Sandy King-Carpenter… writer, producer, editor, creator and wife of director John Carpenter has taken her talents and love of horror into the comic book industry. Storm King Comics, initiated in 2012, is a division of Storm King Productions that combines top-notch writers from the world of comics, movies and novels to bring fans a unique brand of horror and sci-fi entertainment. As Storm King’s President and CEO, Sandy has successfully managed to apply her extensive background in the filming industry to that of comics.
“Our Line is the perfect marriage of comics and film.” – Storm King Comics
Fan Fest News sat down with the maven of macabre at Keystone Comic Con to discuss her desire to delve into unfamiliar territory. The fascinating Ms. King shared her insights on creative expression, self-discovery, her love of horror, societal pitfalls and so much more! Check it out…
Linda: Tell me about Storm King Comics. What was the inspiration?
Sandy: We know that our audience crosses gaming, comics, TV and movies. People had come to John [Carpenter] for years wanting to put his name on their comics but they were generally not great comics, hence wanting to use his brand. One day we had a story that was pretty cool that we weren’t 100% sure what to do with. We wanted maybe to do it as a series but everybody thought it was too dark, which is what we were always told about everything. Now realize this was pre-Breaking Bad [which] kind of made the world understand that yes you can do dark television and didn’t have to be Sabrina the flying witch. I went into another studio meeting some years later talking about the show and the conversation started with, “Couldn’t it be in a sleepy little town?” This thing was set in LA as a character, city of angels, [therefore] I said no. The city is a character, it needs to have this look, there’s a purpose, whispers coming through in the city of angels as kind of a joke on God. One of the development people said, “Well it’s not like a graphic novel and it has to match to anything.” I said actually, it is. We always do a lot of artwork for presentations and film TV and I got kicked under the table by a business partner and an agent and everybody else. We walked down the hallway and they said, “What the hell was that about?” I said we’re making a comic book. I’m not gonna take any more of these meetings on this. [I] went home and John said, “So how did it go?” I said we’re doing a comic book. He said, “What do we know about comic books?” I said absolutely nothing, we’ll learn. So we spent two and half years researching comics, the business of comics, the structure of comics. Had great people in the business, Steve Niles, Tim Bradstreet, Jimmy Palmiotti, all these very helpful people who really gave us the knowledge to help us essentially turn that project into a comic and know that we had an outlet that would do what it needed.
Linda: So you learned about the comics industry as you went along.
Sandy: Pretty much. The same way people say I can make a movie because I watched a lot of them. Just because we read a lot of them didn’t mean [we could write them], I could no more write a comic at that stage than I could fly to the moon. Bruce Jones came in, and by editing him for content I learned, dare I say somewhat, to write a comic. He’s mastered. I write, he soars. There was an IP and an obligation for me to keep it on track for the certain story that we were doing. I learned so much. How was I sailing along and just go wow this rocks, when it was the wrong story? He convinced me, how do I tear this up and figure out how you take me there? How did you make me turn these pages? What are the dynamics in this that I need to learn? I had Steve Niles over and I’m going page turns, page turns, how do I make this work? What is it? A primer in how to write for comics. It’s different than what I do in screenwriting and it was just a matter of study, besides reading lots of comics. Show me this one, show me why this works.
Linda: What sets this comic apart from other horror comics?
Sandy: Say with Asylum, that was just a good solid story. We still need to complete the third arc, I would be eternally grateful if my artist ever communicated again from Greece but he set such a look that I don’t want to replace that look for fans, they’re on a train with a certain look. I think like with our movies, our television shows or anything else we do, it all revolves around the story. What are we trying to get at underneath? It’s not about the amount of blood or the number of heads you blow up or things like that, what are we trying to say? In Asylum, there are issues of faith, issues of the divine, issues of who are you and where you think you’re going that are the underpinnings and it’s approached by these two characters in two different ways. I think that there’s lots of angels and demons kind of stories in the world but they are all different tales. Whether you are talking about The Omen or whether you are talking about, I’m forgetting every single title, but they are all different. The Omen is different from, the one with Linda Blair and her head spinning…
Linda: Oh, what is happening. I can’t remember either. (laughing)
Sandy: Our brains just got sucked out here. (laughing)
Sandy: Exorcist. I could see it. While they cover issues of the divine or the damned, they’re different stories with different purposes. When we go to the anthologies, that are yearly anthologies, the fun of those is [that] a short story is its own challenge. A short story is 13 to 15 pages long, to try and get suspense or horror in your reaction and your page turns right there is a nightmare… which is fun! You just wanna go beat your head against a wall and then see if you still come out with feeling anything.
