Back in late 2019, comic book fans and horror enthusiasts were introduced to Count Crowley, actor David Dastmalchian’s (The Suicide Squad) four-issue Dark Horse miniseries which told the tale of Jerri Bartman, an alcoholic TV personality who loses her job after a drunken outburst during an on-air segment. With no other employment options immediately available, Jerri takes over for her station’s missing late night horror host, taking on his mantle as “Count Crowley” and introducing B movies in her own biting, snarky style.
Jerri becomes a surprise hit for the station, drawing the attention of an increasing number of TV fans…as well as a collection of genuine monsters the likes of which she lampoons with every segment of her show. By the conclusion of the fourth issue, Jerri discovers that she may very well be an appointed monster hunter, tasked with fighting all manner of supernatural evil.
With its sharp writing, stunning art and gorgeous color work, Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter is one of the best damned horror comics to have hit stands in ages. Fortunately for existing fans and uninitiated readers alike, Dastmalchian’s opus returned this past year with its second volume, subtitled Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter. Picking up just after the end of the previous story, Amateur finds Jerri still contending with her alcoholism while running afoul of both a werewolf and a vampire, with wildly different results for each confrontation.
Now that the second volume has wrapped (with a trade paperback collection coming soon), Mr. Dastmalchian was kind enough to sit down with BD to once again discuss all things creepy and Crowley.
Bloody Disgusting: Mr. Dastmalchian! Thanks so much for chatting Count Crowley again! We’re now on the second arc of the story, which recently wrapped up and is due out in a collected trade paperback edition soon. The first arc’s subtitle was Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter, while this most recent story was titled Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter. How far out are we from Enthusiastic Midnight Monster Hunter, or Professional Midnight Monster Hunter? Have you planned out a finite number of installments, or will Jerri’s adventures run indefinitely?
David Dastmalchian: Finite, no. But I have planned out the phases of Jerri’s journey through what thus far my imagination and my dreams and my hopes for Jerri will culminate with. A really, really important climax for her in her journey as both a human and as a monster hunter. So there are numerous subtitles to the Count Crowley title, which will continue to reflect where she is in her journey. Taking it from Reluctant to Amateur was very fun, and I cannot wait for you to see what the next iteration may be if I am so lucky as to get to tell the next chapter.
BD: This new arc finds Jerri getting a better handle on her monster hunting duties, while simultaneously wrestling with her alcohol addiction and attempting to save a tortured werewolf who is anything but an evil monster. There seems to be a parallel there, between Jerri’s alcoholism and werewolf Steven’s battle with his own demons and changing against his will. Does Jerri recognize something of herself in Steven, and is that what fuels her need to save him?
DD: Thank you for that question. It’s so important to me to reflect in the different monsters, foils, enemies for lack of a better term, that Jerri’s going to face in her journey with herself. It’s really important for me to consistently have Jerry confronted with something she fears, like say a werewolf, and at the same time being able to see herself within the context of that character’s curse. So with Steven, this guy she meets in AA and realizes she’s also met while being attacked by a werewolf, she finds the very first and so important representation of the fact that there is something so similar to her and her wrestling with her alcoholism, her self-destructive tendencies, her destructive tendencies, that are reflected in the curse of the werewolf.
I’m so grateful for the way that me and my team were able to visually, and through dialogue and character interactions, be able to lay that out for the reader in this most recent volume. It’s, I hope, shocking, emotionally complex, and really heartrending, the way that it always is, to see someone who you grow to care about have to suffer through something that they can’t control.
BD: That ending is a jaw-dropper.
DD: [laughs] Thanks, man. I’ve been getting the best texts, the best phone calls, the best emails from people who are like, ‘Dude, what the eff?!’ To me, as a writer, that is the best feeling in the world, because I want Count Crowley so badly to evoke all these feelings of nostalgia and warmth. When anybody who’s ever loved comics or ever loved horror cracks open the pages and they look down at this world that we’ve created, I want them to feel a sense of, ‘Oh my God, this reminds me of things that I love.’
