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Exclusive: Zac Thompson and Jok announce 'The Body Trade' from Mad Cave Studios

Comic Books

Exclusive: Zac Thompson and Jok announce ‘The Body Trade’ from Mad Cave Studios

This potent tale of family and vengeance debuts this fall.

If you reading diet leans indie enough, you’ll readily recognize Zac Thompson. In recent months, he’s penned a few really compelling books, including Blow Away, Into the Unbeing, and Cemetery Kids Don’t Die. Now, Thompson is hoping to extend that streak as he joins forces with artist Jok (In Hell We Fight, Forty Coffins) and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou for a new series from Mad Cave Studios, The Body Trade.

Described as being “in the tradition of Blue Ruin and Hell or High Water,” The Body Trade is an “unrelenting revenge story set against the backdrop of America’s aftermarket for dead bodies.” We follow deadbeat ex-con Kim Krilic, who upon returning to “bury his estranged son,” is “sickened to find an empty grave.” As he seeks to “reclaim his child’s corpse,” Krilic comes face-to-face with an “industry of death” in an especially “gaudy” take on Florida.

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Still, The Body Trade is not just a grimy tale of revenge or a twisted bit of noir a la “Vince Gilligan and [also] Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers“; it’s also an examination of corruption, transparency, and what really matters in modern America.

The Body Trade is a raw and unflinching neo-noir where an ex-convict goes up against the intense might of corporate power and will do anything to win,” said Thompson in a press release. “But what when there’s nothing illegal about what you’re up against — how do you expose the truth?! And will anyone care when you do?”

Added Jok in the same press release, “I hope readers get hooked by The Body Trade, as it combines elements I’ve enjoyed in other works of fiction such as True Detective, Thomas Harris novels and [Martin] Scorsese’s movies. Zac is brilliant and I believe we share the same view and taste for these kinds of stories. We’ve both certainly put our hearts in this one.”

Issue #1 of The Body Trade hits shelves on September 18. To mark today’s announcement, we got the chance to field both Thompson and Jok some essential questions. That includes the books’ core interest in the actual body trade, the various threads of inspiration, their collaborative process, redemption and second chances, and why they opted for Florida.

Exclusive: Zac Thompson and Jok announce 'The Body Trade' from Mad Cave Studios

Main cover by Jok. Courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for The Body Trade?

Zack Thompson: An ex-con navigates the world of aftermarket corpse brokerage in order to retrieve the remains of his deceased child.

AIPT: Zac, you’re on something of a roll with Blow Away and Cemetery Kids Don’t Die. How do you think this book developed because of those other projects?

ZT: Funny you should ask because I wrote every issue of The Body Trade before I wrote a single issue of the two books you mentioned. That said, I think there’s a way to reverse engineer this question. Both Blow Away and Cemetery Kids are books with a lot of interiority and driven by first person narration. The Body Trade is entirely dialogue driven. With heavy use of silence and using direct action to reflect interiority. I wrote The Body Trade this way both to challenge myself and because I wanted Kim to be somewhat of a mystery to me. I knew what he was heading toward. But I didn’t always know what he was going to do until I threw him into the thick of it. Turns out he’s a wreckless bastard.

AIPT: Speaking of Blow Away, it seems like The Body Trade is also very much a novel spin on noir-y stories. What’s the interest for you in this genre, and how do you try and do something new/novel with it?

ZT: I think noir is a really effective way to talk about real world issues. It’s this genre dripping with mood and atmosphere but it’s also one that isn’t afraid to present bleak truths. The genre is incredibly malleable. You can throw it into virtually any setting and find a way to make it work. So doing something new and novel is really an exercise in thinking of some way to make the genre fit into a space where you haven’t seen it before. When I first learned about the world of aftermarket body brokerage I was stunned to find there was almost nothing in the genre space about it.

It’s this thing that feels larger than life but it’s happening all across America. So we’re using the genre as a vehicle to explore a weird subculture that is just in the periphery of everyday life. We’ll touch on all the players and get into the why of this business. But we’re really focusing on the people who are preyed upon by this industry and those who wish to tear it down when they learn of the indignity of it all.

