It’s a new year, which means new comics with new stories from new creative teams. This month Troy Nixey, Damon Gentry, and Guy Major blend horror, humor, crime, and science fiction in “Vinegar Teeth,” a new comic from Dark Horse. The series tells the story of a human cop, Artie Buckle, as partners him up with “a mysterious, tentacled, extra-dimensional being” named Vinegar Teeth. Can these two coexist together? Can these two save Brick City and possibly the world?
To find out the answers to these questions and more we spoke to Damon and Troy about the upcoming series, including how they created the series, the unlikely Lovecraftian buddy cop setup, and merging humor and horror. A big thanks to Troy and Damon and be sure to look for the first issue of “Vinegar Teeth” out January 24th.
This is a story and concept of the series sounds like it is going to be a lot of fun and I don’t think I have heard something like this pitched before. So we can get it out of the way but what is “Vinegar Teeth”? How did the story come about and how did you guys end up together on this project?
Damon Gentry: “Vinegar Teeth” is a Lovecraftian buddy-cop action-comedy about veteran detective Artie Buckle, and his misadventures with his new rookie partner, a monster named “Vinegar Teeth.” Troy approached me about working together after he had seen my first book “Sabertooth Swordsman” with Aaron Conley. I’m a longtime fan of Troy’s work, so it was a no-brainier. We did a short strip together for Eerie and that went well, so he pitched a 4 issue mini-series for us. He already had the two main characters designed, a basic story idea, and the title, which I loved.
Troy Nixey: The first incarnation of “Vinegar Teeth” appeared as a four-pager I wrote and drew for “Meathaus 8,” published in 2006. It centered on a gag that I thought was hilarious. As I shifted my focus away from movies and back to comics, Damon and I started chatting about projects and “Vinegar Teeth” seemed a natural fit for the type of project we wanted to do. My initial pitch to Damon was combine all the buddy-cop action movies from the 80s and 90s, add some monsters and heap on a healthy portion of Mad magazine.
The mention of cop story meets lovecraft means you guys have a lot of different influences and ideas you could bring into the series. What have you looked at or drawn from in creating your story?
DG: So much of it was informed by Troy’s art style and the direction he had in mind, which he can speak to. Now that I think about it, most of my influence on this book comes from having seen Every Which Way But Loose once, decades ago. I don’t remember much about that movie, and I might be confusing it with another old movie, so Vinegar Teeth is like that movie(s?) filtered through a fun house hall of mirrors in my brain, in collaboration with Troy’s vision.
TN: As I alluded to, I’ve always enjoyed the action movies where two people who hate one another are forced to work together, especially if they’re solving a crime. Flicks like Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Red heat, Alien Nation, strongly resonated with me growing up. Monsters were always going to be involved because that’s what I do and I love love love comedy. The goal for Damon and I was to have as much fun as possible and no idea was too absurd to not be considered.
In addition to that the world feels very realized from the city, the outfits, to even the dialitc for an early to mid 1900s setting. How do you balance those aspects in the world building alongside the eccentric nature of the story?
DG: I think it comes from both of us being on the same page creatively. And most of that heavy lifting is done on the drawing side of things. While Troy was drawing I would occasionally shout encouragement down to him, as I lounged in my bedazzled palanquin atop a very large elephant, sipping a refreshing beverage.Continued below
TN: Hahaha. Damon would occasionally toss down a daiquiri to me as I worked. My preference is to set everything I do in an fantastical antiquated world for the simple reason that’s what I really enjoy drawing. I want the worlds I create to feel lived-in and while uniquely their own, have a sense of familiarity with the readers without being beholden to a specific era. I mix and match as needed, it’s fun. Hahaha.
Both of you have worked previously on stories that came out through Dark Horse ( “Sabertooth Swordsman”/”The Black Sinister”). What makes it a good place for this series?
DG: It’s a personal validation to be published alongside long-running greats like “Shaolin Cowboy,” “Usagi Yojimbo,” and “Hellboy” that I grew up reading. Dark Horse is good about creator-ownership rights, that’s crucial to me.
TN: I have a long history with Dark Horse. Mike Richardson has always been supportive of the stories I’ve wanted to tell and feel very fortunate “Vinegar Teeth” found a home there.
The series looks to mix both a tone of humor and horror. Both are two of the harder concepts to pull off in comics. How have you guys approached the two in the series? How do you make humor and horror work in comics?
DG: I honestly do not know. Troy, do you know?
