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"Good Enough to Eat." John Harris Dunning on 'Summer Shadows'

We chat with the comic scribe about his latest horror trip from Dark Horse Comics.

Summer Shadows John Harris Dunning

Welcome to Creator Corner, our recurring interview series in which we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with John Harris Dunning about Summer Shadows, which hits shelves on September 11th.

 

What season do you imagine all your favorite vampire stories occurring in? Dracula and his fanged cronies radiate Fall vibes for us. Still, the idea of them stalking the warmest months stirs an extra sense of unease, so the upcoming Dark Horse Comics series Summer Shadows immediately snatched our curiosity. It's written by friend of the pod, John Harris Dunning, and illustrated by his longtime collaborator, Ricardo Cabral.


The saga follows Anthony on the hunt for his ex, who disappeared while vacationing on the Greek island of Avraxos. A local coast guard officer is also scouring the isle, searching for another missing man, and it's soon revealed that both of the disappeared were galivanting aboard the jet-black superyacht Nyx before they evaporated. Anthony discovers that the sun sets no matter what the season. Protect your neck, friend.


We chat with Dunning about Summer Shadows, uncovering his inspiration, why vampires and romance go so well together, and why sunscreen can't save you from everything.

 

The Hot Appeal of Summer Shadows


Brad: Vampires and the Greek Isles: how'd you land on this setting for the comic? Thematically, how does it fit?


John Harris Dunning: I spend a chunk of every summer on a little Greek island in the Cyclades. Most of these islands are really unspoiled. It’s paradise, a wild, elemental place. But you also have these horrible playgrounds of the rich there, like Mykonos and Santorini. So, you get these weird situations where you hike down onto an isolated beach on a tiny island, and then suddenly, out of the blue, a futuristic superyacht cruises into view. It looks so sinister in that context. The passengers seem isolated in their hermetically sealed environment. I got to thinking these expensive yachts are somewhat like coffins. That was the germ of the idea. 


Lisa: Also, love the idea of a summer vampire book. Hot, sunless nights - you don't expect to run into Nosferatu during this season.


John Harris Dunning: Watch your backs, guys. They get you when your guard is down! I was really attracted to this apparent contradiction of vampires in summer. The nights are so beautiful in Greece. The cool shadows are a welcome relief after the bright sunlight of the day. Everyone washes off the sand and salt and gets all dressed up. Everyone looks beautiful – almost good enough to eat… I’m often inspired to write stories by images I’ve seen. There’s a Prada campaign from 2001 where skinny, pale models dressed in incongruously glamorous outfits drift across an eerily lit beach. I suddenly had the thought – what if these were vampires out moon bathing? That came together with my idea of superyachts as coffins, and Summer Shadows was born.


I’m also really attracted to this idea of summertime melancholia – Lana del Rey’s song Summertime Sadness is a perfect example of this. I adore the album it’s from, Born to Die. There’s also a strong tradition of this in some of the early L.A. Noir literature. If you can be EMO on the beach, you’re properly EMO. Just because you can’t go on doesn’t mean you can’t look great in a swimsuit!


Lisa: Why do vampire stories pair so well with relationship anxieties?


John Harris Dunning: There’s something very psychological about vampires. They summon up the big themes of attraction: sex, eternity, desire, danger, obsession, and our fear of being dominated by our animal selves. They’re a way we can examine these hopes and fears safely in a mythic form. Monsters are a useful way of examining our deepest selves and anxieties while keeping them at a safe distance.


A Little Bit of John Harris Dunning in Every Bite of Summer Shadows


Lisa: We know you're the type of creator to put a lot of yourself into a work. So, what of John Harris Dunning is fueling Summer Shadows?


John Harris Dunning: Ha ha! You know me too well, Counselors! Well, this one was primarily a homage to a place I know and love, the Greek islands. I also love vampires, and I’m a big fan of Anne Rice’s queer reading of these creatures of the night. This series also felt like a great space to explore some gay themes, like the pressure on gay men to look young and to seek youthfulness in their partners.


Summer Shadows also addresses unreciprocated desire and an unhealthy attraction to the dark side. I actually think people of all sexual orientations can identify with these issues. In Summer Shadows the protagonist learns the happiness he’s chasing as a distant mirage is right in front of him and there for the taking if he’d just open his eyes and see it. That’s a valuable lesson for us all.


Lisa: Do you see writing as a form of exorcism? Are the demons being purged? Or is it just an outpouring of expression and whatever demons are released are for your readers to figure out?


John Harris Dunning: I love the idea of writing as an exorcism – or maybe I just love exorcisms! Well, the earliest forms of writing in Babylon and Egypt were considered magic spells, and I believe that’s still true of writing. The stories you imagine and then share transform other people’s lives and draw certain things in the real world towards you. If that’s not magic, what is? So, yeah, writing is like an exorcism – if we agree to use the ancient Greek term ‘daemon’ as opposed to the Christian ‘demon’. Daemons were guiding spirits, and I hope that by telling stories, I’m releasing a few of those into the world to help and inspire people out there, as other creators have done for me.


Brad: I also love the idea of the super-yacht. Those monstrosities docked off the coast, representing wealth run amuck. Are you ready to eat the rich?


John Harris Dunning: They’re a powerful symbol of isolation and isolationism. We’re drawn to them, and we’re afraid of them, just like certain creatures of the night…


Shadows, Summer Shadows. I Expect You To Die.


Brad: What's the process of researching those super-yachts? We've only seen them from afar, but we have fantasies of sneaking aboard them like James Bond.


John Harris Dunning: I can see you two dressed as James Bond, leopard crawling around a yacht – what era Bond are we talking here?


Brad: Roger Moore.


Lisa: Roger Moore.


John Harris Dunning: I’m seeing one Sean Connery and one Roger Moore here… I’ve been on a few yachts in my time. The wildest was the yacht that belonged to Aristotle Onassis which famously has bar stools upholstered in whale foreskin, one of which Marilyn Monroe sat on. It’s hard to beat that. I’d like to tell you more, but if I did, I’d have to suck your blood


Lisa: What's it like to re-team with your Wiper co-conspirator, Ricardo Cabral?


John Harris Dunning: The best. There’s nothing he can’t do. The last project we did was psychedelic cyberpunk, and this is an eerie psychosexual horror…and he’s just nailed it. He’s so versatile. His dedication is remarkable. We went to Greece together and he sketched from life. You can really see that attention to detail on his pages. It’s a remarkable achievement.


Brad: What's the process like between the two of you?


John Harris Dunning: We really trust each other. I lob a mountain of visual research at him to kick things off. We both felt it was important for him to get the flavor of Greece by visiting it – the island in Summer Shadows is a character in itself. Ricardo digests all this and then gets on with it. He has an amazing vision for the series. Once he’s drawing, he shares his pages with me, but my input then is mainly just excited exclamations. It’s awesome seeing the alchemist at work.


Lisa: Are you already plotting your next adventure together?


John Harris Dunning: Yes! I like working across many genres, as my last few projects show, and he’s incredibly versatile. We’re a great team. I feel lucky to be working with such a kindred spirit.

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