Graphic Novel Weekly 5/9/19: Interview with James W. Powell, Writer of ‘House of Fear’

Reading Time: 7 minutes


Welcome back to another edition of Graphic Novel Weekly! I hope the last week has treated you well! You’ve in for a treat this week, as I’ll be chatting with James W. Powell, the writer of House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Spooky Stories, releasing next week from Dark Horse. We talk horror comics, art, and bring comic creation into the classroom. Keep reading for more. And, as always, you can find every Graphic Novel Weekly column right here.

Coming Next Week

Next week, Graphic Novel Weekly will be bringing you a whole stack of reviews, including new titles from Dark Horse, Europe Comics, Humanoids, DC, IDW, AHOY, Dynamite, and more!
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House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Creepy Stories

Writer: James Powell
Pencils: Jethro Morales, Adrián Bago González, James Hislope
Inks: Mike Erandio, Adrián Bago González, James Hislope
Publisher: Dark Horse
Purchase: DigitalPhysical
House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Spooky Stories is a real throwback, like EC horror filtered through R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Included in this collection are five single issue-length horror stories intended for middle readers. Powell has found the right balance between spooky, silly, and kid-friendly to make this book a hit for Archie readers looking for a little more excitement in their comics. While there isn’t an over-arching plot for me to tease here, stories in House of Fear include evil snowmen and haunted houses, along with other fun spooky tales, and the art here is fantastic. Morales does the bulk of the pencil work, and it has the right amount of style to give this series a fun, dynamic feel while still making some awesome looking evil snowmen. I definitely encourage young horror fans to check this book out.
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Interview with James W. Powell

Hi James, Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with Graphic Novel Weekly!

I had a lot of fun with House of Fear. What made a collection of young reader-friendly horror stories appealing to you?  Did you set out to write House of Fear, or did it just happen serendipitously with the stories in your head?

Actually, I had no intention of writing comics for young readers. Not until my son, Daxton, who was in kindergarten at the time, asked me why I didn’t write anything he could read.

I had just finished writing the first draft of a graphic novel when he asked me. He had seen the covers and flipped through a few pages of my comics, but he hadn’t read any yet because I thought the themes were inappropriate for his age.

Still, he was my biggest fan and strongest supporter, so I decided to write something specifically for him and his friends.

He was born on Halloween, so I figured, what better genre than horror?

After we finished the first comic, “The Curse of Cottonwood Ct.,” I printed a few copies and handed them around to trick or treaters. The local kids enjoyed it, so I decided to make another one.

The more I made, the more I got into the groove. As it turns out, these scary comics for kids are a ton of fun to create. And with positive feedback continuing to come in, I find myself wanting to make even more.

There were so many great callbacks to older horror anthology series, such as the caretaker of the House of Fear who introduces the stories. Are you a big fan of old horror comics? Do you have a favorite series?

I didn’t read many scary comics as a kid. I mostly focused on Star Wars and super hero titles.

In high school, I got ahold of a few EC horror comics, but I wasn’t reading comics heavily at the time, so they didn’t make an impact. Later, as an adult, I rediscovered some of those same comics, and I realized how cool they were.

With House of Fear, I wanted to mimic some of the things I enjoyed about those old horror comics, but create them for kids. Which is weird to say knowing that plenty of kids read EC comics in the 40s and 50s. But reading them today, as a parent, I can’t believe how dark some of them are. There’s plenty of adult themes and gruesome shocks in those things.

So yeah, the host is definitely a throwback. And so is the title itself. Plenty of adults will see those connections, but for kids, this is all new territory.

And who knows. Maybe kids will enjoy the House of Fear stories enough that they’ll eventually track down some of those older horror comics, too.

I understand that the stories collected here were previously published by another publisher. How did it come about that you and Dark Horse got this book onto shelves?

I originally set out to self-publish the comics under my TEN31 Publishing banner, which I created for the series as a subtle reference to my favorite scary holiday.

The more I created and sold at conventions, the more positive feedback I heard from the community. Neighborhood kids would ask me when the next issue came out, and parents I met at conventions would email me asking the same thing.

Eventually, I realized there could be a much larger audience for House of Fear out there. So I pitched the idea to Dark Horse and here we are, a year later, with the first volume about to hit comic shops and bookstores.

The art here was spectacular. What lead you to Jethro Morales’ art?

Years ago, Jethro responded to one of my posts on a comic messaging board. I was looking for an artist for a military science fiction comic. When he shared his portfolio with me, I knew my search was over. His lines were just so clean and consistent.

I asked him to do the comic with me, and it turned into The Boy Who Wanted War, my first full-length comic.

