Dan Braun Revives Your Favorite Horror ComicsA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
Dan Braun is living every fan's dream - reviving a favorite series while also re-presenting the classic issues of that favorite series in beautiful hardcover collection. Dan Braun's revivals and collections of Creepy and Eerie have been critical and commercially successful, which is in part a testament to the love and care that Braun has devoted to these books.
CB Publisher Jason Sacks caught up with Dan at Comic-con this year and found Dan's enthusiasm for his material infectious - just like a great horror story!
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: So you’re one of the minds behind the revival of Creepy. How did you get to be a fan of that work?
Dan Braun: I got to be a fan because I’m a comic book fan in general. I’ve been buying comics off the newsstands when I was five, in the sixties, and when I started buying back issues, it became like a comic book collector-type. Within that realm of collecting, was of course Creepy, but Creepy was kind of its own thing.
Creepy was special, Creepy was something that I was not allowed to buy when I was that age; my parents wouldn’t want me reading that. Even though they were liberal, these comics were still too much. It always had a kind of mysterious lucidness to it, and I think it had a lot to do with the covers.
The covers were intense compared to most comics, so it always seemed a bit forbidden to me. I’ve always been into the Warren magazines, but then later, when I had disposable income, I started buying all the old issues and getting the full collection of it. Then somehow or another that lead to me going into the entertainment industry, and I had a company with my brother. One day, we just sort of thought “Whatever happened to Creepy? It seems to have disappeared,” so we went on this quest to try to rescue the rights to reprint Creepy and to develop it for film and TV. So that’s what we did.
CB: The story in the first archive of Creepy is pretty amazing, about how hard it was to track down Jim Warren. He's one of the most interesting characters in comics history - not even comics history, just history.
Braun: The thing about Jim is that there’s so many facets to him. What people know is so amazing, but when he’s ready and willing – and I don’t know when that’s going to be – there’s going to be a lot more that you’re going to find out about him. He is, I agree with you, one of the most interesting characters of the 20th century.
CB: The whole classic era ofCreepy and Eerie is so packed with incredible work. Do you have a particular artist whose work you loved in the early issues of Creepy?
Braun: Yeah. I would say personal favorite is Angelo Torres; it’s such an honor to actually know him and have a real friendship with him. I’ve always been a huge Bernie Wrightson fan. [Richard] Corben is a god to me; we just released the Corben compilation, which is all of Corben’s work for Creepy and Eerie. Neal Adams in general, pretty much anything he’s ever done I’ve been a fan of, but his work for Creepy is also really amazing. The thing is that they’re all amazing, you know? It’s hard to pick a favorite, honestly.
CB: Yeah, I kind of feel the same way. There’s great work by Ditko, for an example. Frazetta, Gene Colan, and even the Spanish artists that came in were wonderful.
Braun: All of the artists were amazing. There wasn’t really a pickle in the bunch there.
CB: Why don’t you tell me a little bit of the long and winding roads of getting the rights for Creepy.
Braun: We started around the year 2000, and we kind of naively very enthusiastically tracked down Jim Warren, went to see him, met him and basically made a very naive offer to try and auction Creepy for a TV show.
He pretty much laughed in our face, and was just like “You have no idea who’s been here before. You think that if I turned down Spielberg, I’m going to give you an auction?” and stuff like that. He had a lot of bluster, but he was like “Actually, I like you guys. Come back when you have a real offer.” That started a relationship for me, kind of a friendship with Jim, and it just went on from there.
It was just year after year of trying to figure out a way to do this. Actually what happened was at a certain point after a number of years I pretty much all of the sudden realized that the only way to do this was to figure out some way to acquire everything. The reprint rights, all rights to it instead of just trying to auction one thing out. So that took a long time to figure out how to do that, and how to come to an agreement with Jim about it. He actually only got his rights to Creepy and Eerie restored to him in 2004, so in the middle of when we were negotiating, he was actually in a lawsuit with someone else.
CB: They went bankrupt if I remember right.
Braun: Warren went bankrupt in 1983, and that’s what facilitated the conclusion that someone else came in and bought it. They didn’t do it properly, though, and what happened was Jim came back and basically sued them with something like a one out of a thousand chance. He actually prevailed in the settlement and got the rights to a lot of his property back including, Creepy and Eerie.
CB: So it must be a dream to really be able to bring all that stuff back into print.
Braun: Someone actually asked me on a panel “Is there any way that you, as a young man, could have envisioned where you are now?” I would have said there was a better chance of me being on the moon. Literally a better chance, because actually when I was a kid I thought we were all going to be on the moon. I thought we were going to have shuttles to the moon. It’s crazy.
