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Stuart Manning and Aaron Campbell Bring Dark Shadows Back to Life

Dark Shadows ComicsTake a look at recent popular vampire epics, like Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries, and ponder their essential elements. Conflicted vampires? Check. Steamy human-vampire romance? Check. Ancestors who conveniently look just like their modern-day counterparts? Check. (Well, maybe just The Vampire Diaries.) You might never have watched the seminal 1960s vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows, but if you love any of today’s vampire tales, you’re already a fan and just don’t know it yet.

Dark Shadows started out as a fairly conventional gothic soap opera, but it caught fire with the introduction of mysterious vampire Barnabas Collins. Debuting as a scary, menacing monster, Collins fell in love and was slowly redeemed, eventually becoming a heroic figure. With its wide cast of characters, jumps through time, and high drama, Dark Shadows directly influenced every vampire tale that came after. However, after 1,200-plus episodes, the show was cancelled by ABC, because it appealed to a younger audience that wasn’t as valuable to advertisers in the ’60s and ’70s (my, how times have changed!).

However, fandom simply didn’t allow Dark Shadows to die out. Much like with cult hits like Star Trek, fans have been busy putting together conventions, festivals, and websites devoted to their favorite show, keeping interest alive and recruiting new fans. Now it’s paying off: not only is there an upcoming movie starring Johnny Depp, but Dynamite Entertainment is launching an original Dark Shadows comic book series, helmed by Dark Shadows New Page editor and writer Stuart Manning and Green Hornet Year One artist Aaron Campbell. Not only did we get to interview them for Dynamite Month, below, but they threw in an exclusive five-page preview of Dark Shadows #1! Plus, enter our Dark Shadows Contest for your chance to win one of 10 sets of Dark Shadows #1, including the standard, variant, and rare incentive covers!

TFAW.com: Stuart, as editor of the Dark Shadows News Page, you’re uniquely qualified to be writing the new Dark Shadows comics. How did you originally become interested in the show?

Dark Shadows #1 Page 1Stuart Manning: I first discovered Dark Shadows as a teenager in the 1990s, initially through magazine articles and the old tie-in paperbacks. At that point, it had never been broadcast here in England, but the concept seemed endlessly fascinating to me, to the point where I felt like I was a fan without ever having seen the show. I always liked spooky things and this just seemed like my ideal television series . . . with the small complication of not being able to actually see it!

In 1995, when Sci-Fi Channel launched a European version, Dark Shadows was one of their launch shows, and for this viewer, it was like a dream come true–all those characters, who I’d read so much about, on screen and alive and real. I was hooked pretty much immediately.

TFAW.com: When did you start the Dark Shadows News Page, and what does editing it involve?

SM: My association with Dark Shadows fandom goes back over 15 years, starting with editing a fanzine, the Dark Shadows Journal, produced with scissors and glue, photocopied and hand-stapled. That eventually evolved into a website, at www.collinwood.net and lately, the Dark Shadows News Page, a blog that I’ve written over the last few years.

The focus is news from the Dark Shadows world, but really it’s just a general platform for me to celebrate all things Dark Shadows. That can encompass anything from reviews to interviews, to commentary to rare photographs . . . Anything related to the show that I think other fans will enjoy. Pay a visit at darkshadowsnews.blogspot.com

TFAW.com: What would you say to comics readers who have never watched Dark Shadows? Why should they pick up the comics?

SM: If you like classic horror and mystery stories, then this series is tremendous fun. It’s good old-fashioned intrigue, with thrills and spills, a big spooky old house, a tortured vampire, a dangerous witch, ghosts and more besides. Dark Shadows, at its heart, is a very potent distillation of that whole gothic genre, mixed up with some ’60s retro charm.

Dark Shadows #1 Page 2TFAW.com: Vampires are more popular than ever these days, with Twilight, Buffy, and The Vampire Diaries. Where does Dark Shadows fit in?

SM: Dark Shadows is really the primary text where those shows are concerned. It was the first successful vampire series on television, and Barnabas Collins was the first enduring vampire character created for the small screen. He was also the first real exploration of the reluctant vampire concept, which all those shows have drawn upon.

Even after all these years, I think Dark Shadows stands as one of the most high-concept shows ever made. They really did do everything in those five years–vampires, werewolves, witches, time travel, parallel universes . . . you name it. Kevin Williamson, the creator of The Vampire Diaries, has cited the influence of Dark Shadows many times, so there’s a very definite lineage between those shows.

TFAW.com: The show aired for a relatively short time, but it has lived on through its fans for years–much like other genre shows like Star Trek. What do you think appeals to fans the most?

SM: That’s difficult to say, really. Dark Shadows fans are incredibly staunch, and perhaps that’s down to its original soap opera format. That first generation of fans really did live with those characters day-to-day, for years in some cases. So even though the shows themselves were sometimes primitive, those characters truly did become real people in real situations. The storylines were often outlandish, but somehow those characters had an integrity and depth that anchored the whole thing.

