The Itch Remains: Discussing `Darla’ With Writer Josh Ruben

Josh Ruben is primarily known as a feature film writer, director and even actor. Now he’s breaking into comics after a successful Kickstarter campaign for his graphic novel Darla from Invader Comics. Darla explores the disturbing underbelly of Americana through politics, health, psychosis and murder. In an exclusive interview with, Ruben discusses Darla’s journey from a feature film to a graphic novel and why he didn’t want to run a crowdfunding campaign in the first place.

Tom Smithyman: You are having a lot of success as a director and an actor. Why risk writing a crowdfunded graphic novel? Are you a comics fan?

Josh Ruben: That’s a great question! The quick answer is, I didn’t want to… BUT, when my partners at Invader illuminated me to crowdfunding being a necessary evil in the independent comic world, I thought let’s do this… Darla is worth it, poor gal.

Though I’m known for comedy, I’m a horror fan first, and shortly after I discovered the likes of Freddy, Jason and all things Clive Barker (well, Nightbreed, specifically) my dad took me to a couple of comic book stores in the Germantown and ultimately Potomac area down in Maryland, where I grew up before relocating to New York. Comics lit me up – so much Batman, X-Force, X-Factor, X-Men… The journey of making Darla has brought my love and appreciation of comics back full circle, and now I’m hooked all over again – not just on reading ‘em but now the itch remains… I wanna keep making books.

Smithyman: Was there something about this story that you felt could only be told through this medium? 

Ruben: This story is pretty wicked, a bit grim, wholly dark and twisted… I don’t think we’re quite ready for this sort of film these days, though Ari Aster would make an appropriate partner. There’s something dually charming and gruesome about Briana Tippetts’ art that brought this book to life in a way that a film could otherwise have mis-delivered for sure. For this place and time, Darla is unquestionably a better suited story for a graphic novel medium than anything else.

Smithyman: Darla hits on a lot of themes, but mainly seems to be an indictment of Americana – from our healthcare system to our politics. What feelings do you want people to come away with after reading Darla?

Ruben: The real success of this book would be readers’ feelings for Darla, tragic a character as she is. The indictment of Americana is largely due to folks’ isolation, and in that isolation, spiraling into their worst selves. That’s so damn tragic, and so darkly comic in the case of this story. If readers laugh out of discomfort and disbelief, I’m a happy devil.

Smithyman: Do you approach writing differently when crafting a graphic novel versus a screenplay, or are they essentially follow the same method?

Ruben: I’m writing my next comic in a far more traditional Scott McCloud way – but Darla was conceived as a screenplay first, so a good deal of the writing work was in revising and trimming and working with Briana to translate the story to the graphic novel medium.

Smithyman: You chose Briana Tippetts to illustrate the book. What is it about her style that made her a good fit for Darla?

Ruben: Well I’ll first say that I got hip to Briana via Instagram – she’d tag me in this gorgeous, thoughtful fanart of my films, Scare Me and Werewolves Within… Her work is so imaginative. She’d send me some original art in the form of illustrations or strikers – and eventually a complimentary copy of her book RICTUS which I loved.  Briana’s work is both charming and haunting at the same time. The characters are almost abstract in appearance – and in that default aesthetic, they evoke a spectrum of feeling – haunting and languid; freaky and funny; charming and grotesque. In that sense, Briana’s art is ideal for the kind of genre-bending worlds I like to create. Funny and scary; wicked and sweet. That summarizes Darla. 

Smithyman: Now that you’ve had a taste of creating a graphic novel, what’s next for you? Will you stick with comics or go back to horror movies? Or both? Or something completely different?

Ruben: Oh, man. I want to make more graphic novels. I want to find a traditional comic story in three to five parts. I want to make much harder, scarier horror films. I also want to make a musical. I want to do plays. I want it all and I don’t want to be pinned down. I’m stopped on the street for making seagull noises on Make Some Noise for Dropout TV’s Game Changer series, just as I’m stopped for playing a serial killer in A Wounded Fawn.

Smithyman: OK, time to switch media. Darla has become a hit and has been optioned as a feature film and you are directing. Who do you cast in the lead role, and which part will you play?

Ruben: When I envisioned it as a film, I thought I’d go full Cindy Sherman and play Darla myself in full prosthetics. Now, I think it’d be a dream to have Sarah Paulson, Molly Shannon, or Kristen Wiig go completely dark and take a giant swing in this wicked world.

I’d like to gain 40 pounds and play one of the lawyers.

Smithyman: Paulson has established she can play anyone, so she gets my vote! Best of luck with Darla.


Josh Ruben is primarily known as a feature film writer, director and even actor. Now he’s breaking into comics afterCOMICONRead More

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