Exclusive: Zac Thompson and Jok announce 'The Body Trade' from Mad Cave Studios

Variant cover by Jacob Phillips. Courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

AIPT: Similarly, the book seems to be inspired by/in the vein of Vince Gilligan and Harmony Korine. What do those creators do so well that’s exciting or feels important somehow (especially about noir and true crime)?

ZT: Honestly, both Korine and Gilligan are looking at this version of America on the fringes. The weirdos who are left behind or living in poverty who see themselves as the vehicle through which to realize the American Dream. They’re both doing something really interesting with telling stories about flawed people who make mistakes at almost every turn. Yet they have powerful dreams and they’re willing to fail over and over to realize those dreams. There’s something very relatable about that.

AIPT: What was your interest in the actual body trade? It feels like it’s this unspoken thing that feels deeply weird, almost inhuman to wrap our heads around.

ZT: It’s no secret that I love body horror. So when I realized that this was a real thing that was happening all across America – I almost couldn’t believe it. I like to think we have this great respect for the dead in our culture. Death is the one guarantee we get in life. So, of course, capitalism found a way to profit from it. I think there’s tons of really important reasons that the body trade should exist. But the thing that gets me is how it’s not federally regulated. Which means anyone can set up a Body Brokerage business. And there’s no federal laws that govern the sale and storage of corpses. So you have these really horrific uses of human flesh happening that’s just sorta… legal. It’s perverse. I could write about it forever and feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of the stories you could tell about the industry as it currently exists.

AIPT: What’s it like working together/with Jok? What does the feel and look of this book do to extend or augment the story itself?

ZT: Jok is a powerhouse of an artist. He’s doing everything from the pencils, inks and colors to even some of the SFX on the page. His nimble linework and heavy use of contrast and blacks really makes each page drip with atmosphere. So everything has this sunbaked noir-feel that evokes the heavy shadows and harsh lighting the genre is known for but with this unique Florida twist. His characters are incredibly expressive and so much of this book deals in silence. So it’s really been an exercise in letting Jok run wild on the page. His style is so unique that our letterer on the team, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, developed a style of lettering that matches Jok’s SFX and linework. So it all feels like it’s done by one person. It’s quite impressive, really.

Exclusive: Zac Thompson and Jok announce 'The Body Trade' from Mad Cave Studios

Courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

AIPT: The lead, Kim Krilic, sounds like a compelling sort. How would you describe him in the context of this book, and is this someone we can grow to admire/like or who is mostly damned from the start?

ZT: Kim is always fighting against that sense of being damned from the start. But he is capable of reform. Since getting out of prison, he poured himself into building a career. At the start of the series he’s a successful mechanic. He mostly keeps to himself and tries his best to overcome his anger and grief about the past. Everything about the world is trying to hold him down and push him back into his past as a convict. His business is his anchor. I think Kim is grappling with that idea of being damned and if it could be useful to him. His sense of justice is admirable for sure. But I wouldn’t say he’s someone we should be admiring whole cloth.

Jok: Kim’s fight is heartbreaking but moving, as we see him as a washed out dad that has already lost everything in the worst way possible. At first glance, we might fail to see if there’s much to win on his seemingly hopeless quest (Feels a little bit like payback at first, maybe?) However, we grow to know and understand why he just won’t stop. As we painfully walk with him, we learn later in the story there’s still a chance for Kim to do something truly meaningful.

AIPT: The book’s described as being about how it’s “never too late for a bad person to do the right thing, even if it destroys you in the process.” I’m curious about what this idea really means — is this about redemption or second chances, or maybe that it’s not about extreme gestures but a life of balance and consistency in a moral sense?

ZT: I think it’s about confronting this prevailing sense of injustice in modern society. In some ways it’s about redemption but in others it’s just about cleansing yourself morally. Like if you’ve spent your whole life being this weight on the people close to you when or how do you reverse the scales. Is it even possible? Kim sees himself as a vehicle through which he can correct or expose the indignity of The Body Trade. He’s so dead-set on this quest for vengeance that he decides early on that the personal cost almost doesn’t matter. It’s about giving yourself meaning in a broader sense. This sense that maybe if we weren’t so worried about protecting our comfortable lives that we could really achieve something (or destroy something that’s holding others down).

The Body Trade

Courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

AIPT: Some press for the book also mentions Hell or High Water, which is one of my faves for its pragmatic and thoughtful approach to the genre. What makes a really good noir story, either visually or in the narrative?

ZT: Visually it’s all about a strong sense of place. The setting must be a character in the story. The best noir stories have something to say about a particular place be it: the arctic, Vancouver, or Texas. It adds a rich flavor to the whole drama. Beyond that, I think it’s a morally gray character navigating a complex emotional journey that’s threaded through socio-political themes. It doesn’t always have to be that but those are the ones that resonate most with me. Noir is all about backing weird people into a corner and seeing what they do to each other in order to get out.

AIPT: Are there any other specific influences, especially visually/artistically?

Jok: I’m deeply influenced by artists who use Chiaroscuro’s resources not just to propose an atmosphere, but also to give big black areas a lead role on composition and narrative. I’ve been studying Eduardo Risso all my life, along with Mike Mignola (Really hope I made some justice to the inspiration they’ve provided throughout the years). However, I also like to absorb influences from other media and couldn’t help sensing some Martin Scorsese/Paul Shreder [sic] vibes into Zac’s script from day one. (He just confirmed this influence recently!) I also imagined some scenes under the mood of Thomas Harris’ crime novels… in which horror feels hard, heavy, dirty and very real. David Bowie’s album Outside also seemed to fit into the mix (Don’t mean to sound pretentious listing high profile names, just wanted to mention the influences I’ve chosen to be connected to during the production of this miniseries).

AIPT: The book takes place in Florida, which is a regular locale in noir. Why is it so popular and how do you try to make it feel new/fresh?

ZT: Florida is this magical place that’s packed to the gills with all these different communities. Gaudy neon nightlife that thrives on excess balanced against lush wilderness and rich biodiversity balanced against retirement communities balanced against Disney balanced against Republican hysteria. It all exists at once. Florida seems to attract the strangest sorts of people due to the climate and political underpinnings. So there’s this magical sense of story to the place that is almost endless in its inspiration and tension.

I wanted to explore that tension. That sense that Florida can be all these things at once. But I didn’t want to do it in the excessive Spring Breakers way or in this Florida Man memey way. I just wanted to use it as a means to talk about the people who fall through the cracks inherent in that tension. Where we focus on this very grounded story about corporate overreach and class struggle. There’s something interesting about resisting the more typical depictions of the state for something that feels more nuanced and well… gray.

The Body Trade

Courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

Jok: Zac’s script is heavily packed with (precise) visual references. And I’ve added some visual research of my own. But it also felt right to add an unreal feeling to some settings and props, especially in scenes that took place in natural surroundings.

AIPT: There’s also this thread of exploring the “corporate underbelly of America.” What do you think you’re specifically trying to say — that these structures drive folks to the depths of decency/morality and complicate ideas of “good and bad”?

ZT: We’re at a point in history where corporations have cut our lives into tinier and tinier pieces. Most people own very little and each successive generation is struggling to imagine a future. That’s the direct result of corporate overreach and failing institutions. I think the whole way corporations work these days is to obfuscate the idea of what morality and decency is. But there’s also this sense of inevitability to everything they offer. That we can’t possibly imagine a better life for ourselves because things are already in motion and it’s impossible to create real change on a personal level. So The Body Trade directly challenges that idea. It’s pushing against that sense of defeat and asking what would happen if we decided to meet corporate power with direct, violent action?

AIPT: If The Body Trade was a TV show a la Breaking Bad, what would the theme be and what might the title sequence look like?

ZT: The theme would be “Pain” by Boy Harsher. The title sequence would be a montage of run-down minimalls and abandoned gas stations all across Florida. Celebrating the rot and beauty of urban decay.

Jok: Oh, I really like this challenge! I imagine the title sequence as featuring many laptop contract signings, one after the other, just showing different kinds of hands holding the optic pen. Then, we’d jump to an allegedly nice and funny corporate video featuring a short cartoon explaining the way body parts are separated and taken to different facilities and branches (We actually get to see a “funny explanatory cartoon” in the miniseries). The song would be David Bowie’s “Outside,” of course (the very instrumental beginning would just do).

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