But at the same time, it’s so important to me that every single reader is still driven to flip the page as fast as possible, because they can’t wait to see what happens next because they know that their expectations can constantly be subverted. I really think what the team was able to pull off with Volume 2. It achieves that in a way that exceeded my dreams.
BD: We’ve discussed the importance of Count Crowley being a period piece before. This follow-up is still set in 1983, a time when the types of smaller television stations like the one Jerri works for were giving way to the likes of 24-hour news cycles and cable entities, much as the one portrayed here as being run by a malevolent vampire. How hard was it to juggle the notion of this evil encroaching on the country via news media with, say, the oft-heard complaint over the past few years that news media by and large is not to be trusted? Is that a delicate subtext to handle as a writer?
DD: It could be for some people. I think if you are me, it is fuel for the fire of the steam engine. That is my desire to write these stories. You know, it’s a comic that bleeds with, first and foremost, my love for comics and horror. Secondly, my own personal wrestling with the big questions about my life and experience as a person who struggled with addiction and depression and anxiety and career and family.
Third, and this is very important, as a lens through which I can explore all of the big ideas and questions I’m wrestling with when it comes to our society at large. So in the world of Count Crowley, the monsters have figured out that they’re doomed if they’re trying to take humanity head on. So they’ve subversively realized that humanity is much easier to manipulate and turn against themselves when you can interject false information into the stream of news and data that humans are receiving.
Now, it’s not hard to extrapolate that we live in a society that is driven by revenue. Capitalism is the modus operandi that we have all collectively accepted as the way to operate and function our society. Really wonderful benefits have come from that. I think it’s really pushed progress in many ways. Yet as we know, there are a lot of snafus. One of those is when news media organizations are propped up by the fact that they have to please the shareholders who’ve invested in these companies, and they have to continue to grow under the model of capitalism. One of the most important ways that they do so is through ad revenue. Ad revenue is constantly going to be analyzing the numbers. And historically, the news media that garners the most eyeballs, the most clicks, the most viewers, can be the most sensational.
So we have seen how easy it’s been for powerful news media organizations to create programming that’s broadcast to millions of viewers – highly sensational, highly problematic programming to me. When you hear about somebody like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson promoting really problematic talking points because they know that those are the things that rile up viewership and get the most people tuning in, that then gives them the right to brag that they have the most viewed shows in news. You just feel defeated when you’re trying to live in a society where you want people to get verified and thoroughly vetted news and information. So it’s this great opportunity to explore that. I don’t have any problem talking openly about that.
I think that it’s just the world in which we live. I think that the same can be said for either side of a political spectrum. If you’re gonna have far left news that is only trying to promote sensational stuff without fully vetting and without fully giving thorough and thoughtful coverage and an in-depth exploration of what the issues are, you’re creating a cauldron of destruction. And as we see in Crowley, these vampires know that the way to really mess with humans is going to be through as much media exposure as they can get to send fake information through to subvert us and turn us against each other.
BD: With Jerri and Vincent Frights, who was revealed in the first arc to be the original late night horror host/appointed monster hunter, there is a clever subversion of the traditional mentor/trainee relationship from what one normally expects in a passing-the-torch, generational hero story like this. Jerri is very much at odds with the man who’s meant to show her the ropes, by virtue of the fact that Frights is blatantly sexist, refusing to believe that Jerri can hold the mantle because she isn’t a man. It seems like she gets no relief from the blatant sexism of that era – neither from villains, nor a fellow monster hunter. Is the world of this time and its lousy sensibilities the greatest monster that she will ultimately tackle in this series?
DD: If it’s not the greatest, it is one of the greatest. She’s going into battle every day, both for her – you know, her health, her well-being, her career – and against the monsters, and she’s doing so on a playing field that is like quicksand for her. It’s ultimately unfair. But as we’ve learned, those of us who’ve lived long enough on this earth, life is not fair, and she is learning how to fight. It’s only making her a better fighter, it’s only making her a better monster hunter, it’s only gonna make her a better horror host, and a better sister, and a better friend, and a better human being.
