David Dastmalchian is Ready to Slay Monsters with Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter
Dastmalchian’s brainchild focuses on Jerri Bartman who after tanking her career due to her struggles with alcohol, returns to her Midwestern hometown and takes a job as the host of a midnight monster show. She quickly learns that monsters are in fact real and is led into a crash course of monster hunting to protect her loved ones and the townsfolk from a vampire making their way into town.
Volume 2 looks to pick up right where the first mini-series ended according to Dastmalchian, and with the entire Scooby Gang of creators together again, they are looking to jump right into the madness. Dastmalchian has already had a hand in bringing many characters to life on film/TV and now he looks to further give fans a new hero to as Jerri fights to protect her town and those she loves from the monsters lurking in shadows.
We had a chance to speak with Dastmalchian and he shared his story that involves defeating his own monsters, his passion for horror and comic books, the idea behind Count Crowley, and what fans can expect in the next chapter of Count Crowley.
GN: Volume One got hit with COVID putting it on a little hiatus if you will. But now, Jerri’s story is returning. So for those of you are those of our readers that haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Could you tell them a little bit about what the series is about?
David: Yes, imagine yourself flashbacked to 1983, where every town in America had a local horror host, who introduced the Friday or Saturday night, late night late show Creature Feature. Our hero Jerri Bartman wants nothing to do with the world of horror movies or hosts. For anything that ridiculous. She is a legitimate serious news broadcaster. But after she gets assaulted by a popular male lead anchor in a big city on a TV station, no one believes her. And she basically stripped of all of her career opportunities because the powerful network execs turn on her for trying to you know whistleblow about what happened to her. So she ends up back in her hometown.
The only job that she can get is hosting the late night creature feature, dressed up in makeup and costume as Count Crowley. Now, Count Crowley has been on the air for decades. And the man who most recently played Count Crowley, his name was Rich, has vanished, Rich Barnes is gone. Like Jerri Bartman, our hero is now taking over his plate and wearing the makeup and she ends up being a hit. The only thing that she didn’t count on though was that job. There was a secret responsibility that Rich Barnes was fulfilling.
He was fighting the monsters that live among us that no one knows about, and that are manipulating news media and information to take power over humanity and get revenge against our species. So Jerri, all of a sudden is thrust into a situation where she hosting the late night Creature Feature, but also battling werewolves, zombies and vampires to keep her family and her community safe. How was that?
GN: That’s a heck of an elevator pitch. It leads right to the reluctant midnight Monster Hunter, which is the title of the first four issues. I do want to talk a little bit more about Jerri. But first, I want to know, how did this idea come about? It’s such a unique idea and it’s an homage to everything that I love, which is horror. The series is like a love letter to horror. How did you come up with this Count Crowley series?
David: Thank you. You know, I started collecting comics at a pretty young age in Kansas City. One of my favorite genres of comic books was horror comics, which by the time I’m in collecting in the 80s, there wasn’t a ton of new stuff being published. I was a big fan of Morbius, Werewolf By Night. I love that, you know, Tomb of Dracula. I started to find older back issues of magazines like Eerie and Creepy and I fell in love with that form of storytelling with the incredible artists that you know, broke so much ground back in the day. And so I had this idea because I used to watch my own horror hosts in Kansas City, who was one of my favorite people when I was a kid and she was also my first big crush was Crematia Mortem.
She was the queen of Kansas City’s Fox affiliate late-night horror show called the Crematia’s Friday Nightmare. I used to sneak downstairs after everyone was asleep and watch Crematia hosting the Creature Feature. I thought, from a pretty young age, how cool it would be, you know, there was a horror host like Crematia who was fun and funny and badass, but who actually secretly knew the truth about monsters and went out during the day, on your off nights, trying to protect people from the attacks of real monsters. And so over the years, I just kept developing the idea and thinking about the idea. I eventually got the opportunity to present this idea to Dark Horse, and they loved it. And you know, I am someone who has struggled with mental illness.
I have been clean and sober, because I also am an addict for 20 years, and I wanted to really incorporate some of those themes into the story because to me, yes, there are monsters lurking around in real life in our society. I think that monsters, you know, exist in our, you know, governments that are people that are, you know, hiding the shadows in our own town. But one of the biggest battles I’ve ever fought are the monsters within myself, the demons that I have to overcome inside of me, and I wanted my hero to have that battle raging inside of her while she’s also having to try and learn how to fight monsters in the real world.
