Commitment, respect, power, and creativity – our Comic Con conversation with Sandy King Carpenter.
Sandy King Carpenter loves to scare people in any format. She has produced the Blumhouse movie The Manor, the podcast series Roanoke Falls, and numerous projects by her husband John Carpenter including In The Mouth Of Madness, Ghosts Of Mars, and the new Peacock streamer series Suburban Screams. She also directed John Carpenter Live from his 2016 concert tour. A decade ago, she created a subdivision of her Storm King Productions company called Storm King Comics which extends from dark adult fare to more child-friendly titles.
Asylum was the first title to kick things off. The Carpenters and writer/actor Thomas Ian Griffith had tried to shop it around as a TV series years ago but were told it was too dark, so they decided the next step would be to translate the story into graphic novel format. They started from scratch and learned about the comics world, and since then talented people like writers Steve Niles and Bruce Jones, artist Dennis Calero, artist/writer Amanda Deibert, and letterer Janice Chiang have joined the fray. The company’s imprints include Asylum, Tales Of A HalloweeNight, Tales Of Science Fiction, Night Terrors, the new Dark & Twisted, and Storm Kids. Storm King Comics doesn’t cater to one kind of sensibility, and they seek to tell diverse stories from diverse characters. Some titles are standalone, while some have continuing storylines with varying art styles.
The Aquarian met with Sandy King Carpenter at the sizable Storm King Comics table at this year’s New York Comic Con to discuss the company, its artistic aims and trajectory, and how to find the right balance of concept and story. King Carpenter is passionate about her love for fear fare across different media and helps to shepherd along new talent occupying the same spaces as established vets.
I like the fact that Storm King has this diversity within the horror genre. For example, many Night Terrors books feel more gothic in nature, while Dark and Twisted – which you created with writer Amanda Deibert and artist Cat Staggs – delves into the detective world.
I’m hoping it becomes the more female Punisher. She has a future plan for it, so that goes from kind of the police procedural startup to what does she become, what happens. It moves to be an interesting dynamic between the two main characters.
When it comes to the concept of genre in music and movies these days, young people don’t really seem to think about that so much anymore. You can expand.
I’m kind of old school where I think, “What’s your story about beyond the two-sentence log line?” I apply that to all the work we do on the comics, and especially to the TV series and the features. “What’s your point? What’s the story? What’s the story within a story?” Don’t just give me a scene of split open heads.
The funny thing about horror now, and other genres, as well, is that there’s not just a twist ending anymore. You have the double twist ending, and a lot of movies now have multiple cliffhangers. Can’t we just have one big shocking ending?
Commit. Just fucking commit [Laughs]. Have a strong enough story.
In the new Tales Of A HalloweeNight anthology, you wrote the story “Shadow Warriors,” which reminds me a little bit of the movie The Gate. Were there any actual childhood fears that you tapped into when you were writing this story of kids taking on sinister creatures lurking in the world beneath a child’s bed?
No. I had some notion about the fact that maybe kids’ fears are the real fears and that we forget them as we become adults… and that there really are things in the shadows. Maybe there is this other world under there. I have a longer scenario for “Shadow Warriors,” but I thought I’d put the short version in there and see if anybody cared.
There is that cliché of we don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing. I say there’s a difference between being childlike and childish. You can be childlike, but you can still be a mature adult.
If you lose the child within you, I think it’s a shame, because intellectual curiosity, the curiosity about life, those are the things that you want to keep with you throughout your life. Just a sense of wonder, a sense of imagination, the ability to tap into our subconscious, which all artists need. It’s really funny because one of the FX houses I use, when they were first meeting me and I was going through and looking at various things, [one of their staff] wound up blurting out: “Oh my God, she’s a 14-year old boy in disguise!” It’s true. That’s my sense of adventure, and I don’t want to lose that.
When I was growing up, comics, metal, and horror movies tended to have more of a male audience and were more of a boys club, but I look at Millennial women now and they’re into heavier music than I listened to, and some of them are into torture porn stuff…
It’s a little misguided.
In their liking it?
I think they mistake the outcomes of that sometimes. They’ve forgotten why there was a backlash to porn and objectification. When I was young, the sexual choices were ours. They’re starting to leave that behind a little and go back to a fifties mindset, but catering to it in a sleazier way. They’re acting like they’re emancipated, but they’re going back to a patriarchal mindset without realizing it. It’s hard to tell younger women [that] we worked pretty hard to get out of objectification and have what we did be our choices, so try to remember that before you throw it away.
You have a mixture of male and female artists and writers here, and in a couple of recent series you feature gay female characters. Horror movies have certainly diversified in the 21st century, but overall they still feel fairly hetero.
I find when you don’t get into everybody else’s business, and pay attention to what’s none of anybody else’s business besides the people, you accidentally diversify both your staff and your artists. I’ve always had non-binary, gay, lesbian, black, Asian, Hispanic [people] in my companies because I never asked what anybody was. I didn’t put anyone on the spot. I don’t care. I care if you do a good job and if you’re cool with what you do. People would start saying, “Do you have a quota system somewhere?” Stop worrying about that and you will diversify. I’ve got people working for me that are ‘they’ and ‘them.’ I’ve got people that are all different things.
My hardest time is if I’ve known someone as ‘her,’ and then they change to ‘they/them.’ I can learn you once, then I have to unlearn and stop the old habit. If I learn people’s name once it’s a miracle. If I have to learn it twice… I’ll remember your dog, I’ll remember everything else [about you]. However, the respect level is not hard. I like to think everybody’s happy and at ease, and if they’re not I want to hear about it.
The Envoy is an interesting Storm King title – sci-fi with a touch of horror and a possible cure for cancer! Beyond what a story is about, are there any requirements that you have for your stories? Are there any tenets that are important to Storm King?
No. Usually what happens is my regular writers, or any writer, give me three ideas they want to do. I’ll look at it, and if there’s an obvious favorite to me, I’ll say, “This one,” but usually my second question is, “What’s your favorite?” Because that’s what they’re going to be happiest writing. That helps. I don’t care if there’s a political mindset to it, but don’t be a hammerhead about it. You can make They Live and a good portion of that audience will never understand that it was a political satire because they’re entertained. The big thing is still be entertaining and write a deep enough story that your message isn’t beating the reader over the head.If you make Gandhi, which is beautiful, you’re preaching to the converted. You need to be seduced into a certain mindset if you’re not already there.
Of the recent Storm King stories, is there anything that really excites you?
I love [the first Dark and Twisted storyline] Death Mask. I’m very excited about it. I love Usher Down – it’s another new one and it’s fantastic. I pretty much love everything we do or we don’t bother with it. I’m a real fan on the [Storm] Kids book Fetch. It’s really beautifully written and not dumbed down for kids. I’m real happy with it.
Are there any particular Storm King Comics titles that you’d really like to see on screen?
I try to only think about making the best comic, but I really resist the franchise urge because I want to just focus on the best reader experience, and then if somebody finds these and wants them for movies or series or anything like that… more power to it.
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