Back in October, right before Screamland #5 came out, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Chris Sebela and Lee Leslie about one of my favorite comics, Screamland. It was announced at that time the book would be going on hiatus, and if sales on the trade were positive there would be a chance of more Screamland. The trade for this second iteration of Screamland comes out this Wednesday. Here’s what the creators had to say about the series and some other topics.
Lee: I’ll let Chris field that one.
Christopher: Well, in a nutshell, it’s about a world where all the movie monsters weren’t actors in makeup, but were actual monsters who came over to Hollywood to become movie stars, and now that CGI and special effects are huge, they’re all out of work and trying to figure out how to get by.
Lee: It’s like if people in Hollywood were ACTUAL monsters, and not just metaphorical ones.
Christopher: Ha, yes!
PoP!: Before this series did you guys have an affinity for the old monster characters, or did they just fit what you wanted to do?
Christopher: I definitely did. I grew up on a steady diet of monster movies.
Lee: Yeah, I watched the classics all the time with my dad. I had Frankenstein vs. Wolfman on DVD before I ever got this gig.
Christopher: That is some serious commitment. I think I had a bootleg of a Godzilla movie except it was a giant Frankenstein instead, but I lost it years ago
Lee: The way they bring the characters back to life in those movies are even worse than in main stream comics.
Christopher: Yeah, but no one cares about continuity in those movies, thank god
PoP!: Screamland has always had some humor, and I think alot of it comes from the satire of Hollywood, was that a conscious theme, or did it develop organically?
Christopher: I think it was always sort of a comedy, just a really dark comedy.
Lee: It’s hard to be about monsters without it being dark, and it’s hard for it to be about Hollywood without it being a satire.
Christopher: Yeah, us trying to do this all serious would just be a flop.
PoP!: In the first mini we had a lot of Frank and the Count, not so much this time around. Was that a conscious decision, or did it come about as the story unfolded?
Christopher: Yeah, it was definitely a conscious decision, when Harold and I started talking about doing a sequel, it was about Carl and Travis sort of right off the bat. Carl is the less serious one. He’s less bothered by his failures, he’s sort of the “have a good time no matter what” kind of guy
Lee: As a fan of the original series, I always thought their issue (issue 4, I think) was a real scene stealer.
Christopher: Yeah, same here. We have plans for Frank and Dracula down the road, but they seemed too high class to be in this first arc. This was all about the B, C and D-listers
PoP!: Tell us about some of the new characters we have in this series.
Christopher: Well right off the bat, Midnight Slasher was a character I wanted to get in there, sort of expanding the idea of movie monsters and because I’ve watched way more slasher movies than is healthy.
Lee: RoBrain was a character design I’d had sitting around for awhile, and then Harold and Chris invented this insanely funny back-story for him to take him to the next level.
Christopher: Yeah, Lee saved our butts on that one, we were originally going to do another sort of talking monster, and Lee was the one who suggested a brain in a robot body. Then there’s The Mass, who’s just a loveable oaf, cause every buddy comedy needs a loveable oaf, even if they’re from outer space and bent on world domination
Lee: Which isn’t really all that original, but what Chris and Harold did by making him a talk show host and then giving him the biology they did… really made it unique. Mass is one of my favorites to draw because there’s absolutely no rules. It really makes laying out pages with him a lot of fun, and I think his big reveal at the beginning of issue 3 is one of my favorites from an art stand point.
PoP!: The new charcaters seem to fit in so well with Carl and Travis, and the central plot, especially Devil Fish.
Christopher: Yeah, I think the horror genre is great because there’s so many different forms to choose from, so once we picked them, it was just a matter of making sure they were as weird and broken as our main characters. Devil Fish was the first choice, since he was sort of part of the original line-up and always sort of gets shuffled to the side, like the Pete Best of monsters
Lee: Maybe more of a Billy Preston? I loved the idea of Devil Fish swimming in a cocaine saturated pool, and that he’d have this really elaborate filtration system installed. That’s one of the first things I read in the script that made me stop and think this was going to be more than easy jokes.
Christopher: I never thought about that, but yeah, he must have it rigged so he can collect the coke after it’s been in the pool and recycle it
PoP!: The scene with him dipping his finger in the pool may have been one of my favorites in the series.
Lee: Devil Fish in his speedo holding the gold-fish bowl is the most common commission request I get. People just loved that opening bit.
Christopher: He definitely started out as a Scotty from Star Trek sort of character, but we’ve tried to make him a collage of lots of different types along the line.
