so thinking visually came naturally to me. That said, I worked really hard to not make it read like a film script. A comic script has to be a blueprint for the artist, so I made a concerted effort to be as visual as possible without giving “stage directions” like a screenplay does. While I was writing I did think about turning it into a short novel instead, but I got on a roll and never got around to it!
AGP. There’s not really a standard in the comic industry for script format. Did you use examples of existing scripts to write BLACK SUNDAY, or did you just wing it?
MD. I was shocked to discover that there was no standard format. It made my head spin trying to figure out what would work best and allow me to be taken seriously. I eventually stumbled across a template that Fred Van Lente (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) had devised. It was similar to the way a screenplay looked, so maybe it just made sense to me. Trying to decide what was the best format was really frustrating, and I think I spent weeks trying out different ones before I settled on that.
AGP. How much has the story changed since you wrote the first draft?
MD. A story never survives its first draft, and BLACK SUNDAY was no different. I like stories that take their time, but it just took way too long to get into the narrative. We combined the first two issues into an oversized debut, which really helped the pacing. The original ending was a little too ambiguous, and we replaced it with one that was way creepier and strange but still kept some of that ambiguity. The editing process turned out to be very rewarding for me, and I learned a lot working with Holly [Interlandi, AGP Editor-in-Chief].
AGP. What kinds of resources did you use to map out the landscape of the Dust Bowl so vividly?
MD. My grandparents were young farmers in western Kansas, and they experienced the Dust Bowl first hand. I remember my grandfather describing it to me in pretty scary almost apocalyptic terms, but I was too young to appreciate it. Years later, I became obsessed with Ken Burns’ documentary on the Dust Bowl, so that was a major resource. But I would give anything to have my grandparents’ complete stories about the whole experience.
AGP. In your mind, what is the back story of the abandoned Verdamt farm?
MD. If you add a second “m” to “Verdamt”, you have the German word for “damned”. In retrospect that’s probably a little too on the nose, but I love what it means for Charlie and his family. The Verdamt farm is basically a shattered mirror version of the Leikam’s farm. I saw it as their “future,” like a destiny they can’t possibly escape.
AGP. What do you think artist Polychrome has brought to the project that you didn’t expect?
MD. I had never worked with an artist before, so pretty much everything is unexpected! I would say my favorite thing is the way she renders closeups of the characters’ faces. There are a lot of moments in the story where we see a character lost in thought or reacting wordlessly to something, so Polychrome is doing all the heavy lifting there. It’s been a thrill to see that come to life.
AGP. If you could compare BLACK SUNDAY to an existing story or group of stories, what would it be?
MD. BLACK SUNDAY closely resembles THE SHINING. The setting and era are completely different, but the themes and some story components echo each other in interesting ways. You have an isolated family battling evil forces beyond their control —both literally, in the environment, and psychically from within. There’s also the idea of being cursed. Charlie, like Jack Torrance, is destined to repeat the sins of others. You can’t escape the past!
AGP. Do you plan to pursue other comic book projects?
MD. Yes! I’m working on my next book now. It’s not necessarily a horror story, but similarly to BLACK SUNDAY, it uses a very specific period in time as its backdrop. I’m very excited about it.
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