I met Kurt Amacker at Bar Redux in Bywater a couple of weeks before our photo shoot. Intrigued by our conversation, I purchased his book, Cradle of Filth: The Curse of Venus Aversa, a collaborative project he did with musician, Dani Filth of the title's namesake. It was a wonderfully written book with gorgeous artwork that reminded me of the old Hammer films I liked so much. I couldn't wait until our meeting so that I could ask him all of the questions that I had collected.
Within a cloud of cigar smoke and drams of whiskey, we discussed old writers, books, what drives us as artists, our methods of cooking steak and how we got to where we are. I was very interested in his work and he patiently answered all of my questions. The day turned to night and I went home with a memory card full of pictures.
How long have you been writing for?
I wrote some pretty terrible poetry in high school, starting around the age of 15. As a sophomore, I was enrolled in a specialty arts school for half of the day, and I wrote some slightly less-terrible poetry and a handful of forgettable short stories there. When I got to college, I settled on journalism and wrote articles and editorial content. I shifted over to public relations after changing my mind about news writing (namely, that it doesn't pay well and I didn't want to do it), and then just decided to join the police. Unfortunately, my reserve unit in the Marine Corps was activated for the Iraq war. I hurt my knee in training at Camp Pendleton, so I had to stay put while my unit went over right after Baghdad fell. This was in 2003. The injured knee put me on bed rest for a while, and I was just assigned to work in a mail room, answer phones, and just do administrative work. I started writing the first script for Dead Souls on a yellow legal pad. The knee put me out of the Marine Corps and pretty well precluded a career with the police. So, I continued writing while working office jobs. I also got a job working for the now-defunct Cinescape, which was later called Mania, writing their comic book column. That helped me to make contacts in the industry because it gave me press credentials. My first comic book came out from Seraphemera Books in 2008, finally. I've been at it ever since.
Can you remember your first story? If so, what was it about?
Outside of some drivel I probably wrote in various elementary English classes, the first real and competent short story I wrote was at the tender age of 15 in the specialty arts school I mentioned. It was about a wannabe vampire named Sidney who takes a hallucinogenic drug. His television starts talking to him and tells him he's a real vampire. So, he kills his best friend, who he's been in love with for years. He drinks her blood and then wanders around the city, seeing things through his vampire eyes. When he gets back to his apartment, he sees the police inside his apartment from the fire escape. They find the dead girl and the remains of whatever drug he took, and he realizes that none of it was real. So, he killed his only friend for nothing. It wasn't a great story, but I still think about that guy sometimes. I think there are a lot of very alienated, lonely people that find great comfort in the vampire archetype--especially teenagers, because it's a power fantasy. It's interesting that you made me think about that again, because I haven't told anyone about that story in years.
Why write comic books? They seem to be more popular than ever. What’s your take on the reason for this?
I love comic books. Some of my fondest childhood memories are, like many people, just escaping into a stack of comics. We had intermittent, limited cable TV, internet, and video games growing up in my house. My parents were worried (probably correctly) about us spending too much time in front of a screen. But, I could have comics and they were a bit more accessible than prose for a young mind in search of escapist fun on a Saturday night. It's not to say that I never left the house or wasn't allowed to watch TV. I'd just say that our access to those things were limited for the first decade or so of my life. As I got older, I continued to read the odd graphic novel and then more independent comics from Oni Press, Slave Labor Graphics, Kitchen Sink, and the like. I had entertained the idea of working in comics as a kid, but then again, I also entertained the idea of being a ninja and an Olympic swimmer. But after a few more years of reading comics as an adult, Marvel announced this open call for submissions for a new Epic imprint. Basically, they told everyone that they could make comics from home as a part time job, as long as the work was good. They were flooded with submissions. The imprint was scaled back to include just industry professionals and an anthology of some of that submitted work. But, I'd started preliminary work on a pitch package with an artist I knew. That ultimately became Dead Souls, but it was with a different artist. I have a "put your money where your mouth is" attitude about things. I feel like I'm not entitled to enjoy something unless I've somehow contributed. I know that's a bizarre attitude to have, but it's best explained as fear of inauthenticity. I still hope to sing in a band one day, even just for a six-song EP, just so that I can say that I helped create music.