I guess it’s one of those things where if you follow something that you love, and someone’s says “Be careful what you ask for!” sometimes these weird things just happen. Sometimes they come true. You just become obsessed with something, and you push for it to happen and all of a sudden it happens. It's almost unexplainable.
CB: I think a lot of life’s like that. It’s a bit of why life is so fun! You just never know what direction you’ll go.
Braun: One day you’ll look up and you’re at Comic-Con as one of the owners/editors/writers on Creepy. Two weeks ago you’re in the mountains of Southern France or something. Who knows where you are. Life is mysterious.
CB: So you obviously love getting to be able to revive and edit the series, but those are some big shoes to fill...
Braun: No, it’s true. I think I felt a little more of the pressure when we first started out because really the only person’s approval I had was from Mike Richardson, the publisher for Dark Horse, who I was working with directly and formatting it with. That was kind of a negotiation between the two of us.
The person I was really most wanting to impress was Jim Warren. Because if I had done it, and come out, and he had said “No, I’m kind of disappointed,” that would have ruined everything. But he sent me the most incredible letter with him telling me when I sent him the first archive, it literally brought tears to his eyes. He said “You did it exactly right.”
CB: It was a spectacular book. The reproduction is incredible, I have all the originals, and now I don’t know what to do with them. I always keep the originals, but those reprints are impeccable.
Braun: So I was really thrilled about that, and then of course they’ve been selling well. It’s a successful program. We’ve been doing new issues of Creepy and Eerie. We actually launched the new issue of Eerie a couple of days ago, and that is already getting nice reviews. So it’s great to actually have been central to reviving such great titles like Creepy and Eerie. It’s very satisfying, actually.
CB: There’s a bit of a boom in horror anthologies these days.
Braun: I know! I think so, I mean. I would hope that maybe some of that is a direct result of our efforts, and people becoming aware of Creepy and Eerie, but it might just be the zeitgeist.
CB: I think it is, I mean The Walking Dead, and Twilight also. It’s the general public acceptance of supernatural creatures. Horror has never been greater.
Braun: I don’t know if you saw, but we just announced that we’re doing an anthology film with Chris Columbus directing, and that’s going to be a four part anthology feature. Chris is going to write and direct one segment, then we’re going to pick three other directors, and it’s going to be a classic trilogy of terror. We’re very excited about that. It took us a while to find the right person, and Chris Columbus is the right person.
CB: If I remember from the story in the first volume, you have a long history in the film industry, so you have connections?
Braun: Yeah, that’s true. I have a twin brother who is a partner in this whole adventure. His name is Josh Braun, and we have a film company. Basically we release films, we have a label called Submarine Deluxe, our main company is Submarine, and we distribute films and sell films at film festivals. So we kind of know people from the industry, and that’s an interesting industry in the end. There is a direct relation where that was part of the whole mindset of bringing Creepy and Eerie back. We'd also like to do it in films and television.
CB: Deliver a full assortment of IP, not just comics.
Braun: Yeah, in every way possible in digital. We’ll start releasing all four in digital versions of comics, and we’re talking to a couple people where we’re exploring the idea of a short web series on Creepy. There’s a lot going on, you know?
CB: I kinda think there’s a nice little market out there for selling individual stories, or three or four stories for ninety-nine cents or a dollar ninety-nine on Comixology or something.
Braun: Yeah I would think so. I mean, I personally know if there was something I heard about I’d probably consume that.
CB: It’s an easy purchase to me! Especially if I searched for Steve Ditko, or Gene Colan. Very few people have seen these stories anymore!
Braun: No, I know. That’s a good point. I think we’ve kind of discussed how we would do that, would we release them individually, and now we’re still figuring out we will do that eventually. I think we may curate. So maybe we’ll do a package like three Ditko stories for $1.49. I think we’ll figure that out, but yeah.
CB: I really think that’s a good way to go. I work in digital book publishing in my day job, a place called BlueFire Productions; we create ereader applications for clients on six continents and in thirty-five or so countries. Mostly business to business, but we do a little consultant work for our partners, too. Digital’s a big patch in the mine, and I really feel like it’s the future of the industry. Because you’re in this strange position where either people buy these expensive back issues or they buy these $50 dollar books, how do you get the word out, especially for the classic stuff?
Braun: Yeah, it’s a good point, but I think you’re right that we agreed that the ultimate future is digital. Hopefully there’s going to be people like you and I anyway, who love to have something in their hands, to have the permanence of that. Convenience is great, though; I’m actually reading two or three books on my iPad right now.
