The Gravy Age is proud to present our first ever interview for the site, with writer Carl Smith about his upcoming project, The Horror Of Loon Lake
I took a moment to talk with Carl Smith about his upcoming horror anthology, and his process for writing among other things. We will continue to follow The Horror Of Loon Lake all the way from here in the early stages to the Kickstarter campaign to the eventual finished product. I had the pleasure of meeting Carl through Twitter awhile back, and aside from being an extraordinarily nice guy, he genuinely loves comic books. I can’t wait to see more.
The Gravy Age: What is The Horror Of Loon Lake?
Carl Smith: The Horror of Loon Lake is a horror anthology comic that has a connecting story drawing the other pieces together. It is an homage to the great 60’s and 70’s anthologies, like the ones DC was churning out ala House of Mystery, Witching Hours, and so on. It’ll be over 100 pages, so in many ways it really is more of a DC style book… I’m a sucker for all their comics that proclaimed “80 page giant”!!!
TGA: When does the Kickstarter begin?
CS: That is a current debate among my team and I, but I think the majority is amiable to launching the Kickstarter before the art is fully formatted and received. So I am looking at July 5, and it will run 21 days. One of my biggest goals, with this being my first project, was to pay all the artists upfront and not expect them to wait for a back-end deal. Nor did I want to pay some and not others. As it turns out we could really use the capital to take some weight off of my wallet. So, we are looking at the July date versus an October one.
TGA: What is the goal?
CS: Accolades and world market domination. But beyond that I just want my artists paid and the book printed. I am toying with the monetary goal… I ‘d love to break even, and love even more to profit a little and give the artists bonuses. My biggest fear is to run out of capital and stumble, and get to be known as the guy who screwed over backers or bit off more than he can chew. Admittedly, deciding to be the sole writer and editor on a 100 page anthology with 12 artists (not counting the pin up page artists) was probably not the ideal first project to tackle. The book will be printed regardless of the kickstarter, so I am tempted to set a low goal to guarantee success. As you may know, KS is all or nothing in regards to the goal. You can always make more. But setting a $1 goal doesn’t really express any urgency for people to give freely and generously. My short answer is “somewhere between $2000 and $5500.”
TGA: Why did you choose an anthology comic rather than a collection of short prose stories?
CS: That’s a great question. When I started this I was mainly writing prose and had never considered comic writing. I read comics daily, and thought about how great it would be to write one, but simply never bothered to look into doing it. I’ve always adored horror anthologies. As fate would have it I was inspired to write a comic script one day, seek an artist, and planned to print a mini comic. This was on a Saturday afternoon. By Saturday at midnight I had written my script, a quote on printing, an artist lined up, contract in my in box and zero sleep from the excitement. By Sunday night the artist bowed out of the project. I was crushed. But it started a domino reaction that led to refining the script, looking into the format, and trying my hand at a few more ideas from my Molskeine notebook as comics rather than perpetually ignored prose ideas. Suddenly I was working on a story collection.
TGA: What does your writing process look like?
CS: You’ll hear this all the time but it really is best to write daily. I find myself a lot more productive and happier when I do this. However, with my family and full time job having a wacky schedule, I write in bursts. I write most nights after everyone is in bed. I have way too many browser windows open while I write, and headphones are always on. I have a writing desk in the basement but I swear the room is cursed. Whenever I retire to do anything in my man cave all hell seems to break loose upstairs. So I am using a crippled 7 year old laptop on the kitchen table. The keyboard was damaged after I bought it and it misses a lot of keystrokes or sticks. The wireless adapter is intermittently broken and the sound card outputs don’t work. The thing has memory problems and overheats. I think I murdered it playing EVE Online on it for so long. Its very inefficient, but it works for me. But my imagination is never shuts off so I carry these notebooks constantly, and they are all stuffed with outlines, ideas, conversations, and so on. I compose as I type and then go back later to edit into something another person can interpret. You wouldn’t believe how cinematic these things look in my head… I think I work in a storyboard format when I mentally outline and this allowed for easy transition to comic scripts. It isn’t always helpful in prose. The worst was adapting some completed prose stories backwards into scripts. I have not got the hang of doing that in a comfortable way. The process ends up being a deconstruction into an outline then rebuilding again as the script.
TGA: Do you do any thumbnails along the way just to get a feel for page layout and pacing?
CS: Well, pacing is a funny thing. I have these layouts in my head but they all end up animated instead of static. Maybe I should hire animators instead of comics artists. I don’t use thumbnails because I have zero skills drawing. Its all scattered notes, outlines in notebooks, and mental storyboards/movies. I really trust my artists to communicate with me about layout. I really tried to find people who wouldn’t just do exactly as I wrote just to get paid and move on. My scripts are a suggestions. If they need mores space, I’ll write more panels and extend the page count. Low stress for me and I appreciate their input greatly for the visual interpretation.
TGA: Where did you find your artist(s)?
CS: I knew I wanted to use this book to help other new talent. It very possibly could be my only stab at self publishing, so I wanted to make a party out of it. So I asked all my friends on Twitter who I knew dabbled in comic art. I was able to fill most of the roster in this way. A couple of the guys I found through websites, and to be honest it worked out great. In the future, if I do a second volume I may do a cattle call for solicitation and see what happens. The important thing to me was that everyone gets treated like a professional and not like a buddy doing me a favor.
