After the success of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, the writer is teaming up with Paul Azaceta for another ongoing horror story for Image Comics. But with the supernatural-focused Outcast, which launches today, the creators are hoping to make the story even creepier and scarier than the zombie hit.
"Kirkman had an idea, and wanted to do another comic book — a horror type thing that's actually different from what he did with The Walking Dead," Azaceta told Newsarama. "What we're going for is the creepy, cool, scary vibe."
Another difference — while The Walking Dead was a comic before it hit television, Outcast is already being developed by Kirkman as a TV series for Showtime, even though the first issue is just coming out this week.
"When he came to me with Outcast, it was a fully formed concept," Azaceta said. "And with the crazy huge success of The Walking Dead and the kind of circles Kirkman's running in now, it's almost inevitable that somebody — TV or whatever — is going to look at what his ideas are. But I'm just trying to make the comic book make as good as it can be. I'm excited that there's a possibility that [it will be a TV show]. But you never know."
Of course, a TV show can use music and camera movement to build tension and create scares — not so for comics, Azaceta pointed out. But the artist, who's developed all the visuals for the story, said he's working with colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser to create unsettling images — and he even surprised Kirkman with how creepy his images are for Outcast.
"I'm just keeping everything dark and creepy," Azaceta said. "I always use a lot of black. And also, I'm working a lot with Elizabeth Breitweiser, who is an amazing colorist — I would love her to color all my stuff, forever, because what she's doing with Outcast is awesome. It's a muted pallet, but with little spots of color. It gives it a really cool feel and really brings out the horror moments in a powerful way.
"But it's not a light book either," he laughed. "Even as the book opens, and there are two people talking, there's a sense of something dark there. The tone of the book, visually, brings about the feel of something coming, and then ramps up in the scarier scenes."
Outcast, which is being released through Kirkman's Skybound imprint at Image, tells the story of Kyle Barnes, an ordinary guy who discovers that dark forces have been working through those closest to him in the form of demonic possessions. Set in a small town in West Virginia, Outcast draws upon Kirkman's Christian roots, as he shows how the world of possessions and exorcisms has affected Kyle and his family.
"When we first meet Kyle, he's at a low point in his life," Azaceta said. "He's been plagued by demonic possession stuff — all kinds of weird things, and a terrible past. I don't want to give away too much. But as I designed the character, I wanted to draw him in the same unkempt type clothes, and just unshaven and messy looking. He's a physical representation of somebody who's at that point where they just don't care.
"Throughout the series, he'll grow and evolve and, hopefully, will get a little more positive," he laughed. "But right at the beginning, I wanted to make it feel realistic that he's at that low point in his life. And his house has been his house since he was a child, so it was, at one point, a nice house, but now it's messy and starting to show this lack of care."
The artist said the key to making the scary scenes feel significant — particularly something supernatural like demonic possessions — is to make everything else feel realistic.
"We want this to be truly scary, rather than just in-your-face crazy horror stuff. I never really found that scary. So we're trying to make everything realistic," he said. "We're trying to make the possession feel realistic. It's not going to be those crazy, like… when somebody's possessed, they don't have flames coming out of their head or glowing eyes or anything like that. It's much more in the realm of, even, The Exorcist.
"There's definitely parts of this comic where you see some supernatural stuff, but it's going to be confined to very specific areas so it feels real," he said.
Azaceta, whose credits include work for Marvel and DC, said the reason Kirkman wanted to work with him in the first place is that he enjoyed his past work. The artist compared the style of Outcast to work he did on the Dark Horse horror comic BPRD 1946, "especially the one issue with the Haunted Asylum."
"So I haven't changed up my art too much for this," he said. "I think my art kind of evokes realism. I tend to stick with stuff that's more realistic, and naturalistic, I like to call it. So I think that, when we have something supernatural come into the book, it really makes it stand out and makes it surprising."
Part of the realistic approach was getting the setting right, Azaceta said, because it takes place in West Virginia. "The setting is a lot of fun. I'm really trying to make it look like West Virginia," he said. "It's not a specific part of West Virginia, but we want it to have a kind of Southern feel to it. We don't want to tie it down to a specific city or anything like that.
"But I did a lot of research," he said. "I have a bunch of books I bought, and he's given me references and scenic stuff — pictures and landscapes. Google's been my friend for quite awhile. Even back when I was doing other stuff for Marvel, even in New York City, which I live right by, I still looked up references. Half the fun for me is to make it look like specific places. I like it when my books have a real connection back to the place where they're set. I might change up the names and stuff, but I try to have specific visuals that capture the feel of that place. So hopefully that comes across in Outcast."
Azaceta laughed that the biggest difference with this book is that he's really planning ahead. "In the past, I might have only been on a book for a few issues, but I'm dedicated to this for the long haul," he said. "So I'm planning ahead a little more, and keeping track of people and places and how I'm drawing them, because I'm going to be on the book a long time."