The Master of Horror John Carpenter and wife Sandy King Carpenter started Storm King Comics back in 2015. At this year’s New York Comic-Con this weekend, Storm King took over booth 2304 on the show floor with full displays of their catalogue. They featured their Halloween anthology series John Carpenter’s Tales For a HalloweeNight, which just released Vol. 3, and their new monthly sci-fi series, John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction. Sandy King Carpenter was there along with several writers and artists from the books, one amongst them was James Ninness. He has stories in each of the three HalloweeNight books as well as being the featured author for the first 3-part tale in the sci-fi anthology, an outer space thriller, Vault. Ninness took some time to talk to me about working with Storm King, his process, and what’s next for him.
James Ninness: So what’s going on, man?
Geeks of Doom: Nothing much, it’s crazy here. It’s cool to see the entire collection, I think I’ve read everything Storm King has put out, except HalloweeNight 2, I didn’t get that one.
James Ninness: What? That’s got my favorite story in there. We’ll have to get you a copy.
Geeks of Doom: The other night, I opened my digital copy of Vol. 3 and figured I’d skim through it, and an hour later I had read the whole issue.
James Ninness: It’s a fun format, because you read it and if you get sick of something or tired of a certain thing, boom, you get something new.
Geeks of Doom: I grew up loving short stories. As a comics writer, you’re confined to smaller page numbers. What kind of short fiction did you read growing up?
James Ninness: The first thing I remember especially in the horror genre were the Scary Stories books. All three of those, they’re brilliant. I remember reading those as a kid and I couldn’t read more than one because I’d freak out. But then as got older and I wanted to become a writer and I went to school; in college when you join a creative writing program they put you in one of three buckets. It’s either poetry, novels, or short stories. Turns out I’m real sh*t at poetry, I suck at it. And turns out novel writing is great, if you have the patience. I ended up doing short stories. No one told me though that nobody pays you for short stories at all. That’s about the time I found comics, because I realized in comics, you could get paid for short stories if you find someone to draw them.
Geeks of Doom: What’s that collaboration like? As the comic book writer, do you have a vision and relay it to the artist, or does the artist get an outline of the story. How’s that collaboration work?
James Ninness: Usually it depends on the artist. Like I can tell you for Vault, with Andres [Esparza] and Sergio [Martinez], they got a first draft of the script and before they started drawing it, I did two more drafts, because I wanted their feedback and their notes. I wanted to know if the pacing was off, I wanted to know what they thought. How do they like to draw and adapt it? Then I rewrote the script around their sensibilities. Because really in my mind, I think your script should be a love letter to your artist, something that inspires them to want to draw. You can tell when someone is drawing for a paycheck and when they’re drawing because they’re excited. You can see it. I want to write for whoever is drawing the book. I want collaboration the entire way through. And that includes the letterer; I’ll let them look through the script before the art starts. I want the whole team in on it from the beginning, I think it makes for an infinitely better book.
Geeks of Doom: I remember when we previously spoke, you noted your influences for Vault. I particularly like the character of Nguyen.
James Ninness: I based him off the doctor from the Jurassic Park books, the guy who is very logic-driven, has a very sterile thought process, and does what needs to be done.
Geeks of Doom: Moving over to Tales For a HalloweeNight Vol. 3, “True North” was your contribution. That was a weird one, what got you thinking about that?
James Ninness: It’s super weird. I’m on social media a lot and one of the things I wanted to write about was the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. And that story came from that. I see a lot of people, especially on social media, but in real life too, who are trying to be the good guys but end up creating more problems than useful solutions. That was the story I wanted to tell. I wanted it to be a white male trying to solve a woman’s problems and end up f*cking stuff up more than making things right. Once you get that frame it clicks. He’s so laser-focused on this murder, but in the background you can see the ghosts from the beginning and the impact they have on the greater world. So you get this guy, and he gets tunnel vision on solving this murder without paying attention to the bigger picture. That’s a message I think a lot of people should pay attention to, that maybe we should think about what’s better for everyone. I don’t like to blast you over the head with the political stuff, but I do have things I want to say. The second Tales book is about the evils of consumerism, but I didn’t want to come out and be totally anti-Disney or anti-big corporation. The first and third books are really about the law of unintended consequences. I don’t want to beat you over the head, but at the same time if you want the message, it’s there for you to unpack. You want a detective story, you got your detective story. If you want more, if you want to reread it a few times and dig deeper, you can do that too.
Geeks of Doom: How long have you been working with Storm King, and with Sandy and John?
James Ninness: This is the third year, since 2015. I started with Tales For a HalloweeNight Vol. 1 and then Vol. 2, then Vault, then Vol. 3 of HalloweeNight.
Geeks of Doom: Sandy mentioned that they have stories for three years for Tales of Science Fiction. You have more in that series?
James Ninness: Not in that series, we’re talking about other. Whispers in dark corners.
Geeks of Doom: Is Tales For a HalloweeNight going to continue being an annual thing?
James Ninness: Oh yeah, I’m pretty sure they’re gonna do that forever. And they already have years’ worth of stories, because I know every time we go to a show, more incredibly talented writers, artists, inkers, letterers, colorists come up and ask to get involved. It feels like every year their wish list gets shorter. The talent that wants to get involved exceeds the space we have in the books.
Geeks of Doom: It makes sense though. You get your name attached to something with John Carpenter, so there’s a huge drawing card.
James Ninness: Oh, huge. I think there’s a big audience out there, because when you first saw the John Carpenter brand, it was movies. People are figuring it out, that Storm King is actually putting out quality books and they take care of the creators, and they’re fun. And they’re professional, they pay you on time for the work you do, it’s amazing. The more that gets out, the more great writers want to come and work with them. I mean, you talked to Sandy, it’s easy to see why you’d want to hang out with her.
Geeks of Doom: It’s funny because when we spoke, we talked about Halloween III and it’s original intentions. John Carpenter it feels always wanted to do anthology horror, he did Body Bags also. Now with comics and these collections he can tell those shorter stories.
James Ninness: Yeah man, short stories are always hard to write because you have to hook the audience and get them to care, and then finish the story in such a brief amount of time. It’s not an easy thing to do. The fact that they’ve been able to put out three volumes of [HalloweeNight] and it’s doing well, and winning the awards — it’s winning and getting the praise it’s getting. It’s amazing. So far, so good.
Geeks of Doom: And business has been good here at NYCC?
James Ninness: Today has been great, I heard yesterday was really good too. And you know look, we’ve got writers here, artists here just hanging out. This is Storm King. We’re like a family, we all hang out, no one wants to leave.
Anyone who is a fan of horror and sci-fi needs to get on the Storm King bandwagon. These are not upstarts in the genre. This is company with John Carpenter’s name attached and they are putting out consistently great genre books. James Ninness is one of their constant collaborators, and is a totally cool guy with a lot of interesting things to say in his work. Vault Vol. 1 – 3 are all available now as are Tales For a HalloweeNight Vol. 1 – 3. Go to stormkingproductions.com and check out their online store. And keep it here to Geeks of Doom for more coverage on the Storm King brand moving forward.
[Photos by Dr. Zaius for Geeks Of Doom.]
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