The following is an interview with the comic book writer/artist team of Jeremy W. Kaufmann and Star St. Germain, who will be contributing their short story, “The Jack,” to the upcoming horror-themed anthology Skin Crawling Comics. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Kaufmann and St. Germain about their introduction to the horror anthology, what inspired their short story, and where you can find more of their work.
This interview was conducted on August 28, 2013.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You are both currently working on the horror short story “The Jack,” which will be included in the upcoming horror anthology Skin Crawling Comics. What drew each of you to work on the anthology?
Jeremy W. Kaufmann: I’m really into horror and exploitation, but I have serious issues with the way these kinds of works are depicted in western works, especially comics. I’m very interested in the way women are depicted in pop culture, and I wanted to work on an anthology that would give me room to explore my ideas without forcing me to adhere to the traditional, frankly sexist ideal.
Star St. Germain: To be honest, I’m not a hardcore horror fan. Slasher films, gore, zombies — none of that stuff on its own has ever really done it for me. But, I am into psychological thrillers, and other dark themes, and when Jeremy told me about this character, I thought I could really do something interesting with it.
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?
JK: We chose to work together. Star and I have known each other for years, and she’s one my closest friends. I wanted to work with Star on this project, because I like and respect her work and I knew she would give my script the life and beauty I wanted.
SSG: I was really stoked on Jeremy’s concept for this story, so I was thrilled that he asked me to work with him! That and we’ve known each other forever, so it was really easy to work with him on it.
BD: Jeremy, as the writer, what inspired you to tell this story, and what can you tell us about the premise?
JK: Film, and its close relative comics, tell stories by showing you a series of images. Both mediums constrain your view so that you see characters locked within a frame. Even if you have a big, two-page splash, what you have is still locked within the frame that is those two pages. Feminist film critic Laura Mulvey noted in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema that film depicts women differently than men; men are introduced into the full frame entirely, where women are introduced by chopped up images of their body parts. Hitchcock’s movies are the classic example: You see a woman’s feet, then her thighs, and so on. Sometimes, the camera pans up, but more often her body is depicted as a series of cuts. It goes beyond breaking up a woman’s body into chunks, though. Women are posed in sexual positions even when doing nothing sexual at all. She tied this observation to the Freudian concept of scopophilia (i.e.: a voyeuristic sexual pleasure in looking). I realized almost immediately that this also applies to comics.
For years, I’ve tried to avoid doing this in my work. You can draw a woman dressed non-provocatively but still sexualize her by her posing and the way her body is framed. It is not about being a prude; it is about not turning women into props. It is about treating them as equal participants in a story. There are appropriate times for sexy pictures, but it shouldn’t be most women in most stories most of the time. I seriously read comics where women are thrusting their hips up and showing off cleavage while crying over the death of a small child. There has been tension in some of the comics I’ve written between the way I wrote women and the way they were drawn, so I decided to take a more radical approach. There’s no chance of readers trying to leer at this protagonist because they are her.
Here’s Mulvey’s essay.
BD: What impact do you hope that “The Jack” will have on readers?
JK: The Jack is meant to be an inversion of the male gaze outright. The comic is told 100% from a first-person perspective. The reader views the whole story from the perspective of its female protagonist. It’s impossible for the reader to objectify women, because they are viewing the world through a woman’s eyes and there are no other women to look at. It also is kind of an attempt to force the reader to identify with an unconventional protagonist: a female serial killer. But, this is not a formalistic exercise designed to remove the pleasure of looking. Instead, we are reversing the situation. When you read our comic, you are a woman looking at and preying upon men. This is not something you get from comics generally or even pop culture in general. We’re hoping to provide a unique comics reading experience.
SSG: I thought Jeremy’s idea of flipping the whole gender stereotype on its head was something I hadn’t seen done in this particular way. The only other first-person female piece of this sort I can think of is the 1997 music video for Prodigy’s “Smack My B—h Up;” however, I wouldn’t say they’re all that similar, as the Prodigy video goes to lengths to obscure the gender of the main character throughout. It also features a great deal of female nudity and objectification, which helps sell the “twist” at the end where the character’s gender is revealed. Our piece is different in that we don’t hide that our killer is female, and also she is exclusively objectifying men. That’s something I’ve never seen before, and I hope our readers haven’t either.
BD: Star, 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?
SSG: I definitely wanted to skew the style away from blood and guts and push it more towards traditional medical illustration. I’ve always worked in a very photorealistic style, so I knew I needed all the murder scenes to be true to that, without having it look too gross.
I did make a few modifications to what Jeremy initially wrote, mainly changing the method of our character’s kills to more closely match the actual Jack the Ripper murders.
I also did a very specific thing with the framing of the last 2 pages, where I changed both, so that they’d be basically the same shot twice — first with our victim alive, and then on the next page dead. This wasn’t in the script at all, and I had to heavily modify the breakdown to make it work, but I’m super happy with how it came out, and also grateful that Jeremy let me run with it.
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?
SSG: I prefer to work 100% digital. For this piece, I did the whole thing in Photoshop with a Wacom Cintiq. I shot some photo reference for this piece and also referenced some of Jeremy’s photos from Detroit, where the piece is set. Anything I didn’t have reference for was just freehanded straight in Photoshop.
