This week, Man of Action's Steven T. Seagle and artist Jason Adam Katzenstein are debuting their all-ages graphic novel, Camp Midnight, which combines horror and comedy in a story about a summer camp for monsters.
The book from Image Comics was just nominated for an award from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and will be previewed as part of Image's offerings for Free Comic Book Day.
Seagle is probably best known these days because of the success of the Big Hero 6 film, which was based on characters he co-created with Duncan Rouleau. As part of Man of Action Entertainment, he's become well known for co-creating other kid-friendly concepts like Ben 10 and Generator Rex.
Newsarama talked to Seagle and Katzenstein about the monsters that populate Camp Midnight, how the two began working on it together, and how readers can check it out.
Newsarama: Steven, how did you come up with this concept, and where did you end up meeting Jason and deciding to work on this together?
Steven T. Seagle: Some years ago, I had seen the Hayao Miyazaki movie called Spirited Away. And I thought, what kind of story would I do if I got to work with Miyazaki. And I jotted down some notes for Camp Midnight and then just never thought about it again in any constructive way until many, many years later.
A mutual friend of Jason's and mine named Daryl Sabara, who's an actor that was in Spy Kids most famously, but he was also Generator Rex on my Generator Rex show, introduced us to each other at my weekly writers group. And Jason wasn't writing; he was drawing. And I was like, "What are you drawing?" And then I looked at it and thought, "We should do Camp Midnight together!"
Nrama: Wow, just like that, huh?
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Do you remember, before you saw my drawings, you said, "Oh, you draw comics? Are you good?"
Seagle: [Laughs] That sounds like me!
Nrama: How would you describe the story of Camp Midnight?
Katzenstein: It's a horror comedy about a girl, Skye, who goes to a summer camp for monsters.
Seagle: And she's the only human girl at the camp for monsters, and she's wondering if she can keep her secret identity as not-a-monster a secret for the summer.
Nrama: What's Skye like, and why's she doing this?
Seagle: Well, she's a pistol. Skye does not want to be at a summer camp, monster or otherwise, because the summer is what she usually spends with her father. Her parents are divorced, her father's gotten remarried, and she does not like what she unaffectionately calls her step-monster at all.
And so to be shipped off, to her, is quite an affront, and she takes it very personally and is dead set to not have a good time at Camp Midnight. But she winds up meeting a fellow unwilling camper named Mia, and despite her better intentions winds up making a friend and having more fun than she hoped to.
Nrama: This is an all-ages comic, and the art is very fun, but you said it's got horror as well. How would you describe the tone?
Katzenstein: It's all ages. I mean, I loved Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and a lot of horror that was actually intended to be consumed by kids when I was a little kid. And also, horror and comedy work really well together, because they're both genres where you know when they work, because you're either scared or you laugh.
Seagle: I would say, at its core, Camp Midnight is a camp story, more than it's a horror story. It just happens to take place at a monster camp. But Jason did a really great job of designing characters that are creepy. There's a witch camp counselor who's really scary looking, but she's also very sweet and is concerned about her campers, so that ability to offset the kind of shocking visuals with a nicer characterization lets us walk a line that keeps it open to all ages.
Nrama: Jason, as you designed the characters and concepts for Camp Midnight, what was your overall approach?
Katzenstein: Steven gave me a lot of great stage direction, and we did a lot of preliminary work together. There was trial and error. But I felt a lot of freedom. Steve had seen my work. And when we decided it would be a good fit for this story, we basically just talked about some of the influences, like old Warner Bros. cartoons. And I was looking at The Crypt, and especially the point where the old DC horror comics meet MAD magazine, because there's a lot of that horror and comedy element.
I just married all these influences and drew in the way I know how.
Seagle: It was nice because I have very little spare time, but I do this one day a week where I just work on new projects in my writers group, and Jason, while he was living in California, would just come to that every week. And so I would write him seven new pages every week, and he would come back the next week with seven pages drawn. And we could sit down every week and just go over what we'd done the week before, both the story and the art.
It was a very organic, evolving process as we went, that let us really get on the page together pretty quickly.
Katzenstein: Yeah, there would be notes in the script that would reference things I'd just drawn. Steve would write to me and say, "that layout you used five pages ago, I want that here." So it was pretty cool that he was responding to things I'd just done.
Seagle: I'm at a stage in my career where I'm trying to not write the same way twice anymore. I feel like I'm trying to always mess up my process. And so this was something where, the notes that I had from a decade ago, i didn't even re-read. I just started writing. I decided to write in sequence from Page 1 to 240 and just hope it would work out, just doing seven pages a week. So it was a very agile process in that I could really respond to what Jason was doing in the moment, because I had not written the whole thing in advance.
Katzenstein: I started sometimes writing Steve's stage directions into the image, which you liked and then you started noting that in the script.
Seagle: Yeah, there was a page where — I remember it was a stand-off between Skye and her rival at camp, who's named Abcynthia, and the stand-off moment just ended with the description, "Who will blink?!" then Jason just wrote those words all over the panels and the layout. And I was like, "Oh, you have to keep that. That's super fun." And then we started doing that.
And you know, the book is really fun. I think Jason's artwork is like nothing people have seen. He colored it in three colors per page, changing with the scenes. He did the entire thing on a tablet, which still boggles my mind.
Nrama: You mentioned Mia and Abcynthia. Can you run through some of the characters that populate the world of Camp Midnight?
Seagle: Well, there's Mia, who's there unwillingly as well, but for a different reason, because the kids at camp don't seem to want her there. She was there last summer and they don't really want her back. So she's an outsider, which makes her bond pretty quickly with Skye, who's an outsider. And the main thrust of the book is their willingness to keep their secrets from each other and eventually share their secrets with each other.
Katzenstein: There's Griffin, who is a dreamboat, but he's not just a dreamboat. He's also — you'll have to read to find out.
Seagle: Oh you can say: He's a werewolf.
Katzenstein: He's a cute werewolf.
Seagle: The cabin that Skye's in is called the Medusa cabin, and all the cabins are named after classic monsters. And within the cabin, she finds herself against her adversary, Abcynthia, who secretly is the camp counselor's daughter, so she's kind of given more authority than she maybe ought to have. But she even learns a lesson or two from the human girl.
Katzenstein: I'm pretty partial to Counselor Croak, who is, like, the most exaggerated version of a gym teacher/monster.
Seagle: And he's a frog. There's also Counselor Cobb, who is the main camp counselor. And she's just repugnant looking. I mean, Jason did a great job of making one of the most ugly noses ever to grace comics. And yet she's also one of the kindest characters in the book, so you just fall in love with her despite her appearance, which is one of the themes we're working through.
Katzenstein: There's Skye's parents, her father and her step-monster. I should probably say as a disclaimer in this interview that I love my step-mom and she's one of my best friends. But the step-monster is nothing like her.
Seagle: And then Skye's mom is a doctor, and she's spending the summer with Doctors Without Borders in Rwanda, although her ex-husband thinks she's going to Romania and doesn't quite process world geography well enough to be trusted with Skye's education over the summer.
Nrama: Anything else people should know about Camp Midnight? You're doing something for Free Comic Book Day, right?
Seagle: Yeah! It's an Image Comics gold level Free Comic Book Day comic. And what Jason and I did for that was take 28 pages out of the book and kind of collapsed them into their own short story. It's not 28 sequential pages. It's 28 pages that give you a good slice of what the book is like. Also, the Image Comics website is going to run a completely different 30-page excerpt for free that people will be able to access through their website, and I think ComiXology is running that. We'll run excerpts on other websites too. So you'll be able to get a lot of great previews of it.