The Making of The Children's Vampire Hunting Brigade Diorama
by David Lucarelli
I had a problem: how to grab the attention of some of the 50,000 convention attendees at Wondercon already suffering from sensory overload when my competition included film and TV companies that had budgets of millions of dollars to do the same. I was an unknown man with an unknown comic book to promote, so I decided to build a diorama.
My base was a pinewood board that was about 22 by 23 inches and an inch thick. An old foam pillow torn in half simulated the landscape. Woodland Scenics Scene-A-Rama Mountain Diorama Kit was used to make the two hills and the vampire's cave. I followed their instructions to build the two mountains of the cemetery starting with crushed up newspapers taped down, and then adding wet plaster strips on top of them. Copious amounts of the of the green grass and ever green powder that came with the kit provided the lush Scottish grass. I cast one of the molds provided in the kit twice to provide each side of the V shaped entrance, and cast the other mold to provide the large rock that had previously sealed the cave. The Woodland Scenics Scene-A-Rama Basic Diorama Kit provided additional grass, shrubbery and some realistic trees for the background.
Next I ordered pretty much every miniature gravestone I could find online from rail road scale to dolls house and larger, and laid them out in such a way as to use forced perspective to make the cemetery look even bigger. I actually hand sculpted (using Sculpey ) and baked one key tombstone from the comic I couldn't find already pre-made. I used a wash painting technique with acrylic paints to bring out the details.
The key multi-level mausoleum piece was loosely based on both actual mausoleum in the Southern Necropolis cemetery where the story takes place drawings by artists Christopher Matteson and Henry Ponciano in the book, which added some key details like the knight statures on each side. For this piece I found a great company in Poland on ebay called Mini Monsters that makes a Temple model as well as the knight statues. Kit-bashing those together, I added a foam block in the middle, and through much trial and error ended up gluing a cutout piece of cardboard that I had printed a granite texture on to simulate the look of a large granite cube in the center. The 3 tombstones in the foreground and the wall were actually cardboard packing materials that I cut up because they were already in the shapes I was looking for.
As for the two main figures, I tried to get as close to my artist's drawings of them as possible. That meant giving Gavin on the left a haircut, that necessitated cutting off, dying and using a little of my son's actual hair to fill in the bald spots. The black bracelet on his wrist is small black pony tail holder from the 99 cents store. Gavin's lip ring, was a bit of a nightmare. I cut a piece of a thin paper clip as small as possible and spent about an hour trying to glue it into the proper place.
Doug, is supposed to be a little heavy so I added some Sculpey under his clothes to give him some extra heft. This threw the weight of the figure a bit off balance, so I used a combination of poster putty and Gorilla Glue to keep him from falling over from a stiff wind. If you look closely, you'll see that face is David Duchovny from the X-Files Barbies!
I also went a little crazy in terms of actually designing and printing a fake beer can label for "Tenman Beer" to match the ones on the cans our heroes are posing with in Chris Matteson's drawing. It's a detail I'm sure nobody but I noticed, but they say God is in the details!
A cardboard box, spray painted black and cut it down to size became the frame for the diorama. A piece of poster-board with black velvet cloth taped on with a color printout of the moon glued on formed the background. For my final touch I cut a door in the back behind the cave so I could easily place a red finger light inside to give it that eerie glow from within.
So...did it work? Yes, on a couple of levels. The diorama got a lot of attention and compliments at Wondercon, and a lot of people took pictures of it, and we in turn sold a lot of comic books. In addition, my son Calvin, who is four years old became so fascinated watching his dad work on this thing that he decided that with some help from me he needed to make his own diorama. You can see it here. It's a work in progress, but we're using the exact same techniques, and he's having a ball doing it.
David Lucarelli is the writer of The Children's Vampire Hunting Brigade , a four issue comic book mini-series inspired by the real life Gorbals vampire incident. You can check it out on more on Kickstarter here and you can meet David and see the diorama in person at the Long Beach Comic Expo on May 11 th , 2013.
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