The following is an interview with Sandy King Carpenter, Joe Harris, and Cat Staggs regarding the comic book series, John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Surviving A Nuclear Attack, from Storm King Comics. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with the team about the inspiration behind the series, the creative process of bring the series to life, what they hope that audiences will take away from the story, how you can purchase a copy, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of the miniseries, John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Surviving a Nuclear Attack! As the fifth series in the Tales of Science Fiction story, what inspired this latest iteration?
Joe Harris: I think I first got the inkling of an idea for Surviving a Nuclear Attack after discovering a pamphlet distributed by the United States Civil Defense Department in the 1950s entitled, Survival Under Atomic Attack, which was a “how-to” guide on what to do in the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union… how to maintain a fallout shelter, how to best survive in the minutes, hours and weeks after a strike, etc. I’d found an old copy of this publication on eBay years ago and, flipping through it, I was struck by how “reassuring” a tone this thing sought to instill in folks who, I have to believe, were getting more and more freaked out by the Cold War, the nuclear testing, the proxy confrontations with the communists in Southeast Asia, Central America, and on and on. Propaganda is a powerful, tested communications tool, and America has been a nation afraid for decades now. Some of our greatest moments have been inspired by existential fear; from our World War II transformation from an isolationist country finally urged into action following a Japanese attack to a super-power… through the space race we essentially won once Americans were suitably afraid that the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite portended atomic bombs dropped on the United States… to the threat of terrorists slamming airplanes into buildings and bringing the American way of life under attack… to this idea that our sovereignty and character are being subverted by brown folks seeking asylum at our southern border while the plutocrats making policy in the White House funnel more and more of American wealth up the food chain. SNA concerns an artifact of the Cold War and an experiment conducted by Americans on Americans. The treat of nuclear war isn’t really a means used to scare the population toward something anymore, but the mechanisms of control underneath the experiment conducted and explored in this story are timeless and (I hope) will illustrate how weak men are as susceptible to manipulations based on their fears and failings as they ever were.
Cat Staggs: Like Joe, growing up during the second half of the cold war, this is a subject matter that I have a great interest in. Given our current political climate, even more so. The use of fear as a tactic of manipulation isn’t necessarily new but has been incredibly prominent in our culture and getting to explore that though this story was something I feel was both interesting and important. You cannot overcome or prevent these things from being used against you if you don’t understand the mechanism in which they are used.
Sandy King Carpenter: When Joe Harris says he has a good idea for a sci-fi story, a smart person listens. When she hears the idea and it’s good, only an idiot doesn’t follow through.
BD: The miniseries successfully navigates multiple genres with ease, including sci-fi, horror, and mystery. How do you feel that the story embodies all of these genres so seamlessly, and what do you hope that readers will take away from the series?
JH: Trapping a group of people in a small space is a classic horror setup. As soon as the door which locks these characters inside a Cold War-era fallout shelter closes shut, I’m already anticipating that the issues these people bring down into the dark with them will split them apart and provide for the scariest moments no matter what else they experience in this strange, confined environment. There’s lots to be afraid of in the dark, locked bunker. But what I don’t think people will expect is the nature of this experiment these guys have walked right into and how applicable it still feels so many decades removed from the threat of atomic annihilation.
BD: How did you come to work together on A Nuclear Attack, and how would you describe your working creative process in bringing the series to life?
JH: I’d been contributing stories to the annual John Carpenter’s Tales For a Halloween Night title, and Sandy invited me to pitch her some ideas for the sci-fi book once that was ramping up. Cat Staggs and I are friends who’ve been commiserating over politics and the state of the nation for a long time, and I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, so it was an easy pairing once her schedule opened up. I can only speak for myself, process-wise, but I tend to write really detailed scripts which I’m entirely open to re-imagining once my collaborator gets into things. It’s a dynamic process. I edit text and add/remove dialogue and exposition based on what the art says to me as it comes in. The opportunity to tell these kinds of genre stories under a banner like Storm King’s is inspirational.
CS: I have been a fan of Joe’s work both in film and comics. He had discussed this series with me, and I thought it sounded like a fantastic project. With how much our political discussions have brought us together this story seemed like a natural fit. I, too, had worked on John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night, so when Sandy approached me with the team up, I was all in.
SKC: Joe writes, Cat draws, Janice letters, and Sean wraps it all up in a bow, meaning he gets it proofread by all of us and to the printers and distributor and out you and I say WOW. There’s a lot of proofing and fine tuning and correcting between what Joe writes and WOW, but that’s the basic idea.
BD: Cat, did you have a specific art style in mind when you first read the concept for A Nuclear Attack, or do you feel that your design evolved over time after working through the script with Joe, Sandy, and the team?
CS: Not a particular style per se. After reading the script, I knew I wanted to use certain things to help convey the tension once we get into the shelter. For example, I wanted to make sure the inherent claustrophobia of such a confined space came through on the page. Heavy shadows and somewhat tight panels to bring the walls in around them. There is a lot of the unseen threat, which for me is way scarier than the jump out monster.
BD: Sandy, with each new storyline with the Tales of Science Fiction series, are there any genres or other avenues that have yet to be tackled that you hope to approach?
SKC: So far, the challenge has been to balance between terra firma and outer space to keep shaking things up. I also want to be sure we’re pushing the intellectual side of the equation and push to expand the notion of what constitutes science fiction as we venture into AI and other forms of science in reality.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JH: I don’t think I can reveal any specifics on what’s next for me yet but… more creator-owned horror comics along with a number of original audio projects I’ve been shepherding along, both horror and science fiction.
CS: I am also working on a handful of creator-owned projects in a number of genres that I will jump on at the completion of this series, along with more John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night coming this fall.
SKC: Storm King is going to be launching a new all-ages division called Storm Kids which will feature writers like Steve Niles and Louise Simonson with horror and sci-fi for kids 10 and up. Great writing and art consistent with our brand but for a younger audience.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Surviving a Nuclear Attack, Storm King Productions, and your other work?
JH: I’m @joeharris on Twitter and pretty findable on other platforms along with my website: joeharris.net.
CS: I’m @CatStaggs on Twitter and @catstaggsofficial on Instagram, and my website is www.catstaggs.com.
SKC: For updates on what’s new at Storm King, we are on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. At SDCC, we’ll also be on Snapchat with ongoing announcements of signings and giveaways and panels.