Never encountered Dwellings from Eisner Award-nominated cartoonist Jay Stephens? Your chance is coming. Oni Press is about to serve up new editions of the originally self-published comic in a bi-monthly limited series. Three oversized, prestige format issues, each 72 pages are planned.
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Jay, a Canadian cartoonist and animator, is known for the comic Tutenstein, which became an animated series seen in the U.S. on Discovery Kids, and Jetcat Clubhouse, among other titles. He originally released Dwellings as a self-published title. He’s also written for licensed properties including Alien, Star Wars, and Teen Titans.
Dwellings is set in Elwich, described as “an oasis of small town perfection, where the schools overflow with cheery-eyed children, lovingly adorned homes line the historic boulevards… and only the crows can see the deep, festering rot that lurks beneath the pristine surface. Murder. Demonology. Possession. Obsession. Elwich has them all on offer—and behind every dwelling awaits a horrifying new story to be told.”
The comic has earned quite a bit of praise, including thoughts from comic book artist Stephen R. Bissette (Swamp Thing): “Dwellings is one of my favorite current comic books, and without a doubt my favorite horror comic of the current genre ‘boom.’”
The new iteration of Dwellings debuts on August 9, 2023, with a 72-page, first issue. There will be a never-before-seen standard edition cover by Jay, with variants by other artists.
With the imminent re-release, Jay recently fielded a few questions from Wicked Horror.
Dwellings sounds like a fun, quirky project. First of all, tell us what’s in store for fans or new readers in the upcoming releases.
If A24 made a Saturday Morning cartoon in 1977, it might feel something like Dwellings… . A fevered blend of my dual passions for vintage kids comics and supernatural/ psycho horror cinema. These cute-looking tales of terror are invoking that uncomfortable, creeping feeling of getting older and encountering the terrible adult mysteries that our childhood selves always suspected but never fully comprehended. Dwellings is those horrible truths revealed through the kaleidoscope of familiar childhood imagery.
Talk to us a little about your background, collecting things from the pop culture landscape, and how that influenced Dwellings. What are the underpinnings for these stories?
My parents and grandparents always collected antiques, so hunting for beautiful lost things is in my blood, I guess. Before the days of the internet, we would go treasure hunting at flea markets all around Southern Ontario looking for hidden secrets. I fell in love with unearthing occult objects like Addams Family View Master reels, Casper comic books, or a Milton The Monster coloring book. My grandmother also read tarot cards, held ouija board seances, and told ghost stories to us children as factual events, so that might explain a few things.
Okay, fill us in a little on Elwich, the place readers will encounter in Dwellings.
Elwich is a personal dreamscape, like Twin Peaks, Washington, or Derry, Maine… a blood drenched composite of all the places I’ve dwelled in this beautiful province. Southern Ontario Gothic. Places that are not so much traditional, post-modern suburbs, but older towns built on rivers and railway lines. Hand cut limestone mills left obsolete after the arrival of the automobile, now gentrified into condo lofts and cafes. Cute, comfortable places like these often harbor ugly, uncomfortable secrets. Obviously, there is a theme of nostalgia running throughout Dwellings, which is a bit of a fractured gaze backwards.
Who are some of the artists involved in bringing these tales to life.
If you don’t want to be handed a script calling for you to draw an impossible scene of wild horses stampeding through a crowded Victorian train station, you need to learn to write for yourself. So it’s all me. From the plot, to dialogue, to old-school pencils and inks, digital colour, and even the fake vintage ads. Dwellings are stories that, when they come to me, I can’t wait to draw.
What does it take for an artist to strike the balance between the dark and quirky in your stories?
Dwellings‘ adorable old-school visual style is familiar and comforting, setting up the reader to expect something humorous. But this is a psych-out. When the full-blown horror hits, the visceral and psychological horror elements feel all the more shocking and disturbing. Comedy and horror share the need for the element of surprise, and these stories ride that edge, I think.
Dwellings republishes some material you’d done before in a new form, correct? What’s new and fresh about the presentation in these editions from Oni Press.
Dwellings debuted as a single-issue series of crowdfunded, small press comics through Black Eye Books over the last three years, and I got to take my time crafting them into something I could be proud of. Oni offered a thrilling opportunity to reintroduce these tales to a whole new group of eyeballs, and are repackaging them as prestige format, bi-monthly, double-size issues. Like a late-night double-feature, or an old “Giant-Size” Harvey Comic… lots of bang for your buck with each issue. And we’re really having fun with the new covers, with my own ‘bloody’ variants and a slew of incredible guest artists reinterpreting my characters on several variant covers, like Dave Bardin, Jenna Cha, Brian Level, David Lopez, and Joe Palmer…
Okay, let’s round things out with a little fun. Many fans know your for Tutenstein. What’s your favorite mummy movie or comic?
Patmosis the Mummy from Jaques Tardi’s comics ‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec’, and adapted by Luc Besson into a live action film of the same name in 2010, is one of my all-time favorites, and shamefully overlooked. I adore Bob McFadden’s 1959 novelty song, ‘The Mummy’. But you never forget your first mummified menace, and mine was Karloff. Unbeatable.
If you still need more of a taste of Elwich, check out this book trailer.