Published on April 30th, 2013 | by Richard Boom
Funhouse of Horrors: The History of a Good Scare
Writer, musician and all-around creative person Jazan Wild decided to venture into comics and produced books (Carnival of Souls, Funhouse of Horrors, Atomic Dreams) that would be a must-read on Halloween. Today he is giving readers an Inside Look into the process of creating Funhouse Of Horrors.
Let’s begin at the beginning. “Love a good ghost story? So do I… or at least I did until my life became one.” Those are the words that opened the doors to the Funhouse of Horrors series in 2006. Funny though, the series had not yet become the Funhouse of Horrors. Instead a Rock Star, one of the biggest on the planet was to play the role of Jake Stone (Hearse Driver / Ghost Writer / Paranormal Investigator).
I am a musician and writer who had a hit series titled Carnival of Souls in 2005 / 2006, which is just what led Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS to contact me about publishing a new line of comics titled Simmons Comics in April 2006. So I put Simmons together with Markosia Enterprises, a London-based publisher who had signed and published my Carnival of Souls series. Markosia would be the first to have a shot at publishing the story that would eventually become the first book of the Funhouse of Horrors series.
Mr. Simmons wanted to do a horror line, something that would be pay homage to the Tales from the Crypt / Twilight Zone age of storytelling. I seemed to be the perfect fit to collaborate with Gene; after all it was my series that led him to contact me and Markosia.
In my mind’s eye the story began to take shape. Thoughts of my childhood started emerging. In there, I could see my grandparents and long trips we would take from Virginia to Amagansett, Long Island for Thanksgiving each year. The trips would start before dawn and my brother and I would be armed with Mad Libs, Kiss Comics (Yes, I was a huge fan growing up) and also along for the ride was a squeaky cooler full of cold cuts and drinks in the back of the station wagon. Damn thing was like fingernails on a chalk board for 8 to 10 hours straight.
And we were off, at a safe rate of speed, clocking in at about 45 miles an hour. The trips were magical. A journey, any journey at that age was other worldly. I loved seeing the bridges and city line of New York. It was hope. Maybe someday I could be a Rock Star living the dream in a wondrous place like… well NEW YORK! Remember I was from a small town, not unlike Mayberry RFD.
But there was always one thing… the one thing we had to do… and that was, we we must stop off at a roadside fruit stand and bring the family up some good ole fresh sweet corn and tomatoes, among other goodies.
And those childhood memories became the foundation for the “House of Horrors” story. Gene had two names he had he been tossing around “House of Horrors” and “House of Magic”. I heard “House of Horrors” and said damn… that’s a good one. And so it was settled, the series would be called “House of Horrors.” A great title by Gene and a story I believed in by me. Oh boy, I knew we had something really good here. And we did.
So on Fri, April 21 2006, I sent Gene Simmons the story outline titled “House Of Horrors”. He loved it. I loved it. Jacob Stone was originally called, that’s right… Eugene Simmons. We wanted to maybe have Mr. Simmons play the character in an HBO show, where Simmons would be the lead character.
As the story goes, a kid from NY goes on a day trip to the country side, when he, his mother and cousins pull the car over to a roadside fruit stand for a quick bite to eat. The boys start playing a game of tag, when Eugene discovers a haunted house tucked away back in the woods. A strange caretaker gives the boy a special book. One that contained two tickets to come back on Halloween night for the grand opening. Still that wasn’t the most magical part of this book. No, not at all. Once Eugene started to read the pages and the horrors contained inside, well… they crept out. And everywhere Eugene looked he saw ghosts! The very ones he had just read about! And that’s when the fun begins!!!!
Yeah, I liked it too.
For business reasons, Markosia and I parted ways just as the story crawled out of my head. So I went to Arcana Studios and Mr. Simmons decided to make the switch as well. (BTW Arcana and Simmons have recently re-launched the Simmons Comics Line. Go check them out. It’s good stuff.) The art team (David Miller, Carlito Zuniga and Dan Kemp) and I worked together for months getting the artwork together for a Halloween 2006 Launch. A fantastic full page advert announcing the new series went out to every comic book shop in the US and England.
Yet as fate would have it, the Simmons version would not be released, due to the fact that Kiss had several other obligations that particular October. You can however, find the original House of Horrors cover featured in the center pin-up pages of Simmons’ Sex Money Kiss autobiography, as well as a bit of its history on page 244 and 245.
