One of the most exciting announcements to emerge from Image Expo today was that of Winnebago Graveyard. Set in the American Southwest the book will feature a family on vacation stumbling into an area they do not understand and horrors they cannot hope to comprehend. It looks to be a riveting tale of human darkness set in the haunting, ageless landscape of the desert.
What is even more compelling about the announcement of Winnebago Graveyard though is the creative team making this new series. Veteran comics and horror writer Steve Niles will be joined by the very talented artist Alison Sampson to realize this terrifying journey. We were lucky enough to speak to both Niles and Sampson before the big announcement today. What they had to say and the artwork they shared has us very excited about the upcoming release of Winnebago Graveyard #1.
How did you start developing the concept for Winnebago Graveyard? What made this the next comics project you wanted to pursue?
Steve Niles: I began developing the story while I lived in Texas. I've always loved the 70's satanic movies like Devil's Rain and Race with the Devil and I wanted to do something in that territory. I find it very creepy.
While you've written a lot of horror projects in the past, Winnebago Graveyard distinguishes itself from the outset based purely on the terrain. What appeals to you about the American Southwest as a setting for this story?
Niles: I like to change terrain whenever I can. This one came to be from living in Texas and then moving to the desert outside Los Angeles where I live now.
The story also focuses primarily on a family. How important are the unique dynamics of different family members to the narrative you're building?
Niles: It's very important. I think horror works best when you care about the characters. In WG I've tried to give each character a distinct personality and (hopefully) made them likable enough to care what happens to them.
There's also a juxtaposition of urban outsiders with rural people in this story. That's a divide becoming increasingly apparent in American politics both between and within parties. What are you hoping to explore about this particular sort of division?
Niles: Well, there is a difference in these two worlds but it's nothing new, these kinds of differences have played out in stories for many years. Civilization vs the "wild" is ages old. There are frightening places within cities and also out in the rural areas, it's about being out in unknown territory more than calling attention to the current political climate.
How did you first encounter Alison [Sampson] and being to collaborate on this project?
Niles: If I recall correctly I saw her art online and fell in love with it immediately. We talked about doing something together and I pitched her Winnebago Graveyard. She has a great, detailed style that's perfect for this story.
What has the experience been like working with Alison so Far? What's your impression of the book now that the first issue is almost complete?
Niles: It's been amazing working with Alison. Seeing the art come together has helped inspire the rest of the book. The detail she puts into her work is incredible.
What would you tell a reader considering checking out Winnebago Graveyard later this year to convince them to pick it up?
Niles: If you like 70's Satan-worship style movies, beautiful art or just a good scare then you should check it out!
How did you first come into contact with Winnebago Graveyard and what appealed to you about the concept?
Alison Sampson: Steve [Niles] and I had been chatting about doing something together and he gave me a choice between “monsters in space” and “satanists in Texas”. I was immediately shouting, “Satanists in Texas!” That was quite exciting. I wanted to do a story that was very narrative-driven, that had twists and turns, that was immersed in the people and set in a place I could really drill down into. I wanted to figure out what these people would be like in this place so we could build a whole world.
Where Genesis was quite abstract, this is entirely real, ostensibly. This is real people, like you and me, going on holiday and then stuff happening (to them). We pick the reader up and take them along with us and this is appealing to me, that we work into the story this way. It’s an adventure and it’s an adventure for me.
What I’m doing, because I’m not American, is finding out a lot about background. I like going to a place and finding out what it looks like. This may sound trivial, but it’s really interesting. I look at people’s attitudes, what they’re wearing, and so on, because places are very specific and I draw all that. We’re building with things that could be already there, but looking beyond them as well.
I enjoy the test of drawing horror too because it’s very difficult. Drawing horror is not something you just pick up your pen and do; there is a certain mindset.
I’ve had the chance to look at the pencils and inks of the first issue and you’re right, there’s some very graphic, challenging stuff on the page. What was your biggest challenge getting through that first issue?
Sampson: It’s quite varied. The hard part was taking this level of a fantasy world and keeping it real and narratively-driven.
Steve’s writing is very exciting; it’s constantly moving and there’s all sorts of things going on. What you’ve got to concentrate on is telling the character’s story. To bring other “things” into it and create the mood and so on, it’s not that easy, and you’re trying to do quite a lot. That was a challenge, but it was a good challenge and I believe I’ve met it.
You and Steve are both very focused on narrative and character-driven story here, but Winnebago Graveyard also prominently features horror elements. How do you blend that humanistic approach with these larger-than-life elements?
