Meet comic book aficionado Jay Eales: fan, writer, journalist and publisher. He recently moderated a comic-related panel at the 2012 Alt Fiction event, as well as giving a talk about small press comics at the States of Independence event in Leicester. Not to mention recently guest-lecturing a writing class on comic scriptwriting. You could, perhaps, call him a busy man!
Jay is one half of the dynamic duo behind Factor Fiction, a publishing imprint formed in 2000 with Selina Lock, his partner in both ‘crime’ and life. Both together and independently, they have been involved in editing, writing and publishing an impressive array of titles, such as Walking in Eternity, Violent! and The Girly Comic.
The comic connection
Jay may be busy, but he manages to fit in a healthy amount of reading (no re-reading, mind – he concedes that’s something of a luxury). Comics are his passion, particularly those with a horror aspect, including such gems as Oldboy by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell, Zenith by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Hellblazer by Jamie Delano and various, Hellboy and BRPD by Mike Mignola, Metropol by Ted McKeever, and Necronauts by Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving.
Jay lists Jill Thompson, one of the World’s most well-known female comic book artists and winner of numerous Eisner awards, as one of his favourite figures working in the comic book industry today. Thompson had her own panel at Boston Comic Con last month (April 2012), where she reportedly told