Historian of Horror : The Good Girl vs The Greatest Villain of Them all

The Good Girl Artist vs the Greatest Villain of Them All

Let’s look at the second half of that title first, shall we? Who is the greatest comic book villain of them all?

Lex Luthor? Not even close.

Thanos? Amateur.

Galactus? What a piker.

Darkseid? Can’t even remember which planet he left his Mother Boxes on.

Green Goblin? Red Skull? Purple Pantywaist?

Nope, nope and nope.

The greatest villain in the history of comic books was a Vienna-born American psychiatrist who studied under Sigmund Freud and specialized in the treatment and understanding of violent behavior. His name was Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Like most villains, he was the hero of his own narrative. And, truth be told, he was not otherwise a horrible person. He never slaughtered half the life in the universe. He didn’t eat inhabited planets or reduce them to cinders. He didn’t kill Spider-Man’s girlfriend. His research was even put before the Supreme Court as evidence in the Brown vs Board of Education case that overturned racial segregation in American public schools in 1954. No, all he did was virtually shut down an entertainment medium on the verge of expanding out of its cultural ghetto into near respectability. Would the Pulitzer committee have had to wait until 1992 to award the first and only prize to a graphic novel without his baleful influence? Maybe, but we’ll never know, will we?

Wertham never set out to destroy the comics industry. He simply wanted to stop juvenile delinquency, using the false notion that, because naughty kids read comic books in the 1940s and early 1950s, then obviously, quad erat demonstratum, comic books caused childhood misbehavior. Of course, he had to falsify his data (i.e., make it up out of thin air) to prove his point, given that virtually every child in America read comic books in the period before television absorbed American popular culture into its unblinking cyclopean eye. 

Along the way, he facilitated the forced shutdown of vast swaths of the comic book publishers of the time. The number of markets for comics creators dwindled from dozens to a handful. There were other factors, of course, and other decriers of the latest medium to draw the ire of concerned parents, but it was Wertham’s 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, that slew the so many of the giants of the field and made his name anathema to generations of comic book fans.

Notice I used ‘fans’, there. ‘Fen’ is only the plural of ‘fan’ in science fiction fandom, or was when I was active in both, way, way back in the Cultural Pleistocene Era. 

Anyhow.

Wertham didn’t manage to kill the industry off completely, nor was that his aim. He simply wanted parents to know what their children were reading, and give them tools to help them head off the behaviors he found so problematic. Like that has ever worked. Right, Tipper?

He didn’t even kill off the worst offenders among the super-heroes, Batman with his ‘homosexual’s dream’ relationship with Robin or the ‘lesbian ideal’, Wonder Woman. They, along with Superman, were too big to succumb to the general dying off of the rest of the super-hero genre. 

Wertham did, however, inflict a fatal blow to other genres, particularly crime and horror. A Comics Code Authority was cobbled together by the remaining publishers to address Wertham’s concerns, led by the president of Archie Comics, John L. Goldwater. Werewolves and vampires were banned, as were the very words ‘horror’ or ‘terror’ in the titles of the magazines. Refusal to conform would cost the recalcitrant publisher access to distribution, unless that publisher was the acknowledged curator of wholesome sequential art content, Dell Comics. Those specific restrictions alone wiped out entire companies, most particularly E.C., which had drawn the ire of the Code hierarchy with a merciless and nearly libelous lampooning of Goldwater’s main money-maker, Archie Andrews, in Mad #12. E.C. publisher William M. Gaines soon switched over from putting out titles like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear to dumping all his yeggs into a single basket, a magazine format continuation of E.C.’s ground-breaking parody comic book, MAD, that was beyond the reach of the Comics Code Authority.

Didn’t see that one coming did you, Goldwater?

Among Wertham’s other targets for opprobrium were the ‘headlight’ comics, those that prominently featured female, er, prominences. One of the illustrations included in Seduction of the Innocent was a specific example of such, the cover of Fox Publications’ Phantom Lady #17 from 1948, an illustration in which the title character was bound with ropes to what looks like a dock piling in such a posture as to accentuate her, um, pulchritudinous assets. 

Oh, my.

The artist who drew that cover was the subject of the first part of the title above. Bet you were wondering when I’d get around to that. His name was Matt Baker, and he was the first significant African-American comic book artist. And from this point on, he is the focus of our tale, for he was the dominant, so to speak, ‘Good Girl Artist’ of his day.

That’s as in artist who drew girls good. The morality of the females involved was not necessarily their salient feature. Or features, as it were.

Anyhow.

Clarence Matthew Baker was born in Forsythe County, North Carolina, on December 10, 1921. His family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania circa 1924, where Matt graduated from high school in 1940 with the stated ambition of being an artist and photographer.