CB: I really think that’s what’s happening. With everything I’ve read, it’s completely opposite of the industry. It’s building more of our actual book sales, but the books that people are buying are the expensive, fancy, beautiful ones. You can dip your toe in the water, and make sure you’re not going to waste your fifty bucks. Like The Walking Dead books are exploding! They’re selling more hardcopy $40 books of The Walking Dead than ever before because there’s ninety-nine cent issues available online.
Braun: I actually didn’t know that.
CB: Yeah, they're an interesting complement to each other.
Braun: It’s interesting to see how these things pan out in their way.
CB: So are you going to do more single artist hardcovers this year?
Braun: Yes, we absolutely are. We just released the Corben book, which I just saw it for the first time, and then, well the next one we’re kind of going back and forth on. I can tell you it’s most likely either going to be Wally Wood or Neal Adams. It might be Ditko, that’s an obvious one. We’ve talked about maybe possibly a kind of “Best of” because unfortunately for some of these guys only did like three or four stories, so they’re not like Corben, who wrote a book that’s ridiculously thick.
CB: Yeah, I think there are twelve stories by Ditko if I remember right.
Braun: Yeah, with Ditko, it has a pretty significant amount.
CB: Twelve or eighteen, I can’t remember which. It’s like 140 pages, easy.
Braun: Colan did quite a few, but usually shorter stories, like seven pagers. I mean, he’s a personal favorite; I think in terms of the market, it’s probably going to be a higher profile book like Ditko or Adams. It’s probably going to sell more. I personally like Gene Colan, they’re probably my top three comic artists of all time.
CB: His work is incredible. I actually had some Colan art in my hands recently. I worked on a project with Don McGregor, and he sent me the original art to Ragamuffins. You remember that book at all? I think there were some clips in the 80’s.
Braun: I think I definitely have.
CB: It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my fan life, holding one of the originals inside my hands. It’s just so perfectly composed and so beautifully created that even that mundane scene of drama, energy, and suspense, let alone the pages of the horse on it’s back legs in the boy’s dream, well, it's just breathtaking. His work is incredible to me.
Braun: What I love about him, and what I love about Adams, is how cinematic their work is. It’s like all of a sudden the angles on the page just don’t seem to be there anymore. It’s like thinking like a director. Obviously Kirby wasn’t on that level. I mean, those two guys were the ones that took it to the next level.
CB: They’re all different, right? I mean Kirby had the energy. Colan had the kind of sensuousness, a kind of different sort of reality. Then the Ditko supernatural stories are so gorgeous. Like The Fly, and a few of those mystic stories.
Do you ever have a reprint that surprises you? Like you hated it when it first came out, and now when you look at it..
Braun: That I didn’t like when it first came out?
Braun: No, I can’t really think of an example. I’d like to say that there is one, there’s an artist whose name is escaping me; he just died recently. He’s not in the upper-pantheon of artists; he had a very unusual horror style, kind of slightly distorted imagery. Jerry Grandenetti.
CB: Yeah, I’ve slowly come to like his work more and more.
Braun: That’s an example of someone who when I was a kid, it was like “Oh, okay I’ll read this, but it’s more work.” I didn’t quite get it, and now as an adult, especially looking at his work for Creepy, I think he’s absolutely one of the most incredible stylists in comics. I tried to track him down to try and get him working, get him in the new issues, but unfortunately while I was tracking him down he died.
CB: So where do you see the Creepy and Eerie books going from here?
Braun: Well, that’s a great question, because obviously with the hardcovers, there is an end. I mean, it’s funny, when we were formatting we were thinking that we were going to end up with about fifteen hardcovers. I don’t know how, I guess nobody on the team had any math skills.
Basically we’re already at twenty-two or twenty-three editions, and we’re only halfway through. So when we’re done there’s probably going to be about forty hard covers. I mean It’s kind of crazy, but it will come to an end. The goal is to make sure that we get to the end, and I hope regardless of any factor that comes up that we actually get a complete set of this.
I feel like it is a legacy, one that needs to be captured in this. I guess the other part of it is that now we have nine issues of the new Creepy, and the first issue of Eerie. So I guess my wish would be that we’d be standing here next year, or the year after, and we’d be up to Creepy number thirty, and Eerie number fifteen. That would be a dream; I think it’s just hard to know where the comics market is going. We just hope to maintain the sales that we’re at now.
I think we will be able to keep doing it, but you never know. I guess the real dream would be that this particular run of Creepy actually had built up fans. Even in some small way, like the original run. That people actually got something really great out of it, and maybe people would consider us a valid part of the whole legacy.
So I guess that’s really what it is.