Sitting next to Sandy King Carpenter feels like being in the presence of a master architect in the field of horror. The breadth of knowledge she possesses on all things horror and sci-fi is reflective of the things that set Storm King Comics apart from other horror publishers in the comic book market. Each of the series Storm King publishes, from Tales for a HalloweeNight to Tales of Science Fiction, are filled with different creative voices and visions, but the presence of Sandy King is felt in all of them; so I’d suggest you take that master architect comment at the beginning to heart. It really captures the scope and reach of King’s comic book projects.
Storm King Comics is a Sandy King creation, formed in 2012 as a division of Storm King Productions (which is behind John Carpenter’s various multimedia projects, both past and present). It houses the fan favorite Asylum series and invests in yearly horror anthologies which include original work by John Carpenter along with stories by horror industry giants such as David J. Schow (the man who coined the term Splatterpunk back in 1986) and Steve Niles (of 30 Days of Night fame). Sandy King also features in these anthologies, as both writer and editor.
Currently, Storm King is gearing up for the December 2019 release of their own YA horror line, called Storm Kids. The publisher took to San Diego Comic Con with a sampler containing short previews of the first three Storm Kids titles: Monica Bleue: A Werewolf Story, Hyperbreed, and Sacred Hearts. Steve Niles, Louise Simonson, Nat Jones, Damien Worm, and Guy Dorian Jr. are among the creators attached to these series.
Storm Kids has no intention of watering down the horror Sandy King has pushed with her previous series. Each of the stories in the sampler possess a particular touch of darkness that is associated with the Carpenter name. They’re bleak, making their characters really work for a chance at even the tiniest sliver of hope or salvation.
Monica Bleue, for instance, by Niles and Worm, has an air of loss about it as we follow a father and daughter as they move to a new home following a death in the family. The preview reveals very little, but its pace and tone already hint at a slow burn of a read, leading up to a whole mess of horrors our characters will have to go and grow through.
I sat down with Sandy King at Philadelphia’s Keystone Comic Con to talk about Storm King, building a horror publishing house, and how Storm Kids injects some much-needed fresh blood into YA.
Ricardo Serrano: You saw a home for horror comics in Storm King. What convinced you to take a leap into long-term comics publishing?
Sandy King: So John [Carpenter] had been pitched comics for years. Most of them weren’t good, and a lot of people just wanted John’s name in their comics so they could sell more. So, we had some film projects we wanted to put out there that were considered too rough or that they pushed the boundaries a bit too far. These were pre-Breaking Bad days. We shelved a lot of those projects. One of them was set in Los Angeles, where the city was a character in the story. We once had a meeting to try and develop the story with a network and someone said, “Why not just make the setting a spooky little town instead of LA?” I said no! Someone else chimed in and said, “Well it’s not like it’s a graphic novel and we have to be faithful to it.” That’s where I said, “You know what? It is a comic. We have a comic.” That kind of became our way in, fighting for a creative decision.
After that, John and I started reading up and studying the business of comics. We had great support from friends, Steve Niles, Tim Bradstreet, Bruce Jones, Jimmy Palmiotti. We wanted to put something out for Halloween that had the John Carpenter name so came up with Tales for a HalloweeNight. It’s an anthology, published yearly. We’re now on our fifth year with it, going strong. And then came Tales of Science Fiction. I felt like we needed science fiction at Storm King Comics, done in our style, which means horror never strays from it.
Serrano: I felt that with Tales of Science Fiction. It didn’t stray far from horror. It was an important ingredient.
King: Well, our books generally reflect what we think we are. They reflect our taste. I think that if you like John Carpenter movies and you like what Storm King Productions puts out, then you’re going to like our books. We make our comics the same way we make our movies. It’s all out of the same office. It’s a team effort. I choose stories for comics the same way I choose stories for movies and TV.