Due to a heart condition, possibly due to having had rheumatic fever as a child, Matt was not eligible for military service during World War II. He did some sort of job for the Navy Department until moving to Brooklyn in 1943 with his brother and working for the National War Labor Board while studying art at Cooper Union in New York. He stayed at that school for only one term before taking a job with the Iger Studio.

Jerry Iger had started a studio that supplied content for the burgeoning comic book markets with his partner Will Eisner, but when Eisner’s creation, The Spirit, gained lucrative newspaper syndication, Iger carried on without him. Through Iger, Baker churned out mass quantities of work for the aforementioned Fox, as well as Fiction House, St. John Publications and myriad smaller houses. He drew mostly jungle hero and heroine stories for Fox and Fiction House, even going so far as to create the first obviously black hero in a mainstream comic book. Voodah ran in Crown Comics, published by a very minor house called McCombs, for the magazine’s entire nineteen-issue run from 1945 to 1949. Alas, Voodah was only dark-skinned in the first few issues before he miraculously transformed into a garden-variety Caucasian jungle hero.

Baker’s work for St. John was mostly in the romance genre, a field in which he excelled. Few artists of his day drew women so beautifully. There are those who claim his attention to the details of feminine beauty was due to him being quite the ladies’ man. There are those who claim the opposite and even speculate on the nature of his relationship with Archer St. John, his primary publisher. Either way, he turned in some great comics stories in those days, along with the first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust, published in 1950 by St. John, and a short-lived syndicated newspaper comic strip, Flamingo.

Baker did do horror tales for St. John, as well as for other, lesser publishers. Alas, in the wake of Wertham’s attack on his medium, Baker lost his most reliable markets. Fox and Fiction House were defunct by 1955. St. John held on until 1958, but just barely. Baker spent the rest of the decade working for the less prestigious houses Charlton and Atlas, the latter being the forerunner of the modern-day Marvel Comics. The titles he contributed to for those houses are a litany of defanged spookiness – Out of This World, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and Strange Suspense Stories for Charlton; Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, and World of Fantasy for Atlas. None of them with the frissons he created in his earlier horror work, but they paid the bills for the remainder of his short life.

Baker passed away from his life-long heart condition on August 11, 1959, at the much too young age of thirty-eight. Had he survived another decade, he would likely have been a major player in Marvel’s ascendancy in the 1960s. But that was not to be.

I doubt that Wertham took note of Baker’s passing. He wrote more books, even managing one last dig at the baleful effect of comics on American youth in his 1968 tome, A Sign for Cain. His last book was a generally favorable examination of the phenomenon of fanzines, those amateur paeans to various fandoms that proliferated in the days before the internet made everyone a pundit on whatever topic took their fancy. Present company included. 

Wertham died in 1981, if not reviled by comics fans, at least regarded with ye olde legendary jaundiced eye. Comics writer Mark Evanier wrote a not entirely condemnatory article that was reprinted in his 2003 book, Wertham Was Right! I won’t go so far as to say that Wertham’s reputation was fully reformed by Evanier’s essay, but it does put his actions, however questionable, into a context that is more favorable than he enjoyed in earlier days.

Baker’s reputation, in the meantime, has remained high and even grown. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009, and numerous artists of the last several decades cite him as a major influence on their own work. Given the comparative legacies of the Good Girl Artist and the Greatest Villain of Them All, I’d settle for Baker’s over Wertham’s any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

In addition to my well-worn copy of Seduction of the Innocent and the Evanier volume mentioned above, I would like to commend to the populace two other essential works on the relevant history of the period covered herein. To whit, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America by David Hadju, and Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books by Ken Quattro. Both are available from Amazon.

And, so, until next time —

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Chilling Chat Update: EmoWeasel

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Christie Crapeticio, known as “EmoWeasel,” is a San Francisco-based illustrator who draws comics, children’s books, horror art, and pattern designs. She went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. While cover and back vol 1 (2)attending school, she studied comic book art and children’s books. 

EmoWeasel has been busy since we last spoke. Here’s what she’s been up to.

NTK: Welcome back to Chilling Chat, EmoWeasel! I hear you have a new comic series. What is it about?

EW: The comic series is called Demon Eye. It is a war fantasy. Here is the small elevator pitch:

Cirsto is forced to return home from a war she created. Once home she gets to see her old friends and family and is reminded of who she has truly failed. They all hope they can get back to where they were, but Cirsto knows she can’t be what she was. Haunted by her past actions she knows she can never be the friend they once loved.

Now Cirsto must readapt to the old ways of life while being plagued by what she has become.

NTK: Who are the main characters?

EW: The main character is named Cirsto. She is a wolf-demon from the Clover pack. The other supporting main characters are Garien, Panda, Alek, and Jay. They are all humans.

NTK: What inspired this new series?

EW: This has been a dream project of mine since I was 13, so it’s been a project I’ve been working on literally half my life.

While growing up I never had a lot of friends, so I loved to either watch cartoons and stuff and that always sparked stories in my head.

