Since the onset of COVID, the comics industry has struggled to regain its footing. While basic logistics seem to already be back on track, this entire ordeal has proven just how perilous things can become for the entire market. It’s a firm reminder of what a little chaos can do.
Luckily, such disarray can be a good thing, and there have been real positives from this period of uncertainty. Case in point: James Tynion IV and Steve Foxe have launched a brand-new horror anthology, Razorblades.
Published via Tynion’s own Tiny Onion Studios, the quarterly horror series will highlight up-and-coming creators. (Issue #1 is available now digitally, plus a limited run of physical books. Issue #2 lands in time for Halloween.) And given the roster of talent for the debut — Ram V, Nick Robles, Lonnie Nadler, Jenna Cha, and Tynion himself, among others — Razorblades could be a huge property. The first issue alone feels inventive, a dynamic spin on horror that’s as much about the jump scares as the bountiful emotions.
As Tynion explains, uncertainty seems baked into the project’s very DNA. That, and a little dumb luck.
“Steve and I had been working on the upcoming Image series Department of Truth for six-plus months when this COVID epidemic struck,” Tynion said recently during a phone call. “We didn’t know if Department of Truth was even going to launch in 2020, or even if Batman was going to come back to shelves.”
So, with some newfound free time, Tynion decided to read more comics, eventually landing on a true classic of the horror genre.
“What really kicked this off was reading Alan Moore’s From Hell for the first time,” he said. “It’s been sitting on my shelves since I was 16, and I had it as sort of a rainy day read. It absolutely blew me away for all the reasons you’d expect.”
From Hell then led Tynion to Taboo, a horror anthology from the ’80s published by writer Stephen Bissette (where the seminal story first debuted in 1989). As Tynion explains, that series led him to realize “there wasn’t this platform anymore. There are these anthologies from Kickstarter campaigns, but they haven’t hit in a big way and been more like one-and-done. I was texting Steve and luckily he decided to be crazy with me.”
As Foxe explains, “There was almost this element of serendipity. When James was texting me, I had copies of Taboo on my bookshelf, and so I sent him a photo. That was the extra push we we needed to start talking about it.”
Even as the industry kicked back to life as the pair were still planning out the series, neither Tynion or Foxe were phased much. As Foxe said, they had plenty of “friends without a lot to do this summer. We’re lucky we’re in a position where we have this Rolodex of people we can start approaching.”
It’s not just that artists and writers had more open schedules than ever before. As Tynion explains, Razorblades presents a chance for creators to do something they couldn’t even in the most pristine of market conditions.
“There’s this rising class of creators, but there’s also this underside to it where those creators haven’t really been given the opportunity to do things,” he said. “So many creators are coming up with such cool ideas, and then they’re having to put these ideas into boxes. When Steve and I were talking, so much of it become about, ‘Oh, I’d love to see this person do that.’ Like, reach out to some big names in the YA side of comics and say, ‘What would you do if you had an eight-page horror story and there were no rules?'”
And as you read through issue #1, there’s a real sense of that rule-skirting throughout the 14 or so stories. These tales take varied approaches to horror: some lean toward body horror, while others are more psychological in nature. Either way, they get the job done, and they feel like a profound continuation of classic anthologies like Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror. Only, it’s not exactly history that Tynion or Foxe are most interested in.
“There’s such a proud tradition of horror in comics,” Foxe said. “You have classic anthologies like Creepy and Eerie. We absolutely respect that, but our guiding mission was that we don’t want to pay tribute to horror anthologies that have come before. What is the 2020, contemporary look of a horror anthology? We didn’t have a strong hand and say, like, ‘We really want you to do body horror because you’ve done body horror before.’ This is a forward-thinking horror anthology, with one foot in real-world kind of scares. And we left it at that.”
Instead, the whole series is more interested in referencing the here and now. When asked if people would actually read horror right now given the insanity of our times, Tynion said that now more than ever, these are the stories people cling to.
“We’re living in a real moment, and it’s clear that the real world has helped created an incredibly strong appetite for horror,” Tynion says. “We’re seeing that happen in TV and in film. It’s sort of a similar cultural moment to the ’70s where everything feels like it’s falling apart. The horror stories of even five to 10 years ago even feel like they’re from a different generation. The stuff that’s coming out today is tapping directly into the fear center of the brain.”
While Foxe admits that issue #2 has a story “that involves face masks,” he’s quick to mention that they’re not always going to “rip things from the headlines.” Instead, it’s ultimately about reflecting the creative and emotional states of the many contributors.
If there’s any point in which Razorblades is truly cutting-edge, it’s in the use of a pay-what-you-want model. While other books/groups have relied on the approach, both Tynion and Foxe are in the position to go the distance with this model.
“Razorblades is an experiment,” Tynion said. “Steve and I both have books that help pay the bills, and that gives us the ability to experiment. At the end of the day, what matters to me is we’re creating cool content and putting it in front of the most number of people. We want people who can’t afford comics to engage and take something from this.”
Foxe added, “With a project like this, it’s not tied to some intellectual property or doesn’t necessarily come with the stamp of approval from an existing publisher. That’s sort of a risk for consumers. This model, and credit to Panel Syndicate who has done it before, removes those barriers of entry. You can put in zero, and if you like it, come back for more. If you don’t, you have nearly 80 pages of exciting horror comics.”
Another thing that separates the series from others is the added “bonus” content. Issue #1 features a great interview/conversation between Tynion and writer Scott Snyder. Foxe explained that this is just another way to engage folks beyond just the harrowing chills and spooky vibes.
“We want something thing feels additive and behind-the-curtain, something that is useful for real, dedicated horror fans and creators,” he says. “Something you aren’t getting from a dozen other sources. The one we have lined up for issue #2, I think, will surprise a lot of people. It’s something you don’t see in American comics too often.”
They both admit that their choices mean there’s a distinct possibility of failure with Razborblades. Tynion is nonetheless hopeful, and he believes their efforts will transcend financial impacts and instead engage with modern writers/artists.
“Beyond just the publishers, I hope this is something that allows creators to see there’s options,” he says. “Even with Image, which is a phenomenal home for creator-owned titles, there hasn’t really been a robust self-publishing movement. I think by engaging the possibilities, even if there’s a small audience, [people] are willing to pay for comics this way. If we don’t crack the code, I hope I can be the person that inspired that person.”
Foxe quickly adds, “For the record, I’d like to be the successful ones.”
Already, the book feels like a proper success, even if only in the aspirations of its two main creators. But the pair are already looking toward the future. That includes sussing out who they’d like to see contribute to subsequent issues.
“There are so many disparate corners of the comic book industry right now, and most of them don’t talk to each other,” Tynion said. “I have a list in my head from each of those different corners. I don’t want to name any names, but we have a kind of dream slate we’ve been polishing up for some time.”
Foxe added, “When James said he had a list in his head, it’s like, no, we have it an an Excel sheet. I won’t spoil, but we have contributors from the UK, Greece, Italy, and Canada. I want to see that country list widen.”
In so many ways, Razorblades feels like a shot in the arm. From its operating model to the “sudden” debut and the unlikely origins, it feels like a possible watershed moment for creator-owned titles — right at the instance more creators could use this kind of inspiration and direction. At the end of the day, that’s what this project is all about: a small kind of change you just don’t see coming. Those unexpected things, it seems, can also be the things that cut the deepest.
“This is something Steve said, and I also say this in the intro, but Razorblades is meant to evoke a collection of small, sharp things that can cut you,” Tynion said. “That’s very much the spirit of this book. If you’re looking for something that is going to surprise you, to challenge you, please read Razorblades.”