David Dastmalchian’s a busy guy. A Kansas City native, David’s been a comics fan most of his life and has had the opportunity to appear in multiple comic book films, most notably “The Dark Knight”, “The Suicide Squad”, and both “Ant-Man” and its sequel. Ever the multi-tasker, he’s taking time to speak with me while also sorting through a stack of newly acquired back issues. He beams with both pride and humility as he holds up vintage copies of early horror comics like Chamber of Chills, House of Mystery, and even Blacula!
“I love collecting old horror magazines and comics. House of Mystery is always one of my favorites.” He excitedly rattles off a few other titles, including Where Monsters Dwell before pointing out a copy of his own book, Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter. A love letter to the horror genre, his book stars Jerri Bartman, a news anchor with a serious drinking problem who gets demoted to hosting a late-night program showcasing monster movies, only to find herself facing off against actual monsters, all while struggling with her own demons. “The writer’s kind of a monster, I heard,”he says with a wink. “But the comic’s okay!”
As they say, it takes one to know one, and David most certainly knows monsters. His office is a shrine to the genre, with memorabilia lovingly arranged and a spinner rack full of Famous Monsters magazine on full display. “That was a beautiful gift,” he says, regarding the spinner rack. “My wife was like, ‘you’ve got these amazing vintage horror books’ – she doesn’t even like horror but she appreciates my passion. She goes, ‘you’ve got these beautiful books but they sit in [these] long boxes over here…but you never see them!’ So this made perfect sense. In fact I’d love to get a few more spinner racks so I could just walk around…[and] look at them all the time. I’m so inspired by the art of comics as much as I am story and character. It’s one of the few mediums where the visuals and the narrative are equally [important].”
GEEK’D OUT: Actor, screenwriter, producer…you wear an awful lot of hats, David. What made you decide to take your storytelling talents into comics?
DAVID DASTMALCHIAN: So I’ve been reading and collecting comics since I was in the third grade. I was initially led into the magic of comics by finding an Avengers comic on a spinner rack, of all things, in a 7-Eleven equivalent…which led me to ordering series monthly out of the back of a comic, which then led me to an actual comic shop called Clint’s Comics in Kansas City. I found the magic, and the power, and the gift that is comic books at a very young age and that form of storytelling was something that always transported me. Every detail, from the covers to the weird ads in the back to all the incredible artists and writers. Superheroes always meant a lot to me, especially the ones that lived on the fringe. I was a big reader of the West Coast Avengers [and] more obscure heroes like Morbius, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight.
As I grew and got into the craft of acting, I studied theatre and became very committed to storytelling. At a certain point, I had to walk away from acting. I struggled and nearly lost my life with a really crippling addiction to opiates, as well as untreated mental illness. I spent about five years not acting at all and working on learning how to live with sobriety, how to take care of my mental health. During that time I missed telling stories so much as an actor that I started to hone my craft as a writer and I started writing short fiction, screenplays, eventually a long-gestating idea I had about a horror host who has a secret life as a monster hunter, started to take shape and I started to find a lot of purpose with that story. Eventually I was able to get back into acting, I started to build a career for myself as a storyteller and eventually I had the opportunity to pitch this idea for Count Crowley. When Dark Horse Publishing heard the idea, they were very excited about it. [Dark Horse Comics publisher] Mike Richardson met with me at San Diego Comicon in 2016 or ‘17, I think, he said, ‘I heard about your idea, I love it, I would like to help publish it.’ And honestly, man, I wept pretty hard that day. It was one year later that I walked onto the floor at San Diego Comicon and I saw one of the first big pieces of art that [penciller] Lukas Ketner created for it, this image of Jerri sitting on her throne/electric chair and I’ve been living the dream ever since.
G.O.: How does it feel to have created something that combines both your passion for comics and horror?