One day when I was in middle school, I saw a show called Naruto and I just fell in love with it! I started to watch it and read it and almost studied it. And after seeing the show and loving how it was built, I decided to finally put my overactive mind into use and start building my own story!

Working on Demon Eye has been one of my biggest drives to follow my art dreams. It’s because of the comic that I went to school, the Academy of Art University, here in San Francisco.

NTK: Where can Horror Addicts find it? 

EW: Currently it is on Tapas.io, WEBTOONS, and my art Facebook page (@EmoWeasel). But it is getting printed into a comic book now! The book was supposed to be out on November 26, but due to printing problems, it will be available in my Etsy shop, Square shop, and Book shop on December 26. It will also be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble on January 26. (keeping the 26 theme for all the months.) (Laughs.)

It should be available for preorder on Etsy and Square around the beginning of December. For the preorders, you can get some special stuff! Like a signed book, two special dye cut stickers and a print! These specials will only be available for preorders.

NTK: You also have a new podcast. What’s it called and what’s it about?

EW: The podcast is a spooky! It is done like the old radio shows back in the day. It is called Koszmar, and it is a dream project by the creator, in both senses because she’s wanted to make this come true and it’s based off a nightmare she had.

“In this story, we join a Detective, a washed-up recovering drunk who is transferred to Shaker Heights to work on a string of murder cases to find the culprit. As the Detective draws the strings together, he’s haunted by a past he cannot shake. Will he survive the nightmare? Join us on our journey with the Detective to try and solve the riddle behind the Widow’s Creek Lullaby.”  

NTK: Where can Horror Addicts find it? 

EW: It is on Spotify, apple music, and most podcast platforms.

NTK: What does the future hold? What new projects are on the horizon? 

EW: So much is happening while nothing is happening at the same time. (Laughs.) I will be doing some fun short comics soon. One of the comics I will be doing is actually based off the podcast, so viewers will soon get to see the true horror that is the story.

Besides comics I am working my butt off the get my online stores looking pretty and also, I hope to finally get my art classes up and running. I will be doing comic classes, of course, and some fun crayon craft classes.

NTK: Thank you for joining us, EmoWeasel! It’s a pleasure as always!

EW: You’re welcome!

Addicts, you can find EmoWeasel on Facebook, and Instagram. Discover her work on her Etsy page. You can pre-order Demon Eye at her Etsy and Square sites. The book will be available December 26, 2020.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Strain Season 2 and 3

Real World Trauma Acerbates the flaws in The Strain Seasons Two and Three

by Kristin Battestella

After an unraveling end to the First Season of The Strain, it took me a long, long while to return to the thirteen-episode 2015 Second Season. Childhood flashbacks recounting fairy tales of nobles with gigantism and quests for the curing blood of a gray wolf start the year off well. Horrific blood exchanges lead to village children vanishing in the shadow of the creepy castle before we return to the present for secret deals with The Master, alliances with the Ancient Ones, and blind telepathic feeler vampires canvassing the city. Scientists Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) contemplate vampire vaccines while former antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) pursues a rare strigoi text and rat catcher Fet (Kevin Durand) prepares their explosive defensive. Government officials like Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) fight back against the zombie like masses despite shootouts in infested laboratories, double-crosses, and sentient, disguised as human foot soldiers. Old fashioned black and white Mexican horror reels add personality and history to our reluctant heroes while more superb action and flashbacks standout late in the season with “The Assassin” and “Dead End.” Unfortunately, early on in Year Two, my main dilemma with the First Season of The Strain returnedyou can read all of this, but it is much too much onscreen. Unnecessary timestamps and location notations clutter reintroduced characters, new problems, old problems, and unintroduced newcomers. There are too many separated characters with unbalanced screen time who must repeatedly explain who they are. Enemy’s enemy is my friend mixed motivations create confusion – multiple people hunting The Master individually making promises to his fellow ancient vampires with little background on who these chained monsters chilling beneath Brooklyn are. Cryptic double talk and real estate transactions may be filler or meandering developments, but it’s a toss up on which one will drag on or disappear. The past stories are often more tantalizing because our team isn’t much of a team. It took so long in the First Year to get everyone together, yet each is still toiling over what to do in this vampire zombie apocalypse. After previous fears over any tiny contagion, one and all shoot, blast, slice, and splatter at will. They hand out fliers with the monster details and warn the community, yet unaware police are shocked to find vampires in a dark alley.

