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DF Interview: Mark D’anna tells of an ex-cop suffering internal contradictions – and much more – in ‘Blood on Sunset’
By Byron Brewer
It's June 20th, 1947. Former cop Clint Braddock is drinking at a bar on Sunset Boulevard when he gets a call from his ex-girlfriend, Beverly. Bugsy Siegel's just been murdered, and she found the body. She's terrified and needs his help. Fast. Braddock arrives to find the aftermath of a violent, sadistic murder. Not your typical mob hit. It almost looks like the work of...Eaters. Amidst the carnage, Braddock finds evidence that someone may be trying to pin the murder on him. Braddock is part Eater, and he's spent years keeping his true nature hidden. But it looks like someone knows what he is, and is using it to implicate him in the biggest crime to hit Los Angeles in decades. Now, the seat of power in the criminal underworld is up for grabs, and rumors of a vampire crime syndicate emerging as major players look disturbingly plausible. As Braddock is pulled deeper into the hunt for Siegel's killer, he'll find he's either the ideal ally for the vampire cause, or the perfect weapon to stop it. It all depends on where his loyalties lie.
From Source Point Press comes Blood on Sunset by writer Mark D’anna and artist Arjuna Susini. I took to this book and its title right away, and so sat down for a discussion with scribe Mark D’anna.
Byron Brewer: Mark, tell readers about this great new horror series you have created, Blood on Sunset; specifically, what is its genesis, what inspired it for you.
Mark D’anna: The idea for Blood on Sunset came from a weird confluence of events back in 2011. I grew up in Los Angeles and have always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to the city’s history, particularly as it relates to organized crime. I’d been reading this book called L.A. Noir, by John Buntin, which detailed the exploits of famous L.A. gangsters like Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel, how they always managed to stay one step ahead of the cops, and really how they shaped L.A. as we know it today. And as I was reading that book and getting swept up in that world, it also happened that the video game L.A. Noire was coming out. That game deals with many of the same people and places as Buntin’s book, and advertisements for it were all over town. To put it mildly, I was obsessed with them. Not the game so much, just the visuals they used for these ads. The style and look and overall vibe of old Los Angeles they captured was really striking. The billboards looked a lot like comic book panels to me. And it just hit me that I needed to play around with a comic that inhabited that world. So from that point on, Blood on Sunset started taking shape.
Byron: I love the blending of 1940s LA noir with horror, since my favorite monster flicks came out in the 1930s and ‘40s. Did you or artist Arjuna Susini do any in-depth research on the times and its trappings (look, fashion, structures, etc.)? If so, talk about that.
Mark D’anna: Yes, absolutely. I spent a long time pulling reference photos from that era so we could get all those details correct. I specifically pulled a lot of crime scene photos from the LAPD archives. I still have this massive photo archive on my computer which has been a really important resource for me throughout the process. Interestingly, I think these photos helped me a lot more in the writing of the book than they did for Arjuna in creating his amazing artwork. Certainly I shared some of them with him, mainly when we were referencing a real person or location and we needed to get those sorts of details right. Otherwise, beyond educating me in the visual history of the city, I think the exercise of pulling and sorting through these photos helped get me into the right mindset of what Los Angeles really was like back then. How in many ways it was a tough, dangerous, sad place to live. I have a real fondness for that era in L.A., but I realized I could easily fall victim to my own nostalgia for my hometown, which would do a real disservice to the grittier, darker and ultimately more desperate side of Los Angeles the book needed us to create.
Byron: Introduce us to Clint Braddock. Who was he, who is he, where does fate seem to be sending him? Also, can you tell us about his relationship with Beverly?
Mark D’anna: Braddock definitely comes out of that tradition of hard-boiled detectives we’ve seen in comics for years. But I also wanted to make sure he could really stand on his own as a character. He’s got this really dark, almost inhuman side that he’s constantly struggling to keep in check. It scares him, because it means he might not be the man he thinks he is. He might not be a man at all. There’s something scary inside him and he is desperate to keep it hidden. So Blood on Sunset is a whodunit, yes, but it’s also a lot more than that. It’s the story of a man struggling with these internal contradictions. It’s a story about political and criminal factions, human and supernatural factions, all of them battling for dominance in a burgeoning metropolis. Arjuna created this really amazing sequence in Issue #2 that I cannot wait for people to see. In it we get to experience a really fateful day in Braddock’s life from years ago when that dark side got the best of him. That day still haunts him in a very real way, and really sets the tone for the direction his life has gone since then. As for his relationship with Beverly...let’s just say it’s complicated. And it’s at the heart of everything in the book. Braddock loves her. He’s also enamored with her. She has this kind of power over him which I think makes Braddock very vulnerable in an interesting way. And it makes Beverly really dangerous. She knows about Braddock’s darker side...she knows what he’s hiding. And that could be a big problem.
Byron: Who/what are … Eaters?
