Monday, September 5, 2016

Kickstart the Week with Nix Comics Quarterly #9: The Garage Punk Horror Comic Book!

By: Nicole D’Andria

This week we’re showcasing Nix Comics Quarterly #9, which collects horror stories inspired by Punk rock, 60s Garage, old R&B and Soul, as well as other forms of music. I spoke with writer Ken Eppstein.

Nix Comics Quarterly is a comic book anthology inspired by old comics such as Tales from the Crypt and Creepy Magazine. The cover of this issue is by Stephen Blickenstaff, an artist/musician who is also responsible for The Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People album cover.

There are six separate stories in the comic:

The first story is “The Vicar: Whispers From The Alley,” written by Ken Eppstein and illustrated by Michael Neno. It’s part of a series of stories about a monster hunter garage rocking preacher who fights off a werewolf.

The second story is “Verna's Somnabulant Adventure,” written by Ken Eppstein and illustrated by Gideon Kendall. Verna worries when her roommate Sally gets creepy new additions to her Beatles collection.

The third story is “Hellhounds On My Trail,” written by Ken Eppstein and illustrated Pat Redding Scanlon. The story stars Ana Satura, a character introduced in a Vicar story from Nix Comics Quarterly #7. The story is all about guitars, hot rod cars and karate chops.

The fourth story is “The Shoplift Horror,” written by Christian Hoffer and illustrated by Andy Bennett. This post-apocalyptic story is about the owner of the last record store dealing with Lovecraftian horrors on a daily basis.

Illustrations by Stephen Blickenstaff
The fifth story is “Did It Really happen? Thor Meets Stan Lee,” written by Ken Eppstein and illustrated by Mark Rudolph. Jon Mikl Thor, a Canadian rocker and body builder, meets Marvel's Stan Lee.

The last two stories feature everybody’s (least) favorite commuter. “Bus Stop Ned has a good day” is written by Ken Eppstein and illustrated by Matt Wyatt; “Bus Stop Ned has a recipe” is written by Matt Miner, illustrated by Jude Vigants and lettered by Taylor Esposito. The dialogue is from real bus stop “horror stories.”

The funds made on the Kickstarter are going towards paying artists and vendors to ensure the release of Nix Comics Quarterly #9 at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival in Columbus. Eppstein will be tabling there on October 15th and 16th. Rewards include a physical copy of the issue ($4) as well as Mark Rudolph’s Nix Comics poster ($16), and a glow in the dark t-shirt ($25), among many other perks. The project will be funded if at least $2,000 is pledged by September 19th, 2016 at 7:26 AM EDT. See their official Kickstarter page here.

I interviewed writer Ken Eppstein about the project.

Ken Eppstein
Me: Who are some of the recurring characters that show up in Nix Comics Quarterly?

Ken Eppstein: The two characters that have had stories in every issue to date have been The Vicar and Bus Stop Ned.

The Vicar is a garage band front man who dresses as a priest and tours the country slaying the vampires, werewolves and assorted ghouls hiding in the audience at the sleazy bars he plays. The Vicar is the closest thing that I have to an action hero in the comics and is inspired in part by the recurring characters in the 70s and 80s horror comic magazines that I loved like Vampirella, The Rook, Bloodstone, et al. I suppose there is some aspect of Baron Winters from Night Force as well.

Bus Stop Ned’s presence in every issue probably owes more to my background reading old punk zines and cartoons in alt weekly newspapers than anything else.  Every Ned Story is a one pager and all of his dialog is lifted from actual overheard conversations.  Maybe a little out of place in a garage punk rock horror comic, except I can’t think of anything more horrific in the punk lifestyle than daily use of public transit! I try to use a different artist for every Ned strip to give him that “everyone has sat next to this guy on the bus” feel. Most of the stories are direct from my own experience, but recently Matt Miner (Black Mask Studio’s Liberator, Toe Tag Riot) has shared some of his transit stories through Ned as well.

A more recent addition to the recurring cast has been The Last Record Store Guy on Earth, the main character in a series by Christian Hoffer and illustrated this coming issue by Andy Bennett. The basic premise of those stories is that the main character strives to survive in a world where Lovecraftian horrors birthed by digital music have destroyed civilization.

Bus Stop Ned - illustration by Jude Vigants

Me: How did music inspire this horror comic anthology?

Eppstein: I would say that while I make many direct references to artists and specific songs, the main reason I call it a garage punk themed anthology is that it is informed by the culture centered around music… going to shows, starting bands, hanging out in record stores, collecting weird memorabilia and band swag… the sort of thing I was obsessed with in my 20s. And my 30s. And well… now.

Basically, I really want Nix Comics Quarterly to be about people as opposed to just plain outright idolatry of the music.  As a horror comic, the anthology particularly feeds off the foibles of the people in that music culture.

"The Shoplift Horror" - illustrated by Andy Bennett

Me: For each of the short stories in this collection, what song would you say describes each one the best and why?