TN: I firmly believe that for horror to work the tension needs to be alleviated at some point so it can be built up again and no better way to do that than with a joke. Build the dread, hit the reveal, let your characters wallow in it for awhile and then let them off the hook then repeat. A somewhat boiled down take on it but it works. Also I love stories that are not just one thing but a mix of genres. It certainly keeps readers on their toes.
The series seems to center around this buddy cop relationship with Artie and Vinegar Teeth? How do you capture that chemistry between a human and a hideous monster?
DG: Whatever characters you plug into your world, it’s good to find something enjoyable, or interesting, or compelling about each one. That individualistic point of view will hopefully make all of their interactions occur naturally. Or, if you’re lazy like me, get yourself a master artist like Troy Nixey, who can draw anything and everything enjoyable/interesting/compelling to behold!
TN: From the offset Damon and I wanted the character of Vinegar Teeth to be liked by everyone…except Artie. We thought it hilarious that such a horrific looking character would be welcomed with open arms wherever he went simply because he ate one bad guy and the mayor made him a cop for the publicity. Of course his personality helps, he’s a very likable fellow and you’ll notice that over the course of the four issues I draw him less aggressive/monstery and more friendly in appearance. The Eyes are the dead give away. Artie was locked in early as well, he was going to be despised by most, especially his fellow officers. The fact that he was a good at his job was his only saving grace (There’s a joke here that’ll make sense when people read the mini-series.) We did need to give Artie some humanity and his love of music was the reader’s way in. Damon came up with that one. It was a brilliant idea.
Troy, you had “The Black Sinister” come out this year and a reprint of “Jenny Finn” and now “Vinegar Teeth?” It’s been a good way to showcase and see how your style has changed and evolved from Jenny to Sinister to now Vinegar Teeth. What has been the biggest difference in these series and is a story like this one where you can really experiment and explore your style more?
TN: Short answer, I finally allowed myself to have fun and focus squarely on the types of stories I want to tell. It started with The Black Sinister and progressed as I worked on Vinegar Teeth. I also started working larger than the standard 11×17 which gave me more elbow room. I also started hand-lettering my pages, and I feel what is on the page truly represents me. I now feel like I’m headed in the right direction with my work, funny to suggest that after twenty plus years drawing professionally but sometimes that’s how long it takes to experience the aha moment and turn the corner. For me Vinegar Teeth is just the tip of the iceberg. Lots and lots of fun projects are on the slate.Continued below
What has the process been like as a creative team? The first issue seems to highlight what you both do well as creators, what has been your experience as a team creating it? What do each of you see the other bringing to the series?
DG: We worked closely together on the story and scripts. Lots of brainstorming to flesh out all the characters and events, then I would write a script draft, and then Troy would jump in and do revisions and punch it up, and we got everything into shape that way. Real back-and-forth. Troy is a creative freight train, I just let the magic happen and filled in the gaps. He also made tons of fun improvements on the final script, and added visual gags, as he was drawing pages.
TN: It was really organic which I appreciate and thankfully our egos weren’t so huge that they got in the way of the best idea wins, concept. We both wanted what was best for the book and Damon was not at all bothered when I’d take a right turn while drawing the pages if it helped the story. As Damon suggested, there’s was lots of back and forth, pitching of ideas, tweaking dialogue etc and laughing. We laughed a lot while working on this. Working with Damon was a blast!
What are your goals/plans for the series going forward?
DG: Four issues is all for now! We told the story we wanted to tell. We both have other commitments to attend to, for the time being.
TN: I love the idea of limited series. Tell an engaging story and get out! We wrapped up Vinegar Teeth exactly as we planned and I’m sure Damon would agree, it’s a tight, fun, crazy story.
What do you hope readers take away from the first issue of “Vinegar Teeth”?
DG: I hope they enjoy it as much as I do. I can still look at it and laugh. It’s ridiculous.
TN: “Vinegar Teeth” is my proudest creative accomplishment to date and I want to echo Damon’s sentiment, I hope readers enjoy it as much as we did creating it.
With the mix of noir and monsters the series leaves a clear path for appearances from Sabertooth Swordsman and Black Sinister? What issue will they appear in?
DG: No plans for that, but I’m sure the fans can dream up some hypothetical mash-ups for their own amusement! That’s always been a big conversation starter in the ol’ comic book shops.
TN: I tie all my projects into a shared universe. They’re in there, you just have to look for them. Hahaha.