The concept for Dark Horse’s upcoming “Grindhouse: Doors at Midnight” is simple; tell a story that is packed with over-the-top sex and violence. Bringing the flavor of classic exploitation films to comics, “Grindhouse: Doors at Midnight” delivers four two-issue gore operas, starting with “Bee Vixens from Mars,” pitting a one-eyed Southern Latina deputy against lusty alien chicks bent on laying eggs in the entire male population! Writer Alex de Campi and artist Chris Peterson are teaming up to deliver a tale filled with aliens and small town tramps. The covers for the first issue will be provided by the brilliant Francesco Francavilla, and the variant cover is a busty rendition by Coop!
Bloody-Disgusting was given the inside scoop on “Grindhouse: Doors at Midnight” before the announcement at C2E2, and we caught up with writer Alex de Campi to discuss mutilation, sex, and evisceration. We’ve also got the exclusive preview of issue #1 below. For more on Dark Horse’s 2013 horror lineup, check out our interview with Scott Allie.
Bloody-Disgusting: What was it about the Grindhouse genre that inspired you to want to take a stab at it in comic form?
Alex de Campi: Bitches kicking ass. Seriously. Look back through exploitation films and you’ll find a good collection of the earliest and most powerful female leading characters that cinema gave us: Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Her from I Spit On Your Grave, Them from Faster, Pussycat, She-Devils on Wheels (and the other female biker gang films), even Galaxina and she was a robot! As a woman writer, that really mattered to me growing up, seeing these gals who were strong and super hot. Outside of exploitation films? Well, there was Meg fucking Ryan. Advantage: Grindhouse.
And frankly I had just finished two very, very literary, hardcore, “in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” graphic novels (SMOKE/ASHES, and the forthcoming MARGARET THE DAMNED with Bill Sienkiewicz) and I just wanted to cut loose and write about gold-plated shotguns and erotic pie fights and be really porny and violent. It’s all, so hardcore, but all the endings are super, fist-in-the-air, happy. My exploitation writing comes with a healthy seasoning of John Carpenter on the top, though, because it’s not a good story unless there are some solid gold one-liners from the heroes and the baddies. I just wanted to have fun. I wanted the books to alternately give you a boner and then make you really grossed out. And I wanted female readers (and queer readers, we actually have a ton of queer content) to be like SHIT YEAH YOU GO GIRL!. I was so effective that Dark Horse almost had cold feet about the first issue in the series, which is, to be fair, pretty damn porny.
BD: What can you tell us about each of the story-arcs of this book?
AC: Bee Vixens from Mars: Alien tits. Prison Ship Antares: Prison tits. Bride of Blood: Gory tits. Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll: Underage tits. There’s a lot of boobage. Dan Goldman (of Red Light Properties) and I have a running joke about pitching anything: “more tits”. If you add more boobs, your pitch will get accepted. But I am being facetious. Bee Vixens is the story of a strange, alien beehive and how it turns the ladies of a small, East Tennessee town into alien sex-beasts who hunger for the flesh of men… and Jimmy the Sheriff and Garcia his one-eyed, chopper-riding female Latina deputy, who have to stop it. Prison Ship Antares is the women’s prison film… in space. Don’t worry, boys, we get to the shower scene on Page 2. There’s actually a wonderful love story in Prison Ship, between two girls called Tanesha and Cookie… also, so much gratuitous violence from the sadistic warden, you won’t believe we got away with it. Bride of Blood is the darkest story in the series, as it’s the female rape-revenge story. This girl is horribly broken, and I hope I make everyone uber uncomfortable reading those scenes, and then she goes and breaks a whole bunch of dudes. In full body armor. With a sword. Because chick in full body armor equals awesomeness, and if you don’t agree GET OFF MY PLANET! Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll is the girl gang vs. Satanists story, with moped-riding preppy field hockey girls being preyed on by a virgin-hunting demoness who is literally one of the most uncomfortably horrible character designs you will ever see. Gary Erskine’s really knocked that one out of the park!
It’s actually funny because we have an R rating, but we are so close to the line all the time. As a writer it was fun to leave certain things to the imagination, which actually make them seem much dirtier than the image taken by itself should be.
BD: So far you’ve promised that each book will feature ultra-violence, gore and lots gratuitous sex. Was the creation of this book a way for you to be completely unleashed and just go nuts or was it more of an homage to the genre itself?
