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Horror On The Paneled Page At San Diego

Horror On The Paneled Page At San Diego

Louie Falcetti writes for Bleeding Cool from San Diego Comic Con. Follow Louie on Twitter at @LouieFalcetti

The "Horror On The Paneled Page" panel was an odd, yet interesting affair. It's the type of panel that you should really make an effort to see, a panel where talented and interesting creators let you into their heads. It's panels like this that make the yearly claim of "DERRRR THERE ARE NO COMICS AT COMIC CON DERRRR" seem truly ignorant and laughably stupid.

The panel was moderated by Mark L. Miller who posts as "Ambush Bug" on Ain't It Cool. Making up the panelists were Mark Miller (a different Mark Miller) who is the writer on Hellraiser for BOOM, Joshua Hale Fialkov, the writer on I, Vampire, Alan Robert, the writer on Crawl To Me and Wire Hangers, Brandon Seifert, the writer of Witch Foctor for Image/Skybound, David Quinn, writer of Faust, and Matt Pizzolo, writer of Godkiller and organizer of Occupy Comics.

It's worth noting that two panels following was for something called Monster High, which I've been totally unaware of since I am not a small child. From what I can gather it's a Mattel toy line that's had a mythology created around it, like The Mattel and Mars-Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour.  It's worth noting because at least half of the audience, if not more, was made up of small children, dressed in florescent goth outfits, with their moms. Now those titles I listed up above might not mean that much to you if you're not a reader of comic book horror, but just do yourself a favor and google (no one is ever going to say "bing") "david quinn", "faust" and "covers". Things like THAT were playing on a constant slideshow as the panel progressed. Which made a kind of weird energy as the panel tried to get going. But weird, unsure start or not, by the end the panelists had won over the moms and kids and I wouldn't be surprised if out of that group of brightly colored adolescent monster babies we get the next writer for a Crossed ongoing.

The panel began with the panelists sharing their influences and how they got into horror. Mark Miller (like many) had a crazy aunt, who didn't care that the youngster was terrified of horror films and would force him to ride his bike to the video store to rent every horror film possible. Eventually a "clockwork orange style brainwashing" took place, changing the boy from terrified tyke to hungry horror nerd, on the hunt for "the goriest, craziest" thing he could find. Alan Robert was also scarred for life from childhood horror, convincing his parents to let him watch The Amityville Horror when he was 8. Only making it through the credits before retreating to his room. His room, of course, sharing a common wall with the room his parents were in, watching it. What's the only thing scarier for an 8 year old than watching The Amityville Horror? Only being able to hear it through a wall, and letting the childhood imagination fill in the blanks.

Horror On The Paneled Page At San Diego

Fialkov grew up in Pittsburgh and remembers hanging out in the mall where Romero filmed Dawn of the Dead, which apparently hasn't changed all that much (including blood stains from the film that still adorn certain walls). Terrifying haunts of youth aside Fialkov also spoke about The Twilight Zone leading him to Richard Matheson which lead him to comic books. Brandon Seifert's introduction to horror was both more disturbing and less disturbing than the other creators. Seifert talked about The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, specifically the "Werechicken" episode where Egon gets turned into a Werechicken. I know it sounds laughable but take a look at said Werechicken and experience the horror. He also spoke of his love for H.P. Lovecraft & Clive Barker.

David Quinn related a charming anecdotes about riding his bike to pick up old Marvel horror comics like Werewolf By Night, saying it was a "personal world of images and words that you could get lost in". Matt Pizzolo shared a memory of being 4 years old at bible school and answering the question, "Do you know the sign of the cross?" with a finger from each hand held up to form a phalangeal cross. "From Dracula movies" was his response when questioned about his curious interpretation.

Fialkov went on to praise EC and their ability to convey a story and a character in mere pages, a feat that takes modern writers issues to do. Mark Miller praised EC's perfect blend of humor and terror. The EC discussion was briefly interrupted by a ringing cellphone that someone refused to answer, without missing a beat however one of the panelists leaned into the mic and said in a hushed voice, "The call is coming from inside the room!"

An important aspect to understanding modern horror and the minds that create it is knowing whether or not there is in fact "a line" that shouldn't be crossed. Moderator Miller refused to allow anyone a canned "there is no line" answer and managed to get great answers out of all assembled. Fialkov said that he needs a "personal relation" to his content and writes about things that he himself is personally scared of. This leads to some awkwardness in his home as his wife refuses to read some of his books, like the time he wrote a story about a child murderer…while she was pregnant. He also talked about getting under people's skin and pushing their buttons, trying to find the humanity in an evil character, "by finding humanity and reality in what you write you don't so much have to worry about crossing lines." He quickly added, "Or sticks being poked into eyeballs, that's too much for me". Fialkov also praised the Deborah Kerr film, The Innocents, despite it having "nothing scary" in it. "The power of that movie is that you have no idea what you're seeing, you're not seeing anything, so your mind starts building…and creating, that's the power of horror it takes what you're already paranoid and worried about and draws it out, like a hypodermic needle…in the eye!" he added.

Horror On The Paneled Page At San Diego

Mark Miller came from a conservative, christian educational background, engendering him with the steely fortitude to make it through Human Centipede 2 without blinking. His ringing endorsement of the film prompted some eager fanboy to shout out almost caustically, "The FIRST one was great." Miller helps run Clive Barker's company and how he's constantly exposed to ideas that make his jaw "just drop".  He also talked about going where others won't, and pushing the envelope farther than others expect or even desire, as some film ideas never make it off the floor because producers don't really mean "push all the envelopes" or at least not in the same way that Barker and Co. do.

