At the crossroads of scary movies, shock rock and sequential art there stands one man: Rob Zombie. He first came onto the popular scene as the frontman and driving force of the heavy metal band White Zombie, and when he wasn’t on stage or in the studio he spent considerable time drawing much of the band’s promotional material and even took up directing their videos. He showed his geek stripes in the lyrics and the theatrics the band employed, which carried onto into his solo music career and even into movies he directed such as House of 1000 Corpses and the 2007 remake of Halloween. From his years as a fan to his years on the stage and on set, Rob Zombie has seen every side of the celebrity life and lived to tell the tale. And in an upcoming miniseries from Image, Zombie takes us for a roller coaster ride up and down the spiraling tracks of celebrity-dom.
Whatever Happened to Baron Von Shock is an eight-issue miniseries debuting in late May that Rob Zombie penned to tell the story of Baron Von Shock – a TV personality that can be as scary as his material.
“The Baron is a local LA horror movie host in the tradition of Vampira or Zacherley,” explained Zombie. “A huge celebrity within their zone.”
Zombie is joined in this comic cavalcade by newcomer comic artist Donny Hadiwidjaja and longtime collaborator and colorist Val Staples. Together, they’re charting the downfall of Von Shock. And now for Leon Stokes – the man behind the makeup of Baron Von Shock -- he’s looking back on the career he had and how he let it all slip away.
“He is basically a loser who got his shot and blew it,” said the writer. “Drugs and pu**y were his only real driving passions and ultimately the reason he crashed and burned. Now he dreams of having it all back again, but at what cost?”
For a horror show has-been who had it all and lost, the Baron’s chances at another spin seem bleak – especially considering how he got here.
“His own limitation as a person and his inability to function in life,” Zombie said. “Basically the same qualities that brought him down in the first place.”
As someone who’s made their bones and made a name as a musician, movie director, writer, artist and celebrity in his own right, Rob Zombie has a unique perspective on the ups-and-downs of celebrity culture. But does that inside knowledge inform this tale?
“As with most things I do I base it on true life,” the writer revealed. “I don't want to say who it is, but Leon Stokes is based on real person I know. I've seen this story play out many times. It is the classic Hollywood story in fact it is the reason we have the E! True Hollywood Story.”
The unique occupation of horror host might seem of a bygone era today, but in its time it was a signature part of most major cities. These horror hosts functioned as television presenters of late-night movies meant to fill dead air without emptying stations wallets. Due to the low budget nature of horror film at the time, movies of this genre were ideal to fill up dead air. In an effort to localize and dramatize these films, these tv hosts were encouraged to provide all sorts of antics – including the first, Vampira, back in 1954. These hosts quickly caught on at local stations before national syndication was a reality, with each major city having its own horror hosts – or hosts – to bumper movies played late at night.
“The thing I like about local TV horror hosts is that each one was different and each one was special to their area of the country,” said Zombie. “Now everything is seen by everybody but back in the day someone would be a huge celebrity in Cleveland but no one had heard of them in New Jersey.”
“Made for more variety in life.”
“More variety in life” seems to be an appropriate way to describe Rob’s own career – branching out from rock n’ roll music to cover film-making and comics. And while other movie and music stars who make their way to comics might seem like carpetbaggers coming for the recent popularity and not for the medium itself, he is well known for his comics cred. Zombie has a long history in the comic shelves and a the comic conventions, producing several titles over the years such as the series Spookshow International as well as two other projects with Steve Niles. For many of his comic projects however, he’s repeatedly partnered with industry veteran Val Staples, who while best known as a colorist, has been an adept behind-the-scenes editor/producer of comics far and wide.
“It’s a pretty easy deal [between me and Val],” explained Zombie. “We do everything through email. I send Val a script and he sends me email pointing out that all the deadlines are closing in. Good times.”
Staples originally began publishing Zombie’s work through his MVCreations banner at the now defunct Crossgen Comics. Since then he self-published briefly, before partnering with other publishers to realize the company’s goals.
