RICH INTERVIEWS: M.L. Miller Writer “Gravetrancers”

First Comics News: What is the story line of “Gravetrancers”?

M.L. Miller: Gravetrancers is a horror story set in a graveyard run by a crooked family who resell plots and use the bodies to create a powerful hallucinatory drug. Maribel and Anthony are a pair of troubled twenty-somethings who are lead to the cemetery in search of the plot of their dead father. So they are kind of tossed into this ghoulish world and are forced to do this drug and try to get out alive. The story is a sort of descent into the darkness tale where the longer the story goes, the deeper and darker it gets.

1st: What genre is “Gravetrancers”?

M.L.: Gravetrancers is definitely hardcore horror. In fact, it’s not the typical style of horror you’re going to be used to if all you watch is Hollywood movies. I love those films, but most of the times, those films tie everything up in a pretty bow and end with a pretty happy ending. This story just doesn’t do that. I wanted a more twisted and unexpected story for this one, mainly because I’ve seen so many horror films and have been growing sicker and sicker of seeing the same type of decisions and plot points in every film. Whenever I had a chance to, I tried to do the opposite of what most horror movies do in Gravetrancers which I hope will make for an exciting and scary read where nothing feels safe.

1st: Who are Maribel and Anthony?

M.L.: A lot of horror stories have your typical jock, nerd, pothead, slut, and virgin roles. I went out of my way to make sure Maribel and Anthony don’t really fit into any of these tropes. Maribel and Anthony are siblings looking for the plot of their dead father. Maribel is a recovering addict and in AA. She’s got a lot of demons herself and remembers what her father was like so she is not looking forward to finding the grave. She is going because she loves her brother Anthony and he wants to find the grave so badly. Anthony was too young to know his father and wants to know everything he can about him. So both characters sort of have different motivations as to why they are on this trip to the cemetery and have very different reactions once there and in this dire situation with the Malort Family.

1st: Are there any supernatural menaces in this series?

M.L.: No, this is pretty much a grounded horror story. Any weird imagery comes from the hallucinatory aspects of the drug they are taking. All of the other horrors are based in real life with real world rules. But once you start bending the mind, things begin to feel supernatural very quickly. My artist James Whynot is making this look surreal and trippy as hell during these drug induced sequences and I think it’s going to be something readers are not used to seeing.

1st: Who are the major baddies in “Gravetrancers”?

M.L.: The Malort Family are the bad guys of this story. Each member sort of plays a specific role in the jobs on the cemetery. Mamm is the mother of the four sons and runs the show with her favorite son Godfrey. Shovel works the graveyard. Priber resides in the church in the back of the cemetery near the body pit. And Prim is kind of a lost child who resides deep in the pit. All of them are distinct monsters on their own, but together they make the cemetery a pretty dangerous place to be after dark. James Whynot and I went out of our way to make each of them unique. Some are more sympathetic than others. Some are just pure monsters. But they all serve a function in the story, Maribel and Anthony’s journey, and whether they survive or not. That’s all I want to say about them because I kind of want to make the reveals of each to be a surprise for readers.

1st: How did you join Black Mask Studios?

M.L.: I’ve known publisher Matt Pizzolo for ages. We met at my first San Diego Comic Con about ten years ago and have been friends ever since. I’ve been needling him for years about working at Black Mask and have been tossing pitches at him for a while. Just because we are buddies doesn’t mean he will automatically publish anything I come up with and I respect that about Matt. He liked the idea of a hardcore horror story with trippy visuals from James Whynot and it sort of spiraled out from that little idea. I’ve worked at Black Mask before with Pirouette and Occupy Comics, so I know what Black Mask wants as a brand and when I have an idea I think they would like, I go to them.

1st: What do you think of James Whynot’s art?

M.L.: James’ work is amazing. It truly is. He has such a wonderful way of bringing my words to life with images. I get pretty specific in my scripts and he always interprets it well. His inks are extremely deep and complex that you kind of have to scour the page to absorb it all and with every page, I’m learning how to highlight that in the story. I’m so glad to have him on this project. With Dee Cunniff’s vibrant and electric colors on top of the inks, this is a book that isn’t going to look like anything else out there.

1st: What is “Pirouette” about?

M.L.: Pirouette is a coming of age, character driven horror story set in a circus. Pirouette is the lead character, a young clown, who feels she is destined for something more than just playing the clown and being in the circus all her life. She dreams bigger and wants to fly on the trapeze. But when she gets wind that there’s a possibility that she was not born in the circus and she might have family outside, she hatches a plan to escape when the circus returns to the town she was found in. It’s a kind of personal tale with a lot of emphasis on the pomp, circumstance, and surreality of the world of the circus with outstanding art by Carlos Granda. The full trade of Pirouette should be coming out next year and it definitely is something that should not be missed.

1st: What comic book have you gotten the most out of working on?

M.L.: Every book I have written was crucial in me getting my next gig. I look at all of them as crucial steps for me in either honing the craft of writing or how to work with artists and editors or just learning the complex world of making comics. The path to where I am now in comics is paved with all kinds of mistakes and missteps, but I’m learning along the way and trying not to make the same mistakes over again. So every book for me is a learning experience and important to me because of it.

1st: What do you do to market your comic book?

M.L.: Tons of emails every day. Tons of daily posts on Facebook and Twitter. I try to talk with my fellow creators that I know for advice. I am about to do a tour of every comic shop in my city (Chicago) and try to get them to carry the book and maybe have me in for a signing. Things like that. Advertising for the book is just as crucial as coming up with the ideas, so I’m in full-on marketiing mode right now.

1st: What is next for you after “Gravetrancers”?

M.L.: I’m focusing my energy on Gravetrancers right now. Once that is done, I’m going to be working on promos for the Pirouette trade and then I’ll have another project from Black Mask next year. I have a few other projects coming up that I can’t talk about yet, but for the most part, I’m focusing on Gravetrancers 24/7 these days. I also write The Jungle Book for Zenescope and most likely will have another one of those series sooner rather than later.

1st: Would you like to spend the night in a graveyard?

M.L.: Yes. I just recently spent the night at an abandoned campground in the Southern Indiana and it was creepy as hell. It’s the solitude and lack of any sound that gets you. It was great inspiration for my writing trying to get through the night with only my imagination working against me. I found it to be a lot of fun. I think if you write about fear, you should at least know what it feels like in one way or another, to a certain extent.

1st: If you were not creating comic books what would you be doing?

M.L.: Well, unfortunately, comics aren’t paying the bills right now, so I supplement my income in different ways. I write for Ain’t It Cool News and have been an editor for the site since 2001, overseeing the AICN COMICS and AICN HORROR sections on the site. I am a licensed therapist by day, but have taken a break from that profession to focus on my writing this year. Still, my experience in the psychology field supplied me with tons of twisted material to draw upon. I also work as a bartender at a few bars in Chicago, which is another job that provides plenty of writing material. So I keep busy.

1st: What would you like to say to those who pick up “Gravetrancers”?

M.L.: First of all I would like to thank them. I know Gravetrancers is one of a billion books on the shelves and for folks to check it out is a true honor for me. I also want to say that if you check out Gravetrancers I promise it will be unlike any comic you’ve read as my team and I are trying to make a truly unique horror story here. Hopefully, it lives up to the hype and the readers like the risks and chances I’m taking. The book can be ordered now, so if anything, express interest to your comic shop and have them order the comic. The order number is #JUL171455 and you can pick it up here:

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