So it all started to really come together when I got the chance to pitch the dark horse, they said they wanted to do an initial four-issue run, which we did, and it ended up thank God becoming resonant with some of the fans out there. And people really responded, and I can’t tell you what a gift it is, every time somebody reaches out or, you know, post on their social media, or messages me about how much they love the comic, and, and it’s just grown and grown. Now we’re getting ready to release the next phase of Jerri’s journey where she’s no longer reluctant about monster hunting.
GN: Yeah, you know, that’s, the part that resonated the most with me. Not only my love for horror but her dealing with her own monsters and having no credibility because she’s basically screaming, you know, monsters are real, while everybody knows. Everybody knows about her internal demons, and that just makes her not a very trustworthy person through their eyes.
David: Anybody out there who has struggled with, you know, mental illness, anybody who has felt deep depression that they can’t explain, and their parents or their teachers or whoever is saying, I don’t understand what’s wrong with you, it doesn’t make sense. Or anybody who’s felt such intense anxiety that they can’t walk into a room full of people because they’re so scared and no one seems to understand him or anyone who has heard or seen things that aren’t there because they’re struggling with you know, mental issues.
One of the worst things about being an addict and an alcoholic and how many times you break the trust of the people you love is part of the disease, you know, you end up lying and hurting the people you love the most because your addiction is so powerful. So imagine if all the people that love you think of you as someone that they can’t really trust. Then you find out that not only are monsters real, but they’re going to try and hurt the people that you love, you got to protect them.
I love that element in writing the stories where you know, imagine for me when I was just starting my journey of being clean and sober. If I showed up late for work, and I had a bloody nose, because I was off fighting a zombie, I couldn’t say that to my boss or my family. They’d think I was back on drugs.
GN: I love that you chose to put this in a small town rather than a big city because so much gets lost in the big city. Being in a small town where everybody knows everybody, it just further creates that paranoia of what she’s going through, and nobody believes her because everybody knows what she’s been through. You mentioned that you’re a fan of comics and you’ve already had a hand in bringing a really cool comic book character to life in The Suicide Squad. What does it feel like to you know, see your name printed on the comic of your own?
David: It’s one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I’ll never forget, back in 2019, in October, when we were just releasing the first run of Count Crowley comics. My wife, Eve, and I flew one weekend from Atlanta, where I was filming the Suicide Squad with James Gunn, which you can imagine for a comic and film nerd like me, it was already a dream come true. Then we got on a plane and we flew to Kansas City, which is where I grew up and we drove to the comic shop that was my Mecca as a kid called Clint Books. Just off West Port Road in Kansas City. We went into the shop where the folks at Clint, we call Clint kids had organized a signing event for me.
I walked into the shop and there were you know, there was an entire wall that they had lined with Crowley issue one and there was a line of people down the sidewalk, all of my old friends from childhood, my high school football coach, you name it, they were there. I got to stand there with my wife and look at my comic book. Powerful, you know, it came out of my imagination and had my name on it, but yet was only able to come to life because of so many other talented people who believed in it and, and added their magic.
Like, obviously Lukas Ketner, my artist who’s a genius and Megan Walker, my editor, Lauren Affe, my colorist and Frank Cvetkovic, my letterer and my whole team, you know, like, I just couldn’t believe it was happening. It was a really incredible moment.
In speaking of the power cover art has to lure readers, David shared a bit about the upcoming covers for Count Crowley, saying:
There’s no discounting the power of the magic of cover art, which leads me to brag about the next four issues of Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter. I just saw the preview of issue 2.4 cover and I’m telling you, man, it is going to blow people’s mind. No one is gonna be able to walk by that issue in a comic shop and not pick it up. It is amazing. I’m so excited.
GN: You mentioned Lucas, Lauren, Frank, and Megan, of course, your editor. How, how exciting was it to know that the whole game is gonna be together again.
David: You know, I don’t think we could have done it without them. So when we found out we were going to get more issues. Megan, my editor immediately went to Lucas and Lauren and Frank, and thankfully, they all immediately said yes. You just never know with people’s schedules and what’s happening in their lives. I like to think that they enjoy working on Count Crowley as much as I love having them, but they are you know, we’re Count Crowley family. I can’t imagine making this book without the five of us and my editor is so instrumental to the process.
I was so happy. So excited. You have to understand we read through so much over the course of the last two years. We were about a week into the lockdown of March 2020 when I found out that Crowley was going on hiatus, possibly ending forever, because Darkhorse just didn’t know how they were going to be running business going forward with the pandemic, all the chaos and you know, Count Crowley did well, but it’s not like a top-five hit, so it’s not guaranteed that it’s gonna, you know, have its own life.