Maybe The Strain is meant to mirror how no one is on the same page in a crisis – we are now witnessing that chaotic misinformation mistake first hand indeed – but the plot is all over the place, too. It’s been a few weeks onscreen since The Strain began, however, life is upside down for some while others seem totally unbothered. Again, this is a foreboding parallel to our real life pandemic with the poor working man much more deeply impacted than the wealthy ease of access, but here there’s no sense of the storytelling scope despite opportunistic orchestrations and tough women securing the five boroughs. Slick villains talk of great visions and master plans, but tangents diverge into a dozen different threads and multiple dead ends. Is The Strain about a doctor experimenting on the infected to test scientific theories or weird do nothing telepathic vampires and slow strigoi chases? Are we to enjoy the precious moments between our little people struggling on the ground or awe at the zombie outbreak turned vampire mythology? New people and places are constantly on the move, jumbled by an aimless, plodding pace as too little too late politicians talk about quarantines when The Strain is past containment. Confusing, pointless storylines take away from important intrigues and significant elements tread tires amid random threats and dropped crises. The conflicts on cruel science for the greater good grow hollow thanks to constant interruptions and changed emotions. Provocative diluted worm extracts taken for illness or ailments are used as control by the strigoi or when necessary for our heroes, but the scientific analysis of such a tonic or hybrid cases is never considered. Infecting the infected experiments and vampire free island security only take a few episodes, yet viewers today who can’t pay the rent are expected to believe it takes weeks for a market free fall and runs on banks? “The Born” starts off great, but often there’s no going back to what happens next regarding cures and Roman history as contrived messy or blasé action pads episodes. Rather than driving away in a cop car, dumbed down characters run into a church for a lagging, maze-like battle that kills an interesting minority character. When the community comes together for “The Battle for Red Hook,” unnecessary family pursuits ruin the sense of immediacy while the hop, skip, and jump to Washington D.C. for two episodes of scientific effort gets ditched for glossed over vampire factions and historic relics. Both the lore and science are interesting, but these mashed together entities compete for time as if we’re changing the channels and watching two shows at once. Instead of the rich detail we crave, The Strain continually returns to its weakest plot with shit actions and stupid players causing absurd consequences.

The Strain, however, does look good, and the ten episode Third Season provides coffins, gore, goo, and nasty bloodsucking appendages. The vampire makeup, creepy eyes, monster sinews, and icky skin are well done. Occasionally, creatures scaling the wall and speedy, en masse action is noticeable CGI, but the worms, tentacles, and splatter upset the body sacred. Sickly green lighting invokes the zombie plague mood while choice red adds vampire touches alongside silver grenades, ultraviolet light, and ancient texts. Sadly, Season Three opens with an unrealistic announcement that it’s only been twenty-three days since the outbreak started. The uneven pace makes such time impossible to believe, and tricked out infrared military are just now arriving three weeks into the disaster. Mass manufacture of The Strain’s bio-weapon is also never mentioned again as the science is now nothing more than a home chemistry set. Instead, step by step time is taken to siphon gas in a dark, dangerous parking garage – which could be realistic except The Strain has never otherwise addressed food, supplies, precious toilet paper, or the magically unlimited amount of silver bullets. Once again, everyone who fought together goes on to separate allegiances on top of hear tell global spread, Nazi parallels, control centers, and messianic symbolism. It’s all too clunky thanks to people made stupid and contradictions between the onscreen myths, technology, and abilities. Too many convenient infections, Master transformations, tacked on worms, and excuses happen at once – cheapening Shakespearean touches and monster worm bombs with redundant failures. Montages wax on human history while voiceovers tell audiences about government collapse, glossing over arguably the most interesting part of the catastrophe for drawn-out experiments on microwaves. There’s no narrative flow as the episodes run out but suddenly everyone is sober enough to use the ancient guidebook to their advantage. After such insistence over sunlight and ultraviolet, those safeguards are inexplicably absent when needed. No one maximizes resources and opportunities in “Battle for Central Park,” and people only come together because they accidentally bump into each other. In “The Fall,” a carefully orchestrated trap and prison plan is finally put into action against The Master, but ridiculous contrivances stall the operation before easy outs and one little effing asshole moron ruining it all. Again.