D.D.: It’s insane. When volume one first dropped, I was in Atlanta filming “The Suicide Squad” and I flew to Kansas City one Saturday morning with my wife and my friends at Clint’s had arranged a signing. I’d never done an in-comic shop signing as the signer! I’d attended hundreds as an autograph-seeker or as a fan but I walked up to this comic shop that was, and is, such a sacred place to me and there was a line of people out the door and they had hundreds of Count Crowleys up on the shelves. Every time I walk into a comic shop to this day, be it in Copenhagen, or Berlin, or London…and I see a [copy of] Count Crowley on the shelf, it takes my breath away. It’s like, it’s such an honor to me that people reach out and grab it and spend their hard-earned money on it. It’s why I put so much into it, I kind of work all day, every day on Count Crowley and I love it.
G.O.: Count Crowley has a pretty complicated protagonist with Jerri Bartman, a woman with a lot of baggage who burns bridges and makes poor choices, but still manages to be the hero and not a victim. How do you see her?
D.D.: In my heart, I have a very important journey for Jerri mapped out…that includes very specific monsters, plot lines, and things that not only cover the battles that I believe she needs to learn how to fight…but the war that she’s waging within herself. To learn how to master the ability of self-regulation so she can stop being her own worst enemy and stop being the person who continues to harm herself, which if you read the book, becomes a pattern for Jerri. And it’s a pattern for a lot of us…we don’t all do it through alcohol abuse or drug abuse or other forms of self-destruction but we do it sometimes through the micro-aggressions we hold against ourselves when we look in the mirror and we think a negative thought about ourselves. When we’re about to walk into a social situation and we tell ourselves that we don’t belong. It’s something all of us need to work on and work through.
G.O.: You clearly have a lot of love for this story and the source material. How did the inspiration for Count Crowley manifest?
D.D.: That feeling of Svengoolie meets Elvira meets Ghoulardi meets Vampira. When I grew up in the 80’s, Crematia Mortem was the host [of “Creature Feature on KSHB 41] in Kansas City…and it aired in Topeka and other surrounding cities but she was our Fox affiliate horror host. That culture of horror hosts is so awesome and I love that Lukas just nailed the look for this horror host that is Jerri. She’s got a look that is all her own and he got that look [with] the first sketch, man! He read the first script, he looked at my outline and he immediately sent us, within a few days, his first impression of what Jerri would look like and it was so perfect to me because I didn’t want another…there’s a really great world of horror monster-hunting women in the lexicon of comics that are either scantily-clad, like a sex-appeal type thing, which is cool. I mean I’m a big Heavy Metal guy and I love Frazetta-inspired horror that you see…but I didn’t want, y’know the miniskirt, the school girl look, any of that. I was looking for something much more punk-rock, rough around the edges. I didn’t want a pin-up. Jerri is nobody’s pin-up, that’s for sure, but she’ll pin a vampire to the wall. She’s a badass and that’s hot. Doesn’t mean that somebody can’t have sex appeal, be attractive. I love the idea that Jerri has fans that are from all genders, all sexualities, because she transcends, even as problematic and destructive as she can be, there’s something so cool about her. It sounds goofy to talk about a character that is my creation but I just love her. I really care a lot about her and she feels like a real person.
G.O.: With so much world-building in the first story alone, you could take the concept into any number of directions. Do you have plans for more stories in this universe?
D.D.: So for me, through the metaphor of monsters and horror, I feel like I’ve got this really powerful roadmap for Jerri’s journey. That being said, along the way we’re gonna lose really important people, there’s gonna be death, there’s gonna be destruction, there’s gonna be battles…hopefully a lot of laughs, tears. But I dream that the mantle will continue. I’d love to know that Jerri’s story can continue being told because there are entire…realms in the world of monster-hunting we haven’t even [gotten to] yet. Maybe if Jerri doesn’t always live to fight, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others that could pick up the mantle. Maybe Jerri will continue to fight past my life and someone else can continue to write her. I would love that, I would love to hear other writer’s voices. I don’t have any interest in collaborating with another artist, or colorist, or letterer on the book, I can tell you that! I would love to keep churning out new volumes as long as Dark Horse will let me with Lukas, Lauren [Affe, colorist], and Frank [Cvetkovic, letterer] because I feel like we have the perfect partnership. That being said, it would be pretty amazing to see, y’know, some other artists taking swings at, like, variant covers – that could be fun.
G.O.: You’ve written two volumes thus far, with the second being released later this month. What can we expect for Volume 3?