Mark D’anna: The simple answer is they’re vampires. But like with Braddock, I wanted to make sure we could separate our version of vampires from the countless other iterations we’ve seen over the years. They needed to be real three dimensional characters with a lot of humanity in them, if the book was ever going to work. There’s this tradition in some Eastern European countries where we see these vampiric creatures that take on the form of insects, and in some cases swarms of insects. I thought that was a really cool idea and something Arjuna could really have fun with in the artwork. So that’s why at times we’ll see our Eaters take on the form of moths. But our Eaters are also gangsters. They’re deeply involved in the world of organized crime, which is obviously a very human world. A world motivated by these very base human desires for money, for sex, and for power. Putting vampires in the world of gangsters was a weird idea, but something I hadn’t seen before, and something I thought would really elevate our book. The Eaters are really damn fun to write.
Byron: Any clues without spoilers on who may be behind the murder of Bugsy Siegel and why they have targeted Braddock to pin it on?
Mark D’anna: It really comes down to what Braddock is hiding and who in town might have reason to use that against him. And of course there are a lot of people (and Eaters) who fall into that latter category. As Braddock gets deeper into the investigation he has to face some really unpleasant truths about himself, and that is where the story really comes to life. He’s a guy trying to disappear from society, hiding out on the bottom rung because he’s deathly afraid of who (or what) he is. So the mystery becomes a lot about how Braddock responds to suddenly finding himself implicated in the biggest murder in the history of Los Angeles. What personal and political forces are at play? What choices do these forces cause him to make? Who should Braddock trust? And how is any of this connected to a murder from years ago that still haunts him in a very real and immediate way? The story gets pretty big as all these factors take shape and play on Braddock, sending him down a lot of dark and unexpected paths. Bugsy Siegel was murdered in real life too, and his killer was never identified. It’s a pretty wild story when you get into the details. So it was fun to inject our characters into that real story and see where it might lead!
Byron: Any other familiar names out of LA history we may be familiar with in this saga? Perhaps mob families?
Mark D’anna: Yes, for sure. A lot of what happens in Blood on Sunset is based on real gangsters and their stories. I just added vampires. Of course, we all know Bugsy Siegel, and his shadow looms very large over the series. And like I said, we used a lot of the details of his life and his murder to kick off the action in our book. In fact, Arjuna recreated the interior of his house and it looks absolutely amazing, down to the smallest details like the wallpaper and the pattern on his sofa. Clint Braddock is an invention of mine, but he borrows a lot from legendary LAPD Chief of Police William Parker. Our villain, Meyer Lombardo, is based on notorious gangster Mickey Cohen, who had many famous run-ins with Parker over the decades. So the real-world rivalry between these two men fuels a lot of our story. Stuff you really couldn’t make up. Like the fact that Mickey Cohen drove around in a bulletproof Cadillac. So, of course, Meyer Lombardo drives around in a bulletproof Cadillac. As far as the other characters go, believe it or not Beverly Hills was a real person. We also spend some time with former Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron, real gangsters like Jack Dragna and Johnny Stompanato, and William Parker’s predecessor at the LAPD, Chief Clemence Horrall is a key figure in the story. So a lot of real people, real places, and plenty of vampires to keep things interesting.
Byron: Talk about the epic art of Arjuna.
Mark D’anna: I’m biased, sure, but I think Arjuna is one of the best artists working in comics today. He lives in Italy and to my knowledge has never stepped foot in Los Angeles. So not only did he need to capture the look and feel of a foreign city, in a foreign country, but he had to recreate the 1940s version of that place. And he did it...perfectly. When you look at the way he drew the fashion, the architecture, the hairstyles, the way the cars looked, the way the phones looked, Beverly’s cigarette case, the interior of Braddock’s apartment, you are completely transported to that time and place. There’s no artifice, no invention. It all feels unquestionably real, which is so important in a book like this because if readers don’t buy the reality of the world then the supernatural horror elements are never going to hold up. And what he did with those horror components, of which there are a lot, is really terrifying. Some of the panels he created are among the best, most complex horror comic panels I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait until people get to see how he drew Lombardo bursting into a swarm of moths, for example. It’s mind-blowing.
Byron: Mark, any projects with which you are involved, inside or outside comics, that you can tell readers about?
Mark D’anna: Right now I’m developing a new comic series with Vittorio Astone, who did the color for Blood on Sunset, and the amazing letterer Lucas Gattoni. It’s a sci-fi series loosely based on Heart of Darkness with a little bit of Ghost in the Shell mixed in for flavor. It’s called Derelict. We’re just getting the pages together now and they’re really looking awesome. Vittorio and Lucas have taken the story places I never thought it’d go, so my lucky streak of working with great artists remains firmly intact. Other than that, these days I’m mostly writing Volume II of Blood on Sunset, which I’m hoping we can get into production early next year. And when I’m not working on comics I spend a lot of time lamenting the demise of my beloved Dodgers, and wondering where it all went wrong.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Mark D’anna for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Blood on Sunset #1 from Source Point Press is slated to be on sale December 29th!
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