Allyship is really important in every hero’s journey, as we know. I think a lot of us love the way that a good hero finds their familiars, or their wizard pals, or their sidekicks. So of course, Jerri has some great allies. She’s got the folks at her AA meetings. She’s got her brother, she’s got her old high school friend Jimmy, the local cop. She’s got this incredibly mysterious cat that is continuing to shed insights into her life. But she’s up against it in the world. And anybody who is othered – [be they] a minority, a woman, anybody who identifies differently than the norm – they’re always up against it.
I really wanted to create with both Vincent Frights, who’s the original horror host/appointed monster hunter who then taught Rich Barnes [the original Count Crowley] the ways of monster hunting, this idea … you know, [in Star Wars] when Luke finally finds Obi-Wan, you get this sage master who knows all the tricks and is going to take this person under their wing and be their mentor. What if, you know, Obi-Wan was an asshole? What if Obi-Wan was not a great guy? What if there were a lot of problems with Obi-Wan?
Because that’s the thing that I’ve learned in life. I’ve had incredible mentors who knew so much that they could teach me about acting or writing or recovery. Incredible mentors who had so many answers, but then there were things about them, attitudes and ideas that they had, that were just completely problematic and toxic. How do you reconcile that? Jerri’s going to have to do that because she can’t just cut off Frights. If anybody has gotten all the way through 2.4, they’ll see that Rich Barnes isn’t completely out of the picture in our story. She needs information from these people, but at the same time there are some problems with them. It’s a really complicated relationship that she can’t just write off because she needs things from these men. But they’re also not great. They’re really problematic people.
BD: Without getting too heavily into spoilers, I’ll just say that Jerri’s insistence on not giving up on somebody wrestling with their own demons ultimately leads to a salvation of sorts for her. In that way, it shows that she – as the new generation of monster hunter – is a marked improvement over her own predecessors, for this reason alone. It got me thinking, will this period-set tale at any point deal with the present day and the legacy that Jerri leaves behind for her own eventual successor?
DD: [laughs] Ah, now you’re pushing me, ‘cause I can’t answer that! I hope that, if not Jerri Bartman herself, that the legacy of what Count Crowley represents, and the lineage of the monster hunter, will continue and I will get to continue it as a writer all the way up to 2022, 2023 and beyond.
Now, would that mean that it’s Jerri herself? That’s highly questionable because I will say this – and anybody who’s been reading the comic knows this – no one, and I mean no one, is safe. And that’s because no one should be safe. If the stakes don’t matter, then why are my readers gonna continue to care about what could happen next? So at any moment, any character in this book can die, just like in real life. I think that that is a really important thing that hopefully put my money where my mouth is, when those who are reading the book get caught up and see that no one is off limits.
BD: If the first arc focused on Jerri becoming Count Crowley and finding her own unique, Halloween costume/horror host-friendly look while coming to terms with her newfound calling as a monster hunter, I appreciated that this second arc primarily focused on Jerri out of that iconic look, showing that she can fight monsters as handily as Jerri Bartman as she can costumed Count Crowley. Could you talk a bit about this choice, and why it might have been important to you to show that Jerri is a hero, even without the benefit of her costume and the Crowley persona? It almost feels as though you were saying Bruce Wayne is as important as Batman, or Clark Kent is as important as Superman.
DD: I couldn’t have said it better myself. There is no power that comes from makeup or materials. There is power in the person and the strength of being Count Crowley, the monster hunter, that comes from within Jerri’s heart as opposed to when she puts on the makeup and cape. Now, that being said, we as humans understand that costuming, totems, all kinds of symbolic things that we can adorn ourselves with, can carry a kind of power psychologically, which is why going up against her enemies or even being able to look herself in the mirror before an important battle, there will be a continuing integration of the Count Crowley look into her battle mode.
But honestly, she puts on the makeup and the cape really just to do the show. To go and fight a Billatombia, or a ghoul, or a spectral creature, she’s going to need the weaponry, the training and something extra special that exists seemingly within her DNA that we just haven’t been able to figure out yet.
BD: Jerri has now battled with a Frankensteinian zombie, a werewolf and a vampire, each boasting your own unique spin on the lore of those types of monsters. Are there any types of monsters that you’re keen to tackle and put your own stamp on next?
