Interview: Dan Braun

By Lyndsey Holder

I recently had the good fortune to interview Dan Braun, who is strangely humble despite the fact that he’s done a pile of things we’d all love to do, from playing in bands to producing and developing movies, and winning an Eisner for bringing Creepy back.

IFP: You’ve done a whole bunch of fantastic, amazing things – you’ve had a pretty amazing life, it seems, at least on paper.

Dan Braun: I’ve had several people mention that and I don’t think of it that way – there’re a lot of boring parts in between. I’ve done a number of different things. Some people just do one thing their whole lives and other people kind of jump around – I guess I’m just one of those people who jump around a little bit.

IFP: But you’re good at a lot of different things – it’s not that you’re just jumping around because you can’t do them.

Dan Braun (laughter): Well, I’m glad that you said that – if I’d said it, it would have sounded bad. I know I’m good at certain things and, luckily, some of those things are things I enjoy doing, like writing and graphic design and music. It does tend to be more creative stuff, although I do manage a fairly robust film business, so I do have a bit of the left brain/right brain both going.

IFP: Which one wins?

Dan Braun: The one that’s creative: the left. That would have to be foremost – for me, anyway.

IFP: So, everything you do, you need to have some kind of creative control, or at least a sort of creative outlet?

Dan Braun: I don’t know about control, but I would say that I consider the creating part of any venture to be most important. Of course, no venture of any kind is going to survive without funds flowing through it, but I would say that I am more in tune and concerned with creative matters.

IFP: That’s fairly apparent in your career – you seem to be able to inject a certain amount of creativity into pretty much everything you do.

Dan Braun: Yeah, I think that with my film business – it’s a company that I started with my twin brother, Josh, and we’ve worked together in bands and now we’re working together in a business that’s very much driven by our creative instincts. When we see a combination of something that really excites us creatively and is a good business decision, that’s wonderful, but we’re definitely guided by our creative instincts – that’s paramount.

IFP: I grew up as an only child, so I’m always interested in peoples’ relationships with their siblings because I have no frame of reference for that. How does it work for you? Do you guys fight, or do you get along pretty well?

Dan Braun: Oh, we fight. We don’t fight a lot, but when we do, it’s fairly spectacular.

IFP: You fight creatively?

Dan Braun: Yeah, it’s more of a mental thing – we’re not throwing darts at each other, like we did when we were 12.

IFP (laughter): That sounds pretty fun – you’re making me wish I had siblings, growing up.

Dan Braun: It actually is fun – I treasure my relationships with my two brothers and my half-brother – it’s really great.

IFP: So, you’re behind the relaunch of Creepy?

Dan Braun: There’s a whole team of people that are really behind the whole thing. I was directly behind acquiring the rights to Creepy and Eerie, and also worked out negotiating the deal with Mike Richardson of Dark Horse, so, in a lot of ways, I am directly behind the rebirth of Creepy as a publishing brand. We’re also branching out – we’re attempting to translate that into film, television and other things.

IFP: And now it’s awesome! You’ve got an Eisner award and everything.

Dan Braun: Yeah, that’s a little more difficult to keep my cool about.

IFP: I can imagine.

Dan Braun: I’ve been collecting comic books since I was six and I’ve been – I don’t really use the word “fanboy” because I’m not a fanboy. I’m a fanatic. I’m a little bit more serious than a fanboy. I think the moment when they actually called out Creepy Archives and we had won the Eisner was definitely – we were up against – I don’t remember exactly; I think there was Frank Miller – and there was absolutely no thought in my mind that we would win. I had nothing prepared to say; every other nominee was so strong, it wasn’t even a possibility. It was thrilling to just be there, at the table, and then at that moment, everything just went crazy. I was just like, “holy crap.” It was fun.

IFP: I bet it was fun. I’m kind of envious. What’s it like being around all of these people now? You said that you’ve been reading comics for a long time – what’s it like now that you’re in the industry?

Dan Braun: I can tell you – some of them are kind of a ‘be careful what you wish for.’ I don’t want to rag on any specific people and I won’t mention any names, but there’ve been a few people that I have kind of hero-worshiped and after meeting them, I think the hero-worship part was better than the reality. When you really truly think someone is a god and then you meet them and you realise that they are merely a mortal, there’s a disappointment. Other people that I’ve met in this industry, people like Mike Richardson, are such great people and I really enjoy our relationships. All the people at Dark Horse have been just great – it’s been a great company to be with. They’re pretty straight shooters and they’re just great to work with.

IFP: What, to you, makes a creepy story? What are the hallmarks of an excellent scary story?

Dan Braun: I’ve kind of had this discussion in my mind and on panels and before we started publishing and with my first collaborator/editor, Shawna Gore, and now with Sierra Hahn and Brendan Wright. Obviously, it can be a subjective thing, but I think that with horror on a printed page, it’s a little harder to actually scare someone the same way that you can use cinematic techniques, like in the film Insidious or in any other traditional horror film. A lot of it is about conjuring images and mood and feeling. In the latest issue of Creepy, number eight, there’s a story, “Jennifer”, by Bruce Johnson and Bernie Wrightson, and I would hold that pretty high as our benchmark to what I think is our almost perfect horror story or comic book story. The EC comics of the fifties, to me, were fabulous because they were somewhat hardcore and they were these little morality tales. So, I think it’s a combination of somehow capturing that mood and having a really, really compelling story, or an original story. I guess that’s the basis of a Creepy story – that the storytelling is really strong. We’ve had a lot of zombie pitches and ghoul pitches, and they were fun and definitely of the moment, but the stories weren’t strong enough. We’ve been extremely particular about the stories. A high percentage of what we are getting pitched are stories, and we will usually assign an artist to it and make that marriage kind of old school, which is how it always was done, by the editors. In recent times, there are a lot of writer/artists, and there are teams who usually work together. That’s been the fun part, curating these matches.

