With the release of Dwellings #1; today from Oni Press, we are delighted to be joined by Emmy Award-winning animator and Eisner Award-nominated cartoonist Jay Stephens. Jay is the creator of the animated series Tutenstein, Jetcat and KaBlam!. Some of the comics that Jay has worked on include SIN, The Land of Nod, Atomic City Tales, Jetcat Clubhouse, Alien, Star Wars and Felix the Cat.
Hi Jay, thanks for joining us today.
Thanks for the opportunity to scare the hell out of everybody!
Could you tell us about the origins of Dwellings?
I’m not sure why it took so long to stitch together my two separate passions for horror cinema and vintage kids’ comics. My fondness for the old-school look of silver age cute stuff is well documented in previous work like Jetcat and Tutenstein, and I had a little side career in the Art Department on a few low budget horror films, for which I was working up a few script ideas. But the fully-formed idea for Dwellings really began after I started posting my ‘Little Horror Flicks’ images on Instagram… a tribute series of kids from famous horror films reinterpreted as old Harvey comic book covers. I loved drawing them, and the feedback was overwhelming. So I made a Frankenstein monster out of the parts I had laying around the lab.
How would you describe Dwellings?
Dwellings is something like A24 hiring David Lynch to remake a Saturday Morning cartoon from the 1970s. Familiar, adorable-looking tales of terror invoking that slow-creeping discomfort of getting old and wise enough to comprehend the adult mysteries that our childhood selves only vaguely suspected. It’s those horrible truths revealed through the four-colour familiarity of childhood imagery. Dwellings is also a personal exorcism, a processing of modern-day shadows surrounding us at every turn… ‘caws’ from a murder of crows telling someone to kill as a metaphor for violent ‘tweets’, for example.
For the format of Dwellings, was that your idea or; did that idea come from Oni Press?
We had a great initial brainstorm session where we discussed how the Oni series could, and should, differ from the small-press single issue versions I did with Black Eye Books, but I think this was Oni’s idea. Right away I thought the two-in-one prestige format was brilliant… simultaneously feeling like the old Giant-Size Harvey Comics I love, and a late night double-feature horror show. Feels so right.
When you were writing Dwellings, did you write a full script?
I work out a full outline that breaks down the arc and main details of the story page by page. A kind of written thumbnail or keyframe animation in words. And I always have some important dialogue already fixed in place. But I leave room for improvement for when I’m actually sketching it out, and always make tweaks and alterations as I go. It’s an organic and deeply intuitive process.
You created all of the art for Dwellings; was there a particular part of that process that you enjoyed more?
Inking is my happy place. Despite all the gore and terror. And I still do it all by hand.
What has it been like working with Oni Press?
Dwellings is a nostalgic gaze backwards, a remix of mid-century styles. And, fittingly, to be nostalgic is to ‘return home in pain’, which is why I think it’s so perfect to be returning to where I left off in comics at Oni 20 years ago! Not that it’s been ‘painful’… this is an all-new me creatively, and a whole new Oni, and it’s been a blast.
How long, on average, did it take you to complete a story for Dwellings?
Dwellings is a product of the pandemic, which allowed the time and space to experiment with the project and let it grow its twisted branches naturally. I had the luxury of spending three months or more on each issue, doing everything myself, to make sure it came out the way I imagined. Crowdfunding allowed this possibility of a non-deadline project to thrive.
The series has a number of variant covers; how did you select the artists for variant covers?
ONI and I put together a wish list, and I feel like I hit the jackpot! The variants are delightfully surprising re-imaginings of the world of Elwich that the Dwellings stories take place in. I stayed out of the process, preferring to let these creators just run with it. And wait’ll you see who we’ve got lined up for future covers.
What can you tell us about “They Know”?
In the very first Dwellings tale, “They Know”, a secretive young man named Johnny Allan finds his conscience tested by an increasingly larger murder of crows that follow him after a sudden, violent, incident. It’s a Poe-meets-Hitchcock thriller, full of bloodthirsty birds. Not for the squeamish.
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
Remember to always lock your doors. And never take candy from strangers.
A big; thank you to Jay for sitting and chatting with us. We would like to wish him the best of luck with Dwellings.