Sarah Vaughn On ‘Deadman: Dark Mansion’ And Why Queer Ghost Stories Matter [Love & Sex]
With the third volume out this month, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love by Sarah Vaughn with art by Lan Medina can now be experienced in full, with a collected volume out this summer. The book is a perfect mix of Gothic romance, vintage haunted house movies, and classic DC super-horror, built around the character of Boston Brand, also known as Deadman.
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is the story of a woman named Berenice who faces a ghostly mystery even as she deals with her tumultuous love life, caught between her boyfriend and her nonbinary best friend. ComicsAlliance talked with Vaughn about the origins of the book, the blending of genres, and the importance of its queer lead characters.
ComicsAlliance: How did this project first come about? Did DC approach you, or did you pitch it?
Sarah Vaughn: Alex Antone, the editor for the book, approached me and asked me to pitch a gothic horror romance featuring Deadman. He had liked Alex + Ada, and knew I had a passion for romance comics. I’m very grateful he took a chance on me.
CA: Were you previously a Deadman fan? What do you like about the character?
SV: I’ll be absolutely honest. I love superheroes, but I’m not a well-read superhero fan, and what I do read tends to be Golden and Silver Age. I definitely had to brush up on Deadman, and read a lot of issues of Strange Adventures and his more recent appearances. I’ve come to adore him. He’s my favorite mix of dramatic, existential, rough around the edges, but in the end a decent dude.
CA: What was it like working with Lan Medina?
SV: Lan is great! I can’t believe how gorgeous his art is. And it’s been really wonderful working with the rest of the team, José Villarrubia, Janice Chiang, Phil Hester, Stephanie Hans. They've really opened my eyes to the process. Everything revolves around Alex as the editor, but I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been really fascinating seeing how DC makes comics.
CA: This comic effortlessly blends genres, particularly romance, horror, and (via Deadman) a little bit of superheroics. In crafting the story, did you think about it in terms of generic tropes, or did you just take the story where you wanted and let the tropes fall where they may?
SV: It was actually a mix of both. I love Gothic romance, and I definitely wanted to pay homage to classic elements within that genre. That was the foundation. Mysterious house, a heroine tied to it, love, and mystery. On top of that, this is a Deadman story, so I started thinking about characters and scenarios that would suit him. Then there’s also a large part of writing what I personally like to read and see, and sometimes the story itself chooses its own path.
CA: As a nonbinary queer person myself, Sam was really important to me, particularly because we've seen so few people like them in comics. Did you approach the book knowing you want to include a nonbinary character, or did that just seem like the right identity for Sam in particular?
SV: Yes, I absolutely knew I wanted to include a nonbinary character. But the way I create characters is thinking about the plot and how characters can enhance and contribute to the story, who they would be in everyday life, and then thinking about other characters and how they can interact together. It all kind of gets built up together. I also get a lot of flashes of scenes that may or may not show up in the story. I always enjoy that part of writing. It feels a little voyeuristic, like I’m looking through a window at their life.
Sam was really fun to watch in that way, seeing how they’d react to winning at an auction, or suddenly coming upon a really rare antique, or even how they’d fall back on a sofa after a long day.
CA: And similarly, what about Berenice? A queer woman whose sexuality is made overt without it ever being discussed.
SV: I also knew right off the bat that I wanted Berenice to be queer. I’ve pondered for quite a while now about labels for myself and how to identify. I love and am attracted to people. I’ve said I’m bi in the past, but I’ve never felt it matched me. I'm still spending time with queer as a self-identifier. Most of the time, I love how fluid and inclusive it feels, though every now and then I wish there was a more specific label that felt right for me. Maybe the way I presented the information that Berenice was queer was a part of my own inability to state an outright label. Yet it’s simply part of who she is, and I wanted her life and memories to reflect that.
CA: The story seems to be set in the present, but there's a lot about it that feels like the past. Specifically, it reminds me of haunted house movies from the '60s and '70s. Is that something you had in mind?
SV: Yes, definitely! I love pulpy gothic romances, and the 1960s were a fantastic time for that genre. The Dark Shadows soap opera, tons of paperbacks with gorgeous covers, and the great-yet-short-lived romance comics. But I also really like reading stories and watching things where you can’t quite tell when it’s supposed to take place.
CA: Do you think there's a possibility you'll return to these characters? With Berenice and Sam’s unique talents, it's easy to imagine them teaming up with Boston Brand again for another ghostly mystery.
SV: Oh, that sounds lovely! I can’t deny that I haven’t fantasized a little bit about other adventures. But I’ve always liked complete stories.