Linda: What has been the biggest challenge for you?
Sandy: Create suspense and fear in a short period of time. There are times when I’ll write something and think oh, I rocked that and I will wake up the next morning and read it and feel nothing. You have to go back and go, ok, ok you’re blowing it here, I have got to make somebody feel something here in 6 pages, 11 pages, 22 pages. How do I evoke a reaction in that short a period of time? It’s 50% words, 50% pictures but those words have got to make you ‘feel’ something. I can’t just sit back and go, draw the biggest baddest monster, just make it really gross. That’s not gonna work if I haven’t done something to make you feel it in your solar plexus. The latest Halloween Nights I wrote what I thought was poetic and mystical. The whole story came in and we put it together and I went, whoa, this is flat as a doornail and it’s mine. (laughing) I’ve got to flog this thing back into submission because it isn’t happening and I gotta face it, this is a loser from the beginning. I’ve got to figure out why. This is the farthest thing from poetic that exists. (laughing)
Linda: I think all writers face that on occasion. What do you love most about working with comics?
Sandy: What’s exciting for me is if I really feel like I hit a vibe. Like I really feel like I’ve got a story. I’ve got it, it’s grooving, this is it. Every once in a while you just know it, I know how to tell this tale. When you hit those then that’s just all cool, the rest is gravy. If I’ve got a tale to tell then that’s different than having to go, oh my god I’ve got to write something. That’s that difference, so I’m really happy. I’ve had this really cool notion that I think I can make this twist just right. That’s fun.
Linda: Have you always had a love of horror?
Sandy: Oh yeah. From my very first Frankenstein book to chewing up Dracula to Island of Dr.Moreau, I loved all the old horror classics.
Linda: Where did that come from?
Sandy: There was never not liking it. It’s just the first time I picked one up, [I thought] how cool is this and where has it been all of my first 9 years?
Linda: How do you think the horror genre has progressed over the years? Better? Worse? I feel like society has become obsessed.
Sandy: Horror will always be with us. It was in the very first silent movies made. It’s allegorical in nature, the way to address lots of fears and lots of issues we have. Horror is not a subject, it’s a reaction. While people may use different mediums or different styles to express or they may do it better or worse at different times, the genre itself is not gonna go away. I think there have been some beautifully crafted stories like Frankenstein. The original Dracula is beautiful. But like all literature, some is just bubblegum and there is some that are just really deep. I only get uncomfortable with ‘snobism’ about it. Like my horror or my geekdom or my nerdism is better than yours. Like when everybody got on the bandwagon against ‘sparkly’ vampires and I go c’mon man, the tweeners needed something and it was great to see them falling in love with something. Let everybody have their version of it. They’re not hurting anybody.
“Horror will always be with us. It was in the very first silent movies made. It’s allegorical in nature, the way to address lots of fears and lots of issues we have. Horror is not a subject, it’s a reaction.” – Sandy King-Carpenter
Linda: What scares you?
Sandy: The news. Real life. What scares me is that people are immersing so far into make believe that they are not addressing the realities of life for us to move forward. We are making such stupid decisions because nobody wants to be a grownup about their real lives. They won’t do simple things like vote, they won’t do simple things like address that politics at the top is gonna define our climate change, women’s rights, supreme court. Things that in fact will make our lives a real horror if we do not engage and try and pretend that we are 10 years old forever and don’t have to take off the headset and put down the gaming gear. I think that is really frightening to me. It’s frightening to me that there is a concerted effort to dumb down people on all fronts. Why are young women so oblivious to what can happen to their own lives but they can tell you everything the Kardashians are doing. Those things frighten me and I’m not sure how, just as an entertainment person or writer, I can reach that anymore. As much as a lot of the horror that I do is political satire underneath, those used to be pretty effective ways to very subtly influence thinking and societal issues, I don’t know [if now] it’s too subtle. I think we are at a certain tipping point that I feel somewhat helpless in the face of it.
