We all scream for “SCREAMLAND”: Part One

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Originally published at Fangoria.com on June 4, 2011

From Image Comics, SCREAMLAND kicks off its newest volume with a twisted murder and biting horror satire. Movie monsters are struggling in Hollywood after CGI and 3D have become the norm in movies. FANGORIA spoke with authors Harold Sipe (pictured) and Christopher Sebela about how the project began, and what readers should expect from the series itself when the first issue comes out in stores next week.

FANGORIA: How did your careers in the comic book industry begin?

HAROLD SIPE: Really, my career began with SCREAMLAND. I began writing the first book as a prose novel and shared it with my friend, Matt Fraction—who liked it—but he really encouraged me to write it as a comic. Once I got my head around writing for comics, at least somewhat, I was very fortunate to have Hector Casanova join me on it. Once Hector was onboard, we began the long journey of trying to find a publisher for the book. Image Comics was always our first choice to work with, and we have been very lucky that they have enjoyed and supported the book through volume one, and now as the new ongoing series.

CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: SCREAMLAND is the start of my comics career. I’ve written prose, journalism and snarky comments on the Internet, but SCREAMLAND is the first comic I have coming out. But it’s actually the second book I ended up selling, getting approval on it a few days after selling an original graphic novel to another company. So far, my comics career has been due to a combination of late nights, hard work, heroic amounts of coffee and total dumb luck.

FANG: How did the concept for SCREAMLAND begin? How did you two connect with the project?

SIPE: Chris has always been a writer whose work I have enjoyed and admired. He was a trusted source of feedback as I was writing the first volume. He and I plotted what became the first arc of the new volume back in 2008, as the first mini was coming to a close. The idea then was to really build out the world of SCREAMLAND. It took a couple of years to come together and didn’t really gel until new series artist, Lee Leslie, joined the party. The new book is really going to surprise people, and I have never been prouder to be part of anything. Chris and Lee are a huge part of that.

SEBELA: It started, as all great endeavors do, with talking about drugs, pornography and murder. Harold and I started kicking around an idea about doing a murder mystery set in a convention, and what it would be like if your list of usual suspects were all monsters, who were known to kill people in their movies. From there, we started expanding the original monster roster of four to include slashers, aliens, invisible men and robots. Once we had that first arc figured out, and Lee Leslie came on board, Image Comics gave us the green light. Then, we started wondering what other stories we could tell in this world, and the possibilities seemed endless, so we asked Image Comics about doing SCREAMLAND as an ongoing series, and they were into it. Now it’s a case of trying to shift through the dozens of stories we could tell, just to find the best ones worth telling for the next few years.

FANG: SCREAMLAND is set in a world where movie monsters are real. Most of the monsters are just looking for work in an industry dominated by 3D and CGI. How did you know bringing the horror genre along would succeed as a metaphor for the actor’s struggle in Hollywood?

SIPE: SCREAMLAND really started to take shape for me when I was living in LA. All the clichés about that place are true, and the book really became my mediation on my time there, and a lot of the fame culture that made up the place. Also, I love old monster flicks, comics and sci-fi shows. In today’s media landscape, all these things are really changing, sometimes into things I don’t always understand or agree with.

SEBELA: Horror works because it’s about throwing your fears back at you, but in a package that’s just a shade or two beyond reality. So you can enjoy the scares and still not worry what’s going to happen to you. Hollywood stories tend to be pretty similar to the classic monster arc: Actor hits it big, goes completely insane over things with their fame and money and ends up broke or in jail or dead. Replace villagers with pitchforks with paparazzi, and there’s a pretty thin line between the classic movie monster and the Hollywood star.

FANG: The majority of SCREAMLAND #1 takes place at a horror convention. How much research/reference was done?

SIPE: Hector and I brainstormed the convention circuit from 2007 through 2010 promoting the first volume. I can’t count the number of cons we did, both big and small. I can’t think of better research for a story like this than doing San Diego four years in a row.

SEBELA: We didn’t do much in the way of research on conventions, we just dug into our personal histories of attending them. If you’ve been to one convention, you’ve got the basics you need to know to write a book that takes place inside of one. Since we’re not doing a super-realistic procedural or anything, we tend to take the basics and then expand on them as needed. The nice thing is no matter how ridiculous we get, we’re probably never that far away from things that actually happen at conventions every week.

FANG: The major theme in SCREAMLAND is about facing the horrors of growing old and wondering if you still have a place in the world. Travis used to be the Commander of the SPACE PATH franchise, until he and his fellow crew were replaced by a younger cast. Because SPACE PATH is referencing STAR TREK, is it difficult to portray characters that readers might actually know (and hold dear as a classic) and not seem mean or vindictive?

SIPE: First off, I do want to touch on what you said about SCREAMLAND not being mean and vindictive. Although we are a satire book and we do take aim at a lot of pop culture stuff, we love this stuff too. We couldn’t write a book like this if we weren’t totally in love with comics, horror movies and the like. I think good satire runs the risk of angering some, but we never come at the book with the aim of targeting fans.

Also, SPACE PATH, much like a lot of things in the book, is more an amalgam of old sci-fi shows. Typically we really cast the net wide in coming up with that sort of thing. As we really aren’t satirizing one thing, I don’t really feel any obligation to any sources.

SEBELA: Admittedly, we do some terrible things to our characters, and put them in some pretty bleak storylines, but we do it out of love. I’ve spent most of my life living and breathing horror films, so the last thing I want to do is throw them under the bus. Even at their worst, I still watch and enjoy them. But life is pretty boring without a sense of humor, and I think we approach the material with enough respect and reverence that even the most devout, hardcore fans can laugh at their heroes in some of the situations we force them into.