Cult of comics: An Islander augments the comic book resurgence

Writers Fritz Striker, left, and D.W. Kann in front of H.P. Lovecraft's house. — Photo Courtesy of D.W. Kann

What’s a screenwriter to do with the scraps of ideas that, for one reason or another, never make it to the big screen? For D.W. Kann and the team at Darkside Media, taking those ideas “back to the drawing board” meant literally drawing their scripts — as comic books. Their first series, “Lovecraft P.I.,” will be released in December. Their second, “Berserkers,” follows in January.

“Lovecraft P.I.” reimagines the legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft as a 1930s private investigator of the paranormal. “It’s kind of like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ meets ‘The X Files,’” Mr. Kann told The Times.

Mr. Kann, who grew up on the Vineyard reading Stephen King, says comic books and the horror genre are both lifelong interests. “I had over 1,000 comics in my collection at one point,” he said.

However, it wasn’t until he moved to Hollywood after college that Mr. Kann began exploring the independent comic scene. “It took it to a new level,” he said. “There were more personal stories, not just superhero stories. How they were written, how they were drawn, really took me in.”

Around the same time, Mr. Kann discovered the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The influence of Lovecraft and the indie comics inevitably leaked into Mr. Kann’s work with Darkside Films.

“Lovecraft has had quite a resurgence over the past several years,” Mr. Kann said. “But his stuff is hard to advance to film. In order for us to take his writings and add our own little flair to it, we decided it would be best to make it into a comic book, and maybe parlay it into something bigger down the road.”

Mr. Kann began writing “Lovecraft P.I.” as a film more than six years ago, snowballing off an idea from his co-writer Fritz Striker, whom he describes as a “die-hard Lovecraft fan.” The character of Lovecraft is often used in supernatural fiction, but Mr. Kann said they wanted to stay true to the actual writer. “I try not to read or watch anything too close to what I’m working on, because I don’t want it to get into the imagination of trying to write it all,” he said. The problem was that the real-life Lovecraft was “a shut-in,” unsuitable as a protagonist in his own right. So, the writers turned to the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett for further inspiration. “When Fritz proposed positioning Lovecraft as a 1930s dick, it created that type of masculine-bravado character we needed,” Mr. Kann said.

For art, the writers embraced the digital age, posting ads in online artist forums. They found António Brandão, who shared their enthusiasm for the project and whose sepia-toned drawings drive the story’s mystique. The book’s cover was drawn by celebrated poster artist Paul Shipper, who created bills for “Star Trek,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Back to the Future,” and “Jaws” (to keep the list concise).

Don’t be surprised if some of the imagery looks familiar. The books are highly influenced by the New England seacoast: an homage to Lovecraft’s work and Rhode Island heritage as well as Mr. Kann’s own Island roots. “We wanted to recreate that authentic old New England feeling,” Mr. Kann said. “The docks of Menemsha play a part in the second and third issue of ‘Lovecraft P.I.’ The setting of ‘Berserkers’ was influenced by Noman’s Land.”

Mr. Kann said exploring the comic genre allowed the writers to express their story in a much different way from film. “What better way of giving people a visual of where we’re coming from than a comic book?” he said.

There’s certainly a market for it out there. In recent years, the television adaptation of “The Walking Dead” has scored record-breaking ratings. The trailer for the highly anticipated film “Suicide Squad” has been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube. 167,000 people attended Comic-Con in New York City this October. It appears comics are suddenly, well … cool.

“Over the past 10 years, things have really ramped up,” Mr. Kann agreed. “Because of the Internet, all that stuff, even the older stuff, is a lot more attainable. It’s ignited this whole trend.” He cites Dr. Who as an example of a long-running series which has recently revived its cult following.

What’s interesting is that fans seem to be branching out from the run-of-the-mill superhero stories that usually dominate the comic scene. For Mr. Kann personally, the release of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” in 2009, though not a comic, was an exciting moment in the world of horror fiction. “I thought it was a really cool idea,” Mr. Kann said, “mashing up two genres to create something new.”

“Lovecraft P.I.” is a mashup in a much broader sense. It brings together the styles of Lovecraft and Hammett. It takes 1930s scenarios and applies them to the 21st century. It brings the thematic elements of cinema onto a paneled page. It draws influence from as far away as Hollywood and as near as Menemsha. When Darkside Media tumbled all that together, the product was a comic in a class of its own. It seems for Mr. Kann, there was a rabbit hole at the bottom of that chest of discarded film ideas. Fans of comics, art, horror, and detective fiction should definitely follow him down there and check it out.

To obtain a copy of “Lovecraft P.I.,” donate to the book’s Kickstarter campaign through Dec. 4. Donors will receive a digital version of the comic upon release. A Kickstarter campaign for “Berserkers” will launch in January. For more information, visit