Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler Talk Body Horror, Pushing Boundaries and COME INTO ME [Interview]
COME INTO ME, a sci-fi horror series from writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, featuring artwork from Piotr Kowalski, was one of our unquestioned favourite titles from 2018. And while we’ve been waiting with baited breath for the eventual trade paperback release of the four-part Black Mask Studios series ever since, it’s now starting to seem like that might not end up happening after all.
However, we firmly believe that this series deserves to be on the radar of as many people as possible, and with the single issues available on ComiXology, we figured now would be a great time to publish an interview we were able to carry out a while back with Zac and Lonnie, breaking down the themes and inspirations of the critically acclaimed series.
BIG COMIC PAGE: For those of our readers who missed out on the series when it first went on sale, can you give us a brief introduction to COME INTO ME?
LONNIE NADLER: It’s a sci fi horror story that follows a detached entrepreneur who’s invented a piece of biotechnology that allows two users to share on body for a limited period of time. When he personally begins pushing the limitations of the technology, it has rather disastrous effects on the body and mind. From there, it slowly descends into a world of surreal madness and flowing memories. Among other things, it functions as a commentary on the way we currently engage with technology, other people, and how we share through online media.
ZAC THOMPSON: Lonnie pretty much nailed it. The only thing I’ll really add is that there are some themes of body image and our delicate relationship to the way we think and feel about the big sacks of flesh that carry us around. It’s about the baggage that gets stored deep in your memory from insecurities and what happens when you share those things with the wrong person. Also, I know the title and the covers are salacious as hell but we swear it’s not as bad as you think… at least in the beginning.
BCP: Having recently revisited THE DREGS, I’ve got to say it was pretty dark, but the writing on COME INTO ME is on a whole other level of disturbing. Was this a conscious effort to push the boundaries or did it just develop naturally with the story?
ZAC: I think Lonnie and I operate best when we’re trying to push ourselves on every page in every way. Come Into Me was an exercise in building surreal recurring imagery and messing with voiceover and dialogue as much as we could. Originally this was the book we wanted to do first… I tell this story all the time so I’ll spare the details. But I’m really happy we didn’t because it allowed us to take everything we learnt in doing The Dregs and building on the shoulders of that. Matt Pizzolo who runs Black Mask made it clear that after The Dregs we pretty much hard carte blanche to print whatever crazy shit we wanted. At every turn we tried to push it too far and there was nothing but support. But… calling it Come Into Me could have been a mistake.
LONNIE: It’s interesting that you bring up The Dregs in that light because for Zac and I that book isn’t all that dark. There are disturbing elements, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a subtle hopefulness to parts of it. The Dregs also gets chalked up as a horror book all the time, but it’s not a horror book to us. There’s a melding of genres, but to us it was mostly a surreal crime story with strong roots in film noir and early detective fiction that looked at a very real part of contemporary society. With Come Into Me, however, we actively wanted to tell a horror story. This was our first real attempt as a writing team to scare people and get under their skin. We wanted to concoct a slow burning genre narrative that builds and builds on repeated unsettling images. We absolutely aimed to unnerve readers this time because it felt right for the story and the themes we were trying to communicate. A lot of our favorite horror movies and books aren’t the gore fests, but those that create a mood that you can’t shake, and force you to confront aspects of yourself you aren’t comfortable thinking about.
BCP: The overwhelming comments I’ve heard, and used myself several times is that COME INTO ME is the bastard child of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, and Black Mask also cites Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind as an influence. Would you agree/ are you happy with that comparison?
LONNIE: To be honest I don’t think there are any other writers or filmmakers whose work I would rather be compared to. Not that Zac and I ever want to be perceived as derivative or simply employ other artists’ styles, but those are two people who have influenced me immensely over the course of my life. I view “The Davids” (as I call them) as some of the most important storytellers of the modern era, period. I’m not just talking about horror. They are masters of drama but neither of them adhere to traditional structures or themes or tropes, and because of their desire to experiment and go beyond the ordinary, their works take on a uncanny sense of originality. Zac and I strive to give readers experiences they can’t get elsewhere, and both Lynch and Cronenberg were hugely important when we were developing this story, almost five years ago.