At its best, it was a brilliant fusion of personalities and performance with great vivid plotlines. I never had the chance to experience the show as a child, but I dearly would have loved to have done so. Discovering it in my teens in the 1990s, Dark Shadows fired my imagination like nothing else . . . to an impressionable eight-year-old, it must have simply been mind blowing.

Dark Shadows #1 Page 3TFAW.com: Is your series based on the original show or the upcoming movie with Johnny Depp?

SM: It’s based on the original series, set a short while after the original episodes ended. So it’s summer 1971, and in a remote fishing village on the Maine coast, dark forces are once again stirring in the house of Collinwood . . .

TFAW.com: Will readers who have never watched the show be able to catch on right away?

SM: Yes, absolutely. The first issue is very much a jumping-on point. We meet all the characters and discover what’s going on in their lives as the story unfolds.

With a show like Dark Shadows, plus over 1,200 episodes worth of backstory to contend with, when starting out, it’s pretty essential to make things inclusive. We have a rich history and characters, and though there are little details that will have special resonance for long-term fans, hopefully first-time readers can pick up the threads and enjoy it as something new, without feeling left behind.

TFAW.com: There are so many characters from so many different time periods in the original Dark Shadows. Which characters will you focus on at the start?

SM: We’re trying to focus on the characters who will feature in the movie, as that makes obvious commercial sense. So that’s the classic line-up of the Collins family, plus Barnabas Collins, our vampire, and his confidante and would-be love interest Dr. Julia Hoffman. I think it’s great that the new film is focusing on that strange, functionally dysfunctional family with all their secrets and shared history. So we’ll be concentrating on these characters to begin with, hopefully expanding to include additional faces as things progress.

I didn’t want to feature everyone from the offset–it’s nice to have room to let things grow, and introduce readers gradually to our community of personalities. Already, even though it’s early days, I can think of plenty of ways to include the broader cast as things progress.

Dark Shadows #1 Page 4TFAW.com: Which characters are your personal favorites?

SM: Barnabas Collins, our vampire, obviously. People have often referred to Barnabas as a reluctant vampire, but I actually think of him more as a neurotic vampire. Whether it’s dealing with the latest supernatural onslaught or looking for love, very little in Barnabas’ life doesn’t end in angst and self doubt.

It’s great having a lead character who isn’t necessarily a nice guy, and his never-ending will-they-won’t-they relationship with Dr. Julia Hoffman is great fun to write. That’s a very curious, co-dependent dynamic, blurring the lines between doctor, patient, friend and more besides. Of our wider cast, I’m also very fond of Carolyn Stoddard, our younger female lead. She’s an interesting personality . . . when we join her she’s somewhere between a little girl lost and wild child. Growing up with her odd family with all their baggage, she’s emerged headstrong and a little spoiled, but still tries to be normal and grounded in spite of everything.

TFAW.com: Do you have a special episode?

SM: It’s a bit of an obvious one, but I’m very fond of Barnabas’ first proper appearance . . . episode 212, since you asked. Even 40 years on, I find it has a really intriguing atmosphere all of its own. Barnabas arrives at Collinwood, and with the combination of writing and Jonathan Frid’s performance, it genuinely does feel as if he’s stepped in from another world. I watch that today and I can totally see why that character made such an immediate impact.

TFAW.com: There was an attempted reboot of Dark Shadows back in the 1990s that was short-lived–why do you think it didn’t catch on?

SM: The NBC remake of Dark Shadows was dealt a real blow by debuting on the cusp of the Gulf War conflict. Between widespread news pre-emptions and other factors, it was a very chaotic environment in which to launch any show, let alone a serial with a dense ongoing plot and a large cast of characters. In different circumstances, it might have really caught on.

That said, even in its short lifespan, the revival series developed its own identity and produced some strong episodes. The finale instalment is genuinely thrilling in places. Had it survived into a second season, I think it really would have spread its wings.

Dark Shadows #1 Page 5TFAW.com: How did you come to work with Dynamite Entertainment?

SM: I’d done a lot of work for Dark Shadows, both as a fan and on a professional basis, so when the possibility of doing comic books was mentioned, I was really interested to get involved. Here was an opportunity to create a new series using the classic cast exactly how they appeared on television and potentially take them into whole new realms. That was immensely exciting, from both a professional and fan perspective, and after writing some treatments we were up-and-running.

TFAW.com: How far ahead have you plotted the Dark Shadows comics?

SM: So far, we’ve plotted the initial story, which will play out over four issues, and have just started looking beyond that. I don’t want to jinx things by thinking too far ahead, but I’ve included some details on the sidelines in the opening chapters, which may well be explored in the future. We have such a great cast of characters–any one of them could be the lead for a story, and once they’re established, we can really take this series any place we want to.

TFAW.com: What other projects are you working on right now?

SM: My day job as a designer keeps me pretty busy, working on the art desk of the BBC’s Radio Times magazine. I also do various bits and pieces for the world of Doctor Who, along with other Dark Shadows stuff, so lots of stuff going on. It’s a very exciting time!

TFAW.com: Aaron, there’s a fantastic moody, noir aesthetic to your work. Who were your influences?

