Filmmaker Gary Dauberman has found remarkable success in the world of horror. After making a full franchise of its own out of the Annabelle doll and successfully adapting Stephen King's It, Dauberman is tackling two brand new things: comic books and the post-apocalypse.
Through Vault Comics and with the co-writing help of Wasted Space author Michael Moreci, Dauberman is going the heart of doomed Americana: the Mall. Literally. His new comic series Mall is all about a human society carrying on after the end of the world inside the monolith to capitalism that is, yes, the mall. It's Escape from New York meets The Warriors.
Speaking with Dauberman and Moreci, the most interesting takeaway about Mall wasn't where it was focusing its attention, but where it wasn't: the apocalypse itself.
"This story isn't about that — the way the world ended," Dauberman told SYFY WIRE. "It's about the way the world continued on — or struggles to — inside the walls of a place that was once a testament to the achievement of man. In the past, we built churches, in the past we built temples, in the past we built castles. Today we build malls."
Moreci concurs, adding: "The most interesting thing to do in the post-apocalypse is not talk about the post-apocalypse. When you start on that path, all of [a] sudden you’re opening the door to questions like 'how did the world end?' 'how do we fix it?' 'what’s the cure?' and things like that. All those tropes are so utterly played out."
"It’s not about the mystery, and one of my rules of writing is to never introduce narrative questions you’re not prepared to answer," Moreci says. "And we’re not concerned with how the world ended or any of that stuff — our story is laser-focused on the mall, on this world and its tribes, its gangs, and its conflicts."
So with the J.J. Abrams Mystery Box-style of storytelling off the table, that leaves the larger question: What is Mall about?
"Emile Gladstone — one of the other producers on the Curse of La Llorona — and I were discussing all those ghost malls over in China and elsewhere and thought they'd make a great setting for some kind of John Carpenter-esque story, a new landscape for a post-apocalyptic tale," Dauberman says. "From there, I got excited over the idea that after The Great Event forced society to stay indoors, all these tribes started to spring up inside each of the stores, with each tribe specific to the store they're in. Just visually, I thought that was super cool and from a story standpoint it felt like a terrific jumping-off point."
Malls are a setting genre writers have often enjoyed visiting. Stranger Things just had its epic final battle set partly in a mall in the '80s. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead quite famously called out the zombie-esque nature of consumer culture in the 1970s. So why a mall for this latest Vault Comics book?
"We definitely have some crossover with Dawn of the Dead and other subversive films of [that] nature, like Escape from New York, also, and The Warriors," Moreci says. "Gary and I were intent on capturing that aesthetic. And while malls are different now, some things remain the same; like our consumer-driven culture that keeps the wheels of capitalism, the worst parts of it, alive and strong. And, not to mention, our personal identities and how they’re so remarkably shaped by stuff. By things. That’s all embedded in Mall, and we’re not shy about capturing the same subversive and dangerous aesthetic of heroes like Romero or Carpenter."
With It: Chapter 2 on the way, it felt natural to ask Moreci and Dauberman about what's scarier to them: the post-capitalist horror or Pennywise.
"F*** clowns," Moreci says. "Especially transdimensional ones. I’ll take the mall any day."
"I’m with Mike," Dauberman agrees. "I think I could maybe survive longer in the mall than against Pennywise. But truthfully, I'm screwed either way."
We did try to get Dauberman to take a side in who would win in a fight: Pennywise, Annabelle, or Valak (from The Nun), but he wouldn't bite. "The only winning move is not to play," he says. "But man, would I love to see the humanity inside the mall face off against a supernatural entity. Who knows? Maybe we'll get there..."
For now, you can see a preview of Mall #1 right here.
The issue drops August 28.