“Deep Dark Fears” is a four panel web comic written and drawn by Fran Krause. A new strip is released every Monday night and each one explores a single irrational fear experienced by either the author or submitted by a reader.
What makes “Deep Dark Fears” special is the way it hits upon the unusual ways our brains project potential terror on mundane situations, putting a spotlight on the part of our psyche that thinks everything could go wrong at any minute.
I look forward to it weekly because of how often I find myself looking at something that I’ve thought of before, probably on many occasions and being both comforted and intrigued at the knowledge that I’m not the only one.
In addition to “Deep Dark Fears,” which can be found at his website and Tumblr, Krause has been involved in animation ranging from “Blue’s Clues” to “Superjail!” and teaches in the art department at CalArts. I had a chance to speak with him on the phone and talk about the comic, working on a “Super F***ers” for Frederator, and how the internet decides who you are.
Cassidy Ward: I guess where I’d want to start is with “Deep Dark Fears.” How did that originate? Where did you get the idea, what made you start working on that project?
Fran Krause: Well I was, this must be fall of 2012, I was working on a cartoon with James Kochalka, a guy in Vermont, does a lot of comics out there and I was directing a cartoon series with him. And I’d never really used Tumblr before, I had somewhere else but I didn’t really do much with it, post pictures around my neighborhood every once in a while. I posted a little animated GIF from the show we were working on and through the Tumblr grapevine I guess, I got featured on a big Tumblr blog and I suddenly had a thousand followers on Tumblr and I didn’t really have much presence on social media before that. But I had these followers now and I thought, I should do something with these, I should be posting something here that might be interesting for them.
So I decided maybe I’d like to do some comics. I’d been working with James and he made a comic book pretty fun to work with. But I’d never really done comics before other than in my school newspaper in junior high and that sort of thing. So I hadn’t really done them in a very long time and I was looking for something that would be interesting for me, something that would be a bit of a break.
I had been doing a lot of freelance lately but not really a lot of personal projects and it just occurred to me that I had a lot of irrational fears, a lot of persistent thoughts that would pop into my head. You know, I knew they were irrational and I wasn’t paralyzed by them or anything but they would happen to me and I would think, that’s a weird thing to think and it would probably be less weird if it didn’t pop up every couple months. Just these persistent things that I’ve had since childhood, that’s always been on my mind.
So I made a little list and it turned out I had twenty or thirty of these little ideas that seemed like they could be visual, something that would be short enough to do as a little comic but also complex enough so that they would have a visual component and I could make them as some sort of comic. So I made five or six of them and I just started posting them all to my Tumblr and, yeah, that’s where that started.
CW: I think that’s what appealed to me about it so much, they seem to be thoughts that a lot of us have, just these weird little fears that don’t make any sense. When I was a kid it was always, I was sure that anytime I looked out the window at night there would be someone looking in at me. In my mind it was always this sort of old haggled woman figure. Or I was always sure that when I went into the shower if I pulled the curtain back there would be someone in there. Just these weird little things that don’t make any sense, there’s no reason to be afraid of them but they’re there. That seems to be why it appeals so much.
FK: I think the strange thing too is that for some reason, as simple as they are, most people have grown up thinking that they’re the only ones that have them. I think that’s been one of the strangest things for me working on this comic is you know with the internet and with such an open space for public dialogue, I would have thought that a lot of these would have come out already.
There’s some real, I don’t want to say standard, in kind of like it’s a boring thing and everybody has them, but for instance the one yesterday about getting into a car accident and poking yourself in the brain while picking your nose.
I think that’s a fear that a good chunk of the people in the world have had if they’re driving. And I’m kind of surprised and I guess, almost in a way lucky that nobody has really talked about these before. But that’s definitely been one of the biggest surprises working with this, that there hadn’t been maybe a forum or a way where people were voicing these things before hand.
CW: Yeah, and there seems to be some themes with certain things, I’ve noticed a few with mirrors. We seem to have a weird sort of relationship with our own reflections.
FK: Oh yeah, I think that anything at night where it can give your eyes room for imagination. I kind of think that most people don’t think of themselves as imaginative. They don’t give their brains quite enough credit for what it can come up with. And so, sometimes seeing things like things in the mirror or creatures in shadows at night, I don’t think people totally realize how much work their imagination can do in those sort of situations to create things that are surprising or kind of horrifying.
CW: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the book that you have coming out. Is that going to be just a collection of the stuff that you put out on Tumblr or is there going to be new content in there as well?
FK: Oh no, they’re making it with the people over at Ten Speed Press and they’ve been wonderful to work with. They had suggested making some comics that weren’t available online and it’s sort of new for me because pretty much everything I’ve ever done as an artist is available for free online. Almost everything I’ve done is an internet comic or cartoon or a TV show or something like that, all of it is available online for free. So they said, well it’s going to be tough to sell the book when you’re giving everything away for free so could you make something that’s exclusive for this book?
