Dan Schaffer is one of the most talented comic artists and writers around. His creation, Dogwitch became a huge critical success when it was released in 2002 and he has progressed to unleash even more creative pieces on a public that has lapped up every piece. On June 12th Doghouse, which Dan wrote hits UK cinemas so we decided to have a chat with this creative to discover what exactly makes him tick.
ZH: Were you a big comic book fan when you were growing up?
DS: I used to like 2000AD.
ZH: Did you have a favourite artist at the time?
DS: I was fascinated with detailed black and white art, so artists like Brian Bolland, Bryan Talbot, and Glenn Fabry were a big influence on me.
ZH: Is it true you got your big break as a cartoonist for a teaching union?
DS: Yes. I worked as a political cartoonist on the Career Teacher Newspaper for the NASUWT for five years.
ZH: You're best known for the amazing series Dogwitch, how did the idea come to you?
DS: Touched by the muses, I guess. Dogwitch
is a big mixing pot of ideas that’s flexible enough to handle anything I felt like throwing at it. Its themes would change from one issue to the next. So one month you might get an outrageous splatter comic, but the next issue might be a neo-feminist fable, or an observation on fame and the media, or a revisionist take on some aspect of the horror genre. It was good fun to do and it put my name on the map.
ZH: Is the lead character of Violet Grimm based on anyone you know?
DS: She looks a bit like my girlfriend and certainly has her snarky sense of humour, but other than that, she pretty much came to life on her own. I used to say that drawing Violet always felt more like applying her make up.
ZH: She has added real vogue to the Goth movement, was this intentional?
DS: Well, it seemed like Goths were missing out on polka dot underwear as a fashion statement, so I wanted to put that idea out there!
ZH: You've also been involved in The Scribbler and Indigo Vertigo, how do you prepare and approach such differing projects?
DS: I just write about what interests, concerns or outrages me at the time. Indigo was a very personal book that grew out of my friendship with rock Singer Katie-Jane Garside, who wrote the words for it. The Scribbler
is probably closer to the real me than anything else and comes from my general sense of outrage at modern hive mind bureaucracy. Indigo Vertigo
was mostly guided by Katie's words but was very Lynch inspired on my side, the art. The Scribbler
, which I wrote and painted, has its influences in old black and white episodes of The Outer Limits
, and the films of Cronenberg and Shinya Tsukamoto.
ZH: Doghouse opens this week, how did you and Jake West first meet?
DS: We were introduced by a journalist who was interviewing us both for the same magazine. She thought we'd get along and hooked us up.
ZH: Was it long before you formed the idea for the movie?
DS: The weird mix of gender politics, comedy and horror in Doghouse
was something I'd been doing for a long time with Dogwitch
, so I wasn't really in any rush to do it again, but my girlfriend dared me to write something with male leads, which was something I’d never done before (in comics I'm generally thought of as a bit of a feminist writer). So, Doghouse
was going to be a comic for a while, but then I decided to write it as a screenplay as I’d somehow got myself a Hollywood agent off the strength of Dogwitch
. But, sometime during the writing, it became clear that I this film needed to be made in the UK with a British cast and crew, so I offered it to Jake. We'd become good friends by then, and, obviously, he went spacky for it.
ZH: Did the script take long to write?
DS: Ah, that old impossible question. It took about three months to "type", but maybe a whole lifetime to gestate. It came from all the research into feminist theory I did for the Dogwitch comic. I wouldn’t have attempted something like this if I thought I wasn’t at least partially qualified for the job. I don’t even touch the keyboard until I’ve collected and insane amount of notes and ideas. How long this one took is anybody’s guess.
ZH: The movie has already gained many favourable reviews, how do you feel about this?
DS: Relieved, probably. Doghouse is, at its heart, a satire on male behaviour, it just happens to use "zombies" to reflect that. Writing a satirical piece in this genre was always going to be risky. If your audience misses the irony or takes this film at face value as a celebration of laddism, then what they’re going to see is the opposite of what its really about. That's why getting Danny for the role of the dick head misogynist was so great - he willingly and generously parodied his own public image for this film. Most critics seem to be reading between the lines and acknowledging the subtext, which is important for me as the writer because it means that at least some of that stuff has survived the process of going from script to screen.
ZH: The film has a great cast, were you on set at any time?
DS: I was there most of the time, sorting out script logistics, running lines with the actors, doing last minute re-writes to navigate the crap weather. It was an "all hands on deck" kind of production. I finally escaped halfway through post-production after painting those character intro stills (something Jake somehow talked me into).
ZH: Tell us about your next project, Stingers?
DS: It's a dark, psychological thriller, nothing like Doghouse. It’s like a demented, deconstructed neo noir crime thriller. It’s a real character freak show, everybody’s out to kill everybody else, and there are some dangerous plot ideas in terms of the way it’s written. It's my most well received script to date and has an amazing cast already attached. It's in pre-production now.
ZH: Will you move away from comic books and concentrate on scripting or will you always return to your comic book roots?
DS: I had to give up art but I'll still write comics if I can, or if they'll let me. I'm putting together the complete Dogwitch series in one big book at the end of the year, so that'll be my next little dance with the comic business.
ZH: Dan Schaffer, thank you very much
DS: Anytime, mate.