Inside Elevator with Dwight L. MacPherson

Dwight L. MacPherson is a writer of dark speculative fiction and President of Hocus Pocus Comics. His works include Dead Men Tell No Tales, Sidewise, and The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo. In this interview he discusses his upcoming project Elevator, his experiences creating in the horror genre, and offers some advice for aspiring writers.

How long have you been writing?

DLM:     I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Even as a kid I was writing stories. When I was 12, a travel journal I wrote about a road trip from our family home in Florida to my Grandpa’s house in Canada was printed in my Grandpa’s local newspaper. In high school I had several short stories printed in the school literary magazine. I’ve always writing. It’s part of who I am.

What got you into comics as a medium?

 DLM:     My parents gave me lots of old comics when I was a kid. I grew up with them, so it seemed like a natural progression to pursue writing them. I love the comics medium because it is a marriage of literature and art, two of my favorite things. What really cemented the idea of writing comics professionally, though, was reading Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing. After reading Swamp Thing Annual #1, I consciously said, “I want to write comics like Alan Moore.” I’d never say that I’ve arrived at that point, but it was deeply gratifying to lose an Eagle Award to him a few years back.

Who would you say has been your biggest influence as a writer?

DLM:     Must I choose just one? [laughs] I would say that my biggest influences have been Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Alan Moore, and Rod Serling. An odd combination? Perhaps. But I have greatly benefited from each of these talented writer’s work. Speaking strictly about comics, however, no one has influenced me more than Alan Moore. His run on Swamp Thing and his work on Miracleman had a profound impact on me as a teenager. I was able to send a thank you note to him through his daughter (and dear friend) Leah Moore, and I can only hope that it made him grin.

Can you tell us a little about your experience with the horror genre?

DLM:    I watched The Wolf Man with my dad when I was five and I was hooked. We watched monster movies and the Twilight Zone together as I was growing up, so it really had an impact on me. I discovered Poe’s work in elementary school and fell in love with it. My very first published comic, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is a horror story with pirates and zombies. Issue 1 was published in September, 2005. As I was working on the book, I became friends with horror writer Steve Niles, and decided to concentrate on writing horror. After Dead Men, I went on to pen several horror short stories for several horror anthology comics, and all of my work since then has featured horror elements. Horror is also a part of who I am.

What would you say is your favorite horror sub-genre?

DLM:     I tend to write a lot of supernatural horror, but I believe my favorite sub-genres to read and watch are still classical and mythological monsters and psychological horror. It’s humorous to say, but I tend to stay away from watching and reading the supernatural horror genre, but that is only because it hits too close to home. Graham Greene said writing is a form of therapy, and I tend to agree with him.

How was the idea for Elevator conceived?

DLM:     The seeds of Elevator were planted when I read Dante’s Inferno in high school, but it wasn’t until 2006 when I decided to write a story that basically introduces Dante’s Inferno to a generation that has most likely never read the book. We were studying Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Inferno in one of my college classes at that time, so one day as I was sitting in my car eating lunch, I decided to write up an outline. Due to the volume of material I was producing, that outline was filed away in my Ideas Folder and I moved on. But in 2007, I discovered the excellent novel, The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl, and it inspired me to revisit the document and flesh out much of what readers will find in the pages of Elevator. Even then, the outline lingered on my hard drive until last year when an old artist friend said that he wanted to pursue publishing Elevator. It didn’t work out, so I decided to form my own publishing company, Hocus Pocus Comics, and self-publish Elevator myself. It was during the last year that the final product readers will find in Elevator came to be.

How long did it take for  you to write Elevator?

DLM:     As I stated above, the process of formulating Elevator occurred over an 11 year period. The script to issue 1 was finished in 2007, but I did not complete the scripts for issues 2-4 until last year. All told, I’ve been working on Elevator for over a decade. And, to be honest, I believe the story is all the better for it. What readers will find is a very complex story that challenges, shocks, and sticks with them long after they finish reading. It’s an extraordinary journey, and I’m extremely proud to have written it. I can’t wait to share it with the world!

What other projects do you see yourself working on in the future?

DLM:     I have several other projects in production at this very moment. Reader can see my first wave of projects at www.hpcomics.net, but I assure you that I have many, many more stories to tell. This first wave is only the beginning.

What would you say is the hardest part of working as a comic writer? What part would you consider the most rewarding?

DLM:     The hardest part of working as a comic writer is that opportunities are extremely limited and the industry is saturated with writers. I’ve never had the desire to “play in someone else’s toy box,” but I’ve never turned down work, either. I enjoyed my time creating an original digital series for DC Comics, and writing several short comic stories and American McGee’s Grimm for IDW Publishing. But comic publishers forget us quickly, and there are so bloody many of us. The most rewarding part of working as a comic writer is watching the “birth” of your baby. Seeing the story you wrote come to life in the art, and then finally being “born” as a completed book that you can share with the world. Comics are unique in that we can literally watch the characters and events we’ve written come to life on a page, and then see those pages being enjoyed by readers. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that people have read and enjoyed your work.

What are the perks of self-publishing over going through a publisher? What are the drawbacks?

DLM:     Well, the most obvious perk is that I no longer have to worry about rejection letters. [laughs] Aside from that, I can tell whichever stories I choose however I choose to tell them. My focus is on telling good stories, not creating something that will be commercially popular. This gives me a lot of freedom. I also don’t have to worry about me and my team not receiving any compensation for our work. As long as our books sell well on ComiXology and Amazon, we will see something. Many creators who publish their work through traditional publishers never see a dime for their hard work. Of course, I will have to get back to you on this point, though, as we are just preparing to launch our first book on ComiXology.

As far as drawbacks, I can’t see many. I’ve done the traditional publisher thing and it left me with published work, yes, but nothing more. One setback that I definitely see, however, is that comics news sites are almost completely unresponsive. When I had an Image book to promote, for instance, they were knocking down my door and quick to respond. Now that I’m self-publishing, I can’t even get them to return my e-mails. It’s sad, really, but for someone who has been “on the inside,” I totally get it. It’s one of the reasons I’m on the outside.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a career in writing?

DLM:     Read, study, perfect your craft, and learn to network. When I’m not writing, I’m reading, and much of the reading I do is about the process of storytelling. There are many talented writers out there, but that is not enough to propel you to greatness. Join a writing group, enter contests or submit short stories to anthologies, and “mingle” with other aspiring writers. The last–and best–piece of advice I can give is this: If writing is something you do, and not a part of who you are, choose another profession. You will be much happier and wealthier doing something else.

 

 

 


A very special thanks to Dwight MacPherson for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to keep an eye out for Elevator, which will be available on Comixology in just two short days. In the meantime you can browse some of MacPherson’s other work over  on his blog.
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