The cast is not at fault for the uneven developments on The Strain, but if Ephraim Goodweather is only there to be a drunken bad parent failing at every turn, he should have been written off the show. If we’re sticking with Eph and his angst before science, then his pointless strigoi wife and terrible son Zach should have been tossed instead of hogging the screen. Cranky, obnoxious, budding sociopath Zach’s “Why? No! Don’t!” lack of comprehension is unrealistic for his age, and everything has to be dumbed downed to appease him.  Onscreen The Strain is continually talking down to viewers like we are five and it gets old very fast. Previously compassionate characters are reset as cold marksmen, and Eph claims he no longer cares about the cause when he was once at its epicenter. He complains he has nothing to do, bemoaning the lack of a feasible vaccine before gaining government support in creating a strigoi bio-weapon only to ditch it for microwaves and vampire telepathy. Zach ruins each plan anyway, and by the end of Season Two, I was fast forwarding over the Goodweather family plots. Nora Martinez is also nonexistent as a doctor unless convenient, relegated instead to babysitting, and Samantha Mathis’ (Little Women) Justine Feraldo likewise starts off brassy before unnecessarily overplaying her hand and failing bitterly because of others. Initially The Strain had such a diverse ensemble, but by the end of the Third Season, all the worst things have happened to the women and minorities. Ruta Gedmintas’ Dutch wavers from the cause for a conflicted lesbian romance that disappears before she returns to the fold as Eph’s tantalizing research assistant when she’s not being captured and rescued. I won’t lie, I only hung on watching The Strain as long as I did for Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) as the thousand year old hybrid Quinlan. He uses his conflicted history with The Master to help Setrakian and sees through Ephraim while developing a distrustful shoulder to shoulder with Fet. Unfortunately, his vampire super powers come in handy unless he’s forgotten about when it’s time for the action to sour or let failures happen, and nobody tells officials about this almost invincible half-strigoi who could be useful in a fight. Setrakian, Quinlan, and Fet make for an ornery, begrudging trio, living in a luxury hotel while pursuing Abraham’s relics whether they agree with the plan or not – mostly because Fet accrues all manor of weapons and is happy to use them. Setrakian has some crusty wisdom for them, but his battle of wits with Jonathan Hyde as the at any price Palmer provides great one on one scene chewing. The double crosses and interchangeable threats feel empty, and Palmer also has an odd romantic side plot that wastes time, but Richard Sammel’s Nazi vampire Eicchorst remains a deliciously twisted minion. “Dead End” and “Do or Die” reveal more personal history as the mature players provide intriguing questions on immortality, humanity, and barbarism. Miguel Gomez’ Gus finally seems like he is going to join the team, but then he’s inexplicably back on his own rescuing families and refusing to accept his mother’s turn in more useless filler. He and Joaquin Cosio (Quantum of Solace) as the absolutely underutilized fifties superhero Angel are conscripted to fight vampires but once again, they remain wasted in isolated, contrived detours.

Streamlining Fet, Dutch, Quinlan, and Gus as vampire fighters testing methods from Setrakian’s texts and Eph’s science funded by Feraldo could have unified The Strain with straightforward heroes versus monsters action we can root for in an apocalypse. Watching on the eve of our own real world pandemic, was I in the right frame of mind to view The Strain unclouded? Thanks to creators Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse’s foretelling social breakdowns between the haves and the have nots, maybe not. That said, The Strain terribly executes two seasons worth of source material. An embarrassment of riches with a scientific premise, mystical flashbacks, assorted zombie and vampire crossover monsters, and intriguing characters fall prey to uneven pacing, crowded focus, and no balance or self-awareness onscreen. The Strain may have been better served as television movies or six episode elemental seasons – science in year one, vampire history the second, relic pursuits, and a final battle. Disastrous characters and worthless stories compromise the meaty sacrifices, crusty old alliances, and silver standoffs – stretching the horror quality thin even in a shorter ten episode season. Rather than a fulfilling mirror to nature parable, The Strain Seasons Two and Three are an exercise in frustration, and even without the real world horrors, it’s too disappointing to bother with the end of the world reset in Season Four.

For More Frightening Television or more Guillermo del Toro, Re-visit:

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Chilling Chat: Quick Questions with EmoWeasel

chillingchat

Christie Crapeticio, known as “EmoWeasel,” is a San Francisco-based illustrator who draws comics, children’s books, horror art, and pattern designs. She went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. While attending school, she studied comic book art and children’s books. IMG_9422

EmoWeasel is a talented and fun woman. We spoke of art, the origin of her awesome name, and her comics.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, EmoWeasel. Thank you for chatting with me today.

EW: You’re quite welcome and thank you for having me.

NTK: Where did the name “EmoWeasel” come from?

EW: Oh no, that’s a fun story. So the name EmoWeasel came from my middle school years.  My friend and I were actually judging people for a talent show and I decided to doodle a sophisticated long cat and my friend said that totally looks like an EmoWeasel (Laughs.) And I love that name, so we sort of ran with it and built a mini-community around the name. We basically had the name EmoWeasel represent all the kids who felt like misfits or who liked art, reading comics, and anything else that was considered weird. We rallied under that name, the small group we were, and felt like we all belonged together.

I kept the name because my work is odd, different and not normal for most. And, that’s what EmoWeasel stood for back in my middle school years. Also, the name is just very catchy (Laughs.)

NTK:  What brought you to the world of art?

EW: That’s a good question. I guess I really got into art when I was young because I wanted to express my thoughts and stories through pictures. Because I’m dyslexic, writing and spelling are much harder for me. So, the idea of writing my stories out was more or less out of the picture. Art, to me, was always a way to share the stories that flow through my mind with everybody. And, I’d say most importantly, art always just made me so happy whenever I was doing it. Even if my hands were breaking under the pressure it was still always worth it in my eyes.

