'The Suicide Squad' Star David Dastmalchian Doesn't Just Love Comic Books – He's Making Them, Too

Actor David Dastmalchian is a true comic book fan. And a few years ago, he fulfilled a life-long dream by collaborating with Dark Horse Comics to create his own series.

The actor and writer, known for his roles in the Ant-Man movies, Blade Runner 2049, and The Suicide Squad, had been imagining the story of Count Crowley for 30 years. The four-issue limited comic book series, titled Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter, follows a struggling investigative journalist-turned-creature-feature-host-turned-reluctant-monster-hunter. It's as fun as it sounds...but also more personal than it sounds.

Completing a Dream

The story is set in 1983, which is not far off from the time when young Dastmalchian was riding his bike to Clint's Comics in Kansas City. With illustrator Lukas Ketner, the two tell the story of Jerri Bartman, who winds up as the resentful host of Creature Feature show. She also ends up fighting real-deal creatures in her small midwestern town.

"The thing about Count Crowley is, and I'm not overstating this fact, it's my proudest achievement as a storyteller," Dastmalchian said. "I have a number of achievements I'm incredibly proud of, having been able to work with some of the best directors in cinema, being a part of some incredible films and television projects. I've made some of my feature film projects, like [writing] Animals and All Creatures Here Below. As a kid of genre, as someone who grew up addicted to horror, sci-fi, and comics, I dreamt of spending a lifetime in that world whether as a reader, collector, a fan, or as I've been lucky to discover myself as, a creative."

Imaginary and Real Monsters 

The story is true to Dastmalchian's interests, as well as his life experiences. He's open about addiction and mental health, which are explored in the comic. The writer wants to tell genre stories that mean something to him and, hopefully, audiences.

"One thing I never realized or recognized was how much of the issues I wrestle with could become a part of the stories I was yearning to tell through genre," he said. "It's no secret I had near-death struggles with addiction and mental illness. I feel the human experience is filled with a lot of challenges that feel, at times, hopelessly impossible to overcome. A lot of those ideas and questions I have about what it means to be a person and why we have to struggle with these things, I have been able to explore through the world of genre." He says that he recently completed a horror script with similar ambitions.

On the big screen, the actor continues to explore those struggles, too. "Now, as an actor, I'm a part of some of the biggest movies ever made and wrestle with huge ideas that are super important," he added. "It's a really cool moment for me, personally."

The comic stays true to the spirit of what Dastmalchian loved about horror, but the story is "totally different" from what he imagined as a kid. "When I was growing up, I always had this idea it was this guy named Jerry," he said. "I would think about this story imagining some comedic elements to it. Now, as I got to adulthood and wrestle with and deal with monsters within and out, especially within, I felt there were elements of the story that could be deeply personal, and yet at the same time, still filled with the thrills, chills, and excitement that comes with a great horror narrative."

The story doesn't only explore his own hardships. Count Crowley does, as the actor said, have the joy of a reluctant hero battling wolves and mind-controlled monsters. In and between the lines, though, it's a drama about the fear of no one believing you. "While I was deep in developing the idea and thinking about what to do with it, I had a series of conversations with women I am very close to, friends and family, and each one had a different story about horrible experiences that had happened to them either in the workplace or home," Dastmalchian said. "They were not believed. What it feels like not to be believed, which connected with my journey into recovery."

Through reflection and those personal conversations, Dastmalchian realized what defined the character and the story. "When I first got clean and sober and started to get the treatment I needed for my mental health, nobody believed me," he said. "If I said to them, 'I know I'm a pretty unreliable guy because I have issues with all these things, but there are werewolves out there.' Nobody would've believed me. It would've been the most frustrating thing. It all tied together. I realized it's not Jerry with a "y," but Jerri with an "i." She is a woman. All the pieces fell into place. I understood exactly what she needed to be."

A Favorite Friday Nightmare 

The comic was also influenced by a favorite show and host of Dastmalchian's: Crematia Mortem, played by Roberta Solomon, who hosted Creature Features from 1981 through 1988. The cult-favorite character, known as "The Ghostess with the Mostess," was an original creation of Solomon's. "She had this incredible show on our local Fox Affiliate, TV 41," the writer said. "I grew up in a pretty religious household and horror movies were definitely not celebrated, nor were comic books or sci-fi in my house, so I would sneak downstairs and watch it. I was glued to the screen."

The show was awe-inspiring for Dastmalchian. "It's how I learned about some of my favorite actors and movies, like Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, and Hammer Films," he added. "Crematia Mortem, I'm happy to say, is a friend to this day. She's a fan of Count Crowley, and I am in her fan club. Now, she's in the Count Crowley fan club. It's one of the many incredible gifts of this career I've had, which is, I've become friends with someone I've been a fan of for so long."

The Future of Count Crowley 

Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter is a four-issue limited series, but the ending leaves a reader wanting more of Jerri confronting monsters. The reluctant anti-hero's story is, hopefully, just getting started, whether in comics or elsewhere. Because its author isn't done.

"I'm so proud of Count Crowley," Dastmalchian said. "The pandemic affected many, many more important things than my comic book, but sadly, as the pandemic started and everything shut down, so did Count Crowley. Thankfully, the fanbase seems to continue to grow. I keep hearing from people. I'm so proud of what we did with those first four issues that I pray every day the trade does well because I have stories for years I want to tell from Jerri's journey to becoming an appointed monster hunter."

Make sure to check back next week for our full interview with David Dastmalchian.