Exclusive: Thomas James on the ‘Dark Country’ Graphic Novel


Actor/director/comic book publisher Thomas Jane has demonstrated his love of horror in projects ranging from The Mist to his own Raw Studios titles in collaboration with artist Tim Bradstreet. For his latest book, Jane has enlisted one of the world’s greatest living horror comic book artists, the Swiss scratchboard maestro Thomas Ott. Ott has adapted writer Tab Murphy’s short story "The Dark Country", which Jane previously adapted into a 3D film. The result is one of the most striking and beautifully produced graphic novels so far this year. Below, Jane shares his thoughts on how the project came to be, and how it offers horror fans a new kind of sensual experience.

“Tab Murphy is not the first guy you would think of when you think of horror or “pscyho noir”, as we like to call Dark Country,” Jane tells me. “He was a writer on Disney movies, like Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But through a friend he passed me this short story that he’d written, called “The Dark Country”. It was very visceral and it had classic horror elements, told in the first person subjective, using a device that EC Comics used to use a lot, which is that first-person narrative style of storytelling. It had all these great classic Twilight Zone elements, EC Comics elements, with a twist and everything. So it became a favorite of mine. It also reminded me a lot of the work of Thomas Ott, who I was reading and had been a big fan of for a number of years. So these kinds of things just mixed up in my head for a while.”

“The Ott connection influenced me quite a bit,” Jane confesses. “I used to carry a copy of Thomas Ott’s Dead End with me on set, and show it to the DP and the production designer, so we could get the look and the feel. I stole a bunch of shots from Dead End for my movie. [Laughs.] So making the graphic novel of Dark Country was a natural sort of progression creatively for Raw Studios. I actually just sent Thomas the short story – we communicated via email – and I told him I made the movie, and he actually had friends who had seen the movie. So he talked to his friends, and his friends said, 'Oh yeah, it’s right up your alley. You’d love it.' So Thomas agreed to adapt the short story into a graphic novel without ever seeing the film. So he did all of the work without seeing the movie, he tells me. He’s since seen the film. But I was struck by the great similarities between the graphic novel and shots in the movie.”

“But it’s a unique experience. It’s not a copy of the film. It’s actually not even a copy of the short story. Thomas Ott took the short story, and he adapted it through his own lens. So he left some things out, he added some things, he told the story the way Thomas Ott would tell it. Which turned out to be terrific, and its own animal. Different from the film, different from the short story. So it’s neat to include the short story in our graphic novel, so you can get an idea of the genesis, and a bit of an idea creatively of how things evolve from artist to artist. I think it’s interesting on that level.”

Dark Country is especially unique for a noir story in that there’s no dialogue.

“Oh, totally,” says Jane. “It’s a unique way of telling a story. It’s a signature thing that Ott does. He never has any dialogue or narration. And when Thomas and I talked about it, we initially thought about including dialogue from the short story in the graphic novel. So you’d see a couple of Thomas Ott panels and then you’d read some text, so the two things were interwoven. But we quickly decided it would be best if Thomas just did his own thing and do what he does best, which is to adapt the story through his own unique perspective. I’ve always been a fan of Thomas’s work because it’s so visual, there is no dialogue to get in the way of the rhythms of the visual storytelling. And yet when you’re looking at a Thomas Ott story, you hear sound in your head. It’s not silent per say, because you can hear footsteps. The visuals intuit a certain kind of aural language. Which I think is really cool.”