So I thought well sure, I make about one comic every week, normally I post them on Monday nights so I thought it would be cool if there’s a hundred comics in the book it would be cool if fifty of them were brand new, you know something I hadn’t published anywhere before. It will be a bit of a pain because that’s like making a whole year’s worth of comic in advance.
But it was fun, I made about fifty comics that were new and normally I just have time to do a four panel thing because I have to put one out every week but this let me do some two page, three page, four page comics that got a little bit more in depth and let me tell stories that were a little longer. So that was really fun, and that took me about a year to put those together.
CW: That sounds really good, I’m excited about that, when does that come out?
FK: It’s going to be out on September 29, but it’s up on, most online booksellers are selling it as a pre-order and it’s doing pretty well there. Yeah, it was really fun to put together. It hadn’t occurred to me, you know it’s my first book, things like end papers and covers and things that I always used to love the design of as a kid. As we were putting this together I was thinking, oh boy I get to draw my own end papers, and they’re like yeah sure, if you want to go through that trouble, and I thought heck yeah, I love end papers and all that sort of thing. Yeah it was a real treat to work with them, they’re great people to work with, and I’m looking forward to, I think I get the new copies back from the publisher’s printing in July and that will be my first chance to check it out and then in September I start doing some book signings and travelling around a bit with it. We’ll see how much they have me travel, I know that I’m going to have some book signings here n L.A. and I’d like to go out to Boston a little bit but, we’ll see, I have some friends I’d like to visit.
CW: Do you do any of the convention circuit at all?
FK: No um, there’s a really neat comic convention in L.A. this past fall I think that was very low key and I showed up there and I wore a “Deep Dark Fears” t-shirt and that’s as most as I’ve ever really dipped my toe into the convention circuit. I mean, I’ve been an animator for a long time so I go to animation festivals. I think the conventions are mostly a social thing and so since I don’t really know too many comic book people I’ve kind of been outside of that world to be honest.
I don’t really go to many conventions, I think I haven’t had much reason to go quite yet, but I might be going to Comic-Con this summer, we’ll see if they send me out there from Ten Speed Press. I’m curious to check it out. I’m kind of curious also if this will be kind of my excuse to get into the comic book scene a little bit more.
CW: I want to say it surprises me a little bit that you haven’t already, just from the conventions that I’ve gone to it seems like you’d fit in pretty well. There’s other people I’ve seen there that are doing similar things, the web comic kind of thing. It seems like, at least from my point of view you’d have reason to go.
FK: Yeah, I’d love to, it’s just I have too many jobs right now. It’s weird how much “Deep Dark Fears” has kind of taken over my online persona and what people know me as, my students coming into CalArts all know me as a comic book guy even though I’ve been animating on like “Blue’s Clues” and “Superjail!” and all sorts of weird shows for a long time and you know I’m in my mid-thirties now and you know I’ve only been doing this really for two and a half, three years, so it’s strange to have something that for a long time was only taking up a couple hours every Monday night for me as far as what I was making and now it’s kind of what I’m known as.
Not that it’s a bad thing but it’s a little odd for me to hear that and think well most of the time I’m teaching post-production at CalArts and teaching film making and this is kind of a fun exercise for me to tell stories in a lot less time than it takes to make a full cartoon.
CW: That make sense, it’s something that I hadn’t really considered. The internet sort of decides who you are and doesn’t really take into account all of the other things that you’ve been working or the other things that you do or care about.
FK: Yeah, it’s strange because I’ll get emails from people and it’s weird how small of a part they’ll hear about or what their understanding of the comic is. I had this strange exchange with somebody on Instagram a couple days ago and they said, how do you make these? And I said, well I draw them with watercolor. And I think what they were really asking, how do I send one of these in, and they were under the impression that they had to make a water color in my style and send it in with the story and that’s how it was made and I had to somehow explain to them no, no, you just send in the idea, I’ll draw it. Don’t worry about that end of things. You never know how they are introduced to it.
One of my favorite things about this is that it’s been, I wouldn’t say pirated, but people will take the images and translate them into Chinese or Spanish or Thai, I’ve seen a few other languages and they’ll repost them on other blogs. If you do a “Deep Dark Fears” search on Instagram there’s “Deep Dark Fears” with underscores between the name and “Deep Dark Fears” with a Z at the end instead of an S, I think there’s like five or six Instagrams that look like mine but aren’t, that just repost my stuff. So I never know what language people are coming into it with, I never know what website they’re finding it on. The internet is weird because you can do this little thing once a week and it can pop up all over the place and you never really know where.
CW: How I became aware of it, I don’t really use Tumblr, but I came across it on Imgur. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it’s sort of the little sister of Reddit.
