Kelley Jones Interview

Kelley Jones is perhaps best known for his work on DC/Vertigo's Sandman and DC's Batman. But he's done much more work including DC's Deadman, Dark Horse's Aliens: Hive and The Hammer. This month, he brings us The 13th Son: Worse Thing Waiting from Dark Horse. Westfield's Roger Ash recently spoke with Jones to learn more about this book.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the 13th Son?

Kelley Jones: The 13th Son is a very fun, traditional horror book. But it's not a book that's gonna revel in a lot of the things that the typical horror book would. For me it's more of very pulpy, page-turning, plot-driven type of thing with heaps of violence and action. A lot of the stuff that I used to like about the old Tomb of Dracula book and stuff like that where you had a monster that's iconoclastic within a world of monsters. A monster that's not believed in by any monster. He's the boogeyman of monsters. Something that scares monsters is gonna be fun to do.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story of the mini-series?

Jones: Basically, it's about the main character, the 13th Son. His whole objective is ultimately to have his own 13th son. He knows that if this ever happens, the other monsters would all band together to try to destroy him because his goals aren't their goals. Their goals are just what monsters do. His are different. He doesn't quite know what they are himself other than his son is to be what all the monsters would serve. Including himself. That's what his guess is and they wouldn't want that. He knows that once they know this would happen, they would band together to try to kill his son. So he works very quietly, living in our world but going at night and just killing them off for as long as he can, clearing the field so his son can be raised without that fear. Once his son comes of age, then that's when he will be fully presented. But that's going to take a lot of time and a lot of killing. He doesn't know how that's going to turn out. He's at odds with his mother, who is still alive after a couple hundred years and is trying to control him, so he's gotta contend with her while he's trying to contend with all the monsters that are roaming around.

Westfield: Aside from the mother and the title character, are there any other major characters in this first series?

Jones: There are. We'll see an appearance of his long-dead father who his mother killed. His wife. After many failed attempts at finding a mate, he comes across a person who would be the perfect wife, and that's a big revelation. Who's going to marry a monster? She kinda comes in late in the first mini-series because it's primarily him dealing with his mom. She will only conceive this 13th kid when she feels it's safe. There are other kids running around, we just don't know what they are, if they're human, if they're whatever. But the 13th one is the one where whatever power, whatever horrible thing it will be, it will manifest itself in that. His offering to her is to prove he can make it safe.

Westfield: What's the origin of this story?

Jones: Originally, he was one of several secondary characters, villains, but not really the villains for Deadman. Some years ago, Stuart Moore at DC wanted me to put together, write and draw Deadman for him. I said "I don't know what I could do with that. A lot of that stuff has been done. What would be interesting to me are all these other characters that would collect around him that live in that half world that he does." When Stuart left, new people came along. Stuart's sensibilities were more like mine and I didn't really want to go the process again. It had gotten big and it wasn't just Deadman, it was about 12 of these secondary characters. The 13th Son was one of them. The one that I originally presented to Dark Horse was a character called Dust. She was a living kind of version Deadman, but she had lived so long she didn't know if she was a male or a female anymore. She just switched bodies for so long. They had liked that. I also presented the 13th Son to Shawna Gore and she liked it quite a bit. It was weird. It was a monster point of view in a monster world. Initially she wanted to do Dust, but I kinda talked her out of it because it was too long and unwieldy, unless you were going to dedicate to one full year. I don't know if I could do that. I know I can do mini-series, and if something goes from there, I can continue doing that kind of stuff. But it's awfully hard to come up with that kind of production on a one man operation.

The 13th Son, I just took those notes and wrote out what his back-story was, which was never intended to be produced. It turned out to that the back-story made an interesting mini-series. The first one will be leading up to all this stuff dealing with his mother and his wife and monsters. The next group of books, if there are any, would be about him actually having a 13th son. It just keeps building on that level. He's doing his thing, which you can't really measure if it's good or evil, but it just doesn't sound good. Whatever this is sounds pretty ugly. Monsters, mind you, means anything of the occult nature.

Stuart had like all these secondary characters I had written up. He'd always said, if nothing else these can spin off to be their own. Shawna has a lot of the same sensibilities as he does. I don't really like doing typical horror nowadays because I don't relate to it too well. Everyone can relate to a domineering parent or authority figure like he would and the rebellious nature of him and wanting to have something more than just slash and burning and control the world. It's not about gore on its own. There has to be stuff that people can relate to so they can get invested in it emotionally so that they can feel whether it would be scary or not. I didn't want a bloody superhero book. On the other hand I wanted a book that's laden with atmosphere. So much of the book takes place at night. It's fun to play with an atmosphere that I just don't see too much. I don't want to be grossed out, I want to have an atmosphere that gives you a feeling for something different. I don't know how successful that is, but it's fun to do.

Westfield: With this story, do you have an ending in mind or where you want to build it towards?

Jones: One builds to the next. I have always wanted to present different monsters, so in this one, you get monsters that we kinda know. Some are urban legends, some we don't know about. No vampires or stuff like that. In the book, they're just known as night people and they don't sit there cackling and being evil, they're just monsters, like some kind of natural force, forgotten by the day people who have control of the planet. They're afraid of anything that would upset that balance. They know that regular human beings, if they knew they existed, would kill them all. Around the edges, they don't mind being known, but they don't present themselves. The next series would be different kinds of monsters. Monsters that lived before there were people. What those would be and what they would look like and what they would do. Then there's others that only the 13th Son can see. They live in kind of a skewed dimension, but they're here. And they're unknown to the monsters and people alike, but they're there. And they're horrifying. It's always a chance to come up with new stuff. I don't like finding one idea and hammering it into the ground. I like it to be organic and keep going. If it's fortunate enough to keep going, then that's what I'll do. The aspect of him having his own progeny. That really would have to be the most horrible thing, one way or the other. I don't like something described as really horrible and then it turns out it's not, or the big build up and then it's not. I like things that show it and pay it off. In the book, there's a four-page spread because it was a really good artistic challenge to come up with something that is that big. Also, I wanted to show 100 monsters attacking him at the same time. I'll leave it up to people to count if I got a hundred monsters. I lost count after about 80. I just kept drawing 'em. It came out to be one of those things that I killed myself on it, but it really is a good conclusion to the first one where we see all these monsters finally attack him. It's like an ocean of these things. And I have to make them all look different and make them all creepy and that's a lot of fun. It's a brutal amount of work, but it was a lot of fun.