Serrano: As an editor, you have this vision of what a horror comic should be and how to best get that across. On the other hand, the John Carpenter name may come with some fan expectations. Do you try to keep that John Carpenter flavor in your comics intentionally, or is that something that just comes out?
King: Since I produce John’s movies, I mean, we share a mindset. John’s involved with the comics, and while I’m a bit more hands on in that department, it’s still a continuation of what we’ve been doing on film and TV for years. I have more contact with everything related to the comics, but he knows everyone too. We’ve been together for 35 years, so it’s unavoidable.
Serrano: But it’s an interesting blend of your voice and John Carpenter’s voice as well. When I read Tales of Science Fiction: The Standoff I was reminded of Assault on Precinct 13 due to it taking place in a prison and there being a cop vs. prisoners situation. When the sci-fi elements come into play, I was reminded of The Thing. And yet, it’s not all John Carpenter. I think there’s a lot of your horror sensibilities in it as well, your vision.
King: My input is always there and when developing new stories we look to how our brand strengthens or colors it. It’s always been my job, as a film producer, to serve the artist and his or her crew. I have to bring in the best artists and the best writers, based on what our brand is. It’s a combined effort to bring out the best in the product. We have to bring entertainment to the table. We want people to come in and have fun. I’m really lucky because I choose really great people to come in and tell stories. It’s my job to help them tell the best stories they can.
Serrano: Storm Kids looks like the next big step for Storm King. You revealed more about it at San Diego Comic-Con and it looks like it’s shaping up to be a project that isn’t happy with just doing what everyone else is. What’s your vision for it?
King: Two things happened that led to Storm Kids. First, I love comics and my kids grew up reading comics. One of our sons is dyslexic and had a learning disability and he learned to read through Stephen King and comics. I love to see comic shops thrive, because I think they are safe environments and they boost kids’ imaginations.
Secondly, I’ve seen a falloff in the quality of children’s comics. I started seeing strong themes resisting to go deeper with their metaphors and their allegories. I mean, horror for kids feels like it’s been banished. I’m talking that harder hitting type of horror. The kind of horror that helps in dealing with the rougher parts of life. The Grimm fairy tales, for example, look at fundamental fears, about living life and facing death. It was stuff kids needed to know about their immediate reality.
Serrano: So you’re looking to push more boundaries with kids’ horror?
King: Yes! We don’t have to keep kids in such a rubberized environment, with precautions at every corner. Horror can help parents discuss fear with their kids. Fears about death and loss, those kinds of things, through literature. Comics are also kids’ literature. They just respond to it so well. That led us to try out Storm Kids as a floppy, a sample of what’s to come, to see how it works. I wanted to bring my same big name writers and artists to it, like Steve Niles and Louise Simonson. They’re writing our Young Adult 12-18 comics.
Serrano: As a Master of Horror yourself, a title I think you’ve more than earned, and an industry veteran, what have you seen in horror that maybe needs to make its way out or completely change to get stronger horror stories? Something you want to see less or more of?
King: I’m real glad torture porn is fading. It’s not as big as it was and I’m happy it’s not the dominant form of horror today. Look, my dad used to say “water seeks its own level.” I think cheap and easy doesn’t serve anybody well. I think people started putting less money into horror. The idea was don’t go for anything wild just put some more blood on it. Horror isn’t a subject, it’s a reaction. You have to speak to character and theme in order to scare and stay with the audience. And hey, I’m not a horror Nazi! Every creator is their own master. But I don’t just take anybody’s stuff for Storm King. I want a voice and I want storytellers.
Serrano: Any other projects coming out from Storm King we should keep in our radars?
King: We’re going to be doing Night Terrors, which will be one-shot graphic novels. They’re things that maybe don’t fit into Halloween Nights or Sci-Fi Tales. For 2020, we’re really looking at how we can bring out more scary stuff with Tales of Terror.
Serrano: Thanks for your time!
King: Thank you!
For more about Storm King Comics or to purchase titles from the publisher, visit stormkingcomics.com.