It’s twilight. A fleet-footed Romani girl chases her dinner, a wild boar, through the underbrush of an ominous forest. Flanked by her small family, the girl crashes blindly through thick branches, driven by her hunger. Before she realizes what’s happened, it’s too late. As her family catches up, they realize the darkened forest surrounding them has come alive with fiery red eyes, lit up and ready for the kill.
“Demons?” asks a boy, his voice tremulous with fear.
“No, werewolves,” comes the steely-voiced reply.
Cover of Darkness, a sprawling comic from newcomers George Michail and Chris Cam, is built on these moments, where earthbound characters find themselves face-to-face with the stuff of legend.
Impressive as it is, that feat is nothing new. What separates Cover of Darkness from the herd is that these well-crafted moments tend to get a boot right off the cliff into the world of the bizarre, the unexpected, and the just plain badass.
George Michail wanted to see a gorilla fight a werewolf. Who could blame him? The freshman writer was also compelled to spin a tale of horror, excitement, and family, but he also definitely wanted to see that gorilla put a werewolf in the dirt.
“Chris Cam and I co-write our monster epic together, and it’s a lot of fun working with her,” Michail told The Model American. “First, we sorted out each character’s personality and defining traits. Next, we mapped out the character arcs and story beats … I often think of the visual that I want the artist to create … and then work backward from that to have the narrative make sense. Our story features an ensemble of heroes and monsters. [From that point], Chris and I take our assignments and split up the writing chores.
“Then I arrange the comic from the pieces we have written on our own. We edit each other’s work and debate what stays and what gets cut. It is nice writing with a partner, as you have someone to bounce ideas off of and to help improve your concepts. Once we have a script we are both happy with, it is time to send it to our amazing artist MJ Hiblen.”
A New Flavor for Familiar Faces
Michail explained that even as he dreamt up the story of a family driven apart and thrust into a life of adventure, and he knew exactly who to cast as the villains in this epic. He’d known since 1987.
Though Cover of Darkness is the story of a Romani family divided by tragedy and struggling to find their way back to one another, the book’s pages are filled with appearances from some of monster history’s heaviest hitters.
Lingering at the edges of the book is a cabal of classic monsters revitalized and reimagined for a new audience. The vampire is a low-brow sadist with real class issues. The Frankenstein’s monster completely forgot about the golem with a heart of gold Hollywood has saddled him with all too often. There’s a mummy consumed by vengeance, a monster emerged from the deep, and a whole buttload of ticked-off werewolves.
“My first introduction to those monsters was the 1980’s Shane Black [penned] movie, Monster Squad,” says Michail. “I was six years old when I saw it. I was terrified and ever since I have had a love/hate relationship with those baddies.”
Wandering Off on Their Own
When it comes to Cover of Darkness, it pays to cast off your preconceived images of Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and all their pals. The Universal Pictures monsters known in pop culture are extra-heavily copyrighted. The original monsters themselves, however, are in the public domain.
Not being able to rely on the tropes associated decades-old movie monsters, however, turned out to be something of a blessing for the team behind Cover of Darkness. Michail and Cam weren’t hamstrung by well-tread mythology, and artist MJ Hiblen was able to push the character design in startling new directions.
The result is a twisting Tolkienesque narrative set in that fuzzy place in history between the end of magic and the dawn of the modern age, complete with a cast of characters not typically seen in a typical monster story. Sure, there’s all your Universal favorites, but there’s also shapeshifters, contortionists, and a squat, little demon who spits fire.
“My co-writer, Chris Cam, wanted to tell a story involving shapeshifters that get mixed up in a traveling circus,” says Michail. “The ringmaster and his henchman, a circus strongman, have their own story, too… and it’s pretty bananas! I am writing it now, for issue 6, and it has its roots in both fantasy and gothic literature. I really like taking classic stories and putting a fun twist on them.”
At the moment, Cover of Darkness is still pursuing their big publishing break. In the meantime, various members of the team are hitting comic conventions across the country to drum up support for their monster epic.
Though he’s still new to the indie scene, Michail says the welcome has been very warm. “Every creator I have tabled next to has been super cool and very supportive when I tell them that Cover of Darkness is my first book.”
Michail says the fan response to the book has also been phenomenal. Readers lured to the booth by Hiblen’s distinctive art style inevitably find themselves intrigued by the premise and ultimately sold by the spark of enthusiasm in Michail’s eyes when he talks about the story.
“It is a blast meeting comic book fans. I love telling them about my book. I used to think that being published was necessary to make money in comics, but I am finding that if you are really passionate about your story, you can sell directly to people at conventions.”
Michail and Cam currently have the series plotted out for 18 episodes of shapeshifting, creature feature, circus-tinted badassery.
After that, Michail is set to team with Teen Titans, and Deadpool artist Alé Garza for Fire Engine Red, which Michail describes as an ode to 80s action flicks, which he describes as “kinda like Die Hard in a forest fire.” (Sign me up.) Readers can look for it in early 2020 on John Delaney’s Komixstream.