Vault Comics kicked off the launch of their new annual pop-up horror imprint, Nightfall, with Tim Daniel, Michael Moreci, and Joshua Hixson’s The Plot, a book that evokes a familiar type of fear that most folks can relate to: losing family. But that’s only to start. Soon the suffocating fear of Blaine family’s house will envelop you along with the grotesque monstrosity waiting beneath the ground.
There’s a lesson to be learned here. You can’t escape your genetics. You can’t escape what’s inside of you. And The Plot co-writers Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci couldn’t escape an interview with me at New York Comic Con.
AiPT!: This is the first book to come out on Vault’s Nightfall imprint. No pressure! Was Nightfall the seed that got The Plot started? Or is this a story that you guys have been wanting to tell for some time and this was a great excuse to do it?
Tim Daniel: With Nightfall and The Plot, they dovetail together nicely. With horror here at Vault, it was always about finding the right time. That was one of the first questions I asked Damian (CEO and Publisher) and Adrian (COO and Editor-in-Chief) about early on, the possibility of doing horror. They wanted to start with really focusing the brand on science fiction and fantasy, and getting to recognize that’s what we do and that’s what we do really well. The idea was to at some point introduce horror in a very disciplined and focused manner, very dedicated, without taking away or eroding the trust and faith in our science fiction and fantasy.
So Mike and I had done Curse and Burning Fields together quite some time ago, and we had always talked about trying a third time for a third story. So a couple of ideas sort of dovetailed together and formed The Plot. So it was perfect timing for both The Plot and Nightfall to launch.
AiPT!: How did Josh Hixson get involved with the project?
Michael Moreci: Josh is an artist that both Tim and I really appreciate and love, particularly his work on Shanghai Red. There was a short list of artists that we really loved and wanted to work with and Josh was at the very top of it. I met him at C2E2 — I think he was already on board at that point, but he was just such a wonderful, smart, and a really nice guy. Really everything that Tim and I share in common with horror in general and also our goals for the book. He was an immediate fit. Folded seamlessly in. We knew it was perfect. Every time we work with an artist, whether it’s for my own books, Tim’s books, or books we’re doing together, we want it to be a true partnership. Someone who shares the vision and Josh definitely shares the vision. He’s as much the vision as Tim and I are.
AiPT!: Something I noticed about the book that I really like and feel that a lot of stories and horror in general don’t really explore enough is the strong theme of mental illness. How deeply interwoven is that with the monster, family, and haunted house in this story? How important is it to the story at-large?
MM: It’s very important. We’re not trying to be overly particular about it, but it’s also not something we’re bringing up to be disregarded or underplayed because mental illness is a serious thing. Tim and I, like anyone else, know people who have struggled with it and have had our own personal experiences with mental illness. So it is something that’s very woven into the tapestry of the story. It’s going to be addressed and handled carefully and reverently. It’s part of the story as much as anything else. We’re going to be paying very close attention to how it’s woven into the story and just as importantly, how it’s presented in the story.
TD: It’s very personal, so we’re not going to treat it cheaply.
AiPT!: I have a question for Josh, but since he isn’t here I’m hoping you guys can help me with it. The monster is awesome, I love it. I immediately got a Pumpkinhead vibe and The Fog, so I’m curious what inspired it? What was Josh doing research on? What twisted images were you guys emailing him?
TD: This portion of the story was inspired by a series of pictures on National Geographic. The pictures were of bog bodies, which is kind of the genesis of the story. You can see in the pictures that it turns the skin to an almost charcoal and the hair to a bright fiery red. It was such a striking visual that we kind of tucked this away and sat on the file. When it came time to look at what the monster and creature would look like, at least in one form, we presented Josh with a whole sheet of various shots for ideas. By sheer luck we discovered photographs of a sculpture’s collection and they were unique in that they were designed to erode and happen to be in a bog. They had moss pouring off of them, elongated distended limbs, really it was creepy as hell. So you combine all those ingredients, push them over to Josh, and he does things that we simply can’t do.
AiPT!: You guys are obviously big horror fans and that’s very apparent in the work. I got a very strong Stephen King vibe, particularly It and Pet Semetary. So I’m curious, what horror stories helped you guys put this story together?
MM: A lot of it is pretty obviously King. Tim and I are both huge King fans. Someone actually just gifted me this [holds up Doctor Sleep book] knowing what a big King fan I am. I think it’s a blending of two things. One is obviously Stephen King and nobody does colloquial horror as well as King. Everyday, natural horror. His horror stories are just him telling you this yarn. He’s spinning this yarn of scary things happening set in a very normal situation. People move into a new home, Pet Semetary. Coming-of-age story in It. Whatever. He does that better than anybody, so many things he does better than anybody [laughs].