DD: All I will say about that is yes, yes, yes. I can’t wait for readers to get to see which monsters I will be exploring next. I want to take a moment out of the interview, but in this question’s a good place to do it, to thank every reader and every comic shop that’s carried the book, because thanks to the response we have gotten, it is looking very optimistically like I will be bringing these new monsters into Jerri’s life. And I cannot wait for you to see who and which I’ve chosen to play with. But I wanna leave that for you to enjoy when you crack open those pages.
BD: The work of artist Lukas Ketner and colorist Lauren Affe, already excellent in the previous arc, seems even more assured with this go-‘round. Was your working relationship with your collaborators more relaxed this time out, given that you already had the previous volume behind you?
DD: There’s such a benefit and such a gift in continuing to do the work over the years with the same team, because I’m seeing them grow and improve as artists, [and] they’re seeing me grow and improve as a writer. Collectively, we are all growing together, and I think we’re making each other better at our respective crafts. So the flow has always been seamless since the beginning. It’s not changed, it’s just gotten more exciting and it’s more fun and it’s really emotional. When I get the final proofs from my editor, Megan Walker – who really helped put this entire team together, I give her all the credit – and I go through that final check on those PDFs, I always end up writing an e-mail to the team or sending a text because it’s such an emotional experience, and it’s so incredible and I’m so grateful for them. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to get to have them as my co-creators on this.
BD: Jerri recently met up with Steve Niles’ Cal McDonald in a Count Crowley/Criminal Macabre crossover that you cowrote with Niles. I would imagine you’re very protective of Jerri, but would you be comfortable letting other writers pen stories with her, or will you be involved in every tale featuring her?
DD: I mean, with Steve, it was like a back and forth where I would write a couple pages, Steve would write a couple pages … so Steve was writing Jerri dialogue, writing Jerri action, and I loved it. There are so many writers I would love to see take an exploration of Jerri. You name it, you know? I can’t even tell you how amazing it would be to read a Gale Simone [Count Crowley], you know?
I’m always open to that for the time being. I’m the guy that’s writing the book, and I’m loving it and I see where we’re going through some very important chapters. But it would be a great day when the right alignment happens and some up-and-coming writer, some established writer, some writer we’ve never heard of before, some legend like Bendis, who knows, goes ‘Hey, what about this?’
BD: Speaking of that crossover, will Jerri be meeting up with any other iconic monster hunters in the near future? Might we one day see a Count Crowley/Hellboy team-up, for example?
BD: Beyond crossing over with other characters, is there any chance Jerri might make the leap into other media? Is a Count Crowley film or television series a possibility?
DD: Yes. [laughs]
BD: Final question! We’ve touched on it a bit throughout this interview, but what is the future of Count Crowley? What’s next, and what lay beyond?
DD: So, Jerri has recently discovered and uncovered the power and importance of acceptance when it comes to her addictions. Jerri has also come to accept that monsters live among us. Jerri has also come to accept that she has a special gift when it comes to battling these monsters. Now you combine all those three things together and what’s coming next is Jerri sitting down and looking at the future of her life and determining what the hell she wants out of her life.
How much of her life is she gonna dedicate to protecting others, and how much is she gonna dedicate towards advancing her own ambitions? It’s really important for readers, I think, to see Jerri’s victories, because she has suffered so much. I believe in Volume 2, Jerri really achieved some victories that gave her the confidence that she’s going to need to start to really dig into understanding what it means to be at appointed monster hunter and why she thinks that the potential of being a monster hunter has yet to be tapped, because of some of the limitations put upon it by patriarchal traditions.
For those who are reading Volume 2, you will also see Jerri’s had her heart ripped out in a way that no one expected, and her recovery from that is going to be as challenging as fighting, say, Frankenstein’s Monster himself, because the devastation and hopelessness and despair that she is experiencing are going to be as triggering for her self-destruction as they will be inhibitive of her ability to be present for the battles that she’s going to have to face.
And there are some huge, terrifying, magical, monstrous battles that are literally at her front door as we speak.
Special Thanks to Jennifer Iacobino for helping to put this interview together.