FK: Oh yeah, I signed up for that, I still don’t really know what that’s for.
CW: It’s just an image sharing site so people will take the images from Tumblr and upload them there and they may or may not credit you. So it was just sort of this thing that I would see every once in a while like, oh, this is another one of those fear comics… and over time I just became aware of it and eventually it traced back to your Tumblr and you ultimately find out where it comes from. Yeah, it’s weird how things sort of propagate on their own.
FK: Yeah, it’s kind of great. I mean, at first I’ve got to say, I’m an art teacher and I love originality and some of my students from China showed me all of the pirated Chinese ones that are getting translated and at first I was angry and I thought people should be making their own comics, damn it, you know creativity and making something new for the world. Then I thought about it and I can’t speak Chinese, there’s no way I can translate these and in the end I’m not making money off of this right now.
I just want people to read them and enjoy them and if people are translating it into ten different languages for me and going on all these websites, like I never go on Imgur, just because I went on it and couldn’t really figure out the interface and thought I’ll leave this for other people. You know I think one of the things that the comic has really benefited from is I post it on five or six sites and then people take it and help me out with that sort of thing.
CW: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your animation. I watched the twelve episodes of “Super F***ers.”
FK: Oh god, yeah. All twelve?
CW: Yeah, I watched all twelve and that was a lot of fun. One of the things I always hear about from voice actors is that they don’t really seem to get a chance to meet one another. Often times they’ll work on a series for years and never actually meet face to face. I wondered if where you directed that, I assume you got face time with all of the actors.
FK: Oh yeah, I also did the voice directing on that show.
CW: So I wondered about your experience working with Jaleel White or Justin Roiland.
FK: One thing that was really lucky with that show is I was able to record a lot of the voices in unison, well not in unison but as a team. So for instance Phil Morris and David Faustino almost always recorded their voices at the same time so they could play off of each other comedically and timing wise, and that was great because it’s just a lot more fun for them to act together.
I think we had one record, for the diner episode where we probably had six or seven of them in the recording booth at the same time because it’s Los Angeles, everyone is in the same neighborhood. It wound up being a lot of fun to have everyone together. I can’t say the show was always as successful as I’d like, but the recording process was really a blast.
It was, yeah, a lot of good energy and met a lot of really good people that way. Maria Bamford was hilarious to work with and just her voice range was so good it would kind of knock you back on your heels to see how much of a range she had. You know, David and Phillip brought a lot of character to the roles. It was just a real fun project to do the voice direction on.
CW: Before I let you go I just wanted to know if you have any other projects coming up, any new comics or new animation that you’re working on?
FK: I’ll probably be starting some extra comics in case we do another “Deep Dark Fears” book but that probably won’t be out for a couple years. But you know it’s nice to have summers off as a teacher and I might be able to work on some of that. I’m also doing a two minute, three minute, probably a three minute short for myself, it’s based on another comic I was doing called “Skip and Vaxo” that was set aside about a year ago as the “Deep Dark Fears” stuff got very busy but in the mean time I’ve done some voice recording and I’m starting to do the animation and some backgrounds for that and I’m hoping to have that finished production by the end of the summer and hopefully released sometime in the winter.
CW: Do you prefer to do animation or do you like the comics better?
FK: Well there’s a lot of range in that. You can do comics that aren’t fun at all and you can animation that isn’t fun at all and you can do comics that are a lot of fun and animation that is a lot of fun. I think it depends on is the deadline giving me enough time? Is there still life and interest in the subject matter?
I think that’s one of the great things with “Deep Dark Fears” is I never really asked anybody for fears. I think the weirdest thing about the whole cartoon, I’d done about thirty of them and they were all mine, I had a ton of these irrational fears and I just started getting people sending me in their fears. Part of me was thinking, what the heck is going on I didn’t ask for these, and then I looked and well I’ve got thirty of them up and people probably think that these aren’t all mine, that I must be getting submissions.
They’re all mine, I’ve got a lot of weird fears but you know people just started sending me them. And then when I posted I’d always give them credit and say that it was a submission and people would start sending me more.
Every once in a while I’ll think, that’s it, I don’t think there’s any life left in this and then someone will send me one and I’ll think, wow, that’s something that I’ve thought of before, that feels like it’s universal it feels very visual, it feels interesting, I’m so glad they told me this story and I have to draw it.
Any job can be horrible and any job can be great and luckily with my comics and my animation I’ve chosen to do, a lot of the work I choose to do I’ve been lucky enough to get in on some really fun projects with some great people to work with, and if I’ve got that it kind of doesn’t matter if animating or painting houses or drawing cartoons or whatever, it can be a really enjoyable way to spend my time.
CW: Well I want to thank you a lot for giving me some time to talk with you.
FK: Very nice talking with you.