Fans who attended Free Comic Book Day events last week may have noticed a cool, unusual volume offered up from Image Comics's Man of Action imprint.
That was a sample chapter from Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein's new all-ages original graphic novel Camp Midnight. The horror comedy deals with a girl who is mistakenly sent away to a summer camp otherwise populated by monsters.
Seagle and Katzenstein joined ComicBook.com to discuss the book, which is availble for sale now.
How did you guys end up on the Free Comic Book Day docket?
Steven T. Seagle: We had the entire book done and ready for Halloween of last year. But it turned out the book market needed more time than the comic book market to process the book, so we delayed. A few months later, Image just sent an email saying they had picked CAMP MIDNIGHT as one of their FCBD books. It was a total - and totally exciting - surprise to us.
This is a book that skews very stylized. There are moments in it when it's very cartoonish. Was it always kind of intended to have that tone or did that develop over the course of the writing/art?
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Steve had a pretty clear vision from the start, and we were always going for something surreal and distorted. That said, I know I discovered a lot about how the characters look and move as I was drawing them. On an early page, Skye screams and her head and mouth get huge, and Steve loved it and encouraged me to find more opportunities for intense distortion.
Seagle: While it was rough to spend 2+ years on one book without showing any of it to the world, one of the great things about doing it that way is that we could go back and improvise earlier pieces once we had learned things from later in the process. A lot of the style grew out of working through the pages.
Did the two of you develop this together, or did one of you come on when the idea was fairly fully formed?
Katzenstein: Steve had a treatment that I read and loved! We worked closely on character designs and building the visual world, and then Steve would send me about 60 script pages at a time and I'd draw them while he was working on the next batch. This was an exciting way to work because Steve would respond to what I was drawing in his next batch of pages. There'd be a note saying something like, remember what you did ten pages ago? Draw something like that.
Seagle: And even before we got to the bigger 60-page chunks, Jason would come to my weekly writers group and we would work on about 7 pages per week with a lot of back and forth.
If you had to, what of your previous work would you compare it to?
Seagle: My only conscious influences for this project were the Miyazaki film Spirited Away - I wrote the initial treatment for this shortly after seeing that film when it was released. And a lot of my thoughts about camp came from seeing the film Meatballs when I was a kid, so that probably lurks in here as well.
Katzenstein: I grew up reading MAD Magazine, and I was lucky enough to intern there when I was nineteen. I think that writing for MAD shaped (and warped) my comedy sensibilities. I know that it influenced how I stage comedy. I learned to draw by ripping off MAD legends Mort Drucker and Harvey Kurtzman. There are a lot of panels in this book that are love letters to my MAD influences.
The "big twist" with Mia toward the end is seeded very early if you know what to look for. Did you want to have that there so that younger readers could put the puzzle together if they wanted?
Katzenstein: My favorite twists are the ones that surprise you at first, and then make you want to revisit the story and find all the new clues. I hope younger readers do this with our book!
Seagle: Yeah, there are some people who've read the book and found parts of it obvious, but while I think anyone can enjoy the book, it is specifically for a younger audience and I wanted things to be clear - though not too obvious - for them.
Obviously with Mia in particular you played with the idea of humanizing the "monsters" of the camp (which you did all around, but Mia is the most dramatic example). What made you want to explore that?
Seagle: One of the central themes is that we all have monsters of different sorts lurking within us. Skye is prone to call others monsters - like her "step-monster", but she's not so fast to recognize that she herself is a monster in a lot of ways. Humanizing the camp kids helps work that metaphor.
Katzenstein: I love Mia and Skye's friendship, I love that they bond over being insecure about showing their true selves. On the surface this is a horror story, but at its heart it's about learning to love what makes you different. It is a human story that happens to have monsters in it.
For the new people who haven't had a chance to see the preview pages yet: what's the high concept of Camp Midnight?
Katzenstein: Skye, our snarky heroine, gets put on the wrong bus and ends up at a summer camp for monsters.
Seagle: Once there, she and her only ally, Mia, try to survive the summer by not revealing their true selves to their fellow creepy campers.
Any chance of a follow-up? I mean...it COULD lend itself to one but it seems pretty self-contained.
Katzenstein: I had a great time making this one, and would noooot rule out revisiting Camp Midnight.
Seagle: We're already on to our next project together, and while that one is not a continuation of this one in any way, we're not opposed to going back to Skye and her friends in the future!