AC: Each story is an homage to subgenres in exploitation. One of my good friends helps produce FILMRAGE, the most gorgeous exploitation quarterly in the world, and so if I haven’t seen it, I’ve read about it extensively. (Before you ask, Fulci’s THE BEYOND is my favorite because the cinematography and set design is TO DIE FOR and the pacing isn’t as tedious as most exploitation. Second would probably be SUSPIRA. Love me some giallo.) But a subgenre like “teenage girl gang” leaves a lot of open space for experimentation. I wanted each story to feel completely new, not like a retread of Film A or Film B… you won’t be able to read the story and find any direct references to specific films. There just aren’t any. (Well, there is sort of a reference to INCUBUS but it’s so tweaked I doubt anyone will read it as such). So yeah, I took a subgenre and just ran with it and had fun. I keep using the word “fun” with this series because oh my gosh, we have all had SO MUCH FUN making it. Chris and Nolan, the art team on the first (Bee Vixens) story, are already clamoring for a sequel or prequel because they are so fond of the main character.
BD: As a writer how do you balance between telling a good story and unleashing the exploitation of sex and violence that fans of the genre are looking for?
AC: The sex and gore has to be part and parcel of the story from the word go. You can’t shoehorn it in. I have a filthy mind, ladies and gentlemen. At any given moment I am probably thinking something horrible, perverse or gross, or sometimes all three at once. I had assumed I wasn’t actually that bad compared to normal people, but when Nolan (our amazing colorist for the “Bee Vixens” arc) tweets me and goes, “You know I coloured 28 Days Later and this is still way more blood, right?” Then, Dark Horse was like, “Hum, we’re not sure. This is really… extreme.”, I realized that I am perhaps way more out there than I think I am. There’s gore every six pages. Seriously. Nasty, nasty shit happens in this book.
BD: Each of the story-arcs features a different artist, was there something specific that you were looking for in an artist to bring these stories to life?
AC: Well, they had to draw hot girls… Gary Erskine does a lot of roller derby art (as well as drawing Grant Morrison’s DAN DARE and many other things) so I knew he could draw hot, violent, underage girls on mopeds. And being British, he will draw the right kind of mopeds. Many of the important characters in prison ship are black or Latina, and Simon Fraser, who has lived in Africa, can deliver specific looks, origins and body shapes of black characters the way very few other white artists can. (White dudes are generally shit at drawing black characters. Sorry, but you are.) I needed a woman to draw Bride of Blood, because I didn’t want to have the male gaze imposed on the rape scenes, and part of the twist in the story is how gorgeous and decorative the opening pages are… and Federica is doing some JH Williams-level stuff with the art. Chris is just super skilled, for Bee Vixens. One thing, other than drawing horses, that separates the men from the boys, artistically, is car chases/crashes. Many very talented artists can’t make this work, and Chris just knocks it out like he’s the DP for BULLITT.
BD: You have Coop contributing a variant cover for the first issue. How did you manage to get him involved and what did it mean to have him leave his mark on this book?
AC: I love Coop. I’ve loved his art since forever, and then he became a big supporter of my comics work quite independently, and I was like, “HOLY SHIT, COOP LIKES MY STUFF!” The man’s ink work is superlative. His talent is just unreal and he is such a nice, modest person on top of it. I asked him to do a cover for Ashes, which he did a gorgeous thick n’ juicy gal on an airplane nosecone. Then as I know he’s an exploitation fan, I asked him to do a variant, and once again I got… cars! girls! sex! The man delivers. Coop is a real gentleman.
BD: Dark Horse will be reissuing both Smoke and Ashes in a single massive paperback volume later this year. Where did the idea to combine the two books come from and how did Dark Horse get involved?
AC: Smoke is out of print now, and has been for several years (though available digitally and very cheaply on Comixology). When I belatedly embarked on the 18-month-long life-eating mission that was writing a sequel to it, I always hoped a publisher would pick it up. (Let me tell you how much fun self-publishing isn’t!). I chatted with Dark Horse at NYCC last year and they expressed interest, and it was their idea to combine the two books into one super fat omnibus. They have been such a joy to work with. Aside from having the first real marketing assistance I’ve ever had, their editors make my stories better, and oh my god their lead book designer is literally a genius. She is just so good. My books look way nicer than they have any legal right to look.
BD: What can you tell us about the series for those that have never had a chance to check it out?
AC: SMOKE and its much later (and somewhat stand-alone) sequel ASHES are thrillers. A guy, a girl, a gun. Our ex-soldier Rupert; our reporter Katie… who go and accidentally poke a stick into a hornet’s nest, and then have to deal with the consequences. With SMOKE, I will always be proud of one particular gunfight I scripted in it, which we refer to as “Once Upon A Time In The West Country”. It’s a gunfight in a rural British train station.
ASHES, I always explain by saying, imagine if the worst, troll, 15 year old kid was uploaded to the internet, and the internet became sentient in his image, and trollboy hated you. Where would you go? How can you hide? How much of the world can he destroy looking for you (spoiler: most of it). We have some of the most amazing artists in comics handling different sections of Ashes: Colleen Doran, Dan McDaid, Mack Chater (he’s by day an art director for AAA games, won’t spoil it by saying which ones… but my god what talent), Bill Sienkiewicz, RM Guéra from SCALPED, Carla Speed McNeil; it’s a good list.