It’s got a really strong following, but that following, it’s just growing as we speak. I was devastated because I had already written many scripts going forward, and I knew where I want the story to go. I was so excited about sharing with readers, what was about to happen in the story. Then all of a sudden, it was you know, no, this is going away. So when Megan called maybe, gosh, six months ago and said, We’re gonna get it back. It’s coming back. Dude, I just like…
GN: In the clouds…
David: There was a scream, the werewolf howl heard around Los Angeles, you could’ve heard me howling out the window with joy.
GN: You mentioned you have a lot of scripts. Do you have the entire story fleshed out from beginning to end? Or are you just kind of, you know, telling it as it goes?
David: Oh, I know, certain major elements like I know, at this point who is pulling the strings behind some of our most nefarious monsters, I know that Jerry is going to have to confront and deal with the trauma of her past while at the same time developing the skills it’s going to take for her to face that threat that’s coming. I know where certain character’s secrets lie because I’ve always known that since I began writing them but one of the great joys of this kind of long-form storytelling is a discovery that continues to be made all the time, you know, I had an entire kind of homage to Frankenstein’s monster that was going to fit into my storyline in a way that I thought I totally knew.
Then as I continue to write, I’ve made more discoveries. I don’t forget when I’m writing or when I have any free time. I’m constantly just watching old horror movies. It’s my happy place. I love to put on all four all-camera films old arcaos of old you know, William Castle movie universal horror slasher film, new light stuff from back in the day Tristar, you name it, man. That I love. So, yeah, I really, really important to me, when I think about, you know, knowing where we’re going, while at the same time being open to the discovery of the writing process.
GN: Speaking of the writing process is writing something that, you know, you’ve had experience with before or, you know, how do you go from, you know, having an actor’s visual language to a certain part, to kind of, you know, fleshing out a whole story, and having to collaborate that with other creators?
David: My process continues to be learning, always learning, I’m trying to constantly educate, and learn about the best way to be the best writer that I can be. So for me, you know, with one project, like a screenplay or a play, I might have a very, very specific, succinct, clear vision of what it’s going to look like, what it is what the act structure is, and I can just like, write and bang it out. I felt that way, going into the writing process, of how (Count) Crowley writes are such a very strong instinct, an idea about what I needed, and wanted the characters to do.
Then I started the process of collaboration now that the writing screenplays that sometimes, you know, starting to send it out to my trusted allies for notes. In several of my recent projects, I’ve actually co-written with other writers. Then with Count Crowley, it’s just getting it into the hands of my editor and my artists because then what happens is this whole new conversation starts, where I start to recognize things in my writing that maybe aren’t as clear as I thought they were when I was initially putting them down, ways that I can strengthen, simplify.
It’s always about simplification for me as the further I get into the rewriting and development process. I don’t think I’ve ever added. I think I’ve always come to learn to trust my collaborators when they say we don’t need that extra line here or we don’t need more words. You’ve got it going, you know. So it’s a beautiful kind of conversation and collaborative process. I just don’t have the, it’s not my style. I don’t have the maybe I don’t have the talent, I don’t know. I definitely can’t write in a vacuum. I need my collaborators, I need the people who inform and elevate my work because I just, that’s how my process works.
GN: Lastly, I want to talk about Count Crowley moving forward. We saw Jerri take a step forward in defeating her inner demons. Can you tell us what the next step in her journey is?
David: What was so fun for me, my son said they love talking about cliffhangers, what is a cliffhanger ending? So, here we are now, Jerri has obviously defeated her first monster, but the threat is even greater because this monster was able to send a note off to the vampires in New York, alerting them about this person Count Crowley.
When we open the next series, we are going to be right where we left off, literally into the next frame. Jerri had no time to pat herself on the back because something and someone much more deadly and dangerous than the billy (the zombie) is on its way. On top of that, this Werewolf that she has been trying to stop and figure out what the heck is going on is about to cause a lot of headaches for her.
So you have all that combined with her trying to prove to her brother that she is responsible and reliable and she’s trying to protect them, she has her hands full from the first page of the new book and I can’t wait for people to see it.
Thank you David Dastmalchian for speaking with us at Geek Network. Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter will be available at your local comic book shop (find a shop near you using Comic Shop Locator) and digitally on March 23rd, 2022.