Terrors lurk in the American South and they burst through the screen in Fishhead, the new graphic series from artist Mark Evan Walker, writer Michael H. Price and Larry Shell, appearing on ComicMix.com every week starting Monday, October 8th.
Like a combination of All the Kings Men and Saw, Fishhead is adapted from the early work of classic early 20th century horror writer Irwin S. Cobb. This is the story of a man born with a surprising resemblance to a catfish, and living in the Big Splayfoot Swamp during the Great Depression. With his freakish appearance, he is the subject of much speculation. Men fear him and fish seem defend him. And, one day, he is picked up by a traveling circus and taken for display to the rest of the world.
Michael H. Price is best known amongst the Gothic-terrors enthusiasts for his Forgotten Horrors series of movie-genre encyclopedias and, with frequent collaborator John Wooley, a chronic-to-acute Forgotten Horrors column in Fangoria magazine. Price’s outcroppings on the comics scene have included The Prowler and Spider series of the 1980s and ’90s, with Timothy Truman’s 4Winds Studios; the Carnival of Souls graphic novel (Midnight Marquee Press; 2006); and appearances in such anthology titles as Heavy Metal and The Big Book of Unexplained Phenomena. A long-running collaborative relationship with Robert Crumb has yielded several stage-play versions of R. Crumb Comix (1985–2006) and two original-cast record albums. Price is Associate Editor of The Business Press, a board-room journal, founding President of the Fort Worth Film Festival, Inc., L.L.C., and a noted Texas musician. His latest album is Waiting for Slusgot. Michael also writes a weekly column for ComicMix.
Postmodern pulp-fiction artist Mark Evan Walker works as a commercial illustrator in the magazine, newspaper, and advertising fields; and as a theatrical set designer, muralist, editorial cartoonist, and storytelling author. A steady contributor to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Walker has illustrated more than seventy-five pulp-thriller stories. In the theatrical realm, he has designed and painted more than 400 stage productions and serves as a stage-setting mentor to some of the Southwest’s more prestigious college-preparatory schools. He and Mike Price have recently completed a short-story collection called What You See May Shock You, being prepped at Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore. Walker and Price first worked together during 1998–99 on the Southern-Fried Homicide series of crime-and-horror comics from Cremo Studios and Larry Shell’s Shel-Tone Publications.
In Fishhhead, Price and Walker combine issues of race, class and economics with zombies and circus freaks. Kidnappings and crime involve slapstick humor, homicidal apes, moonshine and ancient, unspeakable curses, for a series that will have readers laughing through their goosebumps.
Here’s what they have to say about their latest graphic novel project.
CM: What is Fishhead about?
MW: The travails of a heroic, noble, soul, ensconced in an ugly countenance, which causes him no end of grief, and hence gives rise to his many adventures.
MP: It’s, oh, about 80 pages, plus 20-odd pages of backup yarns reflecting the carnival-life milieu that provides the backdrop for our crew’s version of Fishhead.
But seriously, though: Fishhead is the story of a peaceable backwater hermit, somewhere between the distant Southern outposts of West Hell and Diddy Wah Diddy, who is rumored to possess some supernatural kinship with the wildlife of the swamplands. Most folks leave Fishhead, the title character, alone – and he likes things that way – until two surly neighbors decide to give him some grief and he is forced to meet them on their own cruel terms.
Now, Irvin Cobb’s original story wraps things up pretty much at that point of confrontation, with an abrupt and jarring climax. But co-scenarist Lawrence Adam “Larry” Shell imagines an elaborate coda-plus-sequel in which Fishhead finds himself abducted from his home territory – and placed on display as a carnival freak, only to be re-abducted by an altogether more menacing character. Not to spill too much, y’know.
Cobb was springing from Deep Southern folklore when he wrote Fishhead, early in the 1910s — elaborating upon legends and rumors that had persisted for many generations. Larry Shell and illustrator Mark Evan Walker and I decided to treat Cobb’s commercial fiction as a form of folklore, itself, subject to elaboration and re-interpretation.
CM: How did you find this Irvin Cobb story? What made you think it was a good graphic novel?
MW: I found it atmospheric and eerily moody. No–seriously. Mike Price turned me on to it. Rooted in the deep–South, the mythic qualities inherent in Fishhead provide fertile material for graphic yarns. When Larry Shell came up with a scenario beyond the original short story, we saw an opportunity to expand the nether reaches of the Southern–Fried Neo–Gothic. Although the tale is timeless, we decided on updating the period from the 1910s to a post–war late forties to give us some stylistic leeway, and an opportunity to use a Woody in one of the chapters. Portraying the character of Fishhead definitely presented a challenge, and I liked the fact that he was neither a “super hero” nor a monster.
MP: I had known Cobb’s larger body of work for many years — rustic humor, for the most part. Cobb was a cohort of Will Rogers, and Cobb’s “Judge Priest” yarns formed the basis of one of Rogers’ more famous moving pictures of the Depression years. Cobb’s lesser-known career as a horrific storyteller was an area the movies had ignored – despite the importance of “Fishhead” in having helped to trigger the last century’s so-called “bizarre pulp” explosion in popular fiction.
I had noticed admiring references to Fishhead in essays by H.P. Lovecraft and Sam Moskowitz – but discovered Fishhead intact only belatedly, after Larry Shell had steered me toward a 1940s anthology called Cobb’s Cavalcade. That was, I believe, the first book to place the stories that Cobb called his “grim pieces” in a deeper perspective with his more good-humored tales of the Sunny Southland.
