David Dastmalchian Never Wants To Stop Writing Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter [Interview]

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Count Crowley has returned. Writer David Dastmalchian and artist Lukas Ketner's Dark Horse series is no longer about a reluctant monster hunter, but an amateur one. After a long wait and a bit of uncertainty, Dastmalchian is back to writing adventures for his hero, Jerri Bartman, with "Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter." Bartman remains on her road to recovery as she battles werewolves and vampires, and hosts creature features for a local station. 

The comic, which also includes eye-popping work from colorist Lauren Affe, is a passion project for Dastmalchian. It's personal for a variety of reasons for the writer and actor, known for his work in "Dune" and "The Suicide Squad." It's influenced by his own journey with recovery, as well as a love letter to his favorite creature features. Dastmalchian's office is practically a shrine to monsters and loaded with memorabilia. Over a Zoom call from his office, which is more like a museum, Dastmalchian told us about his fandom, the joys of writing "Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter," and what he hopes to achieve in the future. 

'I've always been writing the big journey for Jerri'

What else is in your office? Is that a Frazetta cover?

That werewolf Frazetta cover is so good. I love that. I've got a lot of good stuff in here. I love this [Wolf Man model] because my kids made it with me. I used to do models when I was a kid, but my kids got a Frankenstein they did too. That's a Jane Mansfield bubble bath bottle right over there. She used to sell those where she would bottle up her bubble bath and then sell it at grocery store openings to make a buck. I love that kind of stuff. Then our poster for "Animals." Oh, I've got Polka-Dot Man's first appearance in a comic book and my signed Lon Chaney Jr. [print]. 

What a great creative space. 

It's the best. It's so great. That's Anton Lavey on the cover of Look Magazine in 1971. When you're a collectible-loving nerd like me ... Oh, you know what? Here's a crown jewel. I grew up watching Crematia Mortem's Friday Nightmare in Kansas City. I used to enter all the contests for her show, like a scary story contest, make a Christmas ornament contest. I never won. Then when I became friends years later with Roberta Solomon, I told her about how long I was a fan and everything. She had one prize pack left in her storage with a t-shirt and a signed postcard and a letter from the crypt, and she sent it all to me. I was like, "Awesome."

It's very cool you two became friends given how she inspired the comic.

It's so cool, man. She's a friend of mine now. I am friends, legitimately friends, with Crematia Mortem. Think about that. I am so lucky. I am now friends with so many people who have inspired me, or if I'm not friends with, at least I've gotten to meet and shake the hand of or say thank you to. Before he passed away, I got to spend a lot of time with Stan [Lee]. Now I'm currently friends with and I've gotten to know Jim Lee really well, who's been a huge impact on my life. I got to meet recently Steve Niles, whose writing always had a big effect on me. So many different people, but it's crazy. It's so cool.

So how did you approach an "Amateur Monster Hunter” differently than "Reluctant Monster Hunter"?

Well, as a writer, keep in mind that there is no break. Do you know what I mean? To me, I've always been writing the big journey for Jerri. I guess if there was a difference in the way I approach it, it's just the difference in the way that you approach act breaks in a play or a screenplay. So this is the next act. This is act two for this part of the story.

Getting into act two of the story meant, how am I going to take the stakes higher? How am I going to deepen Jerri's need for what it is that she must do or learn or acquire for her survival? How, for the audience's sake, can I kick up all the fun and mayhem? For me, the story is just continuing exactly where we left off, but because I did have time with the pandemic and at one point "Count Crowley" was just put on hold. I was devastated, but I kept hanging onto the faith that we would get to do more. I was writing and thinking and had already written a ton of scripts for going into the future. New fears have arisen in me, in our consciousness collectively, that I was able to imbue into the work.

We've now introduced werewolves, and as you're seeing in the new volume, we're getting big into werewolf mythology and how that works. Vampires are now going to be a big part of this. I love that I gave myself this challenge of going, "Nothing we know about werewolves, vampires, or any other monster is true. If a wooden stake, sunlight, holy water, or any other trope that we know of, like garlic, doesn't work against a vampire, what does?" I would tell you in this interview, except it's going to be really fun for you to discover it because it's so hard to kill a vampire. It actually may be impossible. For Jerri to figure that out is going to be a total bitch.

