What’s the one thing you can look forward to for a really good – or really bad – horror movie? A sequel. And after we first saw a grouping of classic movie monsters slum for a job in Hollywood in 2008’s Screamland series from Image, we knew they’d eventually make a comeback.
Beginning in June, Screamland returns as an all-new ongoing series from Image. This time out, writer Harold Sipe is joined by co-writer Christopher Sebela and artist Lee Leslie. Together, this trio are exploring Sunset Boulevard after dark to see what movie monsters are looking for a second chance. The new series kicks off with an arc entitled “Death of the Party”, and Image will be releasing a special zero issue of Screamland available on both the comiXology and Image Comics apps.
Newsarama: For the uninitiated, can you tell us about the Screamland concept and this new book specifically?
Harold Sipe: Screamland is a book about faded glory and monsters acting badly. It is the Sunset Boulevard of monster flicks.
Christopher Sebela: Screamland takes place in a world where movie monsters are real and all ended up moving to Hollywood to take advantage of the booming film industry. Now that there's computer animation and algorithms that determine who gets cast and why, most of them are stuck on the fringes or just plain out of work.
DevilfishSipe: The first volume really looked at the top shelf of monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, A Wolf Man and a Mummy. Now that we are back for the long haul we want to explore the lower tiers of monsters, which is a lot of the first arc.
Sebela: Because we're focusing on monsters and Hollywood, there's a whole world of genre out there to explore, from slasher films to alien invaders to robot killing machines to whatever. And while we'll revisit people like Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy, we're going to dig in to all those monsters who only managed to make a handful of films before they peaked. How do they get by now that they can't even get a direct-to-video deal? What's life like for the monsters who've tried to make a normal life for themselves? And what happens at monster funerals? I've been obsessed with horror films for as long as I can remember, so this is like being given license to go nuts, which is both exciting and terrifying.
As for this first arc, it's like Boogie Nights meets The Big Sleep on the floor of a convention. With monsters. That's my elevator pitch, anyhow.
RobrainNrama: Although it stands alone from the first volume, I see some familiar faces. Can you tell us who’s returning and who’s new?
Sipe: Carl “Wolf Man” London and Travis Walters, of 70’s fictional cult sci-fi show Space Path, are back. Their buddy issue from volume one kinda became the heart of that book so it seemed like a no-brainer to check in on them.
The first arc is set at a comic convention so the cast will include hundreds of old screen monsters but a few make up the core of this cast:
Robrain: A robot with a human brain. After the creature features went out of style he became a political talk radio host. A lot of buzz about his background in World War II, mainly about which side he fought on…
Midnight Slasher: This guy is really Chris’ love letter to slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s. Nobody, and I mean nobody, loves and knows that stuff like Chris.
Lady Tempest: A vampire who worked for years as a horror host in the Midwest and became a Hollywood hanger-on. I think she is my new favorite Screamland character.
TempestLee Leslie: I was so thrilled when Harold told me Carl would be returning as one of the main protagonists. Like everyone who read the first series, I was certainly charmed by Carl's particular brand of charisma. He's so much fun.
Nrama: This follows up from the first Screamland series which came out in 2008. How does this new series connect to that?
Sipe: We really thought long and hard about that. If you haven’t read volume one it will not impact reading and enjoying the new ongoing book. All of the cast from volume one turn up in zero issue and we catch up with them there. It acts like a bridge between the two volumes.
Sebela: It's all part of the same world. The best part of Volume One for me as a reader was this whole universe that was possible if you just accept the initial concept that monsters are real and part of everyday society. While finding out what happened to the huge icons of horror was interesting, I was really drawn to the side streets of the book. What happens to the actors who become forgotten footnotes? How do you try to make a life for yourself when you can't hide the fact that you're covered in fur or completely transparent? What exactly goes on in the monster porn industry? My enthusiasm for this volume came from realizing how much was left to explore in Screamland.
Leslie: It's all the same universe. All the monsters exist in this same shared universe the way all the DC or Marvel heroes exist in their universes, except ours is a Justice League of monster failure.
Nrama: Christopher, although this is your first comics work I know your name enough to know that you hang out with a lot of comic creators – such as Harold as well as Matt Fraction – and have worked in a production capacity for IDW and uClick. Rather than ask you why comics, what I should really ask you is this – what took so long?