TGA: After finding an artist, did you make any changes to play to their strengths?
CS: Frankly, yes. I had a few scripts that needed artists after I had made my wide pitch. I dropped a script, added one, then two, then dropped another. I had a couple names in front of me that I investigated their portfolios and “assigned” stories to them. It was easy because most of them believed in the project and said “here are the three stories I am interested in.” No one was saying “I have to do the golem story” only to hear me say “no, you’ll do the werewolf and like it.” Its been a very positive experience so far, my team is amazing.
TGA: Comics, unlike film are using just art and the words on the page to create atmosphere, there is no soundtrack, jump-scares are pretty damn hard to pull off, how do you approach building tension?
CS: What I hope to accomplish is the comic equivalent of the jump scare. That is, any panel that will spoil a development in the plot, push to the next page. This takes some stalling and some creative layouts. Sometimes good writing will enable tension without the visual trickery. If you look at In The Dark, the anthology that Rachel Deering edited recently, you’ll see a few of the stories that exemplify this. There is a story that stands out… a woman is a student at Miskatonic and HP Lovecraft is experimenting with giving students hallucinogenics to survey what horrors lurk just out of our perception. There is a gut punch ending that takes one panel. And there it is, lower right hand corner of the last page. But the writing was so good that even if your eyes wander, it isn’t until you’ve read the prior panels and then the text box in the final shot itself that you get hit with the horror. Very well done. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
If I may say one more thing without getting long winded, I think my stories will mostly benefit from the “fits like an old shoe” syndrome of horror. We all know the basics going in to this. As I discussed with one of the artists, it isn’t very high concept. I don’t have rocket-ship trees to explain, back stories to introduce, or a dense mythology to build. I use a werewolf, its a full moon,,, pow, the story is set. The payoff, I hope, is what I do within the reader’s expectations. In a way writing horror comics is like working on a licensed property. You can only innovate so much before you’d better be brilliant or risk losing the audience. Innovate too little and you become entirely forgettable. Look at a novel like Let The Right One In. Its a vampire novel and uses a lot of the classic vampire mythos, but adds these wrinkles to the story-telling and the “why” vampires do what they do. Really well done. But really it was just another vampire story. So was 30 Days of Night, Lost Boys, and Twilight. Yet all of them found a groove that readers responded to. The writer is taking a generic property and borrowing it from the collective fan consciousness, and you try your best to not abuse their trust yet try to pleasantly surprise or challenge them. Then you return the subject back to the public for the next writer.
TGA: As a horror fan, are there any writers or films in particular that you feel shaped your sensibilities?
CS: I have been a horror fan my whole life. Or at least I thought I was until I joined Twitter. Apparently I hate horror movies. Everything that the typical self-professed horror fan revels in makes my stomach turn. I like cobwebs and dark houses. I like hands reaching from behind bookcases. I like monsters, laboratories, and off-screen deaths. I’m no fan of gore. So when I look at the stuff that really formed my individual taste, I have to look at writers like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and of course HP Lovecraft. By the way, can I say here that I am pissed that The King in Yellow was mined for something that became a part of pop culture awareness? That was my sandbox for years. Now everyone is a smug expert about it thanks to HBO.
When it comes to films, I am probably pretty boring in my choices for influence. Universal Studios stuff pretty much occupies the entirety of the “influential” space to me. Universal and Hammer. All of Val Lewton’s work is seminal. I love the silent movies that define the early film horrors. By the time you hit the 80’s I have to admit that while I have enjoyed a lot of horror movies, I’ve been turned off by so many more. The Shining stands out as a favorite, and The Thing. When you talk about film makers that influenced my approach, many of them are more thriller than horror focused. Guys like Jean-Pierre Melville, Hitchcock, the Coen brothers, Ingmar Bergman, and Carol Reed teach a viewer way more about suspense and pay-offs than the horror guys. There is too much pressure to shock and titillate in horror film. There aren’t many pot boilers in the genre that turn out well.
TGA: And as a comics fan, what creators do you feel made a lasting impression on you?
CS: For me it’s always been about a certain vibe versus a creator. When I was a kid, it wasn’t until college that I started even looking at the names on the credits. I had some idea of the artists I liked but less so with the writers. I was a pure consumer. If you look retrospectively I did have a definite taste. A lot of the horror anthology work was done by the masters of the craft. Nothing beats a good Berni Wrightson horror comic. I am not an avid Swamp Thing reader, but I had a few of the reprints with Wrightson on art, and that stuff blew my mind for years. I was always a huge fan of EC and Mad Magazine so guys like Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, Prohias, and Sergio Aragones serve as my unknowing mentors in visual storytelling. Look at what Martin and Prohias can tell you with minimal words and panels. It shames some of the big selling “widescreen” comics out there. Although I went through a pretty heavy Bill Sienkiewicz and Sam Keith phase for a while, I like my art less abstract. The classic looks are best. Gustave Dore is sort of my dream collaborator on an illustrated prose book.
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