Alan Roberts' book Crawl To Me features the "horrors of reality" such as child abduction. As writer and artist on the book he can choose the scenes and decide what to show or not show, to heighten the impact.  David Quinn was put on the spot as the person who's crossed the most lines,  and he admitted that being the father of a 6 year old girl has changed his philosophy of his 20s regarding there not being a line. "I think very carefully about how scenes are presented, who gets books put into their hands…" Quinn said. Despite the book being labeled as "horror porn" Quinn told the room that he and his creative partners spend a lot of time carefully thinking each scene through and that nothing is done casually. "Intimate family child abuse, is something like suicide that you don't want to make a joke or present superficially, because it's pretty serious, and it's damaging to families and damaging to the world." Quinn went on to say. Honestly, if there is ever another "IS HORROR DESTROYING OUR CHILDREN??" Tipper Gore style scare, get to David Quinn immediately and put him on the defense. Rarely have I heard anyone, whether intimately involved in the creation of horror or not, speak so eloquently and so intelligently about matters that many are simply unable to approach from a logical, sensible, personal mindset.

"I went through a very, sort of, intellectual process of writing when I was learning technique and I needed something to kind of be my 'punk rock' and kind of rip me out of that, and try to connect the body, the soul and the mind into what I was writing and dramatizing. Actually writing a very taboo book helped me do that, and do to that I actually lost friends who said I should be writing something different and didn't want to associate with me, a girlfriend broke up with me over an early issue of Faust, believe me, I found a better girlfriend."

Moderator Miller asked how the panelists were able to keep horror fresh for them, despite it's innumerable conventions and rules. Matt Pizzolo talked about directing the animated version of Hack/Slash (which he's currently doing) and praised Seeley's ability to take horror conventions and turn them on it's ear. "I think that's a really cool thing where you can start off with something everyones really used to and use that archetype and then twist it and get everybody knocked back a couple of steps."

David Quinn talked about going back to the roots of things, for himself things that gave him a visceral response such as Clive Barker, Richard Matheson all the way to Titus Andronicus.  "Whatever stimulated you in the past is bound to tickle something out of your own imagination."

Brandon Seifert also encouraged people to go back to early horror, over sparkly vampires. Seifert also remarked on the idea of vampires dying in the sun only went back to the 1920s, that in old vampire lore and even indeed in Dracula, vampires go out in the sun without worry.

Alan Robert also spoke about trying to emulate the feelings that he felt as a horror fan and to translate that into his own work citing The Shining and The Sixth Sense, the feeling your left with after an ultimate twist ending. "I try to pull from my own personal inspirations as a fan."

Fialkov compared magical story telling with horror storytelling in that, "…there's only so many kinds of twists and turns in a broad sense you can do. What becomes fun is finding new ways to twist them, new ways to do the same tricks and to make them…feel modern and singular and feel like something no one's ever seen before. There are thousands of zombie movies, but Night of the Living Dead will always reverberate as the one that brought it all together because it felt like a new twist on something that had been around forever…You can find success in using things that came before, but finding ways to make it your own and personal, because if it's more meaningful to you it'll be more meaningful to your audience."

Mark Miller added that comics don't have to worry about budgetary concerns, insofar as comparing them to horror cinema. "We can imagine anything, we can go as big as hell, literally."  Speaking in terms of conventions and scares, "I get really excited about things I've never seen before. I watch and I read as much as I can and even if I assume it's going to be garbage I still watch it." He also talked about life is a lot scarier than fiction, and encouraged people to tap into it.

Matt Pizzolo chimed in, as someone who's done both comic and film work, to talk about the difference between the two, "One thing that comics has, that film does not have is the space between the panels and I think that's really important because a lot of storytelling is done in those gaps, in what you don't see." He also added another childhood horror film trauma story, in this one Pizzolo is in 4th grade and he wants to see "Silent Night, Deadly Night". His mother obliged but with the caveat that she would hold up a newspaper over the television during the really scary parts. Much like the earlier anecdote regarding Amityville, this created a scenario where Pizzolo and friend would only hear the gruesome violence taking place on the screen and their minds were forced to try to picture what was happening, creating a scenario far more frightening and disturbing than simply watching the film as is.

A parent of one of the random children asked what the panelists would recommend to further push the spark of interest the kids were displaying in horror (the "monster" side of the Monster High doll line).  Pizzolo immediately responded, "Silent Night, Deadly Night" and Seifert quickly added, "Real Ghostbusters! Werechicken!". Joking aside, panelists agreed that The Twilight Zone was a great way to introduce younger viewers to horror, scifi and fantasy.  David Quinn related that his daughter was also a Monster High fan and then added that he liked cute horror too. He went on to talk about working on books with his daughter (which elicited several quiet "Aws" out of some of the parents assembled. Pretty remarkable considering, well, again, google Faust covers) and making titles like The Vampire and The Cat where "the cat is cute and the vampire has blood dripping from his teeth". "That's her way of understanding what I do but also doing it in her own way and we're having a really good time with it." Finally "Baby's First Mythos" was brought up as a great introduction to Lovecraft and horror. "By the time you get to 10 old ones the universe is extinct." added Fialkov.

The panel ended with a Q&A that brought up small discussions about artist/writer relations, cover art, and other frightening Real Ghostbusters monsters. A little girl, who couldn't have been more than 8, said that she' d seen the movie Hellraiser and wanted to know if the comic was a lot like it. She nodded emphatically with a huge smile after being asked if she'd seen more than the first one, prompting Fialkov to declare "You're awesome."  Few panels can overcome a handicap like, well, a 50 preteen girls for a discussion of horror, but this year's "Horror On The Paneled Page" made it look easy thanks to a smart bunch of creators and excellent moderation by Ambush Bug himself.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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