Exclusive - Ten Questions to Writer Stefan Petrucha - author of Kolchak #5 - "Devil in the Details" (8/18/02)

Stefan Petrucha was kinda enough to take time out of his schedule and grant us a brief interview concerning his work on Moonstone's "Devil in the Details."

1) How did you get started in the writing industry?
Stefan: Sometimes I don't think I've truly gotten started yet. After graduating college with a BA in Lit in 1981, I had a long string of near-misses at Marvel - tryout stories where the artist took a year to hand the book in, editors too busy to talk to me, that sort of thing. The fact that I was handing in Man-Thing plots based on Samuel Becket's Endgame probably didn't help much.

By the mid-eighties, I was working as a Tech Writer, penning computer based training lessons. My first comic work was published in 1987, an issue of Web of Spiderman (where again, the artist had taken a year to hand in the work).

Then there was nothing until a few years later, when I managed to sell a number of creator-owned titles to First Publishing (Squalor, Meta-4, Lance Barnes: Post Nuke Dick and Counterparts). That was a bit of a golden age - until First went defunct.

I had scattered work in comics after that, a huge majority of it, for one odd reason or another, never published. At one point, 80% of what I'd written and been paid for never saw the light of day.

Around the mid-nineties, Topps Comics came into being, helmed by my childhood pal, Jim Salicrup - who gave me the writing chores on their adaptation of DUCKMAN. Around then, the X-FILES premiered, and I was among the first to suggest to Jim it would make a great comic - and that I'd be the perfect writer for it.

After that went belly-up a year or so later, I was still delighted to be writing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics for Egmont Publishing in Denmark, but in terms of mainstream comic store stuff, I had lots of possibilities but no real assignments. With comic prices so high, and the quality generally so low, aside from Egmont, I pretty much drifted away from comics.

Then a year or so ago, I started writing dark fantasy prose for White Wolf Publishing. That was when I learned that some company named Moonstone was doing comic versions of their stuff. On the basis of that, I approached publisher Joe Gentile. When I learned they were also doing Kolchak, it was the first title I begged to write.

And here we are. Long answer, I know, but in some ways my career started ages ago, in some ways, it's just getting started.

2) What was your first experience with Kolchak?
Stefan: When I was 13, back in 1972, watching "teasers" for the ABC movie of the week. Darren McGavin's voice came on the air, saying "Do you believe in vampires, little boy?" and I was utterly hooked. The original Night Stalker TV movie is the single best vampire film ever made.

3) How did you become associated with working on Moonstone on Kolchak
Stefan: I answered a bit of that above, but to elaborate, Joe was very impressed with my work on Boston Blackie and as soon as a spot opened up in the schedule, asked me to pitch stories.

4) How did you "bone up" on doing Kolchak and his cast of characters?
Stefan: Aside from re-watching the original film, which held up really well, btw, I happily TiVo'd and watched a number of the series episodes, which were airing on the Sci-Fi channel at the time. I'd seen them all already, but caught about six again, including the Werewolf and Zombie episodes.

5) What did Moonstone tell you about how to write Kolchak? Did they direct you to Mark Dawidziak's "Grave Secrets" novel (which pretty much establishes the template for their new stories), provide a "bible", or something else?
Stefan: Nope. Joe knew I knew the character and pretty much trusted me. I did read all the comic scripts that had been written up to that time.

6) Did working on X-Files (or any of your other previous projects) help when writing "Devil" If so, how?
Stefan: X-Files particularly helped in one strong way. Because I was used to writing "paranormal" plots, I think I was better able to concentrate on what made the character of Carl Kolchak unique. Feeling relatively confident about the story details, the scares, the monster concept and so on, I put my energies more into exploring his voice and point of view - which really is what makes Night Stalker tick.

As a counterpoint, Scully and Mulder always (and really, only) worked as two halves of the Believer vs Skeptic dialectic. In a way, any personality traits they had were secondary to those functions. Kolchak is closer to a noir detective like Marlowe, at heart a humanist, full of sympathies and always engaging in complex moral choices in a corrupt world. In that sense, I consider him much more fleshed out, and less intellectual than Scully/Mulder.

7) What was the hardest thing about writing "Devil in the Details"
Stefan: Waiting to hear what Jeff Rice had to say! I knew he read and commented on all the scripts. Back in my Topps/X-Files days, at Jim's request, I'd done a proposal for a new Kolchak series - one which brought him into the present day, but aged him, gave him am estranged son, brought him out of retirement, etc. I was trying to do a sort of Dark Knight Returns take on Carl, but Jeff absolutely hated it, perhaps rightly for all I remember, and squashed the deal.

This time out, even though I was writing "classic" Kolchak, I was afraid he'd have a similar reaction. Fortunately, for me, he loved the script. Getting his two single-spaced type-written notes back, mostly full of praise, remains a highlight of my career.

8) What was the easiest about writing "Devil in the Details"?
Stefan: Well. writing it. It was, to coin a phrase, a hoot. Took me about two days, once I did my refresher course. I think there again, the X-Files background helped - insofar as I knew this had to be different, and exactly how to make it different. The dramatic issues, the structure, the characters, were all things I'd in essence thought through years ago.

9) Do you plan to do any future work on Kolchak for Moonstone?
Stefan: One tries not to plan too much in this industry, but Joe is interested in having me write more Kolchak, and I'd certainly love to do so.

10) What would you like to do with Kolchak that you didn't or couldn't do in "Devil . . ."?
Stefan: I'd really like to come up with another interesting vampire story, like the original, but, in a way that's utterly impossible. I think the success of the movie rested on the question of whether or not the vampire was supernatural or a psycho. For the first half of that film, as far as you knew, you were in the real world, real Las Vegas - and the slow realization that the vampire WAS supernatural, that the authorities were dedicated to preserving an artificial, consensus view of reality, and that Carl, the center of the good, would ultimately fail to warn the world of the truth, gave it an incredible oomf.

But how can you replicate that now, with Kolchak fighting the monster of the week? Plotting decisions then become a question of coming up with an interesting monster, and an interesting moral dilemma for Carl - beyond the "Man" trying to shut him down.

On the other hand, a Kolchak/Vampire the Masquerade cross-over would certainly be fun - In that case, you'd slowly learn not only that monsters are real, but that perhaps they're the dominant species.

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For more information on Stefan Petrucha, check out his home page

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