I think comics are more popular than ever for a couple of reasons. First, they're a narrative visual medium that is much easier to create than film or television. If you have an idea, you can make a comic yourself or with one other person. No matter how ridiculous or inviable that idea might be, you can bring it to life on the page. Maybe it'll be great and maybe it'll be terrible, but at least you can hold a finished product in your hand. That's not to say you can't do that with film, but it's a much more laborious and expensive undertaking. Second, comics are more popular than ever because of the movies and television shows being adapted from them. The comic industry has 75 years of stories behind it. The major publishers know which stories have worked and which haven't. It's very easy to find the best stories from the thousands of comics that have been printed and adapt those. They've already been vetted and visualized.
You’ve worked with both Cradle of Filth and 69 Eyes. What made you want to do these projects? What has it been like to collaborate with these musicians?
In both cases, they actually approached me. With the 69 Eyes, they knew that Dani Filth was a fan of my other underground comics, so I wasn't just some guy looking for a gig. I wanted to do the projects because I'm an enormous fan of both bands and have been for years. I've never been particularly adept at playing music, but I've always wanted to contribute to rock music somehow. I had a notion of doing adaptations of rock songs as comics when I was a kid. Obviously, that didn't go anywhere for years, but here we are.
There have been rock and roll comics for years, but most of them haven't been very good. I wanted to create stories that stood on their own, whether you listened to the band or not. And if you are a fan, that just enriches your experience. You'll get more of the references, jokes, and subtle allusions. And in both cases, to answer your third question, it's been a pleasure. In essence, Dani Filth and Jyrki 69 and I came up with the plots for their respective stories. Then, I wrote the scripts (or co-wrote, in the case of the 69 Eyes; the publisher for Seraphemera contributed to a few of the scripts). The band gave me notes and suggestions, and then we had the books drawn and produced. It's interesting, because it was kind of a backdoor way to get a name in comics. I went outside the comic book industry and marketed myself and my work to music fans instead. It's been successful, for the most part. Both of those bands really helped me take my writing career to another level, so I can't thank them enough.
What is the collaboration process like? Do you enjoy working with others?
Like I said in the last question, the Dani and Jyrki helped plot the books, and then they made notes on the scripts and then the final comics. I was given a fair amount of autonomy in writing the actual scripts, though. As far as collaborating with artists, I prefer to just hire people outright and give them a script to draw. I want an artist's input and perspective, but I don't want them to be able to hold up a book over a disagreement. When I was working at goth clubs and a couple of other projects, I've met people who were incredibly enthusiastic but had a very different vision for whatever we were doing. Eventually, we'd hit a wall and then a collaboration would turn into an argument and then the whole project was stalled or compromised into something poorer. I walked away from those experiences having learned to be more selective about who I work with. I'm working on a project right now where the artist has a lot more input on the narrative than I'm used to dealing with, but he is an established professional. Our rule seems to be that if one person really doesn't like an idea, then we reject it until we can find something we both like. This is fiction we're talking about. The world's not going to end if one of us doesn't get to use a joke or a supporting character we really like.
Who is on your wish list of bands you’d like to work with?
Oh god, that's hard to answer because I've actually talked to a few of them, or talks are ongoing. I don't want to "announce" projects that might happen years from now or not at all. There was one band I was really excited to work with, but the singer blew off our appointment and was incredibly rude after a concert, so I just wrote off that idea off altogether (and stopped listening to the band). In my unreachable dreams, I'd really like to work with Ghost B.C. or Black Sabbath, but that's kind of like daydreaming about what you'd do if you won the lottery. Part of the problem is finding a band whose songs have a strong narrative component that lends itself to storytelling. There are bands I love, but it would be a real problem to teases out a narrative from, say, a Sisters of Mercy or a Guns N' Roses track. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen, but some bands don't traffic in vivid, cinematic imagery as much as others do.
