An Interview With `Blood On Sunset’ Writer Mark D’Anna
by Tom Smithyman
Blood on Sunset is a compelling mix of genres – a vampire tale set in 1940s Los Angeles against the backdrop of the mob violence. Writer Mark D’Anna reveals the origins of the supernatural Eaters, why he wanted to tell a noir mafia story and what’s next for his cop-turned-detective-turn vampire protagonist.
Tom Smithyman: This is your first experience writing a comic book. Why did you choose a vampire tale instead of taking the tried and true path of superheroes?
Mark D’Anna: I grew up in Los Angeles and always wanted to write a comic that explored the city’s history with organized crime. So the vampires in our story really embody that inhuman greed and lust for power L.A.’s most notorious gangsters were known for. They really were monsters. So when thinking about how to bring a supernatural element to that world, it was hard to imagine anything other than vampires.
Tom: Blending horror and noir and gangster stories doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice. What inspired you to mix these genres?
Mark: I’d read a lot about the gangsters that ran Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s, and wanted to bring their stories to the page. But in writing those early drafts of the story I thought it needed something more. It just seemed like the story was turning into a lot of what we’d seen a million times before in other comics and movies. We were limited by the genre in a lot of ways.
So when I started blending in a supernatural horror element, the whole thing just took on a wholly different shape. The characters came to life for me. It wasn’t just a gangster story anymore, or a detective story. The horror component allowed us to really open the story up and push it into some pretty interesting directions.
Tom: You really seem to have an ear for the noir dialogue. What are your influences? Chandler? Bogart? Both?
Mark: Certainly Raymond Chandler is a huge one! He’s one of my favorites and I think I’ve read everything he’s written. Which in a way was a problem, because I found early on that I was just parroting his style. Basically, I was doing a cheap Chandler impersonation. So I really had to work hard to strip all of that out. Eventually the thing I really learned from Chandler was how the dialogue comes from the character.
Every word Marlowe speaks, for example, is quintessentially Marlowe. No other character in literature speaks the way he does. That’s why Chandler is the master. So once I understood Braddock, like really got to know him, the language and his voice came much easier. And from there I think that kind of noir attitude eventually started to bubble to the surface, because Braddock was so deeply embedded in that world.
Tom: The art by Arjuna Susini and colors by Vittorio Astone really set the tone for 1940s Los Angeles. How did you end up working with the art team?
Mark: It was really through pure luck. I’d been introduced to Vittorio by my friend David M. Booher, because Vittorio is doing the color on David’s wonderful series Canto, for IDW. I had asked Vittorio to do the artwork on Blood on Sunset, but he actually thought Arjuna’s style might be better suited to the look and feel I wanted. And when I saw Arjuna’s work, I knew exactly what Vittorio meant. It was a perfect fit. Detailed and gritty, but also terrifying when we needed it to be.
So we brought Arjuna in and just unleashed him on those pages, and you can see what he did with it. The art is absolutely mind blowing. Vittorio stayed on to do the color, and they’ve both brought such amazing artistry to each panel. I’m still in awe of it when I thumb through the pages.
Tom: Why did you choose to start the story with Bugsy Siegel’s death? Was there something particularly interesting to you about his murder as opposed to the other mob hits of the era?
Mark: When Bugsy Siegel was murdered in 1947 it was the end of an era in Los Angeles. He’d sat on the throne for a long time, made a lot of money, and killed a lot of people. This was his city, and his death left a huge power void here. And as is always the case there was someone ready to step in and fill that void. This time it was Mickey Cohen. He rose to prominence after Siegel was murdered (some people thought Cohen may have had a hand in Siegel’s murder) and proceeded to run the L.A. underworld for decades.
As for Blood on Sunset, I loved the idea that our story started as one era was ending, and another was beginning. Siegel’s murder opens the door for our villain, Uppercut Lombardo, to swoop in and rise to power. And it really becomes the catalyst for all the upheaval in the underworld we’re going to see play out in the subsequent issues.
Tom: You’ve created a new terror – Eaters. How do you describe Eaters? Vampires on steroids or something altogether different?
Mark: The Eaters are kind of a variation on traditional vampires. I’d done some reading about different vampire traditions from around the world, and I came across this really interesting one from Albania. They’re called Shtriga and they suck the blood of their victims and then turn into moths. I thought that was a cool spin on vampires and that it would look really amazing on the page in the hands of the right artist.
So, our Eaters basically are versions of the Shtriga in that they turn into swarms of moths when they kill. They’re also relentless killers, devouring their victims almost like wild animals rather than just taking their blood. And of course, the Eaters are also gangsters, doing all the things gangsters do. So certainly they owe a lot to the classic vampires, but I hope we’ve taken them into some new and interesting directions.
Tom: Sunset Boulevard and the Brown Derby are featured prominently in your story. Do you consider L.A. to be one of your characters?
Mark: Absolutely. 1940s Los Angeles has such a specific look and feel. Whether it’s the Brown Derby, Sunset Blvd., City Hall, or something else, I think we all have these visual touchpoints for what that place was like. So in that sense Los Angeles really does become a character in the book, because it’s such an easy onramp to the story for readers.
It sets the tone for everything that happens, helping reveal that sort of surface level optimism I think many people in L.A. felt back then, as the city was growing and stepping onto the world stage for the first time. But also always reminding us that there was a lot happening in the shadows just out of sight. And that a lot of it was sad and dangerous and even deadly. That’s where our story really takes place.
Tom: Braddock is haunted – literally – throughout the story. He clearly has a dark past and a fascinating backstory. Is he truly the hero of the story, or are there really any heroes in a noir tale?
Mark: It’s a really interesting question. I think initially I’d thought of him as the hero of the story, but as I take a step back and think about it I don’t think he is. Braddock is swimming upstream for most of the story. He’s really just trying to get back to zero, trying to survive as the odds are continually stacked against him. And it’s that struggle to survive I think that makes him an interesting character.
Like you said, he’s conflicted, he’s got a complicated past, and his world is crumbling around him. How is he going to react? What decisions is he going to make and why? It’s fun to watch him make those decisions, especially because a lot of the time he makes the wrong ones. He can be selfish and dishonest and very flawed. So certainly he feels less heroic, but I do think he feels more human. More relatable. And hopefully that makes for a better character.
Tom: Is Blood on Sunset a confined story that you will wrap up in a few issues, or do you see Clint Braddock going on battling Eaters for years in other tales?
Mark: I would certainly like to explore Braddock’s story in other tales. Currently the plan is to do three full story arcs. Right now I’m writing the second arc, which has been really fun. We watch a full on mob war unfold on the streets of L.A., we bring in some new and really fun characters, and Uppercut Lombardo rises to these mythic levels of power.
It’s been cool to take the reins off and let these characters kind of run wild. But I also have an idea to explore Braddock’s past a little bit as it relates to World War II, because I think there are some interesting stories to tell there as well. So maybe that becomes a different direction we can take this story. We’ll see!
Tom: I’m sure you have other stories in mind. What’s next after Blood on Sunset?
Mark: Vittorio and I are actually working on a sci-fi series called Derelict, which I can best describe as Heart of Darkness meets Avatar. Vittorio is doing all the art and it’s really looking cool. We’re shopping it around now and trying to find a home for it. My hope is that we can get it out sometime next year as Blood on Sunset is wrapping up. It’s been really fun to stretch and write something so different from vampire gangster stories!
Blood on Sunset #2 will be available for purchase on February 9, 2022.