'Count Crowley connects with all the things that I love'

The covers for all these issues really pop. What are some of the influences behind them?

Lucas is such an amazing artist, but he's also a workhorse. The guy lives and breathes to have pen and blood dripping. He just doesn't stop. He does all of my inks, all of my pencils, all of my covers. We just collaborated on another project that just got posted. Did you see that? The Last Podcast On The Left? Do you ever listen to the Last Podcast?

I haven't.

They're publishing a comic book and they took some of their favorite stories that they're publishing into a big book, a graphic novel book. Lucas and I teamed up for one of those stories. So they just posted some of his art on their Instagram today. We have other things that we're cooking up.

Lucas' covers, man. 2.1 is so good. Jerri looks like such a badass, but she still looks like she has no idea what she's doing in her eyes, and that's what I wanted because she's an amateur. She's ready to jump into this and fight tooth and nail, but she doesn't know what she's doing. She's a total amateur and she's going to cause some really major, bad mistakes because that's what amateurs do.

Then when you've seen 2.2, which is gruesome because how we deal with werewolves is pretty gruesome. 2.3 absolutely captures a 1940s classic comic cover, wartime EC, that energy that I wanted. He just nailed it. In fact, he even created a vintage Count Crowley graphic like you would see on an old golden age comic seal, which I tattooed on my arm as soon as I saw it because it was so good.

You have 22, 23 pages with monster mayhem, but also a serious depiction of addiction and recovery. How do you not only talk about but show with Lucas how Jerri struggles with addiction?

Lucas is the perfect partner for that, because he can convey so much in an expression even if the action might be Jerri storming out of a meeting, Jerri going to fight a monster, Jerri trying not to crash her car. There's so much happening in her eyes and in her psychology, just like for all of us as human beings. Lucas won't allow one line to be wasted when it comes to that work that he does around her or any of the other character's eyes, their mouths, what's happening with their faces.

For me, "Count Crowley" connects with all the things that I love, care about, fear, worry about, and want to tell stories about. One of the most important stories is mental health and addiction recovery. I knew that giving Jerri the same internal demons and monsters that I have was going to help me in the writing process, because whenever I'm in doubt about what it is that I need from a scene, from an adventure, from a challenge, I just have to look inside myself.

There's always some metaphorical, if not a direct correlation, between what's happening in her life and what it's like to be someone on the path of recovery. She has a lot of healing to do, man. She's got PTSD from an assault, she has deep wounds from the death of her parents, which we haven't even gotten into yet. We've got her depression, anxiety, and her addiction. As long as her battle with her internal demons is going neck and neck with her battle with the monsters in the world, I feel like it gives me this perfect engine to drive this story because the fuel from one battle feeds the other and the mechanics from another battle she's fighting are what are pumping the engine of the other. We'll go back to this numerous times. I'm now 20 years into my recovery journey.


Thank you. I am thinking a lot about the stuff that I still have to work on and still have to learn about and Jerri's going to have to do that in the beginning. For me, gaining people's trust was so hard because I had broken so much trust, getting the self confidence to do what I needed to do to take care of myself and my responsibilities was so hard because I had so many bad habits that I had picked up over time. Learning to care enough about myself to do what I needed to do and what was right, that was so hard.

Jerri's having those exact same battles. It's just a little more fun because when she shows up late to a meeting, even if she was doing the right thing — let's say she was having a major brawl with a vampire — she's still late to a meeting and people are still doubting her. She's having to confront people's disappointment in her. She can't tell them that she was just trying to stop a vampire. It's really fun.

By the way, I admire your openness about your journey. I do think it helps make people with similar struggles feel less alone.

That's all I want, man. That's the power of story. A well-told story can make you feel a little less alone for a while. So that's the goal.

'I want to do this until I'm as old as Vincent Price'

For a while you were uncertain if "Count Crowley" would return, so when did you get the good news?

