Yeesh! You all went off in this month’s Mailbag. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to the questions that were asked, led by spooky season being on our minds.
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Halloween is right around the corner, and before you know it, stores will start selling Christmas decorations, so let’s focus on horror, while we can. What are some of your all-time favorite horror comics? – Tjas Debeljak
Instead of going deep on any of these, I’m going to rapid fire them to give everyone options to choose from. Here we go:
Anything by Emily Carroll, but most particularly Through the Woods
Becky Cloonan’s By Chance or Providence
Basically all of the Hill House Comics line (Daphne Byrne is the only one I don’t fully rep for)
Locke & Key
The Silver Coin
Afterlife with Archie (it never ends, but it’s so good and fun)
The Walking Dead (I’m sorry! I will rep for it! It’s a good comic!)
Let it be known that I don’t consider the Mignolaverse or Beasts of Burden truly “horror,” but if I did, they’d be on the list. There are a lot of titles that are sort of on the edge of horror that I didn’t count, like Stillwater or The Nice House on the Lake, which I mentally classify as “dramas” more than “horror,” even if they are undeniably horrific at times. Also, I wouldn’t describe myself as a giant horror fan, so my takes are limited. Those are some of my faves, though.
OK, here’s a Halloween Hypothetical. In an alternate universe, the 1954 Comics Code Authority utterly fails, and so all the comics that were censored out of existence get a chance to flourish instead—like the old horror comics. In this alternate universe, horror comics were adapted en masse in the early 2000s and became the defining feature of the modern blockbuster, similar to the superhero comics of our universe. In this universe, what do you think would be the major touchstone films, the most sought after directors, and the actors that fit into a role so well they’ve become synonymous with it? – Mark Tweedale
This is an incredibly difficult question, both because how enormous this hypothetical is and because I’m just not that familiar with horror comics from that era. For that reason, I’m not going to answer the “major touchstone films” part, if only because I don’t really have great answers.
What I will say is this: save for the absence of superheroes – because without the need to omit huge swaths of story types, I suspect something like the rise of Marvel wouldn’t have happened – I don’t think it would be tremendously different in terms of the stories being told today. The reason for that is we’re already in an era where the only genre that is thriving in film that isn’t some sort of universal product is, in fact, horror! While there might be more released because of that “defining feature of the modern blockbuster” idea, I don’t think the material produced would be altogether unfamiliar.
Similarly, I don’t think the actors and directors that are popular today would be considerably different from the ones in this alternate universe. Wouldn’t Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johannson and Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy and Michael B. Jordan and any number of other big superhero actors be super interesting in horror movies as well? We know Florence Pugh is! We know plenty of others are. Similarly, we’ve already seen directors like James Gunn and Scott Derrickson and Sam Raimi thrive in this space, and they’re all rooted in horror already. They’d kill it in either of these universes.
To be honest, I think the biggest difference between these universes would be that one that lacked superhero movies and favored horror films would, by my estimation, likely be one that features a much more diverse mix of films. Horror movies are fairly inexpensive! They’re also profitable! That would likely result in more space for the relatively reasonably priced film of yesteryear to continue to exist today when it doesn’t now outside of streaming services, on occasion. That’s my take, though. This is a curveball take on what you asked, but it’s what I have!
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What’s the most surprised you’ve been by how emotional a comic has made you? I’m talking about when you pick up a book and you’re expecting action or horror and comedy – and end up deep in your feelings out of nowhere. My recent examples: the two-part Bigfoot story in Department of Truth and the first scene at the beginning of Kaijumax with the sadness of the monster being forcibly separated from his children. (And yes, I’m now reading Kaijumax because I figure with how often you beat that drum – it MUST be good.) – Elliot Metz
Kaijumax is a great example, but while I rarely pass up the chance to talk up Kaijumax, I’m going to do so here. You know how I feel about it!
I’d say the most recent one was Kate Beaton’s Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. While I knew it would make me laugh and I figured it would also make me sad, what I didn’t expect is how angry it made me at times. At certain people in the story, at men as a gender, at humanity, at…a lot of things. There was sadness in there as well, but the behavior – and how accepted that behavior was – by certain individuals disgusted and enraged me. That’s not to say I didn’t expect some level of that going in. I just didn’t expect my emotions to be as robust as they were. So in that regard they weren’t out of nowhere, they were just at a 10 instead of the four I expected.
I’d say the most surprised I was by my levels of emotions was R. Kikuo Johnson’s No One Else. I had a lot of overlap with that story from a personal history standpoint, but I didn’t expect how much that narrative would break me (and how much it would make me laugh along the way). It’s so sad and funny and unexpected that I was just constantly surprised by my range of emotions. It’s a masterpiece.
What’s the hardest left turn that you’ve seen a comics creator take from one project to another, and did it work for you? – Alex Dimitropolous
I struggled with this question a bit, if only because most creators do sort of exist within a home row of material, both for “they typically create the types of stories they want to tell naturally” reasons and because a lot of creators – particularly today – lean into what they’re known for. That said, Jeff Smith is a good pick. Bone was an epic that blended Lord of the Rings and Peanuts together for a masterpiece in the young readers space, and he followed that with RASL, a comparatively brief and adult work that eschews fantasy in favor of sci-fi, with it focusing on an art thief that travels across parallel dimensions. I remember reading the first issue and thinking, “Well, this is definitely Jeff Smith,” and then also thinking, “But this isn’t necessarily something I expected from Jeff Smith.”
Technically, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil came before RASL, so this is sort of a cheat. But in terms of Jeff Smith’s projects that were all his own, that was an immense, unexpected turn. Still rules, though. I even have a pull quote on the hardcover collecting all of RASL, which I’m still quite proud of to this day.
Do interviewees ever tell you ahead of time they’d rather not discuss certain topics? – Brian Klein-Q
Rarely. Very rarely. I also prefer not telling them what we’re going to talk about beyond a very basic shape of the conversation, because I like answers to be as unrehearsed as possible. That said, I was recently told not to discuss certain topics with a guest, which was the first time in a while. It was mostly a guide of things to avoid rather than specifics. But to be honest, I would have picked up on the need to avoid those subjects based off my research anyways. I find that if you pay attention to people’s previous responses in interviews, it’s pretty easy to determine what they hate talking about already.
But yeah, it’s pretty rare. I like to think it’s at least in part because most people trust me, but I suspect most of it is related to the average guest not expecting the average interviewee to go down a dark path.
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Every month, a huge amount of superhero books is released and, inevitably, life sometimes gets in the way of keeping up with your favorite characters. I enjoy the monthly Batman and AMS comics, but I’m more than a year behind. What’s your strategy when you fall behind on long running titles? Do you read all the back issues, or do you start reading from the latest creative team reshuffle? – Tjas Debeljak
I have a rule, and it’s a crucial rule. If I fall three issues behind, I drop the comic. It’s one of the only rules I have with single issue comics. The reason for that is simple: if I let a specific title fall behind and read others ahead of multiple months of it, it’s clear I don’t love that title in the same way. So why force myself to keep reading it?
I always catch up with what I bought eventually, but I’d say nine times out of 10, I don’t start buying the comic again after that. I am a creature of rules, Tjas, and if I don’t follow my own, what’s the point? If I were you, I’d just move on, but I know that’s easier said than done. That said: that current Chip Zdarsky and Jorge Jimenez run on Batman is fantastic so I’d recommend reading that!