So what can I say about director John Carpenter that hasn’t already been said? Halloween, The Thing, They Live —these movies are icons that have forever changed the landscape of of our collective consciousness. And we now have that unique and soul-stirring vision applied to the medium of comic books with the impressive Storm King line and titles like Tales For A HalloweeNight and Asylum —helmed by producer, editor, and graphic novel writer Sandy King Carpenter.
A veteran of iconic Hollywood films in her own right, including Sixteen Candles and Rumble Fish,Sandy has spearheaded a very classy line of graphic novel material that is a game-changer in the marketplace. I had the privilege to chat with her about comics, movies, and more in an eye-opening interview.
FOG!: You and your husband have worked on some of the most iconic movies of the last three decades. What made you two decide to apply that immense vision to the comic book realm?
Sandy King Carpenter: It made sense on a couple of fronts. The genre audience for our movies crosses over naturally into both gaming and comics. They are already there. We don’t have to drag them kicking and screaming into a new experience, nor do we have to introduce ourselves to a new audience unfamiliar with the John Carpenter brand.
John had been approached for years to put his name on comic books—usually not very good ones that just wanted to take advantage of his name for sales purposes. There had been a few moderately successful tie-ins to both the Halloween and Snake Plissken franchises in the past.
But our whole family are comic fans. We have a lot of respect for the writers and artists in the industry and it just seemed like one day the right vehicle might come along to make a move feasible.
When a deep enough story with the right kind of universe presented itself, combined with the timing where we could devote some time to learning the business and art of comic storytelling, it made sense to give it a try.
What mattered to us was to do it well and do the medium justice. We couldn’t just assume that because we knew how to tell stories in one medium, we would automatically be good at it in another. We spent two years studying and researching both the medium and the business before the first issue of Asylum hit the stores.
I’m very impressed with the quality of the Storm King books, both in terms of content and presentation. What was your experience, as a relative newcomer to the medium, putting together a team and coming up with the finished product?
We were TOTAL newcomers! To be avid readers and collectors does not make you a comic creator any more than going to the movies makes you a filmmaker. However, we DID have skills that were transferable to the medium, which helped and we were lucky enough that there were some incredibly generous and talented people in the comics world who helped us along the way and continue to be essential in our business and in our lives.
The first person who was there for us was good friend and amazing writer, Steve Niles, who lent moral support, advice and miles of introductions. Others like artist Tim Bradstreet, jumped in with even more support and advice.
Tim introduced us to Leonardo Manco, the artist for Asylum. He has also gone on the do some knock out covers for us on both Asylum and the anthology, Tales for a HalloweeNight. Bruce Jones, the original writer on Asylum, could not have been more generous with his time and advice and support in teaching me structure and lay out and how to take those first steps forward. He’s a master.
As the Storm King Comics team has expanded with the anthology and now new comic series starting up, I have to say it’s a constant learning experience and we could not be having more fun. Leonardo Manco brought in Janice Chiang, our letter artist and what she has taught me could fill a self full of books on design and color theory.
And there is one more person I owe a giant debt of gratitude to as well: Jimmy Palmiotti. The Mayor of Comics. This is one of the kindest, most welcoming of men in the business, and he continues to give me advice at every convention, every dinner, every email, every year. We can turn out a great product, but he has helped me learn how to present it at a convention, how to see ourselves as the fans see us and how to market a comic.
In short, our “team” goes far beyond our masthead. We have had incredible support from the comic community to keep coming our with finished product. They are the net to our high wire act.
How much do your formidable skills from the movie world come into play at Storm King? Do you find there any similarities between movie and comics production?
Team work and catering. Also story telling story telling story telling. It’s the strength I think I carry with me wherever I go. Without a good story you might as well take your administrative skills and build cars or railroads.
In your opinion, how has moviemaking—especially in terms of genre films—changed since you started in the business?
The studios have changed entirely. Now they are just distribution arms instead of production and financing entities. And they are no longer headed by people who love movies. They are owned by and responsible to multinational corporations for whom the motion picture divisions are just another profit area. There is no passion there. No interest.
You wonder why there are so few “original ideas” coming from Hollywood? Because those are gambles and the studios are no longer headed by gamblers. They saw that the comic conventions made big money—ergo, comic book movies. They saw that little horror movies made large profits—ergo low budget/low risk horror gets made. Monsters don’t make money? There will be no more monster movies. And so on.
The stories in the Tales For A HalloweeNightanthology definitely have a “John Carpenter” vibe to them—certainly, I feel they would be at home in the many fictional universes he has created. Was that intentional when selecting the stories, or did everybody just seem to bring that particular energy to the work?
A little of both. John always writes one of the stories and I always write one and the fact that the collection is curated and edited by us with a rhythm in mind I’m sure contributes to that. But the point is to bring a variety of good story tellers together and just let them rock so that the reader gets a night of different reading experiences. We want the stories to all be different but not disjointed, if that makes sense.
What was the genesis for Asylum?
Thomas Ian Griffith came to us with the original idea of a character with the Gift of Discernment. He and I worked on a proposal for John where a priest became something of a Jekyll and Hyde character taking on demons. That evolved over time into two lead characters and went from being a television idea to a comic book script. Frankly, the world was deeper and more fantastic than what worked for TV. Now, more boundaries are being broken in TV but at the time, comics felt like a better fit for us.
There is a lot of talk of angels, demons, the occult, and even a bit of Biblical theology in Asylum—did you have a particular interest in these subjects when you started the project?
Yes. Most of us grow up going to church or temple or the mosque and being raised with a religious dogma of some kind that involves good and evil, God and the Devil, angels and demons. I grew up with a Catholic family next door with one kid my age who would regularly terrorize me with tales of Original Sin, or going to Hell for not being baptized. Even as a little kid, I sensed something wrong with man’s interpretation of “God’s Word”.
Team me up with an angry Catholic like Thomas Ian Griffith, and the righteous indignation of John Carpenter and it’s quite a recipe for mischief. But religious mythology and dogma fascinates me. The evolution of modern religions is a terrific feeding ground for the creative mind. I never want to go off into parody or cliche. I am not trying to denigrate faith or religion, but to personalize one’s inner demons.
The art of Leonardo Manco really makes the graphic novel come alive. What are your thoughts on Manco and his work for the book?
He’s brilliant. Where my words are inadequate he brings the scenes alive for the readers.
What is your ultimate goal for Storm King?
Ultimate world domination.That or surviving and having a TV series with good product on the air with a feature or two in the works and Storm King Comics turning out written stories in both serial and anthology form. I just like the active art of creating and interacting with audiences in all mediums.
In your opinion, what makes a good, scary story?
Intrigue and suspense. Horror is a reaction, not a format or a plan. I have to reach you in your gut somewhere. In order to that, I have to tap into some basic, primal fear. Suspense is in the structure to get there. But I have to get you to want to see what’s in the box and crack it open to take you on the journey to begin with.
Are there any plans to revisit or extend the universes of any of John’s other horror movie classics through the comics?
I don’t think so. I had wanted to adapt They Live, but Ray Nelson specifically excluded comic book rights from the story rights to his original short story that They Live was based on, so that’s pretty much out the window. It could have been cool.
What has been your most gratifying experience so far in producing the Storm King books and being in the comics world?
Overall, being in a new playground and making new friends with some of the most creative writers and artists has been a complete joy. Not making a total ass of myself in the process is a plus. The awards the books have won certainly doesn’t suck…but…like most creators, I fear I just haven’t been found out yet.
My thanks to Sandy King Carpenter for a great interview.