It was so great. We were deep into the pandemic. I never gave up hope. I never gave up on "Count Crowley." Megan Walker, my editor, she was like, "I'm going to keep fighting for Crowley and I know we've got fans out there." I believe it's possible to get it back, but it was hard to get Dark Horse to commit to publishing anything when everything was so uncertain. A lot of the publishing companies were only going to go into publishing their biggest hits, their guaranteed moneymaker.

In the meantime, Megan actually moved. My editor is now working in the development side of Dark Horse Entertainment. She works now on film and TV as well. We had talked a lot about the potential of developing something for film and television. Along with the executive who helps run Dark Horse Productions, Chris Tongue, we started meeting regularly to talk about what that could look like, and we're still meeting and we're still talking about it.

At one point, I'm like, "There are so many more stories to develop, and what can I do to see if there's any way we could get the comic up and running again?" They kept putting in the good word and kept checking in for me. Then one day I got that call from Megan, and [Dark Horse Founder] Mike Richardson said, "It's time. Let's do this." I was so excited. Where was I at the time? I was in either Berlin or Malta, maybe. I was working on a movie called "The Last Voyage Of The Demeter." A movie about Dracula, actually. I was having a hard time. That shoot was hard for me for a lot of reasons, but it was a really difficult, dark time. Getting that news was really awesome.

How far would you want "Count Crowley" to go? Could you see it being like "The Goon" and telling this story for a long time?

"The Goon" is such an inspiration to me. "Criminal McCobb" is another inspiration to me. Those series that have lasted now for decades and continue to come back and resurge. If I had my way right now, tens of thousands of people out there reading this would be like, "Oh yeah." I mean, we'd have this huge fanbase that was strong enough that I could just keep making "Crowley," at least six to 10 issues a year for years to come.

I know where I want to go, but I also am open to making discoveries. I'm going to add things, but right now I've got major monsters that Jerri's going to have to face. I want to do this until I'm as old as Vincent Price. Wherever I'm living when I'm an old man, I want to be surrounded by all my horror memorabilia and still writing "Count Crowley."

I just saw him in "The Baron of Arizona." Are you a fan of that one?

Oh, so great.

He's incredible in that movie.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was truly such a special kind of actor. There are so many actors who've inspired me over my career. Shit, the obvious the Meryl Streeps and the John Cazales. The people that at first really set me on this path were Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price. I'm a huge fan of Christopher Lee, and I would love to play roles he got to play throughout his career. Those are my heroes.

Speaking of dreams, you keep a list of what you hope to accomplish. What's on that list at the moment?

Well, we are so close to going into production on a feature that I wrote called "Hide Your Eyes," which Erica Scoggins is directing. She's become one of my best friends and she's an incredible voice in the horror and genre space. It's a film that I will be making some announcements about very soon. We have to lock in some things, but we've got this insanely amazing cast that's assembling around it and killer producers. I'm excited about that.

I have two other comic book projects that I'm working on developing. I wrote a feature that I'm super excited about that we found a producer that looks like it's moving forward. As an actor at the moment, I'm getting to play a role in the new Christopher Nolan film, "Oppenheimer," about J. Robert Oppenheimer. The fact that I am getting to reunite with one of my favorite directors and definitely one of the greatest directors of all time, that has been a real joy.

I'm just really honing in on my passion for utilizing the space of genre where science-fiction and horror exists to tell stories that can reflect meaningful questions for me, and at the same time, collaborating with people I love. I am really forging some strong alliances with people who are my dear friends and we're writing and producing together. That is a joy to me.

Life is so short. I just want to spend every day surrounded by people who make me a better person and a better artist, and I feel like I'm really doing that right now. It's an exciting time. Yeah, the kids are doing great. They're total monster kids. My kids are into video games, monsters, and reading. I'm so proud. My kids and I have been reading R.L. Stein's "Find Your Fate: Indiana Jones" books, which I used to collect. We were reading those and just having a great time, man.

Good. Is Polka Cat well?

She's great. I'm surprised she didn't come up here. I try to feed the people their content. I hadn't posted about her in a while and I was getting a lot of messages. I posted some pictures of her the other day. Considering what a major celebrity she is, she's remained humble. She's still super chill. She hasn't gotten a big head. No big ego. I mean, no more big of an ego than any cat has, since they all know that they're the center of the universe.

"Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter #2" available on May 18, 2022.