NTK: What are some of your influences? Whose work do you admire?

EW: Oh gosh, there’s so many who inspire me. But, the ones off the top of my head might surprise you (Laughs.) One of the biggest influences in my art and actually my comic writing, is Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of Naruto. Then there is Brom, Brian Bolland, Rob Guillory. These are just a few artists who have inspired me over the years. They’ve all inspired me for many different reasons such as drawing techniques, coloring, and overall storytelling abilities.

werewolf santa color(mini water mark)What influences me most when creating my work is music and dark creepy thought when looking at shadows (Laughs.) But mainly it is music. I love to listen to instrumental music from movie soundtracks and that really helps build the moods in my head to create monsters and stories.

NTK: Do you listen to horror movie soundtracks?

EW: So, the kind of music I actually listen to isn’t always from horror movie soundtracks. Because, to be honest, they sometimes make the monsters come a little bit too alive in my mind (Laughs.) A lot of the soundtracks I listen to are actually from video games and adventure movies. But, I usually just look into certain artist I really like and just buy up all the albums they have.

NTK: What got you into horror or scary things in general?

EW: Hmm…that’s also a good question. I think I’ve always just really had an overactive imagination so I really just see creepy things all around me. It’s almost like the scary art world just sucked me in. Ever since I was little, I’ve always drawn more gory and creepy things. But of course, I sprinkled in some cute things so my parents didn’t think I was completely nuts (Laughs.)

NTK:  What medium do you prefer when creating? Do you use ink? Paint? Pencil?

EW: My medium of choice is usually pen and ink. In most of the work I do, I like to try to use texture to tell a story along with the characters themselves. So, pen and ink is my best friend. But, I also like to do oil paintings and colored pencil illustrations. I’ll do a little bit of promotion here (Laughs.) I’m actually working on a mini-ghost-story children’s book that’s done in colored pencil on black paper. That book is going to be available for pre-order very soon.

So yes, I prefer to use pen and ink. But, if I decide to use color with a pen and ink drawing I’ve already drawn, I photoshop over it.

NTK: Do you have a favorite comic book?

EW: Oh man, that is a good question. I have a lot of things I like (Laughs.) But, to keep it simple I’ll just give you the top few. I really like Chew, Naruto, Berserk, Dissolving Classroom, and I Hate Fairyland.

NTK: Favorite movie?

EW: One of my favorite movies (it’s not quite horror but it’s a gory movie) is Overlord. I guess one of my favorite horror movies would be the new It.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? Aside from the children’s book you mentioned, what other works do we, as Horror Addicts, have to look forward to?

EW: The future does hold a lot for me as long as I keep overbooking my life (Laughs.) This year, I’m actually working on a big comic book series that will be launched in November. I am super excited and also super nervous.

Along with that new series that’s coming out, I’m going to continue my current mini ghost comic(water marked)comic strip that I share bi-weekly online.

But there is one big thing I’m trying to work on, and that is teaching classes in creating comics and horror art.

NTK: Congratulations! Does the comic series have a name? Who is the main character?

EW: The series is called Demon Eye. The main character is, as you might’ve figured out, a demon.  There are multiple Demon races in the series. She’s a special breed of demon which most think have gone extinct but, as you learn throughout the series, they were forcefully relocated.

Her name is Cirsto and she is best known as the Demon Eye assassin. So that’s where the book title comes from.

NTK: Thank you for sitting down with me today, EmoWeasel.

EW: It was a lot of fun.

You can follow EmoWeasel on Instagram and Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

Chilling Chat with a Dark Lady: An Interview with Nancy Holder

Nancy Holder is a New York Times best-selling author. She has written over 100 short stories and over 80 novels, including tie-in books for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Smallville. She’s written YA novels with her writing partner Debbie Viguiè, and has written comic books, graphic novels, and pulp fiction for Moonstone Books. Currently, she works for Kymera Press and lives in San Diego.

Nancy is a charming and gracious lady. Recently, she chatted with me about horror, her new project, and Kymera Press.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Nancy. I appreciate it.

NH: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for interviewing me.

NTK: Let’s talk about Kymera Press. How did you get involved with them?

NH: Some years ago (at least ten!) I was at a book signing at Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles, and I met a woman named Debbie Lynn Smith there. She had been a writer on the TV show, Touched by an Angel, and had decided to get her MFA in creative writing. (She was going to Stonecoast, the program at the University of Southern Maine. They were looking for an instructor who could teach horror, and I was interviewed and offered the position. Debbie was actually one of my students there.)

When she was working in Hollywood, Debbie ate tons and tons of microwave popcorn, and she developed a disease called Popcorn Lung. It is a horrible, hideous disease, and she sued Orville Redenbacher and WON. (She had a double lung transplant about seven months ago and is doing great.)

