Talking with Dan Panosian About His New Rock Horror ‘Black Tape’ From AWA Upshot
by Olly MacNamee
Dan Panosian steps back from the drawing board for his latest series, Black Tape, from AWA Upshot. A Seventies-set rock horror following the terrifying travails of recently widowed rock star widow, Cindy King, who’s grieving while also trying to find her way in a world she isn’t familiar with. I couldn’t help but reach our to Dan and ask him more about this fascinating new series:
Olly MacNamee: Dan, it’s clear to me from reading Black Tape #1 you have a healthy love of ‘70s rock, the decade that saw the rise of bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest, to name just a few. But, beyond that, why set this new rock-horror in this heady, hedonistic decade?
Dan Panosian: To me the early ’70s is a breakthrough era that is often overlooked in our culture. The 60’s represented a breakaway from the idealistic ’50s mentality and lifestyle. A lifestyle that was heavily influenced by the church. I consider it a very playful but very naive time in our history. Our country needed that respite after WW2. We needed to feel wholesome again. Refreshed. But it was a facade. People are still people. We still display and participate in equal amounts of good and evil. The ’50s just masked it for as long as it could. The ’60s rebelled against that fantasy. The pendulum had to swing hard the other way. As a result, the ’70s needle was beginning to settle somewhere in the middle. The people, the music – it was all over the place. Exquisite chaos. Perfect for Jack King.
MacNamee: And may I add, what evocative art. Dalibor Talajić really captures the era beautifully. Was it a case of feeding Talajić specific references, or was it a more collaborative process when it came to establishing the mise-en-scène for this series?
Panosian: Dalibor is a unique artist and this book certainly required a perspective like his. He’s not a super-hero guy. At least I don’t get that vibe. He was born to tell stories. Dalibor does a great job of depicting a character’s emotions and frailties. We sent over a great deal of reference (and luckily I live in Laurel Canyon which is right there in the heart of Sunset Strip where all original bars and music joints still exist!) to get things right but in the end, it’s the characters that draw you in. His work is also haunting. Dark. Gritty. To me it makes me feel like the little kid that dug Marvel and DC comics and then stumbled onto your uncle’s collection of Creepy and Eerie from Warren Publishing. “What the hell is this?!?!!” you think to yourself as you explore an entirely new form of sequential storytelling.
MacNamee: Sticking with your artistic collaborator, as an artist yourself, how does this reflect in the way you tackle a script? Do you include, for instance, thumbnails and/or breakdowns? There are certain panels and pages I sense your guiding hand. Although, if you told me it was all scripted, I’d believe you. After all, Talajić is an amazing talent with some very well thought-out panel and page layouts.
Panosian: Thanks! For me, panel layout and pacing is very important. So I include panel shapes in the script when they’re important. Sometimes I’ll get very particular about foreground/middle-ground/background elements in relation to each other — BUT, I don’t want to include any of my drawings with the script. I don’t want to step on an artist’s toes in that way. More often than not, I’m thrilled by the surprise of it all. In the beginning I illustrate how I see the characters. But just like super-hero comics, everyone draws Spider-Man differently. Artists need room to express themselves.
MacNamee: The book, and rock-god Jack King, is littered with Satanic iconography. Like me, you grew up at a time when the Satanic panic was being fuelled by the news media. If I read the book backwards, will it recall a secret message from Lucifer himself?
Panosian: I don’t recommend trying it, Olly. Not unless you’re fully prepared to host Lucifer for a few evenings. For hardcore cult fans, they’ll notice nods to actual books and rituals used in the series. It’s a work of fiction, but I wanted to populate the story with some realism here and there.
MacNamee: But, seriously, what is at the heart of this story? From what I can deduce, Jack’s widow, Cindy, seems to be surrounded on all sides by a community akin to the residence of the Bramford in Rosemary’s Baby. But with cooler threads and the best weed money can buy.
Panosian: The story, for me, is how Cindy navigates through a world that is completely foreign to her. She’s very young and out of her element. All of sudden she’s married to a rock god and then – he dies! Not only that, she’s basically alone. She’s cut off from her family and surrounded by Jack’s family. Everyone wants something from her. Primarily they want Jack’s last recording. But she’s clueless as to where it is or even what it is. Unfortunately, no one believes her. As she investigates her deceased husband’s life, she learns alarming things about his past. Terrifying things. But she’s stuck without much support. Things keep getting worse and worse. She also realizes, she’s in a great deal of danger.
MacNamee: A shady supporting cast, a Lauren Canyon mansion with a dark secret, all with a sweaty, sweet, seductive rock soundtrack. What else can we expect from this creepy and cool series?
Panosian: Like any thriller, no one is who they seem and there’s a lot of little clues to uncover. We’re uncovering clues alongside of Cindy. It’s a horror story, a bit of a mystery. A thriller and a ghost story. There’s plenty to read into. I love studying Occultism – bizarre secret organizations that hover around the fringes of society. It’s a trip to a world that may be right outside your door and you’d never know it.
MacNamee: Dan, thanks for your time, and all the best with this stunning-looking series.
Panosian: Thanks Olly. I hope you dig it! Cheers!
I most certainly did. Check out my review here now.