Imagine that your home is out to get you. This may, perhaps, be easier to accept if your home is an ancient castle, one that has been known to exert its will throughout the ages -- but even so, it's a situation far short of ideal. In "Ragemoor," the lord of the titular castle must contend not only with a structure whose secrets are even more terrible than he knows, but also with a series of other inhabitants who harbor their own dark and monstrous agendas. The five-issue Dark Horse miniseries debuts March 21 and reunites the team behind the classic sci-fi strip "Mutant World," writer Jan Strnad and artist Richard Corben. Strnad is also known for penning "Star Wars" comics at Dark Horse, and in recent years Corben has teamed with Mike Mignola on several "Hellboy" stories as well as launching "Murky World" in "Dark Horse Presents."
CBR News caught up with Strnad to discuss the series, his longstanding creative relationship with Corben, and what to expect within the walls of "Ragemoor."
Strnad described "Ragemoor" as "very much classic horror in the Poe/Lovecraft vein, with a smattering of the Hammer films and the Marvel monster comics thrown in," adding, "Richard's art is splendid! Anyone who's looking for a change of pace from the usual zombies and vampires will find it refreshingly twisted!"
"Ragemoor" begins with a somewhat unreliable narrator in the form of the castle's current owner, Strnad told CBR News. "In the first issue, Herbert Ragemoor relates the origin of the castle as he knows it. The truth is, Ragemoor is far more ancient than Herbert realizes," the writer said. "Unearthing its history and motives and goals is the driving passion of another main character, Herbert's manservant Bodrick. For the residents (prisoners?) of Ragemoor, learning Ragemoor's plan for them is key to their survival."
The idea of a living, shifting castle can take many forms, and indeed Strnad's story grew and transformed in the telling. "Once I'd written the first issue (which was intended as a one-shot) and our editor, Scott Allie, had talked us into making 'Ragemoor' a miniseries, I had to delve into my imagination and create a cosmology that would support a number of stories," he said. "Although I don't know that there will be more 'Ragemoor' after this miniseries, there certainly could be, in a wide variety of settings, across eons of time."
Strnad's artist, legendary horror illustrator and frequent creative partner Richard Corben, also influenced the shape of the story and the Ragemoor castle's abilities. "I have to say that a large part of the creative process is simply thinking up cool stuff for Richard Corben to draw!" Strnad said. "The castle needs some ability to move and shift or the fact that it's alive doesn't lead to much. But something that is very, very old, that exists in a time span so many times greater than Man's, has to have a thoroughly different outlook than our own. Where we are looking for immediate gratification, Ragemoor takes the long view. The lives of the current inhabitants may not count for much. They may be nothing more than steps along the way to something greater."
Strnad's history with Corben goes back more than 40 years and began, as many collaborations do, at a convention (though not a comic con). "I discovered his work in the pages of Rudi Franke's 'Voice of Comicdom' and Dennis Cunningham's 'Weirdom' in the late 1960s. I attended the 27th World Science Fiction Convention in St. Louis, Missouri in 1969, hawking my fanzine 'Anomaly,' and came home to discover that Richard had subscribed at the con," Strnad recalled. "I got in touch, hit him up for some artwork, and we began collaborating with the science fiction short 'A Brief Encounter at War,' originally published in 'Anomaly' and reprinted in 1975 (or thereabouts) in Marvel's 'Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction.' We went on to collaborate on underground comix and on stories for Warren Publishing and 'Heavy Metal' magazine. A punk band took their name from one of our underground stories, 'Kittens for Christian.' They must be real punks, too, because they never even sent us a CD or a t-shirt."
The pair work well together, Strnad said, because both he and Corben are "very character oriented." "His characters are very expressive and that lets me write characters who have great passion and suffer enormous ups and downs. We have the same influences: the classic Universal monster movies, the Hammer films, Poe, Lovecraft, etc. We both have a sense of humor, which I think can be used effectively to punch up the horror in a horror story if you use it judiciously. Richard is a master of black-and-white, which gives 'Ragemoor' a quaint, gothic look that would be hard to maintain in color."
Strnad and Corben will bring characters like Herbert Ragemoor and the manservant Boderick to life amidst the pervasive horror of Ragemoor castle, which Strnad said is rife with "ancient, unspeakable Lovecraftian forces." With enemies approaching from all angles (and from the soul of the castle itself), Herbert is in for an adventure. "Herbert Ragemoor is the titular 'Master of Ragemoor,' but as the story progresses we'll see who the real master is. Raised in isolation in Ragemoor castle, he's innocent and easily manipulated emotionally by the more sinister and cunning characters who enter his life. He's double-crossed by his own passions, which lead him to commit one of the greatest sins imaginable, which has horrendous consequences for him."
In the course of Strnad's five decades publishing comics, he has worked in several other creative fields including animation and drama. CBR News asked the writer about his career outside of comics and whether this affected the sorts of stories he chooses to tell in the medium. "Well, I spent about fifteen years writing TV animation. Much of my work was for Disney, but over that time I worked for most of the local (Los Angeles) TV animation studios: Warner Bros., Fox, Universal, MGM, Sony/Columbia, and some smaller studios. Although I can get into writing almost any story, it became harder and harder to maintain my interest in TV animation as the emphasis on story began to deteriorate and the audience became younger and younger," Strnad said. "By the time I was writing the pre-school 'Harold and the Purple Crayon' for HBO, I'd clearly lost all connection with writing anything I personally wanted to watch.
"In the year 2000, I was coming off one of my favorite assignments, 'Project GeeKeR' for CBS. It was their top-rated show but their whole Saturday morning lineup was getting creamed by the Fox/Marvel super heroes, so it wasn't getting a second season," Strnad continued. "The Canadian government started offering tax incentives and non-union labor and cash payments to studios that would produce their cartoons in Canada and use Canadian writers, and it was like someone turned off the tap on my animation career. I didn't take it too hard, since I was getting burned out anyway by then, but the next few years were difficult financially.
"I wrote my horror novel, 'Risen,' and got it published and optioned numerous times for films. But no movie got made. Eventually I had to take a real job. I ended up working in Theater Operations for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which is where I am now. One of the things we handle is film shoots on school property, so I've been on more film and TV shoots in this job than I ever was when I worked in 'the industry.' There's new movement on a 'Risen' movie lately, so it may happen yet."
As to where this leaves him now in terms of comics, Strnad was upbeat. "Now that my writing time is limited and I don't need to do it for a living, I'm having more fun with it, writing another novel and, of course, 'Ragemoor.'"
"Ragemoor" #1 is on sale March 21.