“Daniel is a Depression-era horror romance about a timid young man turned into a vampire, destroying his humanity and his love with a longtime friend. The series ended recently, in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes I have seen in comics in a long time. I recently sat down with the creator, SarahN, to discuss the series, what the journey was like, and her plans for future projects.
Please, introduce yourself. What series have you done? What got you into making webcomics?
Hello! I’m Sarah (sometimes SarahN or VermillionWorks), and I recently just finished my horror webcomic called Daniel, a depression-era story about an unfortunate man turned vampire. I also worked on Vampire Phantasm and Cwen’s Quest (that was written by Nick Stroffolino) in the past, but both are inactive now. I also work on a short horror comic just for Patreon called Succubus that I will get back to updating in July, most likely.
I started making comics by hand way back when I first discovered the medium as a kid when my dad bought me some comics, although it was particularly manga in anime magazines that got my attention. Once I started getting into the Internet and got a hold of a scanner is when I first started posting comics, usually fancomics for anime. Vampire Phantasm was my first serious go at an original story (as you can see, I’ve been into vampires for a LONG time), but because I started it when I was so young, it went through several reboots until I just lost inspiration and dropped it. I regret not trying new things sooner, but Vampire Phantasm still helped me improve my art and writing. It also helped me discover the webcomics community.
Well, looks like you finally struck gold with Daniel. Have you always enjoyed vampire stories? Any particular vampire stories that are your favorites and/or an inspiration for your comic?
Oh, yes. Definitely. I’ve been into vampires since I was, well, just old and brave enough to watch movies with them. I’ve always been more of a movie girl, so that’s where most of my love for vampires came from. There’s a lot I still rewatch to this day thank I think influenced Daniel. Many are also the same that first inspired me to do Vampire Phantasm. The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Salem’s Lot, Interview with The Vampire, 90s & 30s Dracula, Nosferatu, Shadow of the Vampire, Vampire Hunter D, and Let The Right One In, to name a few.
Now I know why Daniel is good! You have excellent tastes in vampire stories. I would also recommend I Am Legend (the book or the graphic novel adaptation, not the terrible movies). What got you started on Daniel?
Haha, thank you! I’ve been meaning to check out the book, but I didn’t know there was a graphic novel adaptation. I will have to check that out. Daniel was actually supposed to be a side character in Vampire Phantasm, but realized I was more into the idea of him as a character on his own. The vampire anti-hero story was really big at the time, and while fine, I had gotten really tired of the concept and wanted to try and make a traditional, scary story where the vampire is both the main character AND the villain. I was also into old black and white films at the time, which led to the 1930s setting. All of it just ended up suiting my interests more, so I was able to make it to the end, it seems!
You go all out with the 1930s aesthetic of the comic. Fashion, architecture, technology, etc., all looks straight out of that era. What was the interest in telling the story in that time period? How much research did you do?
Well, again, the ‘30s setting goes back to other movies I was into at the time. In particular, I watched quite a few movies with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre like M, The Last Man on Earth, The Face Behind The Mask, Mad Love, Masque of the Red Death, and so forth. I even listened to some old radio dramas (can’t remember what particular ones though). I also remember Dwight Frye’s performance as Renfield in the original Dracula being an inspiration for Daniel’s character. Like “if creepy Renfield was the main vampire”.
Anyway, though the movies I watched were usually the ‘30s or ‘60s, I was pretty into the aesthetics of the ‘20s and was originally planning to set the comic during that time, but as I started to do some research and got to reading the Great Depression, that time period just seemed to make the characters and their roles fall into place way easier. I try to stick to researching things that are the most relevant to the plot, but when you have to consider how they would speak, what their interests at the time might be, how things work, etc., the research tends to pile up, haha. But it’s usually pretty enjoyable since researching often leads to new ideas.
Along with the 1930s look, you chose to have the comic in black and white to fit that aesthetic. Well, mostly. You also add color in there as well, mostly red for blood and a few scenes with full color. What was your decision to go with that approach? How did you judge which scenes should be strictly black and white, and the ones in color?
Making it black and white seemed like a no-brainer with the ‘30s setting, and I really hoped it would give it the feel of an old horror film. A little fun fact: There actually is a blue tint layer over every comic page. I wanted that to be barely noticeable, but I think it made the grayscale really pop and gave it a slightly more gothic feel. Coloring blood in with red just seemed like a good move that would push the gothic vampire feel even more, and I also knew I had plans to make Daniel’s vampire blood appear as this pitch black, tar-like goop, so I thought that would be a good way to separate human blood from vampire blood.