With her settlement, she decided to do something positive. So, she founded Kymera Press, which is an all-woman comic book company. All the writers and art team members are female. Her husband is the only full-time male staff member. She hired me to be one of her writers.

Debbie was interested in adapting the work of women Victorian horror writers, and for a while, we were going to do a big graphic novel of Frankenstein to celebrate the 200th anniversary of publication. But, there are a LOT of graphic novels about Frankenstein out there, and it was a huge, ambitious project. So, we returned to “Victorian” horror. We cover what is called “the long nineteenth century” in literature, covering from 1770-1910-ish. I suggested the series title, Mary Shelley Presents.

NTK: What authors do you plan to cover in these graphic novels?

NH: Right now they’re comic books, but they will be collected into graphic novel form. Debbie just returned from C2E2, which is a popular culture convention in Chicago, and librarians are eagerly waiting for us to collect them into hardback so they can order them.

Our first issue was “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell. Right now, the team is working on, “Man-size in Marble” by Edith Nesbit. I just turned in the revision of “The Case of Sir Alistir Moeran” by Margaret Strickland. BUT … the coolest part is that I am actively searching for stories by women who have been marginalized or never/rarely anthologized. For example, I’ve just had a Russian story translated. It’s by a woman who is very famous in Russia but very little of her work has been published. She is in the fourth issue. And, I’m looking forward to an anthology of work by Victorian women who lived in the British colonies.

NTK: Are you adapting all of the stories for the comic books?

NH: Yes, I’m adapting all the stories, and once the anthology of the colonial work comes out, I’ll adapt some stories by those women.

NTK: How often will the comics be released? Monthly? Bi-monthly? Quarterly?

NH: Right now, quarterly. Kymera has five series in production. They are: Dragons by the Yard, Ivory Ghosts, Pet Noir, Gates of Midnight, and Mary Shelley Presents.

NTK: You’ve written tie-in novels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Teen Wolf, and many others. How did this background prepare you for adapting the stories to comic book form?

NH: Well, I’ve written a lot of comics and graphic novels for Moonstone Books, so I’m familiar with the form. I’ve also taught classes in writing for comics and graphic novels and edited them as well. So, I have a background there. But, to answer your question, what I’ve learned from writing so much tie-in fiction (and nonfiction) is that it’s important to figure out what it is about that property that fans love and focus on that. Or, to figure out what the heart of the story is, and “push” that.

For example, Buffy was strong and passionate. And, like Buffy, Scott McCall was trying to learn to lead—in his case, a pack of werewolves. She was the Chosen One; he was the Bitten One.

In the case of our comics, I look for the theme of the story. The heart of darkness, as it were.

In the first one, “The Old Nurse’s Story,” the theme is regret/remorse/redemption.

NTK: Getting back to Moonstone, you wrote many stories centered around Sherlock Holmes. How did that help you in adapting Victorian stories?

NH: I love Sherlock Holmes. I am a devoted Sherlockian. I belong to a Sherlock Holmes scion and am planning to join a couple of other ones.

I read a lot of what is called, “Neo-Gothic” literature, such as the novels of John Harwood.

A student from Stonecoast and I are planning to start a blog about the long nineteenth century after she graduates.

The story I just adapted takes place in 1916. I novelized the new Wonder Woman film which took place around then, so I’ve recently “seen” my time period. And, I’m watching Peaky Blinders right now, too.

Also, we provide information about the writer of the original story (and we include the text of the original story in the comic), and I try to read a biography of the author.

NTK: What Sherlock Holmes Scion do you belong to?

NH: I belong to the Sound of the Baskervilles. We just celebrated our 38th year as a scion (I only joined recently). We are Seattle/Tacoma based.

NTK: Do you research when you write? Is that how you discovered the women writers?

NH: I do a lot of research, and it was easy to find a few writers to start with. There are anthologies of Victorian women writers of the supernatural and Debbie recommended Margaret Strickland. She has an amazing eye for what will translate to comic book form. I suggested obtaining translations, and so this first one, the Russian one, is very exciting to us both.

Grady Hendrix, who just won a nonfiction Bram Stoker Award® for Paperbacks from Hell, also pointed me to another anthology that is going to be very helpful.

NTK: Are comic books difficult to write?

NH: To me, writing comics is very difficult, but it’s really, really fun. It’s a lot like writing film scripts/screenplays, except that it’s pretty much on me to explain and show everything, whereas a film script is like a blueprint. I think of my script as a letter to the art team.

You have to figure out how to show things very, very quickly and keep the reader interested. And, you have to keep to a fairly stringent number of pages and panels, and to think visually.

NTK: How many artists work with you when you write a comic?

NH: This is the art team: Artist: Amelia Woo, Letterer: Saida Temofonte, Colorist: Sandra Molina, Art Direction: Kata Kane, and covers by Amelia Woo. In the first comic, we had Color Separations by Alejandro Garcia, who was assisting Sandra. The Editor is D. Lynn Smith, and Paul Daughetee does our Graphic Design.