But there’s also the sense of gothic horror. I went back to Ray Russell, who’s a huge inspiration for this story which helped add this sense of foreboding dread. Dread that just permeates into places. Gothic tradition is all about castles, homes, and haunted areas. Places that permeate with a sense of evil and wrongness that predates Lovecraft a little bit. Lovecraftian tradition is a place where you unearth the madness. While this is just something that is an enveloping feeling that something is wrong. So the gothic tradition played a pretty strong role in how we shaped what this house was, what this area was, and what it meant to this family throughout time. Those are two big things.
TD: King has always been someone that Mike and I use as a touchstone, not only for our writing, but as friends having discussions about story. We also talked quite a bit at one point about what we were seeing from modern horror — Hereditary, Us, Get Out — you name it. We were seeing things done there that I don’t think we’ve seen in some time, or maybe ever, and that was very interesting to us. So it’s really a mix of us bringing our influences together.
AiPT!: You guys say it’s a mix of the two of you and your influences, so I’m curious if there’s a third aspect to that mix found in your own fears. I find that what I’m afraid of often drives what I watch, to get that adrenaline rush from something that I know will scare me. Can the same be said for you and The Plot?
MM: I think it’s a mixture of a few things and I was talking to Josh about this yesterday. Fears, absolutely. The Plot is a story about a family and things that you are encumbered and blessed with as a family. It’s a mixture of things that you get. Wonderful things come from a line of people to you that you’ll never even know. But you get terrible things too, so it’s about that. About what family means to you. Where you become this person. Can you escape? Can you not make mistakes? Can you not become the sum of the parts that came before you? So it’s a lot about family.
The Plot is about sadness, something I feel like we don’t see a lot of in literature today. The Plot’s characters are very sad, and it sounds silly to say, but there’s a separation — not depression, not clinical or anything like that, just sadness. Chase has just lost his brother, the children have just lost their parents, and we really wanted to address that these characters are sad. And it’s okay to be sad. We wanted to look at how that affects your life and what that does to you. It is scary to be sad; sadness is frightening. We wanted to give the license to our characters in this story to be sad. That’s one of the things that I love about it.
AiPT!: What is it about writing a book together that works so well for you guys?
TD: When we first met we saw that we had common interests, maybe some common sensibilities, and then some that are different. The first time we wrote Curse together we figured out that that works. It’s challenging, but it works, and that was rewarding. From my own perspective, working with Mike demands that I do things better than I would maybe alone. Mike is working as that catalyst to pull that out of me. I don’t really sit down thinking I can rest on my laurels; I’ve got to write for Mike. I need to feel comfortable knowing that when he sees those pages, they’re working for him. I think that’s one of the real benefits to having that collaboration.
Mike and I have talked about it before — it’s about having blind spots. I think I have all the answers and then I hand these pages over to Mike and he’s going to show me where I maybe didn’t have all the answers. Or we’ll see where we’re both wrong [laughs].
MM: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, not necessarily as a partnership, but it loops around. There’s a certain combative and challenging edge to art; it should be hard. The Plot is a really hard book to write. It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written. It’s hard to collaborate, but we’re making art, and art should be hard. You should be challenging yourself and be around others that challenge you. I think the collaboration brings that out and it’s easier to do a book like this in tandem. It’s a very hard book, it’s very personal and emotional. I think that the collaboration helps deal with and bring out those emotions. To challenge yourself artistically and pushing yourself is how you make really great art. Doing more, doing better. If you have a good partnership it will lend itself to challenges, but also really good solutions and successes.
AiPT!: What’re you guys reading or watching for horror right now that isn’t your work? Just for fun?
TD: Believe it or not, I kind of went on a dry spell during this because I tend to become a cipher. So I kind of cut myself off, but unfortunately now I’ve got a stack of DVDs and books. However Mike recommended Paul Tremblay’s Cabin at the End of the World, and it’s a wonderful work. That’s really all I’ve allowed myself.
MM: I can’t remember the name of the author in this moment but I’ve been enjoying A Cosmology of Monsters. Like The Plot, it’s a family story, but kind of a Lovecraftian family thing. I’m listening to it right now, about two and a half hours in, something’s happening [laughs], but I don’t know what. I always like to watch the 30 something horror movies in October, that yearly thing people do. I watched Halloween 3 [laughs] — not the best one, but whatever. I’m rewatching Hill House, which is a huge inspiration, and is just brilliant. Mike Flanagan is brilliant. I’m midway through Doctor Sleep which he’s adapting.
AiPT!: Three quick final questions about your preferred horror movie in each pairing I’m going to throw at you. Alien or Predator?
MM: Alien. Not even close! Not as much mileage in Predator as people think there is.
AiPT!: A Quiet Place or The Descent?
TD: Hmmm The Descent.
MM: Tough call. I loved A Quiet Place.
AiPT!: The Amityville Horror or The Shining?
TD: Just recently rewatched Amityville but it doesn’t compare. The Shining.
MM: No question, The Shining. I’m a Kubrick nut.