Sebela: Last part first: As far as my published stuff, I've done a bunch of writing for magazines, newspapers and websites. Technical writing, local interest stuff, writing about comics, longer form pieces for Kitchen Sink magazine or album/song reviews for Pitchfork/New Times. In my spare time I've written lots of prose, from short stories to a couple novels that are tucked away in a desk drawer somewhere. I also had a prestigious blog once.
As for what took so long? Well, firstly, comics is intimidating. Prose I understand, it's something I've always written, but comics always seemed like alchemy to me. Secondly, I ended up going into business for myself, doing freelance as a graphic designer/production hack back in 2006. When I first made the leap, I thought I'd have all the time in the world to do my writing and work on comics stuff and sleep 8 hours a day. But the reality for me was a lot of time spent trying to find work and then a lot of time doing the work in order to keep the lights on, a majority of which was doing comics production, which probably chased me off of comics for a bit to keep my sanity intact.
Still, I've had several big ideas that I tried to make work in book or short story form, but my favorite ones all inevitably seemed like they'd work best in comics, no matter how I tried to run away from them. So I made the leap. Figuring out a) how to break in and b) how to actually write comics were always scary unknowns for me until Harold and I talked seriously about working together on comics early last year. Since he'd gone through the process already, he's been a patient guide through everything from pitching to writing to production. Once we sold our first book, and then Screamland a few days later, it was like the floodgates finally opened.
Nrama: Harold, for the first Screamland you wrote it solo – so why’d you decide to bring Chris onboard?
Sipe: Every other form of popular entertainment functions with several writers working together to break a story. This struck me as a real no-brainer way to work on a humor/satire book.
Chris is one of the funniest guys know and one of the best writers I have ever met. We have been looking for way to work together since volume one. He also brings a different perspective on the material. The Midnight Slasher is a character I never would have done by myself; I don’t have a lot of reference for that stuff. That said, Slasher’s bits in issues two and three are among my favorite in the new book.
Leslie: As an artist, it's really great to have two writers on the book. That way when Harold gets tired of cracking the whip over my drawing table he can simply hand it off to Chris and we don't lose any productivity. No, Chris is a really funny dude, and it's been a lot of fun laying out each issue and coming to a spot and thinking, 'oh, that's definitely a Chris gag.'
Nrama: In addition to Christopher being a new part of the team, so are you Lee. Hector Casanova drew the first volume and you’re on for the new series. How’d Lee get involved, and what made him right for the book?
Sebela: I think the main thing that makes Lee so great is his enthusiasm for the book, the characters, the whole world we're building, which shows in his pages. Lee throws in little jokes, creates fake movie posters out of the blue, figures out character tics that add so much to the story we're telling. Best of all, because he's a writer himself, Lee can come up with story suggestions that have really clarified things that were fuzzy for us and make us go "Hell, why didn't we think of that?"
Sipe: Lee gets it. I mean, Lee’s pages are amazing. I don’t think there are a lot of guys that could have hit the tone we need and do it with so much detail and beauty. All that said, some of my favorite gags in the first arc of volume two are from back-and-forth with Lee. He is a funny guy, which helps when drawing a humor book.
Nrama: Not to let you toot your own horn, Lee.. but toot away.
Leslie: What made me right for the book was the fact that I already owned Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man on DVD. In all honesty, though, I was a huge fan of the original series and have known Harold for a few years now. We'd have lunch and talk shop. In fact, last fall we were had a lunch where we both talked about how frustrated we were with comics and all of our projects, basically saying that we were through with comics. And then a few months later we got the green-light from Image for the new Screamland ongoing.
Nrama: You sound as almost as motley a crew as the characters in the book themselves. Before I let you go, let me ask you about the ghouls at the center of Screamland -- although they’re a nice bunch, I’d have second thoughts it my close friends were known for murder and mayhem. How does this gang of friends get along?
Leslie: That's really the crux of the whole book. How do these people, who are attempting to live as normal lives as they can, rectify that with the fact that they are literally Monsters in every sense of the word?
Sebela: They get along about as well as any group of people thrown together by dint of being part of the same industry. Some become fast friends, some hate each other and most of them have to spend time around one another whether they like it or not. Since our gang all shares the Hollywood element, there's lots of long-standing resentments and competitive streaks and just plain dislike amongst them that they keep locked away from the public but are more than happy to gossip about at the bar. That some of your colleagues will be murderers and menaces is just part of the package you accept when you join showbiz in Screamland, and really, it's pretty low on the list of damnable offenses for this crew. They're much more apt to take offense at a perceived snub or a lack of respect than someone eating a dude in the heat of the moment. By and large, they're monsters, so their code of conduct is a lot weirder than you or I.