NTK: Did you read comics when you were younger? If so, what were your favorites?

NH: I read tons of comics when I was younger. I subscribed to most of the DC lines. Superman, Lois Lane, Aquaman, also Katy Keene. And, scary comics that scared me so much I turned all the covers over at night before I went to bed.

NTK: Did you read House of Mystery and the other DC Haunted House comics?

NH: I don’t remember the horror series titles. But, they scared the tar out of me.

NTK: What made you decide on Mary Shelley as the narrator of these comics?

NH: Well at Kymera, Debbie and I had thought about that big graphic novel of Frankenstein, and scratched that, but by then I had read a ton of stuff about Mary Shelley—a number of biographies, other work of hers, etc. So, I thought about using her as a sort of “Crypt Keeper” to introduce the stories. Each story opens with her and the Creature discussing how his story has made her immortal, but other women writers have not been so fortunate. So, Mary Shelley breathes new life into stories by women that are “long buried” or “gathering dust.” Also, we try to add a bit of detail about Mary Shelley herself.

I just went to Italy for two months and went to many of the places she visited in Rome and Florence, including Percy Bysshe Shelley’s grave and the headstone honoring their son, William. I also went to Cadenabbia on Lake Como, where she visited with her son and his college buddies. And, I went to Viareggio, near where Percy drowned.

NTK: What a fantastic idea using her as the “Crypt Keeper.” Are comics the source of your inspiration when it comes to horror? Is that how you got into the genre?

NH: That’s a great question. Like a lot of horror writers, I was always drawn to horror. Weirdly, I just remembered that the first horror movie I ever saw was James Whale’s Frankenstein, which I watched with my mom. I loved creepy stuff even though it scared me so badly I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I watched The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Kolchak: The Nightstalker—stuff like that. I think that’s how I got hooked.

NTK: You’ve come full circle.

NH: That’s true! I have come full circle! I never realized that.

NTK: Mary Shelley Presents debuted at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con. How was it received?

NH: It was a big hit at Comic-Con. I worked in the Kymera booth, and we sold lots of issues of all the series we had out. I also did a charity signing at the California Browncoats booth. (The Browncoats are fans of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, and I’m a Browncoat myself.) I usually sign for their charity drives if I’m at a con they’re at. I’ve signed at Comic-Con for them for years and years. So, I signed Mary Shelley Presents there, and we “sold out.”

I should also add that I did a Buffy Encyclopedia recently with my first editor, Lisa Clancy. (Lisa was the first to develop the Buffy publishing program, which was at Simon and Schuster at the time. She covered Angel, and I covered the Buffy show and all the comics—including Angel and Spike.) And, I covered the comic book canon. A TON of comics. Holy Moly.

NTK: What got you into writing the tie-ins? Was it the YA novels you wrote with Debbie Viguiè?

NH: No, I wrote tie-ins before I met Debbie. My first tie-in was a Highlander novel in 1997. Then, I started doing Buffy. I’ve also done Angel, Buffy/Angel crossovers, Wishbone, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Smallville, Saving Grace, Teen Wolf, Firefly, Kolchak, and Beauty and the Beast. I think that’s all of the TV shows. For films, I’ve novelized the new Ghostbusters movie, Crimson Peak, Hell Boy, and Wonder Woman. I’ve also written tie-ins for Zorro and Sherlock Holmes.

NTK: What else are you working on right now? What can we expect to see in the future?

NH: The new Firefly novel I wrote, Firefly: Big Damn Hero, will come out in October, and I’ll continue to work on Mary Shelley Presents. I have some short stories coming out, one of which is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. And, I’ll be working in the booth at Kymera Press at San Diego Comic-Con.

NTK: What advice would you give a writer who may be interested in pursuing a career in comic books or graphic novelization?

NH: Advice: read! (I’m surprised by the number of newer writers who don’t read.) And, try to attend comic book/popular culture conventions, even small ones if you can’t make it to the biggies. The “sequential art” world is pretty small so it’s possible to network. Also, there are a number of great “how to write comics” books out: Scott McCloud is one of the standards, and Dennis O’Neil.

And, if you’re interested in horror, JOIN HWA!!!

NTK: Great recommendations, Nancy! Thank you for chatting with me. Before we part, could you tell the readers where they can get a copy of Mary Shelley Presents?

NH: Thank you so much for having me! The easiest way to buy a copy is to go to the Kymera Press Website. There is a Wide Release Version  and a Limited Edition Version.

This is truly a labor of love for all of us at Kymera.

NTK: And, such vindication for a comic book company created by women.

NH: I love our art team. I’m so blessed.

This interview was  published in the May 2018 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter and is reprinted with Editor Kathy Ptacek’s permission.