Aaron Campbell: My influences are all over the place. From comics there are artists such as John Paul Leon, Tommy Lee Edwards, Sean Phillips, Kirby, and Bernie Wrightson. From the mainstream of illustration I was always drawn to the classical illustrators from the first part the of the 20th century, people like N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Robert Fawcett, Leyendecker, Dore, etc. And then there are great painters like Velasquez, Manet, Rembrandt, Thomas Eakins, Waterhouse, Sargent, and Vermeer.

TFAW.com: Can you take us through your process as an artist?

Dark Shadows ComicsAC: I have a pretty complex process but I’ll try to keep it brief. I start with little rough thumbnails. These give the basic idea of what’s happening on a page. From here I shoot reference for all the characters first and use that to draw to a pretty tight, finalized, layout. Once my layouts are ready to go I just continue drawing over those to create my pencils. This way there’s no backtracking or redrawing. At this stage It’s somewhat of a mixed media process as I draw parts freehand and also work on the computer in Photoshop, typically on the backgrounds. The finished pencils is then a digital image that I print out in blue line on heaving stock paper and ink directly over for the finish. From my inks I use a #4 Kolinsky sable brush and India ink.

TFAW.com: Had you been a fan of the original Dark Shadows show before you took on this project?

AC: I’d never really seen the original series before now, but I was actually a big fan of the series from 1991, with Ben Cross as Barnabas. I was about 13 years old and I’d never seen anything like it. It only lasted one season but it stuck in my mind ever since. It was a long time before I found out that it was based on a series from the ’60s. Nonetheless, it’s really cool to be working on a property that I liked so much as a kid.

TFAW.com: What specific elements are you bringing from the show to the comics, if any?

AC: Everything. The characters, the sets, the continuity, are all directly taken from the original show. I think the last episode was 1245, so it’s almost like this is episode 1246.

TFAW.com: Have you had to update anything major for a modern audience?

AC: I think my way of drawing does the trick. I have everything there for the faithful fan, but my own particular sensibilities, hopefully, make it relevant for a new audience.

TFAW.com: Are you modeling the characters after the original actors?

AC: Right down to the dimples and warts! Every character is absolutely based directly on the original actors.

TFAW.com: On the surface, Green Hornet Year One and Dark Shadows seem pretty different, but they both have roots in classic pulp serials. Have you found a lot of common ground while creating the art?

Dark Shadows ComicsAC: There’s actually a lot in common. Both series are rooted more in reality, with plain-clothed heroes and villains. The places are real world and the mood is dark and gritty. In truth I haven’t had to rethink my style at all.

TFAW.com: There is a lot of vampire stories out there today. Are you doing anything specific to set Dark Shadows apart, visually?

AC: Well, I think the source material takes the brunt of that responsibility. Dark Shadows must have been one of the first to bring monsters into the mainstream, right into the home on afternoon TV. It has a flair that is already distinctly its own. It’s just a matter of me getting it right.

TFAW.com: What are the advantages of working with Dynamite Entertainment?

AC: The advantage is, I get to do this stuff full time for a living! Ha ha. Actually I’ve built up a great relationship with the guys at Dynamite by now, at least I hope so, and they seem to have a good deal of faith in my abilities, so I have quite a bit of freedom to create the images I envision. Can’t ask for much more than that.

TFAW.com: What kind of comics did you read when you were growing up?

AC: X-Men, Wolverine, Spawn, the usual superhero stuff. I had a few outliers like Preacher and Sandman, but for the most part I had a pretty narrow view of what makes a good comic. I stopped collecting, though, once I got to college (couldn’t afford it anymore). Now that I’m back in it I’ve found that my tastes have totally changed. I don’t really go for the mainstream superhero genre, and I’m drawn to a more realistic style of art much more.

TFAW.com: If you could time travel, like in Dark Shadows, what advice would you give your younger self?

AC: Even if I could, any advice I might be able to offer I wouldn’t have listened to.

TFAW.com: What types of comics would you like to work on in the future? What’s next?

AC: Even though I’m not a big fan of superhero stuff now, I would actually really like to try my hand at some. Other than that, I’ll just take it as it comes and see what happens.

Our thanks to Stuart and Aaron for taking the time to answer all of our questions! You can pre-order the new Dark Shadows comics right here on our site. Plus, don’t forget to enter to win one of 10 sets of Dark Shadows #1. Each set includes the standard, variant, and rare incentive covers, so visit our Dark Shadows Contest Page now!




Are you a Dark Shadows fan? Will you be checking out the new comic book series? Post your comments below!

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Written by Elisabeth@TFAW

Elisabeth has been reading comics since we was a wee girl. She's obsessed with John Byrne, Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and making the perfect scrambled eggs. Follow her on @Twitter to get bonus conversations with her cat!

  • I’m a new Dark Shadows fan, having just discovered the show after hearing about Johnny Depp being cast. I was surprised to also find out my Mother was a huge fan of the show and the more she told me about it the more interested I became! So I’ll definitely be checking out the new movie and the comic.