It is a hard question to answer, but I would say that we know it when we see it.

IFP: Are there any people that you look up to in the horror genre?

Dan Braun: I look up to Stephen King, because I think that the quality of his writing is generally so high, but, to me, it’s the artists – artists not specifically in horror, but who have done horror. People like Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson and, very specifically, Gene Colan. It’s hard to beat Jack Kirby out of the number one spot, but Gene Colan, to me, especially the horror stuff he did for Creepy and The Tomb of Dracula and Marvel in the seventies, has an amazing and cinematic approach. It’s hard to find another person who has that same approach. Bernie Wrightson has it; Neal Adams has it; Gene Colan has it. There are modern artists who have it, but those, to me, are the masters.

IFP: It must be an amazing feeling to put a writer and an artist together and to see what comes out of it.

Dan Braun: When it works, it’s amazing. In Creepy #8, there’s a story by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones. They were very well-known – they’d teamed together on Batman, off series, which was very well-regarded. Doug pitched us a story, and Brendan and Sierra came up with the idea of re-pairing him with Kelley. That story is amazing. It came out much better than we could have imagined.

Going back to Creepy #1, I got Angelo Torres, an original Creepy artist and a Mad Magazine artist, to illustrate my story, which is called “Hell Hound Blues”. That was a bit of a high point, to be able to work with him. I’ve actually gotten to know him and he’s a really beautiful human being. I don’t say those words together very often – it just sounds too corny – but he is one.

IFP: Do you normally look back at who has collaborated with whom when trying to match people, or do you try to match up writing style with art style?

Dan Braun: Personally, I try to match it that way. This was just a really inspired idea. Brendan and Sierra are probably a little more up on modern artists than me – I’m probably a lot more up on classic artists, although I don’t know the depth of their knowledge on that. I’m sort of a studier of comic book history. I know most of the classic collaborations. I would say that, with these, I think of a story and then go through my mind for imagery that would make sense. I don’t think of a specific artist; I think of images I remember and then think, Oh, that was that artist. Every now and then, I try to think of something that’s right out of left field. Actually, another left field that Sierra suggested was Colleen Coover for this issue and that, I think, was a really inspired idea, for the story called “Nineteen”, which people really seem to be responding well to. I would say that I don’t put rules on these things – there are rules that people tend to follow in regards to comic book creations. Some, I would say, should be broken and others are well-advised to be followed.

IFP: I think, in essence, one might say that the only way to get new things is to break down the boundaries that we’ve created for ourselves.

Dan Braun: Yes, exactly.

IFP: Which is something you seem to be rather good at doing.

Dan Braun: The danger is sometimes when – I guess it’s not really a danger, but my tendency is to break the boundaries too hard and too quickly. I think we sometimes struggle with that in terms of Creepy and its older readers. It does have a very strong older fanbase, and we do try to give it that classic feel and base it in the story form that it had originally, which is short stories with twist endings, but with a more modern flair. Part of that was bringing in artists: We actually did get Gene Colan to do a pinup for us, and then we got Angelo, and on the last issue – #7 – we got Manuel Sanjulian to do the cover, which is an amazing cover. So, it’s like fixing up a little bit to respect the past, but not to overly fetishizse it, I guess you could say.

IFP: It definitely gives people who are interested in the horror genre a place to look and see whom they might want to be following.

Dan Braun: That is a good point. The other thing that we’ve been talking about is that we’re relaunching Creepy’s sister title, Eerie, which became a magazine in its own right. It followed after the success of Creepy in 1965, and was really just more of the same, but then it turned into a launching pad for characters and serials, and maybe there was a little more sci-fi in there. We are going to be launching Eerie on July 4th and it’s going to be sci-fi horror. We’re very excited about that.

IFP: Who is going to be working on that?

Dan Braun: In the first issue, David Lapham is doing a story – I forget the name of it, but it’s a great, original take on a robot story. Another one – I forget who is drawing this one, but the writer is Chris Taylor, who collaborated with Jason Shawn Alexander on our clown story in Creepy #6. He’s a really strong writer, and he’s doing a very fun, very EC-influenced, um…I would call it a Martian sex drama.

IFP (laughter): I think robots and Martian sex stories are a must-have for any sci-fi compilation.

Dan Braun: Yeah, we had to start there. We’ll expand, but that was a really good starting point.

IFP: Is there anything else going on right now that you’re excited about?

Dan Braun: There’s a lot of things that I’m excited about, although they’re not necessarily Creepy-related, but we are developing a big Creepy Anthology movie with a pretty famous and successful film director, so we’re doing a lot of pitching. I’m actually going to LA next week, so hopefully, that will lead to an interesting announcement.