Last Wednesday, we ran an Advance Review of Steve Niles and Alison Sampson’s upcoming Image Comics miniseries “Winnebago Graveyard.”
We were also lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with both of them about the comic, telling horror stories in comics and, best of all, satanism!
First of all, thank you both for taking the time to talk with us. Before we get into things, can you explain what “Winnebago Graveyard” is about to those who might have missed it?
Alison Sampson: Thank you for taking time for us. Winnebago Graveyard is about a family who go on holiday, get their RV *accidentally* stolen at a creepy fairground, get stuck in a town full of satanists and it is about what happens next. I would have said a while back it is 75% Americana and about 25% ripping off of heads, but to be honest it probably isn’t quite that restrained. Campervans leave people very exposed to nature so there’s no escaping it, really.
Steve Niles: This story is a tribute to the satanic cult movies of the 1960s-1970s. We follow a family out on a road trip that turns into a nightmare.
Horror is full of iconic antagonistic forces. From vampires to zombies to slasher villains to aliens, most of the forces of evil (for lack of a better word) in horror are some form of monster. As the issue points, maybe we need to start looking inward for the source of evil. What was about Satanism that made you want to make them a part of this story?
AS: I’ll leave Steve to answer most of this, since he brought the satanists into it, but suffice to say, fear of ‘The Other’- what other people do behind closed doors and what they get up to – has never been a bigger issue than it is today. This monster is also super close at hand, in fiction and reality- they might be our neighbour, our friend, our brother. It might be us. That really is quite scary, and it feels very close to home.
SN: Well, for me, it’s about what makes horror work, and it’s still about fighting monsters. What made the Satanic Cult movies of the 60’s and 70’s so great was the townspeople were sinister but seemed normal. They could be us, they could be just a regular town full of people who have a deep secret that outsiders aren’t supposed to discover. You don’t know who to trust if you are dependent on them to help you. If you think of them as the monsters in this horror story, it’s that fear of what they might do that makes it all so damn terrifying.
I was struck by the issue’s opening scene, of a midnight abduction, and how it showcased Alison’s moody, atmospheric art. What’s it like telling horror stories in comics? Obviously, you can’t use tricks like the jump scare to startle the audience. How do effectively scare people with a comic?
AS: All I’ll say is comics are infinite and there is no obviously- but the actual scaring is in the execution. You can have an idea, but it is how you execute it- the way Steve uses dialogue or lack of it, and so on, the way he intercuts the scary stuff with warmth, the way I might try and affect pacing with how the reader looks at the page. I try and go back to how something makes me feel. I’m also interested in Steve’s use of no dialogue in parts of this comic – I honestly find that very scary. Without word balloons, our characters are not only lost to the world, they’re even abandoned by the comic form.
SN: The scare is connecting the reader to the scene, the victims right away. Alison’s art did that, it’s perfect for the opening and for the comic. She drew the mood, their expressions, their fear and the horror of the situation really vividly.
You make it a point in the issue to separate the family from their cell phones. Do you think the connectivity of modern technology has changed how we tell horror stories? Can we have horror stories while we have smartphones?Continued below
AS: Do smartphones stop there being horror in the world? Absolutely not – in fact, the additional connectivity and the internet makes a whole new world of scariness available and more tech has absolutely no connection with making us more civilised. And the act of detaching people from the phone they already have is a horror story in its own right for many people. For Bobby in our story, especially, this isn’t exactly a great way of easing his mind.
SN: It makes it harder, but I know it’s being used as another tool for horror now. That’s a whole different kind of story, though. I wanted to get people down to using just their wits, and not being saved by their gadgets.
“Winnebago Graveyard” features additional art and essays in it’s backup, exploring satanism in film and in reality. Can you talk a bit about what readers can expect from this back matter as the series progresses?
AS: Sarah Horrocks’ essays are not strictly on satanism- rather they explore the context and setting of our story, giving color and depth. Each issue has an essay on a different film (illustrated by me), exploring the use of space and violence in cult horror films set in the American South-West. The first essay is on Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. We want to give our readers homework, if you like, so they might read our story and go off and discover a great film, or think more about one they already know, and in doing that. reflect further on our story. The other thing is we didn’t intend the essays to be ‘easy reads’. Our book may be rated ‘teen plus’, but we expect it to be read by adults and young people alike, and those young people, maybe reading their first adult horror book, won’t want to be talked down to.
So hopefully, if the essays are a bit ‘too old’ for them, they’ll keep the comic and come back to it. Casey Gilly’s essays add context and look at a series of questions coming out of the book, starting with real life satanism. I’ve moved her first essay into issue 2 (which will have two Casey essays) to give our story a bit more space before we throw in some ‘real world material’. We’ve listened to reactions to the book, and are responding to some of the feelings coming out of that. One thing I will say, it is tremendously attractive to people to be on side of the ‘bad guys’- and why is that? Whats so awful about satanism anyway?
Finally, a central conceit of “Winnebago Graveyard” is the idea of the road trip gone wrong, taking the wrong turn and ending up in a nightmare. What is it about this fear that keeps us coming back to stories like this?
AS: In the present day, we control every aspect of our lives and have at our fingertips ways of unprecedented access to facts. What happens when we go/ fall/ drop off the map? This unease goes right back to our most basic beliefs, that science and the media and the internet and phones will make everything all right. Of course they don’t. It is a universal and everlasting fear of going back to a dark age and being alone and not being able to cope. We like to think we are OK on our own, but flirt with the idea that it might not be so straightforward, when we are confronted by just ourselves, and also ‘the other’. This is why I wanted this to be a T+ book: we wanted to give teenagers (wanting to explore boundaries is very much a part of being a teen), as well as everyone else, the opportunity to explore emotions and feelings in a safe space.
SN: I think because it’s real, it’s still always happening. We lock our doors not because of wild predators but because of humans. Take someone out of their element, their home and safety and into the unknown and anything can happen – and it could happen to anyone of us.
“Winnebago Graveyard” #1 will be released by Image Comics on June 14. Final Order Cutoff for the issue is May 22 (that’s today! and the Diamond order codes for the issue are: Cover A (Sampson) APR170723 and Cover B (Helen Chen) APR170724.Continued below