How Sandy and John Carpenter will celebrate 10 years of terror in graphic novels

The horror power couple are celebrating a decade running their Los Angeles-based company, Storm King Comics, and unleashing new true crime, sci-fi and even kid’s graphic novels this haunting season.

Sandy King Carpenter never imagined herself as a graphic novelist.

Sure, the Los Angeles-based writer, film and TV producer, and comic book collector enjoyed comic books and admired the form’s artistry, but it wasn’t until a television pitch meeting about a dozen years ago that she seriously considered venturing into that realm. Carpenter sat at a large table with her husband, “Halloween” director and composer John Carpenter, actor and screenwriter Thomas Ian Griffith, and a slew of industry gatekeepers on that day to discuss a proposed supernatural horror series called “Asylum.”

“All the signs were there that told us we weren’t going to go into production,” Carpenter explained over the phone recently. “All it took was an assistant saying, ‘Well, it’s not like you’re matching to a graphic novel or anything.'”

It was like a lightbulb went off.

The Carpenters and Griffith had provided storyboards that resembled scenes from a comic book.

“I said, ‘As a matter of fact, we are,'” she recalled, adding that Griffith became transfixed and kicked her under the table. “‘What are you thinking?’ he asked.” We always do artwork to pitch any project, so I said, ‘It is a graphic novel; it is a comic book.’ So why are we fighting it? They’re not going to make this series the way we want it to be, so ‘Adios.’ We won’t need to do this because we’ll be writing a graphic novel.”

Storm King Comics, owned by the Carpenters, is commemorating the tenth anniversary of the first issue of “Asylum.” They’re also releasing four new titles this fall through their various imprints, including “Death Mask.”

That book, which was released on September 19, introduces Detective Sonia Maza, who is investigating what she thinks are drug-related murders before realizing she’s dealing with a lone serial killer and female vigilante. It’s the first title from the company’s true crime-focused imprint, Dark & Twisted, and is written by Amanda Deibert (“Darkwing Duck,” “DC Super Hero Girls”) and illustrated by Cat Staggs (“Wonder Woman,” “Smallville”).

“I told Amanda I wanted a female Punisher,” Carpenter said, referring to the Marvel Comics vigilante character and noting that the story was inspired by news articles about murders in Mexico. “And now we have a real-life female superhero.” It has a fantastic feel to it, but it is grounded in reality.”

A fortunate occurrence

“Asylum” was never made into a television show, but it did become a graphic novel series and the Carpenters’ introduction to the vast comic book fandom.

They didn’t, however, go in blind.

Carpenter stated that she learned the business of comics over a two-year period of research. When she met with various comic book publishers, she realized it was a boys club, and it took “getting really pissed off” before she decided to start her own company. She recalled one meeting in which she was told she needed to go to a movie studio to request funds.

“It was kind of insulting,” she admitted. “They were all interested in making movies.” ‘No, we know how to make movies; I want to collaborate with a publisher to make comic books,’ I said. It was simply arrogance. ‘Do you think I’m stupid because I’m a girl, or because I’m from the movies?’ I finally asked. Which one is it?’ I just thought, Well, I’ll learn how to write the damn thing, and what’s stopping me from publishing it if I do? Nothing. If you get mad enough, you just do it every step of the way. You simply make it happen.”

In terms of writing, she credits comic book writer Bruce Jones (“The Incredible Hulk,” “Nightwing”) with teaching her how to craft words and edit for graphic novels.

“He’s an incredible comic book writer,” she replied. “I hired him because it’s one thing to say, ‘I know how to write a comic book because I read a lot of comic books.'” It’s the same as saying, ‘I know how to make a movie because I watch a lot of movies.’ However, you must first master the art of the page turn and the structure. Editing him taught me so much. He was one of the best comics teachers I could have had, and there’s so much you learn and it’s a lot of fun.”

Her husband was also a comic book fan, particularly of the early EC Comics horror stories. Sandy enjoyed the independent work in Image Comics, and John’s son Cody was interested in anything involving the Silver Surfer. John’s godson was obsessed with Venom and Spawn.

“John was the real ringleader in taking them to the comic shops wherever we were in the world,” she said, adding that anything written by Joe Hill, son of horror novelist Stephen King and author of the “Locke & Key” comic book series, continues to delight and devastate her. Even the grandchildren are fans of comic books. “Comic books are still considered a ‘family thing.’ There are stacks of them all over the office. I can resist anything except temptation, and I admire so many writers. There are also a lot of people I try to persuade to work for me.”

Everyone is in for a scare.

Storm King Comics debuted the John Carpenter Presents Storm Kids imprint a few years ago, which publishes sci-fi and horror graphic novels for kids and YA readers. “Stanley’s Ghost” was nominated for an Eisner Award in the best single issue category in 2021.

“Here I am, known for some really grisly stuff, and I get a nomination for a kid’s book,” Carpenter joked.

“Stanley and the Haunted House,” written by Jeff Balke and featuring artists Walter Carzon and Horacio Ottolini, was released on September 13th.

“I just wanted to have books that didn’t make parents want to blow their brains out after the 60th reading,” she stated. “They’re clever and cute, and the artists are reminiscent of Disney.” When everyone sanitizes fairy tales, I feel like we’ve made a mistake. Horror is an allegorical medium for processing our fears, and children of all ages need to be able to process their fears and deal with life. You empower them by giving them that, and you’re not trying to scare and traumatize them; you’re trying to give them problem-solving skills because you’ll never be able to stop bad things from happening; it’s just how you deal with those bad things.”

The following chapters

Storm King Comics will release the ninth volume of “John Carpenter’s Tales for a HalloweeNight,” which includes more than 20 stories by 13 writers and 24 artists, on Oct. 10. They’re also releasing a trade paperback edition of “The Envoy,” as part of the “John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction” series. It was written and illustrated by David J. Schow and tells the story of two scientists competing to be the first to make contact with aliens.

Comic book fans, like horror movie fans, are a passionate bunch. Carpenter stated that this is always on her mind as she publishes these stories. She also prefers the more immediate feedback on her art as opposed to creating something for television or film.

“When you’re on the floor of a convention like Comic-Con, someone who follows a particular series or artist, they’ll pick up the book and they’ll hold it to their chest and hug it and get excited,” she explained. “That’s when you know you’ve got true fans of our approach to comics, because it’s unique.” That’s why it’s so much fun to sit with my managing editor, Sean Sobczak, and ask, “OK, where do we put the foil?” What will we do with the secret glossing that reveals other images? ‘How are we going to try to play with the fans and give them exclusive content?'”

“When you see them react like that, it’s like, ‘Wow, we did it,'” she said. “You start to feel like you’re having a Sally Field moment when you realize, ‘You like me!'” That’s half the fun of it. It’s not big on money, because it’s horribly expensive to put out and we’re just getting known enough to put the comics in the black, but it’s a fun way to communicate with fans of these stories in a more immediate fashion.”

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