Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You are both currently working on the horror short story “Wesley,” which will be included in the upcoming horror anthology Skin Crawling Comics. What drew each of you to work on the anthology?
Sabrina James Riley: My friend Heather Royston (another author in the anthology) had worked with Rachel Pandich before and introduced me to Rachel when she decided to do an anthology. I sent Rachel a copy of my story and she was interested, and I was stoked.
Aaron Hazouri: I was drawn to work on this project out of a desire to do something different than my usual, more cartoony work. I wanted to add some more realistic work to my portfolio (well, as realistic as zombies get, anyway).
BD: How did you come to work together on this project? Was your artist/writer pair for the anthology assigned by the editor, or did you choose to work with one another?
SJR: Aaron and I met at the first meeting, and as soon as he showed me his sample art, I knew that he would be able to bring "Wesley" to life in the way I had envisioned it. When he said he would like to, I snagged him before anyone else could.
AH: Sabrina and I met at the initial pitch meeting for the project, and I was drawn to her story because one, it sounded like a unique take on the zombie genre; two, at the time I had very little experience working on a story from someone else's script; and three, honestly - it was short!
BD: Sabrina, I know that you are a big fan of the zombie genre. As the writer, what inspired you to tell this story, and what can you tell us about the premise?
SJR: "Wesley" is about what is going on in the mind of someone as they are making the transformation into a zombie, and how the cycle repeats itself in an epidemic. The biological aspects of an epidemic, whether it is zombies or any virus, has always fascinated me; how something can spread so quickly. I had initially published a full-length novel called The Loki Variation, which is about a zombie-like epidemic and a group of survivors who find each other. While writing it, I wondered if I should show the perspective of someone who is changing. It didn’t fit with the rest of the novel, but I decided to write it as a short story afterwards.
BD: As audiences crave more and more zombie tales, what makes “Wesley” a unique take on the genre?
SJR: It focuses less on the gore and survivors that most zombie stories hone in on, and more on the actual change itself and what is going through the mind, if anything, of the one who is changing and doing the awful things that zombies do. I wanted to make the reader relate to zombies. That sounds really weird, doesn’t it?
AH: I think "Wesley" is unique among zombie tales by virtue of the fact that it presents the zombie's POV. That and it's one of the few horror stories I've read where you don't know who to root for!
BD: Aaron, did you have an idea in mind for the art style when you first read the script, or has the artwork developed as you have worked on the project?
AH: I approached this project with a desire to emulate the art from classic Creepy and Eerie magazines, which I'd grown up reading since my dad was a big fan; we always had them around the house. (Other kids had Dr. Seuss, I guess.)
BD: Do you prefer working with a specific artistic medium (i.e.: pencils and ink, paint, charcoal, etc.), and what can you tell us about your artistic process for this project?
AH: I'm a fan of traditional line art with computer-aided finishing. So, I approached "Wesley" in much the same manner as the rest of my work - pencilled and inked on paper, and shaded in Photoshop.
BD: Will “Wesley” be appropriate for readers of all ages, and would you recommend the story for both casual and hard-core horror fans?
AH: I'll defer to Sabrina on this one - I would not call "Wesley" kid-friendly necessarily, but nothing in there even approaches the level of gore on The Walking Dead or even CSI.
SJR: I’ve had great responses from readers of all ages, including my own 9 year old. It isn’t heavy on the blood and gore, although it’s implied, and I think anyone will be able to relate to what is happening. I think casual horror fans will enjoy it since it is a creepy, little story, and the hard-core horror fans (like myself) will enjoy it because it goes a little deeper than the average horror story without becoming a drama.
BD: Skin Crawling Comics recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the production costs for a print run of the anthology. What encouraged you and the other creators on the project to use this specific fundraising method, and how has Indiegogo enabled you to provide further promotion of the project?
SJR: Rachel Pandich is the genius behind this one. As soon as it was suggested, I thought it was a great way to promote and raise funds. Indiegogo has turned out to be a very user-friendly method of raising money, adding perks, and sharing through different outlets.
AH: Rachel Pandich, the ringleader of this circus, made the final call on that one based on input from everybody. Indiegogo was the crowdfunding platform we felt most comfortable working with. Indiegogo gives us a place to show off art and story and also serves as a way to take pre-orders - a very handy link to share across social media platforms.
BD: Are there any specific horror genre creators or projects (movies, books, comics, etc.) that have inspired your work?
SJR: Definitely George Romero. "Wesley" is based on the classic, lumbering, single-minded zombies of the Romero era, and his story could be applied to any of the zombies you see in his films.
AH: My work on this project harkens back to the black-and-white, inkwash style art of old Creepy and Eerie magazines.
BD: Skin Crawling Comics is an independently produced project that features creators of all experience levels. As readers await the finished anthology, are there any other projects on which you have previously worked that you would recommend to our readers?
SJR: My zombie novel, The Loki Variation, may be interesting to some. It is a horror/thriller about another new twist on the zombie apocalypse genre and gives quite a few different perspectives, as well.
AH: I've self published my own comic book, The Strange Adventures of Toaster Guy, which is about as far removed from the horror genre as you can get. I've also worked on children's books, including Buddy and Bird, which is currently being developed as a comprehensive educational program for preschool-aged children.
BD: What impact do you hope that Skin Crawling Comics will have on today’s comic book industry and its readers?
SJR: I hope it will inspire other writers and artists to get out there and do their thing. In today’s industry, as a writer, you don’t have to follow the traditional methods of sending queries and sifting through rejection letters in order to be published; you can do it yourself with the knowledge and ambition. And, for every writer who has a great story, there is a great artist who can bring it to life.
AH: Personally, I hope Skin Crawling Comics will inspire more artists and writers to strike out on their own and put together anthologies featuring work by various artists and writers. I think the comics industry could use more unique work from less-familiar creators.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for readers to find out more about your work?
SJR: My Amazon page, www.amazon.com/Sabrina-James-Riley/e/B007731CPA.
AH: The best ways to find out about what I'm working on include Facebook (look for me or the Toaster Guy fan page), aaronhazouri.com, or toasterguy.com.