Years later, when I decided to do more of these scary comics for kids, I reached out to see if he wanted to do an issue.

At first I thought I’d have a different artist on each story, but before he even finished drawing “Attack of the Killer Snowmen,” I asked him if he’d have time to do another issue.

Of course, House of Fear wouldn’t be the same without the other artists on the team. Mike Erandio’s inks are incredible, and Josh Jensen’s colors really make the stories pop. The lines and colors provide a nice balance between kid-friendly and horror.

Matt Krotzer never ceases to amaze me with the lettering, either. If anyone thinks lettering style isn’t important to comics should see what Matt can do to provide voice and sound.

And of course, James Hislope draws the Boyle bookend pages. The character has really come to life for me because of the attention James gives the creepy caretaker.

And I can’t forget Adrián Bago González. He drew the first House of Fear story. The one that started it all. His style is perfect for this type of thing, and I’m glad he helped get this whole thing started.

How much fun was it creating a story with your son?

It was an incredible experience. Easily the most fun I’ve had making comics.

When I first decided to write a comic for kids his age, I asked him for ideas. We had just moved to a new town, and as we talked, he said he’d want to read a story about a kid who moved in next to a haunted house.

Together we mapped out some basic ideas, and then I went to work. At the dinner table over the next few days, I’d tell him where I was with the script and ask him what should happen next.

At the time, he really liked the idea of an alien invasion. And being only five at the time, he didn’t understand why I couldn’t put Darth Vader into the story.  So, yeah, I had to guide him back on target sometimes, but for the most part, his ideas were surprisingly spot on.

We went back and forth together for about a week. Finally, when everything was in place, I asked, “Okay, how does it end?”

His response is exactly what appears in the story. It’s something I never would’ve come up with on my own, but it’s exactly how the characters would get out of their predicament.

We’ve only fully collaborated on the one story, “The Curse of Cottonwood Ct.,” but Daxton has been an integral part of all five of the stories in the Dark Horse book. Whenever I got stuck, or when I needed a kid’s perspective, I’d ask for his input.

It’s part of why I’m enjoying these comics so much. I get to create something cool with my son, and watch him grow as a storyteller, too.

I know that you like to run programs in school around creating comics. Can you talk about that a bit, what you do and how it has been received? And, for those who are in the education field *COUGH COUGH*me*COUGH*, how might interested teachers incorporate your work and presentation into their classrooms?

I started by attending a Career Day session at a local elementary school. I talked with students about the comic-making process, walking them through every step from idea to printed comic.

It was funny to see their faces light up when they realized that someone’s dad is out there making comics. I don’t think many of the younger kids imagined an actual human behind their favorite stories.

Since then, I’ve stuck to the basic points about making comics, expanding the details for the older kids. But I’ve found myself starting to focus more on showing kids that anyone can make comics.

I tell them that I work with creators from around the world, but in reality, you can do it yourself or with a friend. If you want to make a comic, all you really need is a piece of paper and a crayon.

Lately, I even expand to talk about other art. Music. Dance. Anything creative. Doing any of that is as easy, and as difficult, as going out there and doing it.

I told a recent class about my day job, and how it differs from the creativity behind comics. So even that’s a lesson kids can learn from.

The teachers I’ve met with are incredibly supportive of their students. Kids really can do anything they set their minds to. And I think I can provide an example of how you can continue to create art as an adult.

A few weeks ago, I sat with a group of students who attended my original Career Day sessions. Since then, they’ve formed their own comic club that meets once a week after school. They make their own comics, support one another, and set up a mini-convention to sell the comics they’ve printed.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I inspired them to make comics, but it does feel good knowing I had a small roll in all of it.

What’s next for you? Will there be a follow-up volume of House of Fear?

If the response to the first volume is strong enough, there will definitely be a volume two. We’ve finished two stories already, and I’ve written two more. So we’re well on our way.

As I said earlier, I enjoy making them, and I’ll keep doing so as long as there are kids out there reading them.

Thanks again! Anything you want to get in before we wrap up?

Thanks for talking with me about the book. One of the goals I have for these stories is to get my son interested in scary stories, so that one day, we’ll be watching horror movies in the theater together.

I know there are other parents who want the same thing, and I’m hoping House of Fear provides them a fun way to introduce the genre to their kids.

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Luke Forney and/or GeekDad received copies of each of the graphic novels included in this list for review purposes. If you are reading this article anywhere other than on GeekDad or GeekMom, then you are reading a copy not authorized by the author. Please check out other Graphic Novel Weekly articles at www.geekdad.com

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