The full color popping up every now and then was a rather sudden decision I made that I decided would only happen during particularly jarring or important moments, and it ended up working out for the best, I think. I always kind of pictured it in movie form in my mind, like the film would just flicker and flash into color suddenly as if black and white film had been an error the whole time, haha. Obviously, that’s harder to depict in static comic form though, so I just…did what I could effects-wise when full color made an appearance.
You mention how old vampire movies are a big influence on Daniel, but your drawing style itself, I noticed, has a strong manga influence. Some animation, too. What were your biggest influences?
I think my style is a weird mix of ‘80s and ‘90s anime, and my stylistic choice I’m not sure exactly where they came from, haha. But yes, I think I’ll always want to keep my anime/manga influence intact because I just love the look of it and how far I can take the expression. These aren’t the only anime I’ve watched a lot, but when it comes to anime I know influenced my style: Silent Mobius: The Motion Picture, Bubblegum Crisis, Armitage III, Vampire Hunter D (again) & Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Perfect Blue, Demon City Shinjuki, and Blood Reign: Curse of The Yoma. Again, I watched more than I read, though Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita was a big influence when it comes to manga. I also used to draw a lot of Dragonball Z at one time, and I think it still shows, too.
Would you say it also influences your panel layouts? One thing I noticed is how dynamic these are. A page could have as many as 10 or so panels, yet you make them flow naturally. You’re particularly great at jumping between different camera angles on various objects, even during intense scenes. Is doing those layouts ever a challenge?
Thank you! I’d say my panel layouts are just the result of studying print comic layouts, other webcomic layouts, and, yes, visualizing things in moving form as that’s how I initially picture it in my mind. I particularly love showing an expression forming in multiple panels. It’s always still a challenge to decide what’s best to focus on and how to make things flow. I do a lot of moving things around, redrawing, and flipping of panels as I go. I’ve gotten pretty used to the process from doing it for so long. I even feel more comfortable making a comic page than a regular art piece, most of the time.
A lot of your characters start off as recognizable tropes. Daniel as the clumsy but lovable shy guy, Christine as the girl next door, and Wayne who is the jackass alpha male. Honestly, in another context, they would be the cast of a romcom. Yet, you go and make everything violent, spooky, and full of heartbreak. Were you attempting to put readers in a false sense of comfort before you pulled the rug out from underneath them?
Yes and no, though I always enjoyed how much it seemed to throw people off. The beginning was actually something of a challenge for me because I wanted to make Daniel’s past all normal and non-threatening like that (while also trying to avoid having him be completely cringey and unlikable, ha), but was also worried it would come off so typical that people wouldn’t keep reading. So, I decided to make his past just a single chapter for that reason and hoped the big mystery that happened in it (Daniel’s sudden disappearance) would make most readers still want to see what happens next while also getting to the creepy stuff that the comic is made up of sooner. At the same time, I always wondered if I should’ve put in more about his past in the first chapter(s) or even later on just to make readers care about that happier version of Daniel and Christine even more, but, well, luckily I’ve received few complaints about that over the years.
Aside from wanting to reflect the aesthetic of old movies you loved, is there another reason for why you thought Daniel and everything that happens worked in the 1930s?
Again, it really helped all those roles fall into place. What made it work especially was the tension between classes at the time, and how men saw themselves as failures if they couldn’t work and properly take care of their loved ones. I wanted Human Daniel to be a struggling, shy every-man, and him being hit hard by the stock market crash just worked. He couldn’t stop seeing himself as “lowly”. Meanwhile, Christine is a more confident, self-sufficient person who does alright on her own despite everything, and kind of kept Daniel balanced and pushing forward. Then…there’s the character of Wayne.
I will avoid saying too much about him to avoid spoiling the comic, but he not only represents the pompous upper class that looked down on others, a WHOLE OTHER side, as well. Even when Daniel becomes a vampire and things get more horror-oriented, all that stuff still kind of remains in the comic. And yes, the aesthetic is just cool and fitting, haha. I see surprisingly few vampire stories that use that sort of setting.
Well, that makes logical sense. I’m glad you were able to pull it off in your story so naturally without it being glaringly obvious to the point of possibly being groan worthy. You just let all the historical context speak for itself. With that context, is that why Daniel contacts Vampirism and has a 180 personality change? In many respects, he becomes an amplified version of Wayne. The way it impacts his relationship with Christine especially. It’s a tragedy, but not in the “Oh, woe is me! I cannot love you anymore!” kind of way. Daniel wants to straight up possess Christine.
Thanks a lot! Yeah, it was meant to be a relatively apparent theme, but not one I particularly wanted to hammer in the whole time, haha.
Yes, after becoming a vampire, Daniel became more domineering (and way beyond that, in time) and possessive like Wayne, which Christine hated and feared from the beginning. I wanted everyone to meet that kind, good Daniel first because I think having to lose a wonderful loved one like that and then dealing with this monster with their face is both sad and very scary to me.