And Larry Shell suggested a comics-style adaptation. That was in 1995, some eight years after Timothy Truman and John Snyder and I had developed a vigilante-as-hero comics series called The Prowler, and three or four years after my comics studio had adapted a movie by Herk Harvey called Carnival of Souls into a graphic-novel version to accompany that film’s restoration and theatrical reissue.
I had eased out of the comics market, more or less, to concentrate on my work as a newspaper editor and columnist — reserving the right to concoct the occasional newspaper cartoon — and Fishhead struck me as a story that wanted retelling. Especially so, after Larry Shell had described to me his ideas for an elaboration upon the tale.
Mark Evan Walker and I had, by the middle 1990s, begun working together on a series of Southern Gothic comics pieces and Fishhead struck Mark and me as an ideal prospect for development. We share with Larry Shell an interest in the demimonde of show business, particularly in the carney-and-sideshow sector. A natural fit, there, with Fishhead.
CM: Does the Internet change the way you write/draw the stories?
MP: Comics is comics is comics, and the Web is a medium of high promise for bringing more and better comics to a broader and more receptive readership – promising, as well, a liberation from the confinement of the cold-print page and the limited scope of the conventional comics-pamphlet magazine.
A book of thirty-two pages for a dime or 12 cents was a generous bargain two generations ago. A book of similar size for increasingly high-dollarized amounts is an overpriced pamphlet — a “floppy,” to use other’s terminology.
The “plop factor” of a print publication, as we say in the newspaper business, describes both the weight of an issue and the sense of value received for the money spent. So a ten-cent comics magazine would “plop” harder than a magazine of the same size for an escalating cover-price.
Web-based publication signals a Sea Change in the ways that comics can be presented, suggesting not only a new creative freedom but also a remedy for rampant paper clutter.
Our Fishhead team had gone to work around the time the Web was just beginning to catch on as a mass communications medium, and we certainly had considered the likelihood of Web deployment. We took our own sweet time in adapting the story and waited for Web technology to catch up with us. Mark Evan Walker is a high-def artist, in the first place. Both Mark and I — he, as illustrator, and Yrs. Trly., as letterer and page layer-outer — design our pages with a high-fidelity caliber of reproduction in mind, whether for print or digital media. Mark and I also enjoy straddling the line between old-fashioned hand-wrought art and digital composition.
I’d just as soon hand-letter a comics page on a good toothy organic sheet of Strathmore, but I’ve also scanned my hand-lettering fonts for key-stroke deployment. If one approaches digital media with an organic attitude — like playing a synth-keyboard while envisioning a Steinway Grand — then the results turn out more agreeably well.
MW: My first thumbnails for Fishhead were done back in early ‘99, as Mike mentions, before the Internet was quite as omnipresent as it is now. I did rough pencils for the first three chapters, but the final chapter was drawn and inked directly on the Strathmore, and completed months before 9/11. Therefore, I am /overjoyed/ to see the Fish–Man finally making his World–Wide Debut! The Web is a perfect place to expand the scope of comics, and we’re proud to be a part of this revolution.
Whether there would be any stylistic or technical changes in the art for the Web will depend upon how it looks, but I think this is going to hold up very well in HD, HDD, ADD, DVD, LSD and, of course, print!
CM: Do you think there’s a movie here?
MW: Absolutely. I see comics as the earliest form of movie narrative, and the very strange, bizarre world Fishhead inhabits should be a perfect fit. I would love to see Guillermo del Toro tackle this.
MP I’ve always viewed comics in cinematic terms, having first discovered the printed-page adventures of Superman and Batman and Dick Tracy around the same time that those characters’ movie versions started cropping up on teevee. So practically everything I’ve attempted in comics, and sometimes comix, has struck me as potential movie fodder.
A Fishhead movie? Well, my film-festival-circuit pal Guillermo del Toro has weighed in with some kind words about our version of Fishhead — and Guillermo is a guy who thinks in cinematic terms. Not to presuppose too much, but it’d be a bona fide hoot to see “Hellboy”’s Doug Jones suited up as Fishhead.
Yes, and if Irvin Cobb can work as comics, then Cobb comics can work as kinema. Besides, it has been ‘way too long since the ol’ boy received a big-screen credit.
CM: What’s next?
MP: Well, Timothy Truman and John K. Snyder III and I are forging ahead with a new Prowler graphic-novel project – springing from my digital remastering of the original “Prowler” series for a ComicMix revival.
And the idea-mill is cranking out pilot ideas right-and-left and in-between – horror-and-crime yarns, and maybe a re-invention of the comics industry’s long-neglected “Giant Christmas Annual” tradition. Is a Fishhead sequel lurking about? Might bear a fishing expedition.
Then, too, I’ve recently branched out from the newspaper business in Texas into a new arts-critic involvement with a daily paper in Northeastern Pennsylvania — just down the road a piece from Timothy Truman’s studio. So that newfound proximity should lend itself to some fresh ideas.
MW: Hopefully, readers will love Fishhead and demand a sequel sooner than later! We certainly left the door open, and are ready, pen in hand! My drawing board is currently stacked with projects including illustrations for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, a cookbook and children’s book for Booktimookti Press, and set designs for productions of Alan Ayckbourn’s Snake in the Grass, and Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Also, Mike Price and I have co–authored a book of short stories, illustrated by Yrs.Trly – What You See May Shock You, that will be out soon from Midnight Marquee Press.Fishhead will be starting up on ComicMix Monday, October 8th.