Lee: I think you mean that Harold originally intended him to be a loving tribute to a “certain engineer” from a “certain space show from the 60s.”
Christopher: Oh, yes, that. We don’t wanna get sued or anything. But we sorta broadened him out beyond that, sketched in all the stuff he must’ve been doing between then and now. And a lot of the con stuff is taken from stories you hear or stuff we’ve seen from being at cons
Lee: In the process he also developed into the reader’s identification character. He’s friends with the monsters, but he’s still a bit of an outsider.
PoP!: After issue 5 in October what is the status of the book?
Christopher: Well, we’re taking a little bit of a break, I guess. The trade is coming out in December, and if enough people preorder it, and pick it up, then we’ll come back with our next arc. We’d like to have kept storming ahead, but honestly, a little bit of a break will probably do all of us good
Lee: And the next arc will feature Frankenstein becoming a spokesman in Japan. So… people really are going to want to make that happen.
Christopher: I am definitely excited to that Frank in Japan arc, though, and I know Lee is, cause it’ll be the classic western monsters meet the classic giant monsters of the east, only with more jokes and maybe some romance
Lee: And I’ve watched way too many Japanese monster movies. All that reference can’t go to waste.
Christopher: I know it’s a tough sell as a book, a horror/comedy/satire book, it’s not the usual thing you think of in comics, but that’s why we wanted to do it and why we wanna keep doing it, because we think it works in this medium and helps expand the idea of what comics can do. That’s my high-falutin’ answer.
Lee: Yeah, comics would be a really sad place if there wasn’t room in it for something like Screamland. And I said that before I was ever involved with the series, back when the first mini-series failed to find the readership it deserved.
Christopher: Yeah, I was a fan before I was ever a part of the book.
Christopher: God, so many. Aliens, definitely, more aliens. That brief wave in the 80s when little homonculus creatures were all the rage?
PoP!: Like Critters??
Christopher: Yeah, exactly.
PoP!: So much material there.
Christopher: We gave a brief glimpse of them in the 0 issue
Lee: The Screamland world is limitless, for every movie with a monster there’s another out-of-work Screamland star.
Christopher: Yeah, we could do this book for 4-5 years and never have to tackle the same creatures in a row. I would love to do something with the “thing you think is innocuous but now is trying to kill you” school of monsters
Lee: I would love to visit the set with some of the monsters in the sword and sandals movies that were the rage in the 70s and 80s….and their body-building co-stars.
Christopher: Out of work Kraken
PoP!: I would love to see Carl’s reaction to some of the Harryhausen stuff.
Christopher: We have a medusa, but we haven’t figured out what to do with her yet.
Lee: Well, we’ve already established that Medusa is in porn. That’s cannon.
Christopher: Yes, put that in the official Screamland continuity.
Lee: I just want to see if the carpet matches the drapes.
Christopher: I’d just like to say, with the trade coming out, we’d really like people who were holding off or unable to get the first couple issues to check it out. We’re gonna be packing it full of bonus stuff.
Lee: People always complain about what comics are or are not being published, and this is an opportunity to directly affect what they want made. If people like the series, and buy the trade, there will definitely be more SCREAMLAND.
Christopher: Yeah, especially this week where people are complaining about how women are portrayed in comics, and stuff like that, this is a book that portrays everyone in the same wretched light, there’s no favoritism going on here.
Lee: Although, it’s worth pointing out that the girl monster is the only, wait is that too spoiler-y?
Christopher: MMM, maybe. Tempest is maybe our most redeeming character. So there’s that. She’s got her shit together, has made a success of herself. It’s all the dudes still desperately clinging to a life in hollywood
Lee: She’s the only one who saw over the horizon.
Christopher: SCREAMLAND: LADY POSITIVE
Christopher Sebela is a writer and graphic designer living in Portland, Oregon. In addition to Screamland, he has two OGNs coming out from Oni Press and several other projects he cannot talk about under threat of bodily harm. Follow him on twitter (@xtop) to keep abreast of his exciting adventures.
Lee Leslie has been a professional cartoonist and illustrator for over a decade; producing work for greeting cards, comic books, newspapers and magazines. He is currently the series artist of Image Comics’ SCREAMLAND. He is also the creator behind the webcomic RiGBY, and is one of the head illustrators and designers of American Greetings’ Tomato Card imprint. Lee lives just outside Kansas City with his wife, Bethany and their children Eleanor and Arthur.