So, it is meant to be tragic as much as terrifying. Daniel is tragedy, clearly for the reasons you stated.
Tragic horror was absolutely what I was aiming for.
And that tragedy comes with a lot of dark things that happen to Christine and her family. I started reading Daniel during the “Nightmare” chapter. It HORRIFIED me in a way horror media hadn’t done in a long time. I remember you even putting a warning on the comic. Did you know at the start you were going to go dark? Did you think about how dark you wanted to go and have any concerns about going too far?
Always happy to hear when a horror comic of mine successfully horrifies! And yes, I knew from the start it’d get pretty darn violent, dark, and uncomfortable. I’ve drawn a lot of dark and violent comics/art over the years (the result of watching a lot of horror, probably), and while I try to avoid putting in things like gratuitous violence that goes on forever these days, I don’t usually hold back too much when it comes to the unpleasant stuff (though I don’t usually go beyond an R-rating). I don’t see a reason to do that with a horror story especially. I’m just desensitized, haha. I am concerned about putting those dreadful moments into the face of someone who really didn’t want to see that and would be very upset by it though, so I try to have click-through entrances and obvious warnings on my comic sites.
I should say despite the awful things that happen to Christine throughout the comics, she is not a helpless damsel. Like many scream queens, she quickly takes charge of the situation and fights back. If anything, she is the protagonist of the story. How do you see Christine in that regard? What type of comments do you get about her character?
It seemed to work best that Christine would be the opposite of human Daniel when it comes to confidence, but still kind and open-minded. Her self-sufficiency and strength would be something he would admire at the beginning. When vampire Daniel comes in though, her words and feelings don’t affect her former fried it used to, and eventually she realizes that she’s in a fight for survival. Most readers seem to really like her and get what I was trying to portray, which made me happy to see. I wanted her to be realistically terrified but also didn’t want her inner strength to suddenly vanish because of it. Fighting Daniel with brute force becomes clearly not an option, so she ends up having to use her wits while trying not to fall apart. She ended up being the perfect foil for Daniel, and I’m pleased with the way she developed.
That’s a great thing to point out about how Christine survives. It seems like people mistake the whole meaning of “strong female character” to be that they need to be an action hero, too. But Christine certainly doesn’t fit that and still manages to be one of the best heroines I’ve read in fiction. In fact, all your characters are incredibly flesh out. How much time did you take developing them, same with the story and where it was going?
Dang, that’s incredibly complimentary about Christine. Thank you! I usually I try to take a few months or even longer to make sure I mostly know what I’m doing before jumping into a comic project, so the initial development of the characters/story probably took about that long. However, some of the development happened as the comic was updated. A benefit of working on a slow-moving webcomic is that you have time to think a bit more about things like the characters (their pasts and personalities) and new directions or scnes that make a story work better, as long as you can avoid plot holes and such. I wouldn’t say the story for Daniel changed drastically as it got further along but having that extra time to think about it really helped me bring some elements together a lot better.
I remember when I reviewed your comic for Loser City eons ago, I wrote how my takeaway was that Daniel is a series that touches a lot on toxic relationships and masculinity. Of course, that’s just my interpretation. I think you told me once that you don’t attempt to tell the reader what to take away from a story. You just let them draw your own conclusions like I did. Do you always go in with that hands-off approach or is there kind of a lingering theme in the background?
Well, a little of both really. I’m usually aware of some themes in my stories, but I’m not really the “hammer in a metaphor” type. I like letting people draw their own conclusions. It seems like if I go into writing a story with a specific message to push, the idea doesn’t pan out as well for me. Like say with your views on Daniel: I didn’t really go into thinking about making a story that’s a commentary on toxic masculinity and abusive relationships, but as I started writing things out, I wasn’t oblivious of the parallels to real life abusive relationships either. I go in just thinking about basic concepts I really want to explore first (“a vampire story” or “a Victorian horror story”) and the deeper stuff just kind of forms along the way, usually as a result of figuring out the characters. Often though, I don’t know what I’m trying to say if anything, haha.
But yes, I do prefer to try and leave a lot of things open to interpretation because it’s just more fun that way, and I really enjoy reading people’s different views on my stories. Plus, I don’t like the idea of someone giving me this flattering, long analysis of my story and then saying to them, “Haha, nope, I was only thinking of THIS”. It feels rude, and it sounds like it’d be kind of exhausting for me too because I think it’d be impossible for me to convince everyone to have this ONE view only. Everyone’s going to see something a little different, and I think it’s better that way.
…Okay, I might draw the line at someone stating that Daniel pushes the idea that it’s fine to bite people in the name of love or something like that though, haha.
