Over a lengthy career, artist Ed Piskor has tackled a slew of diverse projects. There’s indie comics like Deviant Funnies and Isolation Chamber, his Eisner Award-winning Hip Hop Family Tree, and more mainstream offerings like X-Men: Grand Design. For his latest project, though, Piskor is going way, way out there with Red Room.
Rolled out last year via Patreon, the book, Piskor’s first creator-owned series, is described as a “cyberpunk, outlaw, splatterpunk comic,” one that combines both E.C. Comics with “the dream of Black Mirror.” Fantagraphics will release 13 issues — including the FCBD comic — starting with giant-sized, 64-page debut issue on May 19.
Ahead of issue #1, we spoke with Piskor via email, tackling his inspirations and influences, his approach to horror, those other projects, and much, much more.
AIPT: Where did the larger inspiration come for Red Room? What’s your elevator pitch for the series/book in general?
Ed Piskor: I’ve been wanting to do a book that made sense with the outlaw duotone technique that I loved in comics like The Crow and Faust. I also wanted to do a horror comic that wouldn’t have been possible outside of our modern setting. The promise of the dark web is that it’s users are anonymous and it seems like human nature would use that technology for criminal purposes. In Red Room, people are operating livestream murders with patrons pledging bitcoin to have their sick requests processed.
AIPT: You noted in press material about wanting to “push the boundaries” with this one. Where do you try and find the ideas or drive to think of new/weird/terrifying/crazy things?
EP: The rule is to always freak or gross myself out during the making of the comic. If I come up with something that makes me gasp “That’s f******ed up…” , it’ll probably find its way into the comic.
AIPT: Each issue is standalone but part of a larger story or narrative. What challenges or opportunities does that specific kind of approach promise?
EP: There’s a larger universe that each story lives inside of. Not necessarily one giant story. But each issue is its own thing. The opportunities are that I set up this world with this new problem and I get to look at it from different angles each story. The challenges are in creating new characters with new motivations each issue. The points of view will range from the murderers, the victims, the fans, the patrons, and a few other sets of eyeballs along the way.
AIPT: The book deals with, to some degree, tech like crypto-currency and the dark web. Why do these things prove so interesting or worthy of dissection — especially considering the grand tradition of horror?
EP: The dark web promises anonymity for its users. Cryptocurrency lacks the traditional paper trail that law enforcement uses to track their targets. There are so many good uses for this technology, but a wild west has also emerged with these platforms and its very scary stuff. The best of horror always takes the zeitgeist and examines something that people can relate to in the moment. Lots of horror possibilities with an internet where people can’t easily be caught.
AIPT: How do you manage your work as both writer and artist? Do you think one element/aspect trumps the other, or do you have a way to balance both somehow?
EP: They’re so intertwined I don’t think about it much in terms of balance. Each issue I am changing the process a little bit just to play around and see what I like best.
AIPT: In addition to some heavy E.C. vibes, I feel like this book is reminiscent of MAD magazine and every movie ever aired on The Last Drive-In. How important, if at all, was it for this book to wear its influences on its (bloody) sleeve?
EP: If Red Room captures half the vibe of those first-generation Caliber Press comics, I won’t be upset with that.
AIPT: What comes first: the horror and the visual you want or the story itself? Does that distinction matter at all?
EP: I’m playing with a lot of different methods for producing these stories. I have 12 different opportunities here at the very least and I can try a lot of different things. Sometimes its an image that comes to mind. Sometimes a scene. Sometimes a story emerges in broad strokes and I have to figure out how best to visualize it enough for it to be fun to draw.
AIPT: Is there a difference, or even a preference, in people reading this digitally vs. a proper book? I feel like great horror like this almost demands the physical medium.
EP: Everything I do is made for paper but I don’t cry when people choose to check it out digitally. Paper is just what I’m used to and the goal to have a physical copy in hand for myself.
AIPT: You’ve had some interesting projects over the years: from Hip Hop Family Tree and X-Men: Grand Design to this. What draws you to certain ideas or stories over others?
EP: Comics are a big time commitment, so I’ll always draw comics about the stuff I like. I have fun making comics but I think in order to have the most fun I just have to be engaged with the material. Allow myself the opportunity for full emersion.
AIPT: Is there ever a conversation that you have, with yourself or editors and others, about what might be too much to depict, or even holding back with some gore or whatnot? Or is it always full steam ahead?
EP: Nah. I’ll let every other cartoonist walk on their eggshells.
AIPT: Could we see other books/stories beyond this first “arc?” How big or weird do you want this shared universe to eventually become?
EP: There are 13 issues (including the FCBD comic) that I’m committing to right now. I have many more stories that can easily fill another 13. If I’m still having the same level of fun after issue #12, I’ll keep things going, but I already have some other ideas that I’m excited to try after Red Room.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
EP: No hard-sell zone here. Look at the cover for issue 1 with all the graphic hyperbole on the cover. If it’s fun or cool to you, pick it up. If it is off-putting, head for the hills and make sure to complain about it online and include some jpegs so that I sell more copies.
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