Interview with Joseph Vargo - February 2009

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Joseph Vargo is a man of many talents. He first made a name for himself with his gothic fantasy artwork, garnering worldwide acclaim with his paintings of vampires, ghosts and gargoyles, as well as his Gothic Tarot deck. He later spread his artistic wings and branched-out into music and writing, creating books and haunting soundscapes with his band Nox Arcana. His latest project, The Legend of Darklore Manor and Other Tales of Terror, combines all of his artistic pursuits with an illustrated anthology based on one of his most popular concept albums.

You seem to be constantly busy with various creative endeavors in the realms of art, music and literature. Your band, Nox Arcana, just released Phantoms of the High Seas at Halloween, and now you have a new book. Tell me about The Legend of Darklore Manor and Other Tales of Terror.

Vargo: The book basically has two parts. The first half contains twelve sinister short stories, while the second half offers one long story based on the first Nox Arcana cd, Darklore Manor. The main story, "The Legend of Darklore Manor," is a novella that tells the tale of a haunted mansion plagued by an undying curse. The story follows a team of paranormal investigators as they delve into the dark secrets of the house over the course of several years. The reader also gets a glimpse back in time to when the Victorian manor was inhabited by the Darklore family, and the origins of the curse.
      I originally drafted the story for the liner notes of our Darklore Manor cd back in 2003. A more elaborate version appeared on our website later that year. We had so much interest in this story—including other bands using portions of the text in their self-promotion materials (unauthorized, of course), and Halloween attractions basing their haunted houses on Darklore Manor (with our permission)—that I decided to expand upon what was already known about the mansion and it's curse with a longer tale based on the established facts.

Does this house actually exist?

Vargo: According to the story, the mansion burned down in 1971, so there isn't any proof to verify that it actually ever existed, but people still swear that the tales are true. My story is a work of fiction based on the popular rumors and theories. The mansion was believed to be the site of sinister occult rituals, and a curse was said to have caused several unexplained deaths. Other tales tell of dark forms that haunt the mansion and its grounds in the dead of night. These rumors served as a great basis for a gothic ghost story and left a lot of room to expand upon the legend.

What are some of your favorite ghost stories you've read?

Vargo: Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" is my favorite haunted house story. I loved the original version of the movie too. I also enjoy classic ghost stories like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and even "A Christmas Carol." There haven't been many good haunted house stories in recent years, but I really liked the films The Ring and The Devil's Backbone. Both of these films put some innovative spins on the traditional ghost story formula. While writing "The Legend of Darklore Manor" I really wanted to capture the moodiness of a classic gothic ghost story, but I also wanted to add some original contemporary horror twists.

Is there an overall binding theme to the other stories in the collection?

Vargo: Other than the fact that they are all horror stories, no. Several of the tales were featured in the pages of Dark Realms Magazine, but the themes vary from witches, gargoyles and evil dolls to living nightmares, urban legends and demonic possession. Two of the stories, "Black Heart," and "The Westgate Phantom," chronicle the exploits of a reporter named Robert Morgan, who specializes in investigating cases of the supernatural, along the lines of "The Night Stalker," but even these two stories deal with completely different themes. "The Westgate Phantom" is in part based on the ghostly tales surrounding the haunted Crescent Hotel in Arkansas, which was once a hospital for the terminally ill.
     Unlike our first anthology, Tales From The Dark Tower, which was set in 950 AD, around the time of the First Crusade, the stories in the Darklore book all have contemporary settings, and none of them deal with vampires or romantic gothic themes. The Darklore stories are just pure creepy horror, designed to make the reader shudder with wicked delight. They also act as little excursions into the shadows of the human mind where the reader can explore a variety of sinister settings filled with nightmarish denizens of the darkside. Some of the tales deal with supernatural themes, but some are purely psychological. This helps to keep readers guessing right up to the final twist.
      I felt it was important to have a lot of variety in this book, so a wide range of primal fears are covered, ranging from arachnophobia, claustrophobia, torture, mutilation, fear of dolls and clowns, and a basic fear of the dark. A few of the stories deal with some intense material and are not for the squeamish or faint of heart. Some of the stories have references to things in the other stories, and there are several references to ancient entities known only as "The Dark Gods."

Yes, I noticed that, and wanted to ask you about them. Are the Dark Gods an original concept or are they something from mythology?

Vargo: They are an original concept, along the lines of Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, but with a more terrestrial origin. Several years ago I painted a portrait of four monstrous idols standing side-by-side in a shadowy cavern. I titled the painting "The Dark Gods." Over the years I received numerous questions from my fans as to the origin and history of the Dark Gods, so I decided to create a back story to flesh them out. Several stories in the Darklore anthology allude to these ancient deities, giving portions of their history and shedding light on some of the shadowy areas. I wanted to unveil their origins slowly, just as Lovecraft did with his Cthulhu mythos. There will be more stories in the future that will reveal even more sinister details about these diabolical deities.

The book also contains stories that were written or co-written by other writers. How did you come to work with these authors?

Vargo: I worked with Joseph Iorillo on three previous books, Tales From The Dark Tower, The Gothic Tarot Compendium, and my art book, Born of the Night. He's a terrific writer who's penned several novels, including John Threesixteen and This House is Empty Now. Timothy Bennett is a screenwriter and creator of the independent comic series Life of the Dead. Both of them were writers for Dark Realms and they are both good friends of mine. It was a lot of fun to collaborate with them.

I'd love to see Darklore Manor made into a movie. Are there any film plans in your future?

Vargo: Thank you. I agree. I think the story would make a great movie if it were done right. My next project will be working on the sequel to Tales From The Dark Tower, entitled Beyond The Dark Tower, which will be the second book in an eventual trilogy. I have begun work on a Nox Arcana cd centered around the Dark Tower mythos as well. Future Nox Arcana themes will be based on original stories that will also lend themselves to literary and film projects.

That all sounds terrific. Good luck with all your future endeavors and thank you for taking the time for this interview.