Steven T. Seagle and up and comer Jason Adam Katzenstein are looking to scare up readers this Halloween with their upcoming OGN Camp Midnight.
Announced at Image Expo last month, Man of Action’s Steven T. Seagle and The New Yorker cartoonist Jason Adam Katzenstein are ready to unleash this fun and only a little frightening project to fans. Camp Midnight tells the story of Skye, a young girl whose parents are divorcing and she is sent away to camp for the summer. A grievous error occurs when Skye is sent to the wrong camp, and ends up at Camp Midnight --which is filled with monsters!
Newsarama had the chance to talk to Seagle and Katzenstein about all things Camp Midnight, including how the original concept came about, the visuals for the monsters, and the difficulties of dealing with divorce at a young age.
Newsarama: So, Steven, Jason, Camp Midnight seems to be a nod to things like the Courtney Crumrin series and Scary Godmother, maybe even a bit of Harry Potter elements there, too, but still remaining it's own thing. How did Camp Midnight come about?
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Steve may not know this, but I was intimidated to meet him, because I'd read and loved It's a Bird so much. When we first shook hands, he said to me, "You draw comics? Are you good?" And, mustering all of the courage I was pretending to have, I said, "Yes." When he told me his idea for a Young Adult horror comedy, I knew I had to draw it.
To me Camp Midnight has always been such a great story for kids because it doesn't shy away from being dark or scary, but also full of humor. Maurice Sendak said you can't write for kids, you can only write books that might be of interest to them. Steve has written a great story, and it's a story about growing up, but because it's from his mind and my pen it's also got elements of old screwball Warner Bros cartoons, Daniel Clowes comics and Tales From the Crypt.
Steven T. Seagle: Our mutual friend, actor Daryl Sabara [voice of Rex fromGenerator Rex, another Man of Action property], introduced me to Jason. Daryl dragged Jason to a weekly writers/artists work group we have in Los Angeles. I liked what Jason was working on and I also liked how adept he was at all the stages of his cartooning. He was clearly a talent. Camp Midnight was a project I'd been mulling over for a while, but I hadn't met the right collaborator. As soon as I saw what Jason was doing I realized he was the artist I didn't know I'd been waiting for.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Skye and the relationship with her parents?
Katzenstein: They've recently gotten divorced, which really throws her for a loop. She's angry, but under that anger is sadness and insecurity. She doesn't trust her dad's new girlfriend, Gayle (the "step monster"), but, to be honest, nobody your dad dates after a divorce stands a chance. Trust me, I terrorized my stepmom for years while she dated my dad. Now she's one of my best friends.
When you're that age and you feel like your world is collapsing around you, it's a really scary thing. What I admire about Skye is that she finds an outlet for that fear: she's funny. You can tell that Skye is upset that her mom is going away for the summer, but Skye's response is to be sarcastic about it, and her mom is sarcastic right back. Under that wit you see two people acknowledging that they're going through a difficult thing together, and that one way to cope is to make jokes.
Seagle: Skye doesn't feel like she knows who her parents are anymore. So it's kind of poetic justice that Skye herself winds up going to a place where kids can reinvent themselves for a summer. Skye does exactly that, trying to fit in, but winds up wondering if it's better to blend or to be who and what you actually are.
Nrama: When designing certain monsters, what's the creative percentage between you two on what they would look like?
Katzenstein: I drew all of our characters in front of Steve. We'd talk about a character, and I'd doodle. It was important that we were both in the room watching them come to life.
Seagle: This is one of the best things about Jason. He's so fast on his tablet. We would literally sit for hours and he could work through designs, changing lines as we sat there in real time. A benefit to electronic drawing media I'd never even thought of.
Nrama: Jason, can you tell us some about your style and visual aesthetic? Steven, what was it about Jason's art that attracted you in the first place?
Katzenstein: I'm in love with early Mad, when Harvey Kurtzman was doing layouts for every artist. Kurtzman, Jack Davis and Wally Wood blew my mind. That first issue of Mad had a haunted house story drawn by Davis and a dystopian sci-fi Wood comic that were unlike anything I'd ever seen. The characters looked funny, and then they looked scary. They were gross. They were expressive. I wanted to draw like that.
