Tessa Stone’s Horror-Comedy ‘Not Drunk Enough’ Picked Up By Oni Press [Exclusive]
Ordinary blue-collar worker concerns may include low minimum wages or job automation. Repairman Logan Ibarra's concerns, however, aren't as ordinary; he just want to escape his night's last assignment without getting beheaded, assaulted by flowery parasites, or stabbed (any further).
With nearly two years into its run, Tessa Stone's horror-comedy webcomic Not Drunk Enough is now set to be published as a trilogy by Oni Press. ComicsAlliance sat down with Stone to talk about Not Drunk Enough, claustrophobia, and the debatable merits of actually being drunk during a horror scenario.
[Preview content warning: blood, gore.]
ComicsAlliance: How did Not Drunk Enough come about? What inspirations gave breath to this story?
Tessa Stone: Not Drunk Enough came from an obsessive period of my life where I drowned myself in the horror media. I read crime libraries, watched horror movies and, while I don't have a lot of time to play video games, I found a ton of Let's Plays for horror games that could run in the background while I worked. I just drowned myself in the horror medium, and Not Drunk Enough came from me being a part in my life where I very much wanted out, and I was quick to combine that feeling with all the genres I had grown to love.
It's a love song to games like Evil Within, Resident Evil and Silent Hill, while carrying a huge appreciation for people and storytellers like HP Lovecraft and Junji Ito. The major thing was that I can never take myself seriously, so automatically it became a horror comedy.
CA: Could you talk about the considerations that go into writing something that's both horror and comedy? It'd be easy for some to think that those genres contrast too much to mix, or that succeeding at one genre's emotional tenet (humor, terror) requires watering down the other.
TS: Horror comedy is actually an incredibly amazing, but odd, juxtaposition. When you make a person laugh, your fear is enhanced... but make them laugh at the wrong time and you've unravelled the atmosphere you've built. I would think that from my basic understanding of the genre, it relies a lot on timing and what kind of humor is used.
I tend to lean towards making all the jokes character based, reminding you that these are people like you and me experiencing these things, as well as the villains that seem so far out of reach. In the end, realizing that even the bad guys are relatable has a powerful weight to me; you can see it in your own life and if they accidentally make you like them it takes away the stark black and white from what's good versus evil.
I think horror comedy has a weight to be incredibly powerful beyond making you just laugh about dark subjects. It can make you relate to something so out of the ordinary that it never crossed your mind before, or make you feel empathy towards a subject you hadn't considered. We, as people, are often surrounded by tragedy and are trudging through life finding a way to cope, and humor is often the most relatable one.
While I write, I try to find a balance. When was the last time I tried to make someone laugh, when was the last time I tried to make their skin crawl? And when was the last time I tried to do both at once? If a scene lags, I rely on comedy first, finding that tension can build while you're giggling, because I sure hope I can make you giggle nervously. It's a skill I want to perfect. Time will tell if I manage to get there one day.
CA: You hit on the nail on the head when you talk about using humor to deliver insight and empathy towards a story’s characters. The stakes in a horror story don’t mean much if you don’t care about characters, and humor’s a great way to have readers care.
TS: Absolutely! Tension is best built off of empathy, so the more you love the characters, the more afraid you'll be!
CA: Speaking of characters, I’d love to talk about yours. Logan Ibarra, the chief protagonist in Not Drunk Enough, is a repairman sent to a corporate lab that, unbeknownst him, has been overtaken by terrifying monsters. Every other character in the story has at least some relationship to the night’s unfolding horrors, whereas he just seems like collateral damage.
Could you talk a bit about Logan and how you came to develop him, his personality, and his role in the story?
TS: Logan was inspired from the feeling of being overwhelmed by your surroundings, regardless of what your actions or lifestyle would dictate. I wanted him to be identifiable in that feeling of helplessness we sometimes feel about our lives when it goes off the rails on its own, but still showing that we are still accountable for what we do to help ourselves in those situations. I tried to make Logan as normal as possible from the start, half to make the absurdity happening around him more intense, and half to make his strength come from a place we all have.
CA: Claustrophobia feels like the driving type of horror in Not Drunk Enough. The setting is super cramped, characters must regularly navigate through air vents and trashed hallways, and many of the monsters and mutations have a constriction element to them.
Was that an intentional focus of Not Drunk Enough’s development and design?
TS: The claustrophobic qualities of the enemies and the surroundings were somewhat subconscious! Simon Birkov, the main villain, has started everything because of his inability to move on and being trapped in the past, and I wanted the situations and environments to reflect his state of mind, so it manifested quickly everywhere else. I was happy to embrace it though!
CA: Every major character in the story gets introduced with a splashy mini-bio that reveals their greatest fear and favorite alcoholic beverage (if they have one). The latter bit also ties into the title, teasing what feels like Logan’s reaction to this terrible, no-good night.
How did alcohol come to be one the story’s recurring details?
TS: The title came from a guttural feeling when watching horror movies; a personal 'woof, I would need to be way more drunk to deal with this' despite knowing that being inebriated sounds like an actually terrible idea in a horror situation. Then I just kind of ran with it, because it fit with the overall feeling I wanted to emote of being overwhelmed, and I happened to share a similar trait with Logan in that I enjoy a good drink. But I definitely do not want to encourage it as valid form of escapism! Drink responsibly!!
CA: Was it always a goal or hope of yours to bring Not Drunk Enough to print through a publisher?
TS: To be honest, when I started Not Drunk Enough, I mostly just needed to push through and tell a story. Share something... create something! Pile my complex muddle of emotions into a comic and have a blast doing it while hoping others were having fun, too. I'm honored and excited to be able to printed with Oni Press, and printed in general!
CA: Your career has taken you through a wide variety of story types and genres, from licensed all-ages work to linguistic fantasy and now horror-comedy. With that in mind, could you talk about how you approach Not Drunk Enough (maybe in contrast to your other projects) when working on its visual components?
TS: You know, it hasn't been something I considered too hard until it was mentioned to me just now! I suppose I've just always worked on what I was most interested in and what styles fit with the project at the time, but underneath it all I'm always drawn to stories that are a little dark. When I started Not Drunk Enough I wanted that darkness to really come through, but also keep note of what I do best, which is something lively with bright colors (note my love for highlighter yellow and hot pink). The style ended up evolving, though, becoming a little less cartoony from my previous works to something more scratchy and gritty, and I feel is pretty obvious when you look at the first ten pages to the last ten. Woops! Hopefully people don't mind the visual evolution.
CA: Is there anything you'd like to tease about the overall story, for both new and veteran fans alike?
TS: Wow, I just mostly hope people enjoy the ride! And maybe find a bit of themselves somewhere amidst it all. I know there's not much to identify with outright for running down hallways being chased by literal monsters, but maybe underneath all that, there's something familiar about the way these people react, behave, or what they're experiencing. And if my story can make you feel less alone, or make you laugh, then I feel great. (And maybe spook you a little, too.)
The Oni Press edition of volume one (Stone also funded for a Kickstarter printing last year) is due out on July 5, 2017.
Notice of Disclosure: One of the editors at ComicsAlliance has a working relationship with Oni Press. The editor had no participation in the commission or execution of this piece.