Still, I felt it in my bones, and I just knew that this was the time for the story to unleash. So instead of Eugene Simmons… Jacob Stone ripped his way into the ink and onto the pages of the newly renamed “FUNHOUSE OF HORRORS!”
On Halloween Night of 2006, the Funhouse of Horrors was offered as a free download from a special trick or treat link found on jazanwild.com. Not only was this the launch of the Funhouse of Horrors series, but also the debut of my very own company… Carnival Comics! That night we saw 229,000 downloads! Not a bad way to begin.
The original promotion for the story went as such…
“You should not see this! If you do dare view this story, rumor has it that a few unfortunate souls gam bled with fate and now they claim to be haunted by the living impaired. This is not a joke… Leave Now…. RUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Young Jacob Stone, while on a family picnic, stumbles up on an old abandoned house in the woods just a week before Halloween. The wretched dwelling is being pre pared to be used as a one-night only Haunted House! A strange worker, known only as Ole Scratch, sees Ja cob and gives him a book with two tickets in side that change his life – or what’s left of it after the ghosts are done with him! En ter… Jazan Wild’s House Of Horrors!”
Too late, you dared… you entered! HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!
BOOK TWO (It’s Murphy’s Law)
Since this series was intended to be a T.V. series, from day one almost, I saw Jake Stone growing up to be a bad ass ghost hunter. That’s why the first book ends with the line “You don’t wake up until I say so. And I ain’t done with you yet.” Naturally no child would ever go through what Jacob endured in book one, without it leaving some pretty nasty scars. It did.
Jake Stone would never look at the world again, unless it had a darkened tint to it. Hence the reason for the shades. To top off the “f*ck it all” mentality… I gave the guy a black hearse to drive around town. I figured if you are going to hang up a sign to the world saying “Leave me the f*ck alone”, you might as well do it right.
Murphy’s Law sets the premise for the rest of the series. Stone is now a novelist who writes horror stories, based upon stories that his readers send in to him. He tracks down the story and investigates the paranormal tales. In the truest sense of the word, he is a “Ghost Writer.”
The plot for Murphy’s Law comes from my growing up in a small town and seeing the perfect families and mine not being one of them. Funny thing though, as you get older you learn that even the most perfect of families have their own secrets and heartaches. There is no perfect house on the hill. We all fall short. And that is the underlying theme for this shocking tale from the pages of Stone’s book.
Where to begin? Working on these books with Jazan Wild has been one hell of a ride and I expect the best is still yet to come!
Back in about 2006 I believe I got my first e-mail from Jazan and at first, couldn’t quite grasp how I was supposed to pronounce his name but eventually after a few polite conversations he corrected me. I recall letting him know at that time that I was over committed and I was. I was spinning my wheels working on nothing significant really but I hadn’t learned to manage my time and efforts. I’m still working on that but I have learned to focus on the projects that speak to you. I also learned to devote yourself to honest and honorable people when you can. I’ve had to mend some bridges myself due to poor judgment on my part. Jazan is one of the friendliest and honest people in the industry but he has never been afraid to fight for what’s right.
So even though I told Jazan I wasn’t available, he kept in touch. I remember thinking the art and story for Carnival was so full of honest enthusiasm. This was full of energy and wonder! I eventually agreed maybe a year or two later to do some fill in work for PRAYER CYCLE ( Atomic Dreams) the graphic novel about Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb co-created by Jazan Wild and Jonathan Elias. I was then going to continue Carnival of Souls but somehow FUNHOUSE of HORRORS seemed more logical to complete to us.
I immediately loved the old style self-contained story element of an old horror comic and the continuing characterization of Jake Stone. I got to be the first to draw him as a man and that hearse! As per Jazan’s direction, I went with an old 1959 Chevy Biscayne as a basis for the mean looking hearse from hell! Everything else was a treat but since I’ve worked on these books with big gaps of time in between, you can literally see the evolution of my art. With book 2, I was less tight with my pencils and pretty much did most of the book in ink. I tried saving time but if you make a mistake because the pencils aren’t defined enough it’s more work in the long run. The art has its moments but I personally love the last page! What also helped in my process at that time were storyboards by David Miller. He kills at that stuff! Between him and Jazan, they laid down the ground work for an amazing book.