Very early on in our relationship Zac and I discovered a shared love for Cronenberg and Come Into Me was born out of that love in a lot of ways. We wanted to make a book that felt like it fit with his early body of work, but also one that spoke to more modern ideas and fears. We love how ahead of their times films like Videodrome and The Fly are, and had this urge to attempt something similar, that explored the relationship between bodies and technology, but in a fresh way.
ZAC: Yeah, you absolutely understood what we were trying to achieve with the book. As Lonnie mentioned we strive to give readers an experience they can only get in comic books. I believe both Cronenberg and Lynch do the same with film. We wanted to embody that commitment to experimenting with the medium and also not spend a spare moment holding the audience’s hand. We tried a lot of new things in our writing and resisted the impulse to explain everything clearly and just have it exist matter of fact, like both Cronenberg and Lynch’s work. Beyond the mechanics of how we approached the book, we also wanted to have a conversation with someone like Cronenberg. I think of most of my work in that way – a conversation with someone I admire. It allows a sort of mutual understanding of what your trying to achieve and allows you to explore themes that you believe would be important to the person you admire. Like Lonnie said, we wanted to make a body horror book that felt at home within the 1970’s but explored modern themes of oversharing and social media in a way that felt timeless and unspecific. There are no Facebook posts, Twitter moments or anything of the sort here and yet the whole allegory works because it focuses on deeply human fears and insecurities associated with using social media.
BCP: Obviously this isn’t the first time you guys have worked together. How different is your process between working on creator owned projects and things like the work you’ve done for Marvel. Do you find working on one comes easier than the other?
ZAC: I always liken doing licensed work to being in a sandbox with a pre-set group of toys and with walls all around it. You work within the boundaries you’re given and you can have a lot of fun, you can really push characters you’ve loved to new places and see them grow. Though you often can’t bring any finality to the stories you tell there, it becomes an interest exercise in working within or outside tradition to tell the most interesting story for that character at the time you’re telling it.
Creator owned comics allow you to build your own world with it’s own set of rules and it’s own original characters. There’s absolutely nothing like it, it’s incredibly freeing and absolutely terrifying in its own special way but I wouldn’t trade anything for it. Making indie comics allows so much creative control and allows you to create a wholly unique thing in only your voice. Or at least that’s been my experience so far. So it becomes this really beautiful extension of your personality in a weird way, creator owned comics often come from a place where someone really passionately cares about the thing they’re trying to bring you.
LONNIE: I think our processes are similar and at the same time very different when we do creator owned versus property work. We always start off with a lot of research and planning and those aspects are largely the same for both. But where they start to really differ is in the execution of the actual writing. Property work, more often than not, happens very fast. We have to push ourselves to get scripts done quicker than we’d like and we don’t usually have the same freedom to experiment with page layouts and such. It’s mostly a matter of being kind to the artists who are on crazy deadlines and understanding that it’s a different audience for property-based projects. While I’d love to see David Lynch directing Marvel movies, that’s never going to happen and it’s not what most people want. It’s the same with comics. It’s also tough to ask readers looking for superhero stories to be on board for something very experimental. We have to keep that in mind to some degree. With creator owned work, Zac and I tend to take more time per page because we like to think about every detail and how to best convey the emotions of a scene. In short, we tend to direct our creator owned books more. With that said, I think doing property work has taught both of us a lot because of how relentless it can be. Some weeks you don’t have any choice but to write 20 or 30 pages. It pushes us to be at the top of our game at all times.
BCP: The artwork from Piotr Kowalski & Niko Guardia has been incredible throughout, how much input did you have on what they created?