Sampson: I think the use of place helps in this. It ties the pages together. You’ve got a certain environment and you can present it in such a way that all of these other “things” fit into it as well. It’s not entirely reality as we know it, but it’s partly reality as we know it, and also a part that’s what-the-f**k-was-that.
The American Southwest is a region that can seem bigger than life. There’s a mythology and look and feel to it that can be difficult to distill into a single concept. What has it been like trying to explore this setting?
Sampson: Yes, we’ve moved it from Texas to Southern California. I think we have a different environment and challenge there. Texas would have been extremely difficult, but in a different way. But we’re still in the Southwest and I have a very specific location for this story.
What brings it together is the people we’re dealing with are away on holiday. So just as I’m visiting this place, so are they. We’re all visiting it together; everything is a revelation. The people visiting are pretty much like us, therefore they find what they find as tourists. When you go to a place, you only see part of it.
That makes sense. These people really have no idea what they should be expecting on any level when they arrive and the same could be said of the audience for this comic.
Sampson: The reader is going along with the family on holiday and I expect they’ll identify with at least one of them. They’ll see what they see and feel what they feel, hopefully.
What about the Southwest, in particular, appealed to you as an artist? What stood out to you?
Sampson: I don’t know if this is true, but it’s the way everything seems to last in the desert. There are some things there that seem to be very old. The wood doesn’t rot it’s so dry. Everything is just sitting there. So when our family gets away this place could have been around for a very long time. Who knows how long these people have lived there?
It’s also an isolated place. America is big, communities can be cut off a bit, that happens. And people are strange. You find these roadside attractions, which you can find everywhere, and we feature in our book. It’s all quite ageless.
Just listening to you describe your conception of the Southwest, I get the impression of a place where something could lie in wait forever, which is a really creepy bit of imagery.
Sampson: There are these old houses and old towns in the hills that become abandoned for whatever reason. People go and populate them or visit them as tourists later, and who knows what’s still there or who’s moved in.
That touches upon something else you said earlier that really interested me. You and Steve are both very interested in the people that populate this story. What has it been like designing such a diverse section of America?
Sampson: Excellent, such good fun. There’s our family who are quite normal or recognizable, at least. Then there’s the people they meet and there’s always a question about them. They’re either not very well or being a bit weird or something’s too good to be true. There is always a question. Although they’re on holiday, it’s not entirely clear what people’s intentions are and it’s not entirely comfortable.
After looking at the art of the first issue, I think “not comfortable” is a bit of an understatement for some of those sequences. Those pages aren’t entirely finished yet though. What has the experience been like collaborating with the colorist on Winnebago Graveyard?
Sampson: It’s really, really exciting. Stephane Paitreau is an experienced colorist of BD [bande dessinees] and he has developed a style for me, which is great.. What he’s very, very good at is that he can take these dense pages full of action panels, and he’ll color them so it’s all so clear and organized and he’s done unbelievable things with depth. He’s so good at understanding what’s needed. I would just give him the pages, then he’d give them back and I’d go “Wow! You’re really gone there!”
He has a lot of experience at drawing different people’s skin. With a lot of different characters and people of different ethnicities and carrying a mood, you’ve got to do quite a lot- and he has. The palette is gorgeous. I’m blown away, really.
Without trying to get you to give anything away, what do you think is going to hit people the hardest with Winnebago Graveyard? What’s the thing that’s going to make this the next must-read Image comic?
Sampson: There are three things because different groups of people should be able to pick this book up.
The first one is that this is about a family, an interaction between a family. It’s a relatively unusual dynamic in comics and I hope we do it justice.
The second is there’s a great sort of contrast between this heightened reality of Americana and the horror within it, and how those two things play off one another.
The last is I’ve told a few people the outline and it seems to appeal to quite young children. A lot of people discover horror when they’re young. I was reading quite extreme horror at 11 or 12.
I recall reading Stephen King’s It at that same age.
Sampson: Exactly. This is the reality of people finding horror. They’re often quite young and there’s a reason for that. It’s about testing emotions and testing boundaries and dealing with fear and death, but it all being at a remove.
I’m doing this book with my now 13 year old nephew. It’s an adventure for him as well. The reason we’re doing it together is that this is what he’s into. He goes to school and he talks with his friends about horror films and these books they’re reading. That’s what they’re doing. So let’s go there.0comments
Be sure to keep an eye out for the official release date of Winnebago Graveyard #1 coming soon.
Chase Magnett is a freelance journalist, critic, and editor working with comics, film, and television. He has been hooked on comics since he picked an issue of Suicide Squad out of a back issue bin fifteen years ago. When Chase is not working with comics in some way he spends his time rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and grilling. He currently contributes to ComicBook.com and other outlets.