New York Comic-Con wrapped earlier this month and for the second straight year I was excited to hang out at booth 2304, with the crew from Storm King Comics, some of the very best in horror and genre fiction. John Carpenter is the Master of Horror, but he is a jack of all trades. Well known for his extensive filmography he has branched out into other mediums in recent years. His wife, producer and collaborator Sandy King Carpenter, founded Storm King Productions and in 2015, Storm King ventured into the world of comics and graphic novels with titles such as Asylum, and anthologies like Tales For a HalloweeNight and Tales of Science Fiction. The second story in John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction was Vortex, an 8-part saga dealing with hidden evils inside a space mining colony. I got a chance to share a couch with Mike Sizemore the author of Vortex, and discuss the comic book series, his inspirations, and working for Storm King.
Geeks of Doom: I’ll start with the generic question: Where did you get the inspiration for Vortex?
Mike Sizemore: That’s an easy one for this one because Sandy and John handed me three pages they had already worked on. I’ve worked with Sandy and John before on TV and film stuff and we always throw ideas around and this was one they thought was a good fit for me. They wanted to do it as a comic book. They had this idea of the mine, something happens, it’s not good, there are two characters involved in the mess and that was kind of it over those three pages. They left the world building to me, all I knew was it was set somewhere in space and some bad stuff happens to some nice people and some bad people along the way. I took those three pages and I started working out the world, how far from Earth are they, what was the mining system like, what was the space station like. I set it in the same nebula that Dark Star was in, named the ship after the song that played at the end of Dark Star. I added those little details and John really enjoyed it. So I got the go ahead to just go and write. Normally when I’m writing it comes out of my head, but this time it came from their heads. It was fun to take that and run with it.
Geeks of Doom: What’s it like working with John Carpenter?
Mike Sizemore: It’s crazy, I just keep pinching myself. I’ve been doing it for awhile, so it’s almost become normal. But there are times where I say to myself, this is nuts, I’m getting paid to hang out and write with a childhood hero of mine. It’s nuts. The first time I was invited to John and Sandy’s house, Sandy made cake, and then John gave me cake and I was just sitting on the sofa not knowing what to say and John Carpenter is handing me a slice of cake. It was the most surreal moment in the world. I’m lucky enough now where we’ve become friends and we hang out and I get to see it from the other side of the table. I get to see others invited to John and Sandy’s house for the first time and they have the same shock and horror on their face that I had in that position. It’s really weird. But I’ve met a lot of famous people, and not a lot have been assholes to be honest, but John is just one of the most down to earth, coolest guys to hang out with.
Geeks of Doom: That’s great for a fan to hear because I think we dread getting to meet our heroes…
Mike Sizemore: And they turn out to be dickheads.
Geeks of Doom: Exactly. I once waited almost 4 hours at a horror convention to meet John Carpenter and of course I froze when I met him, but he was super cool and really sweet. Last year at NYCC, I interviewed another Storm King writer, James Ninness, who did Vault, and he shared a very similar story about meeting the Carpenters at their house and feeling intimidated, but then being welcomed into the family.
Mike Sizemore: Yeah, I know James, I think I was actually there the first time he came by. If you know anything about basketball or computer games, John will welcome you very quickly. What he doesn’t like talking about is his own films. He gets that a lot and he doesn’t really like to rewatch them either. But again, we tend to talk about the films he grew watching in the 50s. One of the touchstones for Vortex was a film that when released in England, this little sci-fi horror film called The Trollenberg Terror that no one had seen aside from John and I. In the U.S. it was called The Crawling Eye and it’s become a rifftrax deal because at the end of the movie you see all these really cheap-looking alien monster eyes descending on people. It’s known for that, and it’s become sort of a joke, but if you watch the first 50 minutes of the film, it’s got a little bit of The Fog, a little of Assault on Precinct 13. It was a film that heavily influenced John when he was younger. We were talking about our love of that film when Vortex came up and we put a few touchstones from there as well.
Geeks of Doom: Now I want to go home and watch The Crawling Eye.
Mike Sizemore: Just don’t watch the last ten minutes when the eyes appear.
Geeks of Doom: I want to talk about the marriage between the writing and the artwork and I asked James Ninness this same question last year: Do you write first, is their a collaboration, what is the process?
Mike Sizemore: I try to do as much of the script as possible in advance. I’m working with an artist named Dave Kennedy, he’s incredibly talented, and I’m very lucky because we actually went to school together and then lost touch for like 18 years, and re-connected through Facebook. So we had already worked together before he came on board with Storm King. What that means is that we have our own shorthand. We grew up as kids watching the same films. When I’m working with a new artist, I have to send them to a Wikipedia page or shoot them a YouTube link or dropbox a movie and they have to do some more research, but with Dave I can give him one line and he knows exactly what I’m talking about and he can nail it. So that helps. Also I trust Dave to be better than the script. I’ll detail some stuff, if there’s some tricky thing I’m trying to get out of my stupid head and into his pen then I’ll write more than I need to so that we are on the same page, no pun intended. But a lot of the time I can just say, ‘I need a spaceship, there’s a woman pilot’. He’s the kind of artist that can not just draw the pilot in the scene and draw a control panel, he needs to know what every button on that panel does. How does she launch the ship, does she pull up on a lever, or push down on something? Is there a button sequence? He’ll work that out to the smallest detail. He’ll make a 3D model of it and then I’ll say I need the exterior of that ship to fly into another ship in another issue, he’s way ahead of me. I just feel incredibly lucky because as good as the script is, Dave always makes it better.
Geeks of Doom: Now that the Vortex story is done, what’s next with Storm King?
Mike Sizemore: I have three stories coming up for Tales For a HalloweeNight, which are shorter, more EC Comics-style stories. It’s a palate cleanser after doing 256 pages of creepy scary sci-fi, you get to do some fun stuff. We have a few of those. And I just started that latest thing for Tales of Science Fiction, but I’m not supposed to talk about it yet. But it’s the same team, myself, Dave Kennedy, Janice Chiang, and I’m not sure when that’s being announced, but we just started working on that.
Geeks of Doom: Who was your favorite character to write in Vortex?
Mike Sizemore: What’s weird is it’s different from who I thought it was going to be. When I planned it, it was always going to be about Dixon, he was going to be my Snake Plissken guy. I wrote a French pilot who wasn’t even in the original draft and she was supposed to die in issue 2 or 3 and she didn’t and I was surprised. I kept trying to kill her off and she kept getting out alive. So as much as I liked Dixon, it was Cheron who became my breakout character. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. She was like Spike in Buffy. He was supposed to be a baddie of the week, but he ended up staying around and becoming a major part of the Buffyverse. Writing her, I found she was impossible to kill.
Another NYCC success with Storm King Comics. As usual with the people I’ve met at Storm King, Mike Sizemore was an amazing interview, and we actually spoke for a few more minutes just discussing our favorite sci-fi films and espousing the virtues of Mad Max: Fury Road. He was such a cool and classy guy, he wrangled another Storm King writer, David J. Schow, over to the couch and I ended up getting another interview out of the Storm King family. All eight issues of John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Vortex, written by Mike Sizemore, are available for purchase at Storm King’s site Click on the “Official Store” tab. They also have a trade paperback available.