LONNIE: Those two are a dream team. Piotr is a maniac when i comes to detail in his work and so a lot of the richness in the world comes from him. We pack our scripts with background elements and location design choices, and Piotr not only nails it, but augments what’s on the page. He has a real sense for mood and tone. He knows exactly when and how to create a sense of dread and we feel very fortunate to work with a veteran of the genre like that. Piotr is a rare artist who seems to love getting a lot of direction and that just works perfectly with the way Zac and I like to script. Niko has also been invaluable. We often say, “Niko is our secret weapon”. From his previous work we knew he could capture this late 70s, early 80s film look we were going for with neon colors and such, but he really took to that and adds so many layers to each page.
We also knew we had to distinguish the memory scenes in a way that was meaningful, that we hadn’t seen before so we suggest this blurring effect, but Niko made it feel like it was an irrevocable part of the book’s aesthetic. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Ryan Ferrier, who letters the book. I seriously think the book would be incomprehensible without his ideas for clearly indicating who is talking. It’s something Zac and I barely considered but Ryan is such a pro that he intuited this as a possible struggle for readers and gave us a beautiful solution.
ZAC: Truly, working with Piotr and Niko has been a dream come true. Piotr is an incredibly talented artist with whom we feel lucky to collaborate. We’ve been fans of his work for years and really didn’t imagine a world where he’d agree to do this book. He’s taken our incredibly dense scripts and really maps out what this world will look like in great detail. He leans into the things that he finds important and also collaborated deeply on what he’d like to bring to the story. So it’s never just a 1:1 recreation of what we have on the page. He’s always finding new ways to surprise us. This book wouldn’t be the same without his horrifying attention to detail.
Niko is one hundred percent a phenomenal artist in his own right. He’s in animation and makes music videos for bands in his spare time, and somehow found time to colour this fucking crazy book. Niko’s visual style has added so much to Come Into Me, because again his attention to detail is something that can be felt in every panel. The digital blurs and colour choices in memory were all Niko’s adept skills and the eerie glow on every page, he really gives Piotr’s art this unsettling feeling that I don’t think you see in many other comics.
And yes, Ryan! We literally threw everything we could at the dude and he nailed it. This book should have been a nightmare to letter (maybe it was I’m sorry) but Ryan made it clear and easy to follow on every page. Which is a great relief because scripting some of the dialogue in this book made my brain melt… so I’m still trying to figure out how he made it so easy.
BCP: I realise you’ve painted a less than rosey picture of the technology Sebastian has created but if you had the chance would you use it and who with?
ZAC: I’m a over sharer and there’s no way I’d use it. I have an overwhelming phobia of syringes or anything like that entering my body. Moreover, I am terrified of interfacing my body with technology in any way shape and form. No thank you.
LONNIE: I would stay far away from any technology that is directly trying to interface with my biology. That’s a line I won’t cross. It feels too invasive. It would throw me into an existential crisis. I’m a believer in Marshall McLuhan’s idea that all technology is merely an extension of the body, but an “extension of” is very different than becoming “part of”. I say this now, but thirty years from now I’ll probably be the guy walking down the street with intelligence boosting neural chips implanted in the base of my skull.
BCP: And finally, what would you each say to someone who was on the shelf about picking this one up to convince them to give it a try?
LONNIE: If you’re looking for a horror story that steps outside the traditional realms of genre and away from the supernatural, zombies, and vampire, this is the book for you. It’s a bizarre body horror book that holds a dark mirror up to our society and asks uncomfortable questions about the way we live, who we share information with, and the importance of our physical forms in the digital age.
ZAC: Come Into Me isn’t as salacious as it looks and if you’re brave enough to try it out you might learn something about yourself in the process. It’s a mediation on body image, the information age and how we represent ourselves in media. Like any good body horror, it’ll burrow into you long after you’ve finished the last page. That’s when the real horror starts…
All four issues of COME INTO ME are available right now on ComiXology.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek
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