D.D.: You just wait, I am deep in the lab right now, crafting what we’re about to come out with in the near future and I mean, it’s so fun! And in Volume 2, which the trade is coming out right now, I finally get to really get into much more with werewolf…and vampire mythology. Then there’s a whole new monster being introduced so when you get to the end, you’ll get a nice tease of what’s to come and it’s one of my favorite monsters, so getting to do my Count Crowley riff on that is just so cool, man, I can’t wait for you to see it!
G.O.: Given your film background, would you like to see Count Crowley make the leap from page to screen?
D.D.: The short answer is Fuck yes. I think that Jerri’s story would be so well experienced as…maybe a like a limited series where we find the right badass actor who just has the passion to dive in and get the right people as far as crafting those scripts, I would love to help contribute but minds greater than mine would need to be onboard. The exciting news is that just this month, I’ve launched my production company, Good Fiend Films, where we’re gonna tell stories through the lens of genre…that wrestle with the ideas and issues that matter to me. And Count Crowley is obviously that.
G.O.: Good Fiend Films sounds like a very cool venture for you. Anything you can share?
D.D.: I helped co-produce a feature that should be out soon called “Late Night with the Devil,” which is such an epic, amazing horror period piece. I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s like a very real, intense story. We have two other features in the pipeline, a television series…all of which live in the genre space. So if things continue to move forward, readers and audiences continue to enjoy the content that I’m creating and the way that I tell stories, then I feel like Count Crowley is something I’m going to fight for and work every day to try and manifest.
G.O.: Do you have a dream cast in mind or anyone you think would be be suitable for a role?
D.D.: I’m always wary of putting that out there because you’re like, who is it that, as someone who has produced films, and the casting process…I never imagined that Karen Gillan would want to play the lead in my feature film “All Creatures Here Below”, but then all of a sudden, Karen Gillan walked in to the room, said ‘I read your script, I’d like a part,’ and we’re like ‘holy shit.’ So with Jerri, who’s got that badassery energy that…Krysten Ritter or Juliette Lewis, or Sophie Thatcher bring to the roles that they play. Who is that actor out there that reads this and is so hungry for it that they go, fuck, this is my role, I gotta do this!
G.O.: You’re actually friends with Karen Gillan, right? I imagine she’d nail the part!
D.D.: I think you’re right, I think Karen is perfect because she’s got the comedy and the dramatic chops. Has Karen ever read Count Crowley? She’s one of my dearest friends but I think she’s read it? She’s a busy woman, she writes, she directs, she’s a movie star. She’s also just one of the kindest, most humble people I’ve ever met and I’m really lucky to call her my friend. She would be pretty fucking great, wouldn’t she?
G.O.: What is your desert island book/movie/album?
D.D.: Frank Herbert’s Dune, the album is Failure’s “Fantastic Planet”, and movie would be a three-way tie between “The Muppet Movie”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. I know that’s cheating but I would somehow find a way to edit them all into one movie so I could take that one DVD with me.
G.O.: I haven’t seen you in any of the trailers but I did notice your name on the latest one-sheet for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”. Are you reprising your role of tech guru Kurt or someone new?
D.D.: I play the character Veb, who is the only character in the known universe who has the power to destroy Kang the Conqueror…just kidding! You’ll have to go and see it to find out.
G.O.: What’s next for David Dastmalchian?
D.D.: I’m really excited for everyone to see “Late Night with the Devil”, which is premiering at South by Southwest. This week though, I really encourage everyone who loves movies to go to the theater and see “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”. I’ve got some more projects coming up like “Boston Strangler”. And if you get a chance, if you love comics and you love horror, the new volume of Count Crowley is hitting your comic shops very soon and will be available worldwide in March. Be sure to go see “Quantumania” and keep your eyes peeled for more from Good Fiend Films!
David Dastmalchian has also been seen in films like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Bird Box, A Million Little Pieces, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune, among others. He produced, wrote and starred in the 2014 drama Animals from director Collin Schiffli, as well as writing, producing and starring in the award-winning short, Keen. Count Crowley Vol 2: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter will be released in stores February 22, 2023 through Dark Horse Books. You can pick up your copy at Clint’s Comics on 3941 Main in Kansas City, MO.