In “Madhouse” we find Jake Stone, becoming more tired and fed up with being a puppet to this darkened world, but he is still coping with his job. Slowly the cracks begin to appear. You see it when he stands eye to eye with Scratch. No more “AHHHHH!” and running away for Jake.
As to the story that Jake is investigating in this book, “The Seven Gates of Hell” is a real folk tale that the good people of York, Pennsylvania have told for years. I read about it and the light bulb went off. What if the Seven Gates wasn’t just a bunch of campfire chatter? What if behind the lonely old dark dirt road, was something true and more sinister… a secret?
Well digging from the well that is my own life, I know small towns and how they think. You have to appear to be perfect or you are shunned. No room for mistakes. It’s good or evil. And all of that is BS. Enter the good, Dr. Night. He runs a Mental Hospital, where those not measuring up to the perfection standard, seem to find themselves checking in. Whether they want to or not.
For the research, I read about all the horrors that took place in the so-called “mental health field” throughout time. It is shocking. People held in ice water for hours if not days, in complete darkness, with only their head above water to breathe. Lobotomies to cure, well whatever they didn’t like about you. And so on, it went. You could wind up in a mental hospital because your neighbor wanted your land, or you went on a drunken bend, or you were a prostitute. It was all cold and cruel. And we shouldn’t forget these people.
It is easier for me not to forget. This story is very personal to me. I have visited someone I cared about, in a mental hospital and personally seen “the looks and the stares”. I have seen the loss of one’s self and identity. It is horrible and someday we will learn from the past and hopefully stop repeating it. This story is my “not forgetting it” story.
Working on this book marks a pretty trying time for me. Both Jazan and I were going through challenging periods and there was a lot of indecision on my part. What came of it was a very visceral and different looking visual than I would have come up with were I more comfortable on the inside. We agreed to go ink wash with this whole book to give it a very old feature film feel. As usual you can see my art evolve from page 1 to the last page. The washes become more confident and less uncertain. I enjoy Jazan’s edits as he always pushes me to go out further.
The story itself has some serious undertones that say something about our history and the mentally disabled. Jazan’s story telling tends to build like the ascent of a roller coaster car. He doesn’t open big but he finishes big! I enjoy the tales twists and turns but the crescendo is always one of my favorite things to draw. All hell always breaks loose! I also got a little more comfortable suggesting subtle changes to the established storyboards but not too much. David Miller nails it just about every time.
Well now that you are caught up, we have a peek at what is coming in the series finale… book four! Carnival of Horrors finds Jake Stone without all hope. The years and horrors have taken their toll and the world he sees is complete darkness. Stone is done. I mean if you live in a haunted house, what’s left to scare you? Wait… love, emotion and caring about someone.
Jake’s mother refuses to give up on her son. She still sees “her child” trapped inside the damaged man he has become. So when all else fails… send in the clowns!!! That’s right; the Carnival Of Souls [took] a trip to a Haunted House this Halloween 2012.
The Carnival of Horrors book #4 [was] exclusive to Amazon for a limited run before being launched on just about every smartphone and tablet around the world. Amazon has been amazing to Carnival Comics and we have seen 13 of our titles hit the #1 spot. I am hoping we can take this one to the top as well. It has been a pleasure sharing these tricks or treats with the readers.
I just had to say something about this last book! The story really pulls you in and within the moody and dramatic teeth and nails are little gems of poignancy. The scenes with the mother were surprisingly my favorite to illustrate. Capturing her age in various moments in time was a challenge. It took me a little while to understand the magical way Jazan thinks. It’s not constrained by the rules of reality like I tend to view things in stories. He approaches tales with a childlike sense of wonder and as soon as I got that, it all clicked.
This last book sees both Jexter the Clown of the CARNIVAL of SOULS series and Scratch, the creepy caretaker character that set this life of horrors in motion for young Jake Stone. Being able to capture the Carnival, the supernatural elements of FUNHOUSE and on top of that I got to storyboard the book myself…well it was too much!
I have to thank you all for listening to us and allowing me to rant. I’m grateful for anyone that takes the time to see our work, Jazan Wild for believing in me and [comic book news sites] for giving us the opportunity to get the word out.
Thanks to Carl Williams from Gaming On Batteries; this article ran for print in Issue 3