The ending of Daniel is…well, tragic. Was it always heading toward that direction? How was drawing that scene? I mean, I know the “Nightmare” chapter was brutal, but the ending really stabs you in the heart despite how evil Daniel had become at that point.
The ending went through some changes as I went along, particularly in how things built up tho those final moments, but I knew it was going to be tragic from the beginning. I also decided to have some big reveals related to Daniel’s past in the chapter because I knew it would make the final moments more impactful. I wasn’t completely sure about that choice at the time but now I’m glad I did that. I don’t think the ending would’ve felt quite right if that stuff hadn’t been in there.
Drawing it actually didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would. I think because the scene had been planned out for so long already. It was even fun at times because I finally got to draw the visuals that had been sitting in my brain for ages. However, when I first came up with that scene, I made myself cry a little. I took that as a good sign though and went with it, haha.
How was dedicating yourself to a project this long, writing and drawing all of it, for so a long a time? I mean, you started Daniel all the way back in 2014.
It was even earlier than that, actually! My archives say the first page was uploaded in 2014, but I messed up my site’s layout at one point (apparently in 2014) and had to reupload the archives. Even I thought I began it in 2012, but after checking the watermark dates…it was 2011. Haha. Wow.
I knew I’d been working on it for a long time but didn’t realize it had taken me THAT many years. It’s weird how time both flies and moves really slow when you work on a long webcomic. Though I think I was mentally starting to feel it toward the end since I was getting eager to move on to something else, but I’m happy I didn’t try to cut corners too much when it comes to story and the art. I think Daniel will always be my “baby” since it covers some of my favorite fictional themes (like vampires), and I’m glad I went all out with it.
And in that time, you amassed quite the following. How does it feel to have so many people that love your comics?
Haha, well it’s been pretty unexpected and awesome! The amount of kind words I received when the comic ended was overwhelming. The best feeling were moments when people took the time to email or message me to compliment the comic. A few even said it helped them get through personal rough times. I was absolutely NOT expecting that from my creepy vampire comic, but it made me VERY happy to be told that.
What kind of lessons did you learn starting and completing Daniel?
Well, when it comes to actually making the comic pages, I learned that I need to consider print sizes right from the beginning! I want to start slowly looking into printing Daniel, but there’s several issues with the early chapters, particularly related to size that I need to take the time to fix up because I just didn’t consider that sort of thing enough when I began the comic. I also found out the hard way how much damage working on comics can do to the body. So, I’ve been trying to tell myself that it’s okay to draw a bit more loosely and use more shortcuts to speed up the process to make things easier on myself (“Maybe I DON’T need to draw detailed backgrounds in several panels!”). It’d be nice if this would help me get more comic pages done faster in the future too, but I’d at least settle for making it less of a physical strain.
When it comes to writing, I definitely feel like I learned about my strengths and weaknesses more, and what methods are best for me to get new stories planned out. Just trying to type the entire story out at the start doesn’t work well for me because I just make too many changes as I go. Instead, I write down all sorts of notes and put things together (in my mind and in short summaries) like some weird puzzle, haha, and then make mini-scripts for each chapter along the way. Daniel was my first comic where I finally put my foot down and decided, “I’m just going to make a story that I want to exist and not let the possibility of anything in it being cliché bother me anymore.” I definitely learned more from making Daniel than any other comic.
Oh, man. Keep me updated on the print edition! So, now that Daniel is over, what’s next on your plate project wise?
Oh, I’ll definitely be letting everyone know if a print edition is going to happen. Besides looking into that, I’ll be getting back to updating my Patreon comic Succubus in July, as I mentioned earlier. I want to gradually transition back into a lot of comic work rather than jump right back into it, so there may be a period where I just post art and update Succubus once a month. Most of all though, I want to start getting into my next comic that will be posted for everyone (though patrons would probably get the first pages as I build up a buffer). I’m leaning towards an idea called The Devil’s Trill, which like Daniel will be a horror romance but of a non-supernatural sort set in Victorian times. However, I thought of a few new ideas recently that I’m also playing around with, so I’m still trying to decide if that’s for sure the comic I want to do next before dedicating most of my time to it. The Devil’s Trill seems to be coming together the fastest though, so I’m leaning towards that.
Overall, how would you summarize your experience with Daniel and how do you feel that it’s now over?
Comic making always has its ups and downs, but overall it was a fantastic experience. I will probably always look back at part of Daniel with a critical eye since it’s my own work and that’s hard not to do, but I feel mostly satisfaction with what I’ve made, as well as relief that it’s complete. I hope people continue to read and re-read it forever, and always have a blast doing so.
Any comics you would recommend reading?
Well, with print comics, the only series I immediately want to name is Battle Angel Alita, but with webcomics, oh jeez, there’s sooo many great ones. I’m certain I’ll forget some, but here’s a few: