When it comes to horror, we have to respect the pioneers in the genre, whether they worked with film or comics. Though that is kind of hard to do when the pioneers are actually a group of flabby, aging movie monsters trying to find work in an industry that doesn’t want anything but “young and pretty monsters” (read as ridiculous creatures being played by lame prostitot fodder) that turn shiny in sunlight. This is where Screamland comes into play. Written by Harold Sipe and Christopher Sebela, with illustrations by Lee Leslie, the Image Comics publication Screamland shows us what happens when the REAL movie monsters find themselves facing the dark side of Hollywood’s entertainment industry. Issue #1 of Screamland pulls no punches when satirizing movie monsters, the film industry, and even comic book nerds. (If you are reading this, that means you. Yes, I called you a nerd, deal with it. I have.) This comic is nothing short of humorous, and the guys behind it are just as amusing to interview. Read on to see what I mean, unless you are mad I made fun of Twilight already, because there is more of that in this interview…
Screamland is a story focusing on old monsters that have become washed-up actors struggling to deal with a modern Hollywood that doesn’t want them. Where did you guys come up with the concept for the story?”
Harold Sipe: “I had lived in LA for several years and had a pretty awful time of it. The first volume really became a meditation on my time there and a lot of thinking on fame culture and all the really awful stuff about pop culture filtered in as well. Washed-up monsters just occurred to me as the best sort of vocabulary to talk about these things.
Writing the book, it became a lot more about the characters and creating the world they lived in. Bringing the book back now with Chris onboard has really opened it up. We have all this rich material to explore and ways to develop new characters. I think people are going to be both surprised and pleased by the scope of the book.”
Johnny_Trouble: “The character of Carl London kind of reminded me of a werewolf+ has-been actor + Ron Jeremy. How would you guys describe his character and what were some of the main things you focused on when developing Carl’s personality?”
Harold Sipe: “A lot of the characters in Screamland deal with these sort of insane backgrounds. Being monsters, being chased by villagers with pitchforks etc. We saw a bit of Carl’s background in volume one and it wasn’t pleasant.
I think people deal with their own back histories in a lot of varied ways and the thing I kinda love about Carl is, rather than becoming nasty or dark, he deals with life on his own terms. In an odd way he may have been the healthiest out of the original cast. Not that that is saying much.”
Christopher Sebela: “Carl is actually pretty similar to Ron Jeremy, he’s a guy known for one slightly horrible skill set who still manages to get work and be a fixture of pop culture. At his most basic, Carl is all instinct, a self-serving hedonist who loves to drink, make money and pick up women, no matter what he has to do or who he has to go through. Hollywood’s history is full of people like that, so we had a lot of easy signposts to follow as to what Carl would be like after all the fame and glitz passed him by.
The other thing about Carl is he’s done a lot of dark and horrible things in his past, but he’s too busy focusing on the now to let his conscience catch up with him. Inevitably it will, and that’s where things get the most interesting for us.”
Johnny_Trouble: “Why have Travis and Carl managed to remain friends when the rest of the aging movie monsters seem to dislike one another?”
Harold Sipe: “So much of the book is watching how the business chews these guys up and spits them out. Carl and Travis have been in the trenches together and seen the ugliest side of show business. That sort of thing really builds bonds. Also, I think they have really similar outlooks and approaches to life.
They remind me of Chris and I to a degree.”
Christopher Sebela: “Travis and Carl ran together back in the 60s and 70s when they had the world in their hands, and now that they can’t even get a call back from their agents, they’re kind of stuck together. In the circles they travel, it’s not a case of picking your running buddy from a prime pool of candidates, but just settling on someone who you can kind of trust and who won’t get on your nerves too much.
As for why all the monsters never seem to get along, that one is on movie history to explain. Whenever one or more monsters shares space, they usually end up viciously attacking one another, and when they don’t, you end up with questionable masterpieces like The Monster Squad.”
Johnny_Trouble: “The character of Travis is the only one of the old actors that isn’t actually a monster; instead he worked in a sci-fi TV series. This being said, why is he included into this group of senior citizen creature features?”
Harold Sipe: “I am a HUGE fan of a sci-fi franchise that boldly went where no franchise went before, so doing a pop culture satire I couldn’t resist putting a over-the-hill sci-fi actor into the mix.
Travis has seen everything from 70s space shows to the long lines on the convention signature circuit so he can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the cast when it comes having lived an odd life.”
Christopher Sebela: “I think if it’s nothing but wall-to-wall monsters in the book, it’s easy to lose perspective of how odd this world would look to the regular, everyday citizen living next door to them. Having a human gives us a good foil to bounce all this ensuing weirdness off of. Plus, when Screamland gets serious, Travis being there helps keep us honest and try to deal with the horror and consequences that our monsters leave behind in their wake.”
Johnny_Trouble: “You guys took the time to satirize the entire convention experience with Fantasyscapecon, from the nerdy annoying fanboys, to the obnoxious and pushy journalists (assholes like me), right down to BAR CON. Why did you guys decide to include these little details into the storyline? (Not that I am complaining, I found it hilarious.)”
Harold Sipe: “: Having done dozens of cons there is so much more to it than just what goes on on the floor. Frankly, we could do dozens of convention stories and not even scratch the surface of, say, the afterhours bar con. It’s a fantastic backdrop for a story like this.”
Christopher Sebela: “Conventions of any sort, whether they’re for fantasy/horror nerds or roofing and siding manufacturers, are their own little oasis of weirdness for a weekend, each with their own communities and rules. So it seemed like an ideal setting to throw porn films and murder into a sea of PVC costumes and movie sword replica salesmen and see what happens. This is also a big con year for both of us, and they always say ‘write what you know,’ so it’s almost cathartic to focus on the weirdest, skeeviest corners of these convention centers and turn it into fodder for the book.”
Johnny_Trouble: “In addition to satirizing the convention, you two were awesome enough to make fun of Twilight trilogy, which contains the Lisa Frank version of vampires and werewolves, and you mention hipsters. Why did you guys decide to bring these topics up? Which is worse in your opinions, hipsters or Twilight? (I vote hipsters that love Twilight, but of course they would never admit they like Twilight.)”
Harold Sipe: “What are worse hipsters or Twilight? I’m not sure there is an answer to that question. I think the only thing worse than the total absence of the monster flick is the rise of twenty something sparkling vampire flicks that tell young girls that dark, brooding boyfriends that take them for granted are awesome.
I’m not saying we made fun of Twilight but it would be an easy target.”
Christopher Sebela: “The original mini was about these monsters having to compete with fancy special effects, but since it came out there’s been a huge spike of pretty teenage monsters in movies, tv, and books. I’d imagine that’s twice as galling to immortal vampires and werewolves to lose jobs playing themselves to kids who can’t even legally drink.
It’s an easy target but Twilight always wins the terrible contest, and not for the obvious reasons like its terrible story, messed up messages, and a hot topic bastardization of horror, but because it has caused me to see way too many pictures on the internet of people with unfortunate back tattoos of Robert Pattinson.”
Johnny_Trouble: “What would happen if Carl, Travis, and the rest were on VH1’s reality show for washed-up actors, ‘The Surreal Life’?”
Harold Sipe: “Reality show viewers would realiz they are neither are teenagers or pop stars and turn to some show about teenaged mothers, baby mommas, or some such.”
Christopher Sebela: “I doubt it would be that much more horrifying than that season Mini-Me was constantly drunk on his rascal scooter and peeing everywhere. Our monsters aren’t much different than those washed-up actors, except that their alcohol consumption is staggeringly higher and their fights tend to involve hatchets and claws. The one constant is that no matter how bad things might get in the house, none of them would leave for fear they’d be missing out on even a minute of on-air footage and a sweet residual check in the future.”
Johnny_Trouble: “What other projects can we expect to see from you guys in the future?”
Harold Sipe: “Screamland for me. I work full-time in the video game industry so I am pretty selective about what I do with what little time I have outside that. The new Screamland book is ongoing so I am writing sad and funny monsters for the foreseeable future.”
Christopher Sebela: “In addition to Screamland, I have an OGN coming out next year that I can’t say a lot about except that it involves equal amounts of Christmas, bloodshed, and explosions. There’s a few other big things in the works that are further down the road, but for now we’re still in the midst of planning out the next 2 years of Screamland.”
Johnny_Trouble: “Where can readers go online to keep up with news for Screamland as well as the both of you?”
Harold Sipe: “: We are getting our Facebook page up and running and I hope folks will drop by the Image message boards. Wherever there is an awful horror movie, Team Screamland is there in spirit.”
Christopher Sebela: “Hey, we totally already have a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Screamland
Speaking of hipsters, we also have a tumblr, which is sort of our “official” internet presence and contains all our relevant details, but that we’ve mostly been using as our monster vision board: http://screamland.tumblr.com/
And as for me, you can visit my in-progress website at http://www.thehorriblespaces.com/ and hopefully me mentioning it will guilt me into actually updating it like I always say I’m going to.”
Now that I have given you guys some insight into the writers of Screamland, I give you the man behind the visuals, Lee Leslie.
Johnny_Trouble: “The comic deals with a group of aging out of shape movie monsters that have seen better years and a lifetime of drug use. This being said, what did you want to achieve visually when designing them?”
Lee Leslie: “The first challenge with this book was stepping out of the long shadow of Hector Casanova, who illustrated the much loved first volume. Characters who stay over from the first volume owe a lot of the design work to Hector. I just had to find my own handle on them. With the new characters, my first priority was to make sure the characters were homages to past monsters and not just overt rip-offs. Secondly, I wanted to make sure the character designs worked in the world Hector and Harold established.”
Johnny_Trouble: “At Fantasyscapecon you have background characters that have outfits that reference Transmetropolitan, Star Wars, Spawn, and a variety of other pop culture references. (I loved seeing the Transmetro reference.) Were these references your decision, or the writers’ idea? Also, why did you pick the references you did?”
Lee Leslie: “I think cosplay is one of everyone’s favorite parts of going to a con, and I wanted to make sure our convention felt like a real convention. As to what characters I picked? Just trying to pay tribute to some of my favorite things, and maybe things I’ve always wanted to see at a convention. With Spawn, those were the first panels I drew after Image picked us up and it seemed like a natural idea. It’s a very big deal for me to have this book at Image, who have produced some of my favorite comics.”
Johnny_Trouble: “Where there any sources of inspiration for you specifically when it came to working on the art for Screamland?”
Lee Leslie: “One thing I love doing while working on this book is playing some of the old monster movies in the background. Especially the the wolf-man pictures, which never really manage to achieve the same level of pathos as the first Frankenstein of Dracula films. Maybe it’s just Lon Chaney Jr. I thought a lot about him while drawing this book.”
Johnny_Trouble: “What was your favorite part of working on the art in this project?”
Lee Leslie: “The initial appeal for me was a love of the old monster movies I inherited from my dad, and the opportunity to work on a book I had tremendous respect for (both in terms of content and it’s creators). But as I’ve gone on the real joy of working on this book has been the relationship between Carl and Travis that Harold and Chris have been building. They’re a tremendous amount of fun, and I can’t imagine two characters I’d rather spend 100 plus pages with.”
Johnny_Trouble: “Where can readers go to keep up with you and the projects you are working on?”
Lee Leslie: “I maintain a sketch blog at http://LeeLeslieComics.com that acts as a central hub for all things Lee Leslie including ‘Screamland’ and my webcomic RiGBY, which can be found at http://RigbyTheBarbarian.com. And if you’re interested in hearing what I had for lunch, there’s always Twitter.com/leeleslie.”
I would like to thank Harold, Chris, and Lee for the interview. The first issue of Screamland hits the streets June 8th. Check it out, its a refreshingly weird romp through the world of horror.
PS. In reference to what Harold and Chris were saying about conventions having lives of their own outside of the main convention floor, after the next convention, I suggest that all of you should check the Missed Connections section of Craigslist for wherever the con was held. There is some pretty interesting reading… TRUST ME. Our cameraman, Jerry, discovered this by trolling the section following our trip to C2E2.