BD: Will “The Jack” be appropriate for readers of all ages, and would you recommend the story for both casual and hard-core horror fans?
JK: Well, I probably wouldn’t give this comic to a five year old, but I’m positive I would have enjoyed it as a teenager. I think casual horror fans will find our wildly different take on Jack the Ripper refreshing, and I think hardcore fans will appreciate the creeping gloom of a predator on the prowl in a near-future Detroit.
SSG: Yeah, this is not for kids, as it’s got murder and prostitution themes going on. I think a more casual horror fan could get behind it as much as a hardcore one. Particularly since the more, let’s say icky parts, are drawn more like a page from Grey’s Anatomy.
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?
JK: Crowdsourcing is an amazing tool. While we have editors, we are allowed to challenge the conventional wisdom of the publishing world and cover new ground typically ignored because it is different. Horror as a genre of American comics was basically smothered in the 1950s by Fredric Wertham’s ludicrous pseudo-scientific Seduction of the Innocent book, and it is only just now starting to recover. And, while they are a few success stories (It’s impossible not to notice The Walking Dead.), recent American horror comics are largely regurgitating film, with all the stock plot elements and sexism that entails. Even though I went to film school, I’m not making comics because I can’t afford to make films, I’m making comics because I love comics. Our comic could not exist as a film. The visual style would not work, at all. And, if you change the visual style, you would ruin the entire point of the story. Crowdsourcing allows us to push forward the medium of comics without being beholden to traditional market forces.
However, Kickstarter, the leader in crowdsourcing, has been somewhat problematic, as the recent controversy over a “seduction guide” (some have called it a “rape manual”) shows. While Kickstarter says they don’t support this sort of activity, they funded the project anyway. We’re using Indiegogo instead, which I think is the smart move.
SSG: The funniest thing about that whole seduction manual thing was that the book had what looked like a hot girl on the cover, but upon further inspection, it turned out to be a mannequin. How hilarious that this master of seduction couldn’t even find a real girl to put on his book cover! Anyway, I’ve seen crowdsourcing allow for so many creators to get their work out, and it’s really helped usher in a whole new model for publication. I’ve been lucky to have been a part of one really successful comics crowdfunding effort (Womanthology), and I’m excited to see how it works for Skin Crawling!
BD: Are there any specific horror genre creators or projects (movies, books, comics, etc.) that have inspired your work?
JK: I’ve certainly read old American horror comics from creators like Wally Wood and more recent works like Swamp Thing and Night of the Living Dead: London, and you can probably count Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X, but, honestly, the American scene is still quite sickly compared to the huge breadth of material available from Japan. One of my favorite comics creators is Japanese. I’m talking about Go Nagai, creator of Mazinger Z and Devilman among other stories. While I would never call Go Nagai a feminist, his work pretty much ignores the conventions of horror movies and explores the extremes of the human animal in ways I have never seen American comics have the guts to try. Nagai’s ferocious disregard for convention is absolutely inspiring.
I also like Hideyuki Kikuchi (Wicked City, Demon City Hunter, Vampire Hunter D), especially when paired with Shinichi Hosoma. Out of the realm of horror comics, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira manga is also a big influence on me, along with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics from the ‘80s and early ‘90s with a special shout out to Michael Zulli (TMNT: Soul’s Winter, Puma Blues) and Sam Kieth (The Maxx, Wolverine: Blood Hungry). These stories basically all take place in grimy, ruined cities which always felt very familiar to me growing up in Michigan and watching Detroit decay. Of course, today I live in San Francisco, a thriving metropolis covered in garbage and human filth. It seeps into my work. Basically, none of these creators have done much to advance the lot of women in comics, but I really enjoy the old school Chris Claremont Ms. Marvel and X-Men stories and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s current Captain Marvel stories, so now superhero fans don’t have to hate me.
SSG: Like I said at the beginning, horror is really hit or miss for me.
I think the best horror comes from real experiences, where the artist uses the genre as a method of exaggerating an event from their life to match the way they felt when they experienced it.
I also prefer books to movies. I think the last thing I read that really scared me in a way I loved was House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, but most people probably wouldn’t call that horror.
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?
JK: My comic with Jeik Dion, Golden Gate Riot, was published last year by Front Froid out of Quebec, Canada. It’s a story about punk rock anarchist teenagers who wish they were revolutionaries in the real world, and an alternate timeline where they get their wish. If you like alternate history or have a Crass T-shirt, you will probably like this comic. Also, there’s power armor, because, face it, power armor is awesome.
SSG: You can check out my work in Comic Book Tattoo by Image Comics, Womanthology by IDW, and Girl Comics and Strange Tales by Marvel.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for readers to find out more about your work?
JK: You can read a lot of my comics on www.destroyallcomics.com. I post new stuff semi-regularly, along with original essays I write about comics. Also, you can check out my podcast on cult movies, TV, and animation at www.destroyallpodcasts.com. Star co-hosts sometimes, and Jeik has been on the show, too! So, have Gerald and Paul, for that matter! I’m also on Twitter at @whydoisay and Facebook.
SSG: Visit my website at www.thisisstar.com. You can also find me on most social networks as thisisstar.