"I don't think he steals teeth because he wants to, but because he is driven to." An interview with Nightmare the Rat creator Rafer Roberts.
This Halloween we’ll be throwing a massive party here at Fantom Comics, featuring among other things the launch of the Nightmare the Rat collection by Rafer Roberts (aka plasticfarm... even if you don’t care at all about comics, follow his Tumblr. It’s full of cats). The party is going to be epic, so if you’re in or around DC next Friday, you should stop by! There’ll be all-ages fun during the day, and alcohol and whatnot after hours–more details here.
We’ll start off with the softball questions: could you introduce yourself?
I’m Rafer Roberts, the creator of such comics as NIGHTMARE THE RAT and PLASTIC FARM. I’m also the artist of a number of backups in various Valiant comics, a few TIGER LAWYERS, the DR. GRAVELY AND BILLY series, and THANOS AND DARKSEID: CARPOOL BUDDIES OF DOOM.
Could you tell us a bit about Nightmare the Rat? It’s like a twisted version of an old timey newspaper strip. How’d you come up with the concept? What were your biggest influences?
Nightmare the Rat is a tooth-stealing demon who torments the fine people of Hell City. His enemies include the Hell City Police Department, dentists, and Morningbreath the Owl (an adorable little owl that poops in people’s mouths).
Nightmare came about a few Christmases ago when I was drunk and watching old crappy holiday themed movies. “Babes in Toyland”, an old Laurel and Hardy movie, took place in what was meant to be a wonderland of nursery rhyme characters but instead was 90 minutes of nightmare fuel. One of the intended to be cute but was actually horrible creatures looked like an inebriated monkey dressed up in a mouse costume. I started drawing that creature in my sketchbooks and, with minimal design tweaks, eventually he turned into Nightmare the Rat.
The first real Nightmare comic was done for the DC Conspiracy’s MAGIC BULLET newspaper. Since the idea behind MAGIC BULLET is that each comic is a tabloid-sized page, I looked at early 1900’s comic strips for inspiration. The two biggest influences were LITTLE NEMO and KRAZY KAT. [You can read Nightmare the Rat online for free here!]
For a protagonist with such ambiguous motivations, what do you think makes Nightmare work as such a long-running character for you?
I like that you describe his motivations as ambiguous. I don’t see him as good or evil, but rather as a force of nature. I don’t think that he steals teeth because he wants to, but because he is driven to. If in collecting teeth he ruins someone’s life or stops the apocalypse, those things are secondary to Nightmare the Rat.
I think that he works over the longrun because he has such simple and pure motivations. You know exactly what he is going to do. The punchline to every NIGHTMARE THE RAT comic is always going to be the same: he steals someone’s teeth. The fun part, and the most challenging part, is coming up with different setups to that eventual punchline. As the strip progressess, and as the more obvious situations (battling a dentist, for example) get used up, the comic gets weirder and weirder. And that’s the fun part for me and, I hope, fun for the reader as well.
So what’s the collection you’re launching at our Halloween party?
The collection is a 28-page tabloid newspaper, the same format as the MAGIC BULLET newspapers, collecting every NIGHTMARE THE RAT comic to date, including the full color Morningbreath the Owl story and a brand new comic done specially for the collection. I’ve already picked them up from the printer and they turned out wonderful.
Your creepy, shaky art style lends itself to horror, even when you’re drawing something very un-horror and superheroey like X-O Manowar, but there’s always a bit of humor intertwined with it as well. How do you approach your art style, and how do you hit that balance?
I’ve taken to describing my art as either “chunky” or “crunchy” which I’m not sure even makes sense. I sometimes describe it as a collection of mistakes that all seem to work together. I think my style comes from a desire to entertain myself. Not just from seeing the final product, but from the act of drawing itself. Some lines are more fun to make than others.
Despite my style falling more on the cartoony side, I do make conscious effort to make sure that I set the right tone for the story that is in front of me. The fun stuff, the Valiant stuff or Tiger Lawyer or the Dr. Gravely and Billy shorts, I tend to push the facial expressions and character acting more. The horror stuff, the FUBAR stories or the short I did for CANAAN CULT REVIVAL [which has a Kickstarter campaign going on right now!], I’ll over-emphasize shadows and do a lot more cross-hatching. NIGHTMARE THE RAT (and PLASTIC FARM, for that matter) fall pretty much right in the middle of my funny/horror spectrum.
You’re based out in Hagerstown, Maryland, but you’re pretty involved in the DC comic scene through DC Conspiracy. Could you talk about those guys?
The DC Conspiracy is a loose knit collective of comics creators. There’s really no requirement to be a member other than to come to meetups and participate in our endeavors. (For example, helping out with distributing the MAGIC BULLET newspaper, or promoting events, etc.) Living out in the sticks I don’t make it to as many meetups as I would like, so I try to help out by running the DCC Tumblr.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’ve got a couple of projects in various stages of production.
Things that don’t exist yet:
I’m working with artist Giles Crawford on a pitch and it’s probably too early to talk about that, except to say that I hope it gets picked up. Jeff McClelland and I did a short BLACK TERROR comic a few months back and we’re talking about doing more of those. Ryan Ferrier and I are in agreement that we should do more comics together when our mutual schedules align and Justin Jordan and I will be doing more THANOS AND DARKSEID comics.
Things that are drawn but haven’t been released yet:
I’ve got comics in both RISE and CANAAN CULT REVIVAL, which are currently running Kickstarter campaigns. Sean Frost and I have done two DR. GRAVELY AND BILLY short comics, one appearing in the upcoming IMAGINARY DRUGS anthology from IDW and the other backing up SHUTTER #8 from Image. Justin and I have backups in ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #25 and BLOODSHOT #25, which are both coming out real soon. I’ve got a page in the LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM massive anthology, and I’m about halfway done drawing PLASTIC FARM #25.
We hear you’ll be in full costume for our Halloween party. What will it be? Will you compete in the donut-eating contest?
I think Esther wanted to be surprised, so you can put this under spoiler test if you want.
I’m renting a shitty Easter Bunny costume, like the kind you would wear to a daycare or old folks home. I hadn’t heard about the donut-eating contest but I am a fat guy and could probably put up a good fight.
What’s your all-time favorite spooooky/horror/Halloweeny comic?
I don’t know about all-time favorite, but FREAK SHOW by Bernie Wrightson and Bruce Jones is probably up there. Does HELLBOY count? Ennis’s HELLBLAZER run is one of my favorite in all of comics and had a pretty big impact on me as a kid, so maybe that? The old Simon/Kirby horror shorts that DC reprinted in BLACK MAGIC are nuts though too. Does anyone remember SOMEPLACE STRANGE by Ann Nocenti and John Bolton? That was creepy and trippy.
Thanks to Rafer for the interview! Hang out with us this 31st, if you will. Either way, you can buy his comix at Fantom anytime!