Welcome to Blood/Ink/Staples, a recurring column which will shine a spotlight on creepy comic books new and old. Here, we’ll be taking a peek at forgotten graphic novels and hot-off-the-press floppies, buried indies and newly-released big labels. Some articles will be historical deep dives, others will feature interviews with creators, but all will attempt to steer our readers to the very best fearsome funnybooks to be found out there in the wild.
“War is hell.”
So goes the old phrase, underscoring the horrors inherent in any conflict where arms are taken up with the express purpose of destroying the lives of others for whatever damned reason, necessary or not. War has inspired countless films, movies, television shows, and even comic books, providing a compelling backdrop for stories to showcase action, adventure, romance, comedy, tragedy, science fiction…and yes, even horror.
Hitting your local comic book shop on October 6th is OUT, a World War II-set tale of terror concerning a group of POWs coming face to face with an evil potentially greater than that of the Nazis who have captured them.
From the press release: In the waning days of World War Two, with the Allies advancing, a desperate Nazi officer unearths an ancient force of evil that he hopes will turn the tide of battle: a vampire. To test the power of his secret weapon, he unleashes the monster on an unsuspecting group of Allied POWs. It’s up to Nocona, a Comanche language expert, to communicate with the vampire to find out what it really wants.
This writer was lucky enough to read the first issue of OUT, and can confirm that it lives up to its genre-mashup premise. It’s a creepy slow-burn of a tale with well-rounded characters and a fascinating lead, which culminates in a shocking final moment which lays the groundwork for the terrifying installments to come.
To help exclusively announce the comic’s release, OUT writer Rob Williams caught up with Bloody Disgusting to discuss the comic’s origins, its story, and why it’s high time uninitiated readers give horror comics a shot.
Bloody Disgusting: How was it that you got into comics – both as a fan, and now as a creator?
Rob Williams: As a fan, I just remember them always being in the house as a kid. Marvel, DC, 2000AD, British War comics like Commando. It was a part of my childhood. As a creator, I never intended to write comics for a living. That seemed like something that you could only do if you were Stan Lee or Alan Moore. I was working as a journalist and I thought I’d try writing one comic script as an experiment, to see if I could do it. That was Cla$$war, my first published comic. That opened doors in the industry for me and twenty years later I’m still doing it.
BD: How was it that this project originated?
RW: OUT was one of those high concept ideas that just strike you as perfect. It’s The Great Escape, but there’s a vampire in the Prisoner of War camp. I mean, these characters have to escape from this place anyway – they are duty bound to try and rejoin the war – and the camp in our story is a Colditz-style castle that is impossible to get out of. But when the Nazis place a vampire in there with them and it starts eating the men one by one – now they REALLY have to escape.
Also I was fascinated by the idea of having this – I hope – rather unique protagonist for our story. Nocona is a Comanche code talker. A Native American who’s adept at languages. These men were sent into Europe during D-Day to unravel Nazi codes and to message our forces in a language the Nazis couldn’t understand. That alone makes Nocona different from his other prisoners, bringing the element of race into the story. But also he’s gay. That’s something that you don’t really see explored in terms of WW2 fiction. But it was obviously there. Nocona’s very much an outsider in his camp. But, as we’ll discover, he’s also the prisoners’ greatest hope of surviving this inhuman creature. Nocona can communicate with it…
BD: OUT deals with both the horrors of war, and the more supernatural horror lurking at the edges of the story throughout the first issue. How was it that you came to meld these genres, and will the comic continue that balance between the two?
RW: Issue one is, like any opening act, a setting up of the world and introducing our characters. In this case it’s 1944, Bavaria, and a group of Allied Prisoners of War are brought in to a castle high in the mountains. They believe it’s because they’ve all escaped from other camps and, having been recaptured, this is their punishment. A freezing cold place where, even if you do get past the walls and the guards, you have sheer cliff faces to deal with. But what they don’t realize, and our end of first issue twist, is that they’ve been brought here as an experiment. The Nazis know they’re losing the war, so one officer is desperate and has dug up an ancient evil. Now he’s going to see if he can control this creature by feeding it the prisoners.
After issue one, it’s really like a WW2 version of Alien or The Thing. The paranoia of Carpenter’s The Thing was a touchstone. These men are disappearing, is there a rat amongst them? A killer amongst them? Lots of corridors and old churches in that ancient Gothic Castle for something to come a creeping.
BD: Can you talk a bit about OUT’s artwork? Will Conrad’s art and Marco Lesko’s colors are both quite gritty and beautiful, and really suit the story that you’re telling.
RW: A prisoners of war story is, by definition, going to have a bunch of characters dressed the same, all men of a certain age. So we absolutely needed an artist who excels at characters and ‘casting’ our main players. Will’s quite brilliant at that. There are times in his pages you think you’re seeing comics greats like Brian Bolland or Travis Charest. You really feel like you’re watching this as a movie. And when the vampire comes fully into play, it’s a terrifying thing. Marco’s colors had to deliver the freezing cold of the environment and the blood splatters. He’s done that wonderfully.
BD: What are the long term plans for this title beyond its initial arc? Are there more stories to be told in this world after the first five issues?
RW: OUT is a five issue story. Start-middle-end. That appealed to us making it. It’s very much a horror story where none of the characters are safe. We want you to get attached to these characters and then see them picked off by the creature. It’s a classic monster tale in that sense.
BD: OUT is quite cinematic at times. Are there any plans to adapt the story for film or television?
RW: We’d love that to happen. No plans as yet. But all its touchstones are cinematic – Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare, Alien, The Thing, Michael Mann’s The Keep. It’d make a great movie, absolutely.
BD: Ultimately, what final thought would you like to leave our readers and fellow horror fans with who might not be inclined to read comic books?
RW: There’s extraordinary work being done in comics of late with horror. Whether it’s something as genuinely horribly unnerving as Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, or AWA’s horror books like Hotell or Devil’s Highway. I should also mention Old Haunts – a book I did for AWA last year along with Ollie Masters and Laurence Campbell – that was Goodfellas meets Jacob’s Ladder, where three old gangsters were literally haunted by the ghosts of their past. There’s some amazing horror comics out there right now, full of mood and menace. Come and join us.
Special Thanks to Mr. Williams for his time.
Make certain to pick up OUT Issue 1 at your local comic book shop on October 6.