What’s your latest novel about? How did you conceive it?
Bloody October is about a reporter whose best friend, John Devereux, is a real vampire. The reporter, Jason Castaing, reintroduces him to life in New Orleans, and they spend a long time drinking and raising hell. Then, a couple of girls end up dead in vampire-style murders, with their throats torn out. They think it might be this fanatical vampire devotee they helped send to prison a couple of years before, or someone working for him. Jason meets this punk rock girl named Maureen who owns a used clothing store, and they play detective trying to find out who's framing John. At the same time, Jason is dealing with a drinking problem that escalates as the situation becomes more intense. It gets interesting from there.
I conceived it because I was between comic projects and I wanted to start something that wouldn't cost as much up front. And, I felt like I had something to prove because a lot of people still look down on comics as a narrative medium. It's like some people didn't believe I was a "real writer." But, like any project, the basic premise just stayed with me for years--a vampire novel from the point of view of his best friend. The lonely vampire thing has been done to death by other vampires, so I wanted to write it from someone else's point of view. That way, we could see and hear what an amoral monster you'd have to be to live as a vampire. If the vampire is narrating the story, you're going to forgive a lot as a reader. You want your protagonist to succeed. I wanted to put someone right outside of that situation, wherein John was accountable to someone else and had to actually justify himself (or not). The book has received nothing but positive feedback, so I must have done something right.
In the comic you wrote with Dani Filth (Cradle of Filth: The Curse of Venus Aversa), there is some historical reference, particularly the inclusion of Oscar Wilde as a character. What historical subjects are you interested in and how does it guide the plot structure of your stories?
I love history in general, but I'm especially interested in medieval subjects, and anything from the Civil War through about the 1950s. With the latter, I love seeing how people grapple with the rapidly changing social landscape and the emergence of technology. History doesn't necessarily guide my plots, but it helps to anchor a story and lend a sort of realism to it. If you use a real person in an accurate and respectful way, you're positioning your characters as being in their league and of similar significance. It also serves as an Easter egg to history buffs, I suppose.
How do you prepare for writing a story?
Usually, I've had an idea cooking on the backburner for months or even years. Certain facets of the plot start building upon each other until I feel like I have a good foundation to work with. Then, I usually just write a synopsis or a treatment that explains the story from start to finish. This is essentially an instruction sheet for my own use. Then I break it down into subsections and work from there. If I'm working on a licensed project or something I've been assigned and I'm dry for ideas, I start typing questions for myself ("Why does he want to go there?"). Once I see the question on the page, it's easier for me to arrive at a reasonable answer for a given character. I keep building on that. If I hit another wall, I just write down more questions and stare at those until a workable answer comes to me. Whenever I work, I try to block the internet and hide my phone to avoid distractions. If I'm getting truly restless, I'll get up and just walk around my house or jump up and down or make another cup of coffee or something. It's actually much easier to work when you make yourself write your way out of a situation. If you've got an easy distraction on hand, your brain will gravitate towards that every time.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are able to share info about?
I'm working on a reboot of my first miniseries, Dead Souls. This will be a much longer graphic novel entitled Dead Souls: Resurrection. Monty Borror, who drew Cradle of Filth, did the art. I used my old script from the original three-issue miniseries, but I've edited it and expanded upon it. It went from being the same story with all new art (because I was never satisfied with the original) to a full reboot. Everything gets rebooted now, so I don't feel too bad. That'll be out sometime next year. I'm still editing it, and there's still a lot of layout and production work to do.
I've got another novel in the works, but it's on hold until I can finish Dead Souls: Resurrection. And, the idea is actually pretty unique. I haven't found another book with the same premise yet, so I'm holding those cards close right now. There is also another licensed project in the early stages, but we haven't signed anything yet so I can't breathe a word about that one. But if we can pull it off, it'll be amazing.