Sandy King Carpenter never imagined getting into the world of graphic novels.
Sure, the Los Angeles-based writer and film and TV producer enjoyed comic books and appreciated the form’s artistry, but it wasn’t until a television pitch meeting about a dozen years ago that she seriously considered diving into that realm. On that day, Carpenter sat at a large table alongside her husband, “Halloween” director and composer John Carpenter, actor and screenwriter Thomas Ian Griffith across from a bunch of industry gatekeepers to share the idea for a proposed supernatural horror series called “Asylum.”
“All the signposts were there that told us we weren’t really going to go into production,” Carpenter said during a recent phone interview. “All it took was an assistant saying, ‘Well, it’s not like you’re matching to a graphic novel or anything.’”
It was the lightbulb moment.
The Carpenters and Griffith had provided storyboards, which illustrated scenes that looked similar to a comic book.
“I said, ‘As a matter of fact, we are,’” she recalled, adding that Griffith grew wide-eyed and kicked her under the table. “He was like, ‘What are you thinking?’ Well, we always do artwork to go in and pitch any project and I said, ‘It is a graphic novel; it is a comic book.’ So why fight it? They aren’t going to make this series the way we want to so, ‘Adios.’ We don’t need to do this, we’ll write a graphic novel.”
Now, a decade later, the Carpenters’ Storm King Comics is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first issue of “Asylum.” They’re also publishing a quartet of fall releases through its various imprints, including “Death Mask.”
That book, which hit stores Sept. 19, introduces Detective Sonia Maza, who is investigating what she believes to be a series of drug-related murders before realizing she’s dealing with a solo serial killer and female vigilante. Written by Amanda Deibert (“Darkwing Duck,” “DC Super Hero Girls”) and illustrated by Cat Staggs (“Wonder Woman,” “Smallville”), it’s the first title from the company’s true crime-focused imprint, Dark & Twisted.
“I told Amanda that I wanted a female Punisher,” Carpenter said, referencing the Marvel Comics vigilante character and noting that the idea for the story came from news articles about murders happening in Mexico. “So we get a real-life female superhero. There’s a touch of the fantastic in it, but it’s based on reality.”
A happy accident
“Asylum” never became a television show, but it went on to become a graphic novel series and the Carpenters’ introduction to the vast fandom in the comic book universe.
But they didn’t go in blindly.
Carpenter said there was about a two-year period of research where she learned the business of comics. As she met with various comic book publishers, she said she realized at the time that it was a boys club and it took “getting really pissed off” before she decided to start her own company. She recalled one meeting where she was told she needed to go to a movie studio to ask for money.
“It was kind of insulting,” she said. “They all wanted to make movies. I said, ‘No, we know how to make movies; I want to partner with a publisher to make comic books.’ It was just arrogance. I finally said, ‘Do you think I’m stupid because I’m a girl or do you think I’m stupid because I’m from movies? Which is it?’ I just thought, Well, I’ll learn how to write the damn thing and if I do that, what’s keeping me from publishing it? Nothing. Each step of the way, if you get mad enough, you just do it. You just make it happen.”
As for the writing, she credits comic book writer Bruce Jones (“The Incredible Hulk,” “Nightwing”) for helping her truly understand how to craft her words and edit for graphic novels.
“He’s an incredible comic book writer,” she said. “I brought him on because it’s one thing to say, ‘I know how to write a comic book because I read a lot of comic books.’ That’s like people saying, ‘I know how to make a movie because I watch a lot of movies.’ But you have to learn the art of the page turn and the structure. I learned so much from editing him. He was one of the greatest teachers I could have gone to for comics and there’s so much that you learn and it is a lot of fun.”
Her husband was also a comic book fan, especially of the horror stories of early EC Comics. The rest of the family followed suit: Sandy enjoyed the independent work in Image Comics and John’s son Cody, was into anything with the Silver Surfer. John’s godson was into anything with Venom or Spawn.
“John was the real ringleader in taking them to the comic shops wherever we were in the world,” she said, adding that she’s still delighted and devastated by anything written by Joe Hill, son of horror novelist Stephen King and author of the “Locke & Key” comic book series. Now, even the grandkids are into comics. “Comic books are still a ‘family thing.’ We have stacks of them all around the office. I can resist anything but temptation and there’s so many writers that I admire. Also so many that I try to hook into working for me.”
Horror for everyone
A few years ago, Storm King Comics debuted the John Carpenter Presents Storm Kids imprint, which publishes sci-fi and horror graphic novels for kids and YA readers. In 2021, the book “Stanley’s Ghost” was nominated for an Eisner Award in the best single issue category.
“Here I am, known for some really grisly stuff, and I get a nomination for a kid’s book,” Carpenter said with a laugh.
The latest from that imprint, “Stanley and the Haunted House,” was published on Sept. 13; written by Jeff Balke, it features artists Walter Carzon and Horacio Ottolini.
“I just wanted to have books that didn’t make parents want to blow their brains out after the 60th reading,” she said. “They’re clever and cute and the artists are very Disney-esque. I feel like we’ve made a mistake when everyone sanitizes fairy tales. Horror is an allegorical medium for processing our fears and kids need to be able to process their fears and handle life at all ages. By giving them that, you give them empowerment and you’re not trying to scare and traumatize them, you’re trying to give them problem-solving skills because you’re never going to be able to stop bad things from happening, it’s just how you deal with those bad things.”
The next chapters
On Oct. 10, Storm King Comics will release the ninth volume of “John Carpenter’s Tales for a HalloweeNight,” which brings together more than 20 stories by 13 writers and 24 artists. They’re also putting out the trade-paperback version of “The Envoy,” which is part of “John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction” series. It was written by David J. Schow and illustrated by Andres Esparza and tells the tale of two scientists racing to be the first to make contact with aliens.
Much like fans of the horror genre, comic book fans are a passionate bunch. Carpenter said that’s always in the back of her mind as she publishes these stories. She also enjoys the more immediate feedback on the art, as opposed to when she creates something for television or film.
“When you’re on the floor of a convention like Comic-Con, someone who follows a particular series or artist, they’ll pick up the book and they’ll hold it to their chest and hug it and get excited,” she said. “That’s when you know you have real fans of our approach to comics, because it is different. That’s why it’s fun to sit with my managing editor, Sean Sobczak, and we’re going, ‘OK where do we put the foil? Where are we going to put the secret glossing that reveals other images? What are we going to do to try to play with the fans and give them secret stuff?’”
“When you see them react like that, it’s like, ‘Wow, we did it,’” she continued. “You start to feel like you’re having the Sally Field moment of ‘You like me!’ That’s the fun of this. It’s not big on money-making, because it’s horribly expensive to put out and we’re just getting known enough to put the comics in the black, but it’s a fun way to communicate in a more immediate fashion with the fans of these stories.”
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