In a world where vampires have transformed into sparkling yet pale drama kings, DayBlack comes to shake all of that up with a more plausible creation. A former slave turned mercenary, once an astronaut and now a tattoo artist, immortality had certainly given Merce an interesting take on the world. A brief chat with the creator Keef Cross fills us in on a little background with a hint of what’s yet to come.
Stereo Champions: What was the exact moment or what events lead up to the creation of the DayBlack comic?
Keef Cross: Well , when I first began my tattoo apprenticeship, about 16 years ago, I started documenting and sketching all of the different and colorful characters that I would encounter. In the winter months, the tattoo business slows down, and that gave me time to work on it. At first, I planned on making DayBlack a comic strip.
Was flipping traditional vampire lore intentional, or just necessary to keep the story moving?
I’m not necessarily a huge fan of vampires, I guess I like them as much as the average person, but once I knew that it was going to be a vampire book, I knew that to keep it interesting,(to me) I had to to do something completely original, but even aside from that, a lot of the things I changed are based on my personal experiences and worldview. And some of the age-old tropes were always kinda janky to me, especially the whole cross thing.
No spoilers but the Merce we know so far is a solitary character, in the future is there potential for him to link up with other vampires?
Oh yeah, most definitely. Merce is gonna run into others, and the viewer is gonna understand why he chose the loner life. In the beginning, I really wanted the reader to get a sense that he was the only vampire in the world, without another “traditional” vampire to compare him to. So that when I do introduce other vamps, the contrast will be shocking, and people will see that Merce really ain’t bout that life.
How did you connect with Rosarium Publishing?
I linked up with Rosarium after publisher Bill Campbell reached out to me after seeing some early DayBlack pages I was uploading to Facebook. At the time, I was self-publishing, and Bill told me that he had a new publishing company, and he wanted DayBlack to be the first comic book on the roster. I really respected what he was trying to do and the artists that he already had, so I said yes.
From your experience, how is writing for a more indie comic label different from what comic book readers know of the mainstream?
Well… I write whatever I want. Bill is there as my editor, and he gives me complete freedom to write or draw whatever I want, as long as it benefits the story. If he sees where something could be better, he’ll suggest it and I trust his instincts so it’s really great thing. And we like a lot of the same things as far as music and pop references, so he gets what I’m trying to do, I mean Bill wrote a book with vampire crack babies in it, so yeah he’s on the level. Mainstream, seems like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, with less personal input, and more directions, and I’m definitely down to collaborate in the future, in fact, my next book is way too big for just me, so who knows.
You’re both the illustrator and the writer, how is it working on both sides of it’s creation? How do they influence each other?
Man, it is a process. Some days I might have writer’s block, but I feel like drawing or vice versa. Sometimes it all starts with a drawing, and I’ll write around what I just drew, this usually does the trick. Sometimes it can be tricky, for instance, I don’t generally draw a lot of action scenes, but for the character of Rodamez, the hunter, I had to get out of my comfort zone to draw this guy kicking ass if I want the reader to really believe he’s the badass I tote him as being. So of course, I write to my strengths, but I try to challenge myself with every issue.
What is the scheduling like from issue to issue?
Again, I have a lot of freedom. As Rosarium grows, I’m sure this will change, but it normally takes me a couple of months to crank out an issue, mainly because I tattoo full time and teach part time at the moment, and I have to write/draw DayBlack between those times. I can’t wait for the day where DayBlack is my sole focus.
About how much of Merce’s journey so far is directly influenced from your career as a tattoo artist?
There would be no DayBlack without my tattoo career. All of the characters, some of the situations, and even that glimpse into the subculture of the tattoo/vampire lifestyle is a direct result of my 16 years as a tattooist. There’s a lot of things in the book that only another tattoo artist would get.
DayBlack is also a short film now, what were some differences between illustrating/writing it and translating it into real life?
The biggest differences when I was writing the screenplay was, I had to take things out, like some of the more elaborate dream sequences, because of costs. This made me focus more on the meat of the character and making him relatable to the average person. Another huge difference was the collaborative process, and working with a director. Everyone has a vision of where they want it to go, and when others have invested their own time, resources and money, you have to be flexible on your vision. With the book, it’s me and the book, straight no chaser.
Why live action instead of animation?
Live action was just more attainable, being that my wife is an actress, and has a talent pool of friends I was able to tap fairly easily. The thing is, I fashioned Merce’s whole look and attitude onYasiin Bey (Mos Def) , so a big reason for making that short was so that I could shop it as a possible vehicle for him, since I feel like he’s a great actor, but hasn’t had that definitive role that he’s so deserving of. I mean this role was literally made for him. Shout out to Eugene Russel who killed it as Merce in the short, though. Animation is definitely the next frontier and one that I think will serve DayBlack well.
What is your go-to music for creating? Does it differ based upon the medium in which you are creating?
It really depends. When I’m tattooing, I try not to play stuff to left field, because I have to consider that my customer is already annoyed by the needle so I don’t want my personal playlist to add to it, so I’ll at least, give them a choice of choosing the music, although I do reserve the right to veto some wack sh*t. When it comes to my art, it’s a modge podge of all kinda stuff , mostly (real) hip hop. When I was really constructing the world of DayBlack, I was listening to The Black Keys’ Brothers album pretty heavy, also Shabazz Palaces, Run The Jewels and Odd Future to name a few . I actually use music when creating the personalities of my characters. For instance, if Merce’s personality is akin to Mos Def , then his brother Bryce would be more in line with Tyler The Creator, but more of his early stuff when he was rapping about rape , murder and just some generally disturbing and sometimes hilarious stuff.
In the future could we possibly see a different comic with your name on it?
Definitely. I already have a second story, one that I started before DayBlack. It’s a sci-fi fantasy epic. I look at DayBlack like Reservoir Dogs, the next book will be my Pulp Fiction.
Keef Cross’ work can also be seen in the comic anthology Artists Against Police Brutality. Rosarium Publishing is raising funds to take their multicultural comics to the next level. If you donate enough to their IndieGogo, you could be murdered by Merce in a future edition of DayBlack.
All photos courtesy of Keef Cross.