Eppstein: I’ve actually put together a play list on spotify if anyone wants to check it out!

That list actually has a couple songs per feature story, but I think I can narrow it down to answer your question: 

  1. “Hellhound On My Trail” by Robert Johnson for Hellhounds On My Trail. (For obvious reasons!) 
  2. “Hoodlum AD” by Mick Collins for The Shoplift Horror. I pulled this song off of the gut punk laden Sore Losers Soundtrack, a movie created by 80s and 90s comics creator Mike McCarthy. I like this intro’s otherworldly and out-of-time quality, which I find kind of similar to John Zorn’s “Spillane.”
  3. “Ask me No Questions” by Johnny Thunders for The Vicar: Whispers From The Alley because the story deals a conversation with the devil wherein questions I’ve tacitly implied about the Vicar in past stories get posed in more direct fashion. 
  4. “Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs” by The Cramps for Verna’s Somnabulistic Adventure, mostly because Gideon Kimball did such a great job with a scene where Verna falls down the stairs (in her PJs, though) and now I can’t get that tune out of my head!
  5. For the Bus Stop Ned stories, let’s say The Replacement’s “On The Bus” and Weird Al’s “Another One Rides the Bus” because… you know… buses. 
  6. As opposed to a specific song, I’d like readers to check out the recent “I Am Thor” documentary in regards to the “Did It Really happen?” story. It’s a great portrait of a guy who has worked hard touring for decades with little of what people would typically call success.
"The Vicar: Whispers From The Alley" - illustration by Michael Neno

Me: What is the number one reason you think people should back Nix Comics Quarterly #9?

Eppstein: I think the main thing that Nix Comics Quarterly has going for it is that it’s different. I don’t mean that in a bullshit hyperbolic “THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!!” way, but more in a “hey, that awkward greasy kid in the corner made a comic which is basically a love letter to his favorite comics and music and it’s kind of cool” way. 

Nix Comics Quarterly is basically a mixtape I made for my crush. It just so happens that I crush on pre-code horror and humor comics, garage rock records/music and the people who love them.

"Hellhounds On My Trail" - illustration by Pat Redding Scanlon

Me: What are some of the most memorable stories that you enjoyed from pre-code horror and humor comics, and how do you think they've influenced your work today?

Eppstein: Oh Gosh…  So many….

I think maybe my favorite is “Hex” by Jack Davis from one of the early issues of Mad.  What I like about it is that Davis was finally free to lend his sense of humor to the horror genre AND incorporate baseball, something he loved outside of comics. While what I do isn’t as whacky as Mad, that’s the same kind of thing I try to do with music in my Nix titles!

I also like the “Cutting Cards” story where the two gamblers chop each other to pieces in a series of increasingly more gruesome bets and dares. (There was a good adaptation of this one for the Tales from the Crypt TV Show with Lance Henriksen.) The story takes a relatively common crime story cliché and takes it to a thoroughly ridiculous extreme. I’d like to think I up-end some of the common story telling standards the same way.

"Verna's Somnabulant Adventure" - illustration by Gideon Kendall

Me: If you had to pick, which story from any Nix Comics Quarterly was your favorite to write and why?

Eppstein: You’re going to make me pick a favorite child, huh? That’s actually pretty tough since, as a self-publisher, I’m not doing anything that doesn’t please me. I like it all. (I suppose if I were desperate to get a gig at Marvel or have things distributed through Diamond or something, I might have to do work that I find more onerous, making for a wider continuum of feelings.)

I guess I’ll go with the Vicar story “That Dog Don’t Hunt” from issue #5. I wanted to challenge myself by writing a werewolf story where the drama doesn’t come from the transformation… Where the tension is the struggle against the seemingly inevitable change into a creature that revels in the shameless gory satisfaction of bestial desires.

"Did It Really happen? Thor Meets Stan Lee" - illustration by Mark Rudolph

Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?

Eppstein: Ooooooh man. I feel like I’m bad at answering this sort of question because I’m pretty cynical about it all. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ll never be in a situation where my comics work is paying my mortgage. While I love the comics I make, I don’t think I’ll ever get critical acclaim for my work. The bar for entry into comics is lower than it’s ever been, but the path to long term success is flooded with talented veterans, dedicated journeymen and enthusiastic wannabes.

But you know what? I find that all pretty liberating. Frankly, since the odds are stacked against me, I can just play the game however I want. I’m not writing to get approved by Diamond for distribution or to pique the interest of Eisner judges. I just make comics that I know my cronies will dig and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about my “career” or whatever.

So, I guess my advice is that careerism and ambition are the enemies of creativity, and if you want to make comics, do it for love. Worry about success if it happens.

Me: Thanks for your time! If you’re interested in backing the project, check out the official Kickstarter.

Do you have a Kickstarter? Want to be interviewed about it and have the project featured on "Kickstart the Week?" Let me know in the comments below or message me on

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