“We've always tried to be very laid back and care primarily about putting out a great, yet timely product,” said Staples. We also know that when Rob wants to do a book, he wants to do it his way because he has a specific concept with which no one should tamper. So we follow his lead and let him work his magic. I credit that to why SpookShow International was well-liked month-to-month by so many fans during its run. It was Rob's vision, not ours. Because of all of that, Rob knows he has an open door to shoot projects our way when he feels the creative comic itch and he knows we'll deliver.”
Although more than capable of handling the business end of things here, Staples relies on his staff at MVCreations – including editor Leanne Hannah – as well as Image to act as print publisher and publicity machine. This allows Staples to focus on what he’s known best for – coloring.
“So far, Whatever Happened To Baron Von Shock? is the first book where I've gone in completely on my own from the start and let the pigments fly!” related the Eisner-nominated colorist. “The artist, Donny Hadiwidjaja, is the new kid on the block, with this raw energy that we picked up on in his samples. He has this somewhat loose, organic style that plays well into the mood Rob has created in the book. But Donny's never had a lot of comic work professionally colored, so I felt it was best to trust my instinct on how to handle his art. Plus, Rob has faith in what I create. Either that, or he may be getting ready to hurt me. It's all part of the unpredictable fun of comics!”
That fun of comics can especially be felt by the artist Donny Hadiwidjaja, who as Staples said, is debuting professionally with this series. The artist came to this series by way of a talent search Staples held on Deviant Art – but at first, he wasn’t so sure of his chances..
“Val needed someone who could draw both monsters and hot women, and I love to draw both! So I applied but Val didn't like my samples. But he offered me a lot of advice on how I could improve. For me it was a precious moment towards the progression of my artwork,” said the artist. “I went back to drawing and worked very hard. A few weeks later I surprised Val with new samples. Val liked these new samples, and passed them on to Rob. Rob also approved my samples and gave me several characters to test sketch. Soon after I was brought on as part of the Baron Von Shock team.”
Although a relative newcomer to the world of comics, Hadiwidjaja was particularly attuned to the project he was joining and what it needed.
“When I read Rob's script, I realized the strong points were the character dialogue and the maturity of the story. So I chose a more expressive art style for the book,” said David. “Something more harsh with spontaneous confidence rather than deliberate linework. I felt that was the expressive art style that would maximize the impact of Rob's story.”
After digging into the series and getting a couple pages done, the artist gained new respect to Rob Zombie’s writing skills.
“Rob knows how to work with multiple moods. He successfully mixes comedy, horror, and drama vibes into one piece of work,” Hadiwidjaja said. “But when you get to see his creative process up close, you can also tell he is a caring person who is very versatile. I feel honored to work with him.”
Considering the status Rob Zombie has accumulated with his work in film and music, it might be easy to discount his comics credentials and label him as a celebrity carpetbagger into the world of comic. But you’d be mistaken.
“I started reading comics in the seventies,” Zombie explained. “The first comic I ever bought was Fantastic Four. I really only read Marvel books as a kid. You had to choose either you were a DC kid or a Marvel kid. Probably my favorite comic was Howard The Duck or Tomb Of Dracula. I loved anything that Gene Colan did. He was the master.”
As for the auteur’s current pull list, he prefers to go through the back issue bins for his reading.
“These days I mostly go back and read old stuff that I never had as a kid.”
Inspired by those comics he read as a kid and now reading the ones he didn’t get a chance to, Zombie’s comic passions first saw light in the form of the illustrations that adorned White Zombie’s music releases. This artwork, done by Zombie himself, showed influences from the Marvel comics of the 70s as well as the Kustom Kulture kitsch of “Big Daddy” Ed Roth, creator of Rat Fink. That artistic bent went further as he segued into director music videos for both his band and others, which led to his feature film debut. But through all the mediums of music, movies, art and comics, it says a lot about him that he took his love of these mediums and learned, worked and excelled at them all.
“I could never be content with just being a fan of the things I loved,” Zombie related. “I had to be part of it in a real way. That passion for music, film or comics is what drives me to do the things I do. I do it because I love it.”