Finding the Truth in Horror with Industry Expert Sandy King CarpenterSeptember 24, 2018
When I sat down with Sandy King Carpenter at Keystone Comic Con, there was a loud wrestling match going on in the background. Despite the cacophonous calls and jeers from the crowd, I was immersed by the words of Sandy. While her name is mostly linked to the horror genre, her breadth of knowledge runs deep for many other varieties of entertainment, such as her work with sci-fi and teenage coming of age stories. At the present, she is hard at work managing Storm King Productions. Along with her husband John Carpenter, and a talented team of creatives, stories thrive under her tutelage and her discerning vision.
At Keystone, I wanted to find out more about how a mind with an eye for horror works but I ended up finding out so much more. To learn more about Sandy and Storm King Productions, please visit the website by clicking here.
Laura: Welcome, hello, my name is Laura I’m with the GCE. I’m actually not a horror fan but when I got the email to speak with you I said I couldn’t pass that up.
Sandy: How about sci-fi?
Laura: Sci-fi is great! So, I was reading that you were a debutante and I had to know, how do you go from debutante to horror? How do you do that, that’s incredible.
Sandy: Haha, you grow up in a family that’s horrified by what you do! You know, I think that being creative doesn’t mean you’re born onto a branch of the family tree that says: ‘this is your destiny.” I was born into a family that the main branch of the family was a business-oriented family. My father grew up to fly airplanes and he was a champion. So, what he always taught me was that you follow wherever your own dreams are and follow where your strengths are, and in particular, my generation, it was unusual to have a family that supported whatever I wanted to do. When I was five I wanted to be a fireman. Even the firemen in the neighborhood didn’t disagree with me and at that time there were no female. I used to go up every day on my bike and polish their hubcaps and hop on their fire engines and they thought that was so cute. To this day, I volunteer with the fire department because I still dig them! But, I think it’s just a matter of I was always an artist, always a creator and in college I went into animation because I realized I was going to starve as a straight artist and that was my foothold into making a stable living with art and then I got into live action movies and television. The comics came secondarily at a point when we had been asked to put my husband’s name on lots of lots of products. One day we had a storyline that during a TV show it actually occured to me it was actually a drawing. It had a lot of visuals and we always put together a lot for art our TV presentations and it kept getting more and more visual in Los Angeles. And there was a character, things were just really central on the visual side and in the middle of the TV meetings someone who really wanted to shoot in a non-union state and make up a lot of bullshit like that said we’ll it’s not like a graphic novel we’re not married to LA’. We walked out and John asked how’d it go and I said we have to make this a comic book instead. He said what did we know about comics and I said nothing, we’ll learn.
Laura: That’s how everything gets started.
Sandy: We spent two years researching the business of comics, what makes comics creation different as a series different than movies. We brought in comic professionals and from then on, we learned on, we had one of the original writers Bruce Jones, who was incredibly generous with his time. Steve Niles, Tim Bradsteet, those people so incredibly generous with advice, help, and we took our time before launching our first Asylum. And eventually, I began editing the content for our IP to go live. We could have thought that was it, but we got around to Halloween season and our local comic book shop didn’t have anything to read. So, I thought let’s do a quick one-shot of three stories, and like all things it grew, and that became six stories and eventually became Tales for a HalloweeNight.
Laura: And that’s how that started.
Sandy: That started that way and everybody came up after it and said, ‘why didn’t you ask me?’ You weren’t there during that night in San Diego!
So, the second one came out and we won awards and everyone had fun and we thought that’s cool, we got awards.
Laura: That’s a good way to know you’re on the right track with something.
Sandy: Yeah, it seemed to fill a niche that I wasn’t even aware was missing. It was just something we thought was fun and cool and thought that we could do a little differently in horror because of our connections with novelists and screenwriters in horror. And it was fun because I liked to put together different things. So I could look up somebody like David Schow, who is a novelist and screenwriter, and Darick Robertson, and because their sense of twisted humor were so alike, they made a great team on the stories. David went crazy and is hopped up on writing comics.
Laura: You created a real monster.
Sandy: I did! And it so much fun because he loves writing comics and he’s really, really good at it. That was going and at one of the conventions I looked at our table and said something was missing- science fiction, because we’ve done Starman and The Thing, whereas someone who makes movies in science fiction can make the move to comics – Tales of Science Fiction. Now that’s a series of miniseries, so it comes out every month, but the stories last as many issues the story needs to go. Vault was three issues, Vortex lasted eight issues. The Standoff lasted five issues- that’s a current story that he is so excited about. It’s just really fun to have brought someone over to the dark side. It’s just fun. There’s new people that rotate in and out and also people who are consistent, such as Janice Chiang, who is our in-house letterer and she does almost all of our letters. She is one of the most famous letterers in the comic book industry, she’s lettered everything from manga to Archie to Wolverine, to our stuff. She rocks. We’re blessed that manga brought her into our life, she has the patience of a saint and I don’t think she ever sleeps.
Laura: That’s probably not the case, she’s still inking in her sleep!
Sandy: I swear to you because she’s another set of eyes; and I edit all the books and sometimes you see what you expect to see that things go by you. We’ve got the writer’s eyes proofing, theoretically the graphic artist proofing, and Janice is prooding as she goes and she’s like a demon, she goes back and forward again.
Laura: She’s got a different relationship with words than everyone else.
Sandy: We’re never perfect, but any degree of perfection is due to her.
Laura: That’s awesome. I want to go back into researching about comic books, what comic books were you reading and researching?
