Next month, Steve Niles and Alison Sampson are taking us on a family road trip to remember in Winnebago Graveyard, a brand new four-part horror mystery series from Image Comics.
Featuring Satanists, creepy fairgrounds, shadowy conspiracies and some truly eye-catching artwork, the series immediately piqued our interest when it was first announced back at 2016’s Image Expo, so we were incredibly excited when we were finally able to sit down and have a chat with its co-creators to find out a little more about it.
BIG COMIC PAGE: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Now firstly, for readers who might not be aware – and without giving too much away, obviously – could you give us a quick summary of just what Winnebago Graveyard is all about?
ALISON SAMPSON: A family who are on holiday in Southern California *accidentally* get their Winnebago stolen at a creepy fairground and get stuck in a town full of satanists, and the story is what happens next. It’s about 75% Americana and about 25% ripping off of heads. The closest TV analogue you’ll get is Stranger Things: a 1970s ensemble drama, but we don’t have the bikes.
BCP: How did the pair of you wind up working together on the series, and what has the collaboration process been like between you so far?
STEVE NILES: I saw Alison’s art online and knew I had to work with her. She has an incredible style and she was willing to illustrate every little bit of horror from the script. She’s not afraid of anything, and I was really glad about that. She’s been working her butt off on the art and the additional content. She really took charge of the art direction of the comic and I’m grateful for that.
ALISON: I asked to work with Steve right at the point that someone recommended me to work with him. Steve scripts have been great and- you’ll see when you see the book- the compliment he has paid my work with his use of dialogue (or lack of it). I also went out to see him and Monica and Gil at their house in the desert and they showed me the places where the book is set, and that helped.
BCP: Tell us a little bit about the family at the heart of the series. Aside from having the *worst* taste in vacation destinations, what’s their story?
ALISON: They are us, essentially. A mixed race, newly married couple from one of the Northern US cities, in their holiday clothes and looking to let their hair down. Chrissie is Chinese American, does a bit of singing, likes denim and has with her her son from a previous marriage, Bobby. Dan is the new husband. He’s a bit of a mystery, but he and Bobby are getting to know each other and it’s OK so far. Mostly. This is the family’s first holiday together and maybe one of the last before Bobby becomes a full teenager and perhaps doesn’t want to go.
BCP: The first issue feels like a wonderful blend of a lot of different horror movies and subsets of horror. Did the pair of you have any specific inspirations that you tapped into when you were putting it together?
ALISON: Not as much as you might think. It is mostly made up- there’s a lot of specific things I have to illustrate and beyond that there wasn’t a lot of space to add things that might be from other sources. I am very au fait with Winnebago Industries’ extensive archive, though. And my Biology A-level had to be dusted off. I also made a pinterest page which has been secret, but is here.
STEVE: The setting, for sure. I took tons of photos for Alison of the area I live in, which is out in the desert about an hour outside of Los Angeles. I really wanted her to get a feel for a creepy desert town. She flew out and took more photos herself and she really nailed it on the atmosphere.
BCP: Did you have a particular target audience in mind when you were making this one?
STEVE: I didn’t think about the audience, I kind of start off writing stories about what scares the hell out of me and hopefully readers feel it, too. I write kids in a lot of my books because I never really grew up when it comes to horror. I wrote this story as a tribute to the satanic cult movies of the 1960s -1970s, which I mainly saw when I was a child, so they hold a special place in my heart.
ALISON: I wanted this to be like the horror books I’d get from the library van and read as a kid. One that made a big impression of me was James Herbert’s The Rats, which I read when I was about 11. At some point, a child might read their first adult horror book. This might be it. Hopefully it will not be niche to just horror fans, but like The Rats, be a bit of a gateway book.
BCP: Steve, you’ve obviously made quite a career out of it – and Alison, you’re definitely off to one hell of a start – but what would you guys say the key was to creating impactful cookbook horror? Obviously without the musical cues and jump-scares of TV shows and movies, you have to be a little more creative.
STEVE: I spent more time reading comics and living inside of them as a kid, it’s where the imagination really takes off. It’s all about finding a connection to the characters, and falling into the comic, the look, the mood, the story.
ALISON: The great thing about comics is you can do anything on the page, so I try and use the space we’ve been given to add to the story in any way I can.
BCP: Alison, what kind of changes, if any, have you made to your existing artistic style to fit in with the tone of the series?
ALISON: I don’t really have a style- I try and answer the question that the script asks me first and foremost, so technically the answer to this is ‘no change’. Winnebago Graveyard is an extremely narrative book, though, and with that, and the large amount of vehicles, many of them brick shaped, I’ve needed to pull out a few new tools. There really is no hiding place with RVs and art.
BCP: One of the things I found most striking about the first issue was the colour work of Stephane Paitreau. How hands-on were the pair of you in helping to establish the distinctive palette of the book?
STEVE: That was all Alison, and she made a great choice. The color is incredible, and perfect with the art and the whole atmosphere of the story.
ALISON: His work is great, isn’t it? I went through Stef’s back catalogue and identified some of my favourite things about his work. Stef went through my previous work where it had been colored and developed a style to suit. He has a lot of experience, so my art direction is pretty much all about explaining what we are trying to achieve. I’ve included a page with these words, which corresponds to the preview pages, so you can see what that was. What is also nice is that Stef has grown into the work and I think is refining his technique and getting better as we go along.
BCP: Hopefully not to the same extent as the series, but do the pair of you have any vacation horror stories that you’d like to share, occult-themed or otherwise?
STEVE: Every vacation my family went on when I was a kid was horrible. None of us wanted to be there, so I think that rings kind of true for the family in the book. I don’t really remember anything scary happening for sure, it was just torment more than anything.
ALISON: We have a campervan which we like to take trips in. Probably our worst stop was a place by a lough in Ireland, which was an inspiration for this book. I don’t want to say more as I don’t really like to think about it, but we were not there for longer than 20 minutes. It really was full of dead things and we just fled.
BCP: And finally, if you could say one thing to a reader who was perhaps on the fence about picking Winnebago Graveyard up to help convince them to give it a try, what would it be?
ALISON: Our book is about real people and what happens when they are put under strain? It’s a great story, and as well as all that we’ve added in a big chunk of specially commissioned back matter, which you’ll want to see. Who is the monster? Who lives? Who dies? Who lives, then dies then lives then dies? You’ll want to know.
WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 goes on sale in print and digital on the 14th of June. The series is rated is T+ and the price is $3.99, with 32 pages of content, no ads.