When I'm drawing a page, my primary concern is always to tell the story, to place you in time and space and an interaction. Then I want to make you feel something, to laugh or cry or cheer or cringe. I want you to get so lost in the world of the comic that you forget to pay attention to what I've crosshatched or how I composed a panel.
My style feels like an inevitable product of the comics I've read and loved, the cartoonist heroes I'm trying to emulate. I'll walk around New York City in real life and see a face and think, he looks like Lisa Hanawalt drew him, or, she's a Mort Drucker character! Lately, I've been drawing some New Yorker cartoons, so I can't go through a day without thinking about how my real life interactions would translate to single panel gags.
Seagle: I follow a lot of small press and indy books, I always have. Without being much like him, I felt the same way looking at Jason's stuff that I did when I got my first glance at Dan Clowes in Lloyd Llewellen #1. Jason's work is confident, but it's also very fluid and loose. It's fun. It's lively. But it was his ability to exaggerate that really won me over the most. And that's a technique that we used very intentionally for some of the more subjective parts of the Camp Midnight story.
Nrama: Why did you feel this would be a better fit for an OGN instead of a say, a mini-series?
Seagle: I feel like the story tells me what the format is. In this case, I had a single idea with a beginning and an end. So that sounds more like an OGN than a series. And in an age where it's going to get collected anyhow, I felt that it would be easier for a younger reader to find one volume of Camp Midnight than to try and hunt down 6 separate issues. The story also didn't really break into "chapters" - it's one flow.
Katzenstein: Steve and I have always talked about wanting Camp Midnight to be a great first comic for new readers. I think about my little sisters, both voracious readers and fans of YA novels. I want to give them a thick book with a spine, one expansive story that they can read all at once if they want.
Nrama: You guys mentioned creating the characters and monsters together, was there any challenge to certain characters in how you wanted them presented?
Katzenstein: My biggest challenge was creating a visual range of emotions for our cast. They aren't just scary monster campers, they have ambitions and senses of humor, they get embarrassed and frustrated. I had to make sure that the same character could make you go, "Awwwww," and also strike fear into your heart.
Seagle: The biggest issue was finding the right kind of monster vibe to suit the dynamics of each of the core characters. It matters a lot what Skye's best friend Mia is, and we also made sure the "cute boy" was a wolf-man in the making, so he'd have great hair.
Nrama: Divorce is a difficult subject for kids. I personally never knew my parents as a couple, but were you able to conjure anything from when you were Skye's age that you might have implanted into the story?
Katzenstein: It was important to me that we were candid about it. Divorce is hard, it's hard on kids in the real world and it's hard on Skye.
When you're young and your parents split, it can be powerful to know you're not the only one who has ever gone through this. When I was a kid, all of the movies that ended with the kids' parents getting back together actually made me feel worse and like a total weirdo. I'm glad that we've made a comic that says, it's okay if your parents don't get back together! It's okay to feel like a weirdo! But --and this is the most important part-- you are not alone.
Seagle: Jason's real life experience definitely curbed a couple of plot directions I had in mind originally.
Nrama: Who are some other characters along this journey with Skye that you're excited for readers to meet?
Katzenstein: Counselor Croak, the slimiest, smelliest of gym teachers! The dreaded witch Abcynthia! And a wolf-boy with mystique, of course...
Seagle: I think my favorite name of all in this book is "Abcynthia!" That should be a thing! And now it is! One of the characters I was most surprised by is Counselor Cobb. I know that camp stories usually have a compassionate counselor, but she took on more of a role than I expected she would.
Nrama: Camp can be either a traumatic time or something kids look forward to, but what is it about the elements of going to camp that made this story possible?
Katzenstein: I always remember meeting up with my friends after camp and noticing how they'd changed: they were taller, or more confident, or they'd had a romance, made a new friend, etc...I loved the idea of a comic about the kind of summer changes you'd come back and tell your home friends about at a sleepover.
Nrama: Lastly, Camp Midnight is being released around this Halloween, so I was wondering if you had a favorite short ghost story that scared you as a kid.
Katzenstein: Everything Edgar Allen Poe!
Seagle: "The Landlady" by Roald Dahl - a tidy, creepy little story that - like Jason's art - first appeared in The New Yorker!
Katzenstein: Also, when we were 10, my friend Lucas used to terrorize me by telling me the plot of the movie The Ring. Years later he admitted that he was making these stories up-they weren't from the movie-and that while he was scaring me he also managed to scare himself.