Sandy: We’d always read comics and had them in the household. Our kids had always had Silver Surfer and Venom and all of those. I had from the beginnings of Image, in the creator-owned stuff. Steve Niles had always created, Criminal Macabre and other interesting stuff. But most of all what I was interested in, wasn’t other people’s stories cause I thought we could bring different stuff. I wanted to know the nuts and bolts: how do you create suspense in 22 pages? How do you get the readers to turn the pages? How do you scare someone two-dimensionally? Where’s my cliffhangers and page turners? What’s the dynamic in this writing that I don’t know.
Laura: Because it is different than something in film, in a TV show or animated.
Sandy: It’s totally different, but what’s great is that it’s a fantastic discipline that hones your skills into going back into the screenwriting because you have to get so concise and clean because there’s nothing else to cover it up. It’s literally 50 percent words and 50 percent image. Those words have to be appealing page after page. I have to get you to turn that page and then I have to get that at the end to be a cliffhanger at the end to be compelling enough to get you to buy another book.
Laura: It’s a two-fold thing because as a reader you are spending more, intimate time with the thing, and read at your own pace. But it’s also all for the story too, it’s not how do I fill the 22 pages, it’s getting the pages to tell the story.
Sandy: Right, and I don’t have music to push the story forward or guide you. I don’t have a chair scrape to give you a chill. So, it’s really fun because I will write the issue and I will be ‘aha, I got this’ and I’ll wake up the next morning and read through it and go ‘it sucks, it does nothing!’ I have to go back through, rip it up, and feel why did this bomb, why is it so bad.
Laura: For every good thing you put in the world there’s a trash can filled with bad ideas.
Sandy: At the core of it, I got to take you somewhere. If I didn’t take you somewhere in those 22 pages, I haven’t done my job. That’s the end of it and the front of it.
Laura: So you have the Tales for a HalloweeNight Vol. 4 coming out in October, what is new about that anthology and what else is coming out that you’re excited about.
Sandy: We’ve got it all piled up. We’ve got a reprint of HalloweeNight Vol. 1 because that’s been sold out all year and it took this long because of a mistake in the files. HalloweeNight 4 has got some really cool stuff in it. David Schow has a really amazing prose piece that goes well.
Laura: That’s really cool, prose isn’t something you really see in a comic book.
Sandy: It’s a really good shake-up. And what’s the world going to do? Come to an end? I think it’s going to be really cool the way it’s done. Every once in awhile I think of certain pieces that can benefit from being done a different way. I’ll bring in a different kind of artist or a different kind of writer, and find the perfect person. It’s a pretty epic person that can bring something different to the story. And I think how cool it can be when I gave it to Schow and said I think this could have an edge to it and he wrote something awesome. Also, instead of the Groundskeeper we’re doing a change up of the shape-changer Baphomet as a black cat. So Baphomet is cruising the towns and cities watching the going-on’s. She shapeshifts. Vortex’s trade came out so beautiful and hopefully it will print well. Mike Sizemore, the writer of that, will be with us at New York Comic Con. Next year, we’re going to launch Storm Kids comics with Bob the Gargoyle line.
Laura: I was going to say, I was a big fan of the Gargoyles TV show as a kid so it’s good to see them circle back into media.
Sandy: Bob’s in our regular HalloweeNight series and everyone just likes Bob a lot. He meant well but did bad things. Unfortunately the story he’s in is not a child’s story, but I’m stealing him anyway and giving him a kid’s version on his own adventure.
Laura: Are these also horror?
Sandy: Oh yes, I wrote one horror story for the times that kids are with their dads and getting impatient and the mom’s won’t kill me with the nature of the story. The response to it made me realize we could do smart horror, not just silly Casper the Ghost ones. And ones that kids would like. Horror is allegorical for other things in life that I think when we guard children from certain things they don’t learn how to figure it out. So Steve Niles has written a series and another one that will be in that. And the sci-fi one as well. So we’ll have an all-ages appropriate set of books. As you see our little hobby has exploded.
Laura: I feel like if that had been my introduction to horror I wouldn’t have been such a scaredy-cat to things.
Sandy: Also, you’re young enough where you grew up in what I call that sort of of slasher porno age and splatter punk age. A lot of that didn’t have underpinnings of truth. It was see how much blood we could get on the screen.
Laura: How much blood we could get on the screen.
Sandy: There’s a hard way to find release in that. What you want is that you just bravely faced something and walked off whole. The sign of good horror is that it was about something and you went with your characters on a journey at least subconsciously you concurred something. At the end of it, you had some kind of resolution. That’s why you still have classics like Night of the Living Dead and Halloween and the ones that have stood up are because they’re about something else. And the ones that got through were just put into a popular medium. You really have to exorcise that demon that meant to you.
Laura: It sounds like if you’re fighting off an illness you’re less likely to get sick from it again because you’ve built up an immunity to it.
Sandy: It’s that and I always hope that you don’t desensitize to the real world. Because I want them to be horrified by the state of the world. We’ve always said nothing we create in our world is as horrifying as real life. If I make the movie They Live, you’re going to see an action movie about people shooting up aliens, but you’re actually going to see a movie about the haves and have-nots. So I can get a different message across. Somewhere in those kinds of stories it comes down to who are you, what kind of choices do you make that make you.
Laura: That’s sometimes what’s scariest too, setting the mirror back on yourself
Sandy: Yeah, I hope so. The more people have to face themselves in the mirror, the better society we have.
Laura: I like that thought process a lot.
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