Linda: Do you feel social media has had an impact on that?
Sandy: Oh hugely. People are so busy, I’m surprised they’re not falling over their own shoelaces. So busy looking at handheld devices, walking down the street with earphones in that I don’t think they’re hearing. If all the birds fell out of the sky, would they notice? Would they see it as something unusual? All the fish came up dead on a beach in Malibu a couple weeks ago, how many people were looking outside to notice. There is something that I think that is not coincidental, this disconnect allowing real things to fall apart while everybody is immersing themselves in fantasy. I think fantasy is fantastic, fantasy is a great way to let your brain go and create other things and fantasy is a gateway into the future, what if? It was a lack of imagination that made us unprepared for things like 9-11 and other things. Fantasy is another version of looking at the truth of the future.
“I think fantasy is fantastic, fantasy is a great way to let your brain go and create other things and fantasy is a gateway into the future, what if?” – Sandy King-Carpenter
Linda: Getting back to Storm King Comics, I wanted to ask if you and your husband ever run into creative differences. If so, how do you handle them?
Sandy: We really don’t. I think he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. We may come to realizations at different points or different ways but I don’t feel any competition with him. It’s like I never wanted to be the director, I’m really happy being the producer. I came up in the film industry with, Vilmos Zsigmond [who] was a great director/photographer. I remember when I was about 20 years old I was working with a film crew with American Film Institute, there was this Hungarian directing fellow and Vilmos Zsigmond was a friend of his dad. He was shooting his project, a big deal, and Kovacs was there with all these people and this guy who really didn’t know what he was doing. I turned to Vilmos and said, why don’t you just do this? You know what has to be done. [He said], “Because that is not my job. We are here to implement the vision of the director and we all serve one vision.” And that was a big learning moment for me about filming. Something I never forgot. We all serve the vision. It also made it so it was very uncomplicated for me in working with my husband. He’s the director, so there’s not any head-butting there. I’m there to implement his vision whether or not he is my husband.
Linda: So you guys work well together.
Sandy: We work well together. On things like the comics and all the kinda stuff… he’s the 2000 lb gorilla, he does what he wants to do. If he thinks it’s a cool idea, it usually works out pretty well. After this many years, I pretty much know what’s gonna peak his interest, I pretty much know what he thinks is stupid and I just go with it. I try to make sure it happens in the best way possible.
Linda: What does the future hold for Storm King?
Sandy: Storm King has got four television shows in various forms of development right now. We usually waiting on lawyers. Seems to be my life. We’ve got a deal going for putting out a tour movie of his [John Carpenter’s] last big tour. Next year we’re about to start Storm Kids Comics.
Linda: I saw that, that’s awesome! We need to keep kids reading comics.
Sandy: That outta be pretty fun because we wind up with a lot of kids at the booth while their dads are going through things that they [the kids] really shouldn’t be reading. I tested out a short mini-comic that was all ages that worked nicely. The kids were happy, the parents were happy. Steve Niles has created something called Sacred Hearts and Matt Jones is doing the artwork on that. So that will be our first kids comic and Louise Simonson has a sci-fi one for me.
Linda: A lot in the pipeline. Is there anything you would like to add?
Sandy: Just that we really appreciate everyone that picks up a Storm King Comic or tries to see one of our shows. Right now we’ve just been really pleased with the response we’ve gotten to the science fiction line, that was an experiment. If people are happy, I’m happy. It’s what we mean to do.
Sincere thanks to Sandy King-Carpenter for taking the time to share her endeavors with Fan Fest News. Fans can catch her next weekend at New York Comic Con Booth #2304! Follow her on social media for the latest Storm King news and updates. Facebook: Sandy King, Twitter: stormkingskc, Instagram: stormkingcomics