Westfield: Why monsters?

Jones: I think monsters now have changed into different things and I still like monsters from the way I knew them. They're creepy, they're weird, but you can say a lot more with a monster than you can with a person. You can get across a lot more, and you're not confined by our social way of looking at things, but you comment on them. And not to get too artsy-fartsy about it, but that's a lot more fun. You have a lot more free range with that. The fact that they live at the same time we do is pretty creepy. I like the fact that right under this surface, there's something like that that doesn't care what's going on in our world. It's like in a missing persons report, maybe it isn't a human agent that did it. Or when they find body parts somewhere, maybe it isn't a murder, it's a victim. That's the edges that I speak of. Someone reports some weird thing like a Bigfoot or a mothman or something, maybe that was a real thing and that's just as far as we got to see. Then you go to that world and you can tell whole stories about how they're just not these raging crazy things. They live in their world and they are very content to do so. They have their own agendas, small though they may be, whereas the 13th Son has a very large one. And his mother's is one of vindictiveness. The 13th son is an unknown quantity which makes it interesting to follow because he doesn't know what Pandora's Box he's opening. He needs a purpose because he's partially human, whereas the monsters are monsters. And it's a lot more fun. Bottom line, a funny book should be fun.

Westfield: When we were talking yesterday, you said this was inspired by 70s horror comics. Any ones in particular?

Jones: A lot of it is the look and the feel of them. I used to love Monster of Frankenstein and Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night. A lot of those. What I liked about them was they gave a good 3-dimmentional point of view. They kept their humanity and a lot of their pathos and optimism rather than let's be gory and cynical and ultimately depressing when you read them nowadays. I also loved how the books looked. I love Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula. The covers would always be this big exposition. You'd have people actually talking, which I used to love which you don't really see too much anymore if at all. It connected the book. These covers would have someone saying "I don't believe in Dracula" and Dracula's about to kill him. Or Monster of Frankenstein would have characters talking while something would be lurking behind them. Then, when you'd read 'em, there wasn't a clear definition of what good and evil was because these were monsters. They weren't purely rubbing their hands together with blood dripping from their lips. They had their own points of view. I found that really interesting because for the people doing it, that's a fine line. You can't have a book ultimately just be about evil things or you loose interest, other than for loonies. (laughs) I just found that those things kept my interest and I used to love those kind of books because it wasn't just "here's a super villain coming and you have to kill him" or "here's a bad guy and he's going to take over the world." They were smaller stories, but a lot more passionate. I keep saying Tomb of Dracula, but I love all of those Brother Voodoos and all those things because they had a real atmosphere to them.

Westfield: I always liked Steve Gerber's Man-Thing stories.

Jones: Yeah. And you knew when you opened 'em up, you were in a different world. That was something that had stuck with me. As the years go by, you begin to think what do you go back and look at or what do you think of fondly? Those were the kind of things for me. Not that I even had a particular interest in it, it was just those were the books because of those types of angles. I wanted to do something like that again. I haven't read those books in God knows how long, but I remember how much I enjoyed them. I think a lot of it is it's simply different. It doesn't mean better, it just means different.

Westfield: With this book you're doing pretty near everything. Do you prefer to do that yourself?

Jones: No I don't. It's hard to do and it's physically hard to do. You can think of a good plot, but that doesn't mean you're a good writer. You can put that all down and while drawing it miss the point of what you're doing because you're so close to it. You think everybody knows the punchline to your joke and they don't. I've always been very big on editorial involvement because at that point they can say "ok if the point is this, why am I not getting it?" And then you have to go back and examine it. It's a lot easier if you have a professional writer doing it, and I don't consider myself one. It's a lot easier when you have a professional writer who's saying, "hey you've gotta stay on point here. You've gotta draw this this way so it makes sense." You can fall into the trap of just writing easy stuff to do and then things get pretty boring looking because it's all the same drawing. You have to give yourself things you may not want to draw, but you've gotta write that way. A writer should never think that way when he's presenting a script to an artist. It's just what it is. That's what I had to do and that's hard. Then you ink it, so you get pretty tired of looking at the same thing unless you keep yourself really enthused over it. You have to draw enough to where your editorial people can understand what you're doing and not think it sucks, but you can't talk too much that when you come back as an inker, you're bored by it already because you've labored so heavily on it. You've gotta keep all those things balanced. Ultimately, if you can do that and you can get across that enthusiasm, then you will have a better chance of something successful when it finally gets out.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

Jones: I'm doing a Conan mini-series as well with Dark Horse focusing on the character of Thoth. That's, I think, four 40-page issues. It's a pretty big thing. I spend half my day doing that and half my day doing 13th Son.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Jones: I feel lucky to get a chance to still do these kind of books, with more atmosphere and more horror type stuff. It is a wonderful way to spend the day. You hope some of that excitement or enthusiasm can translate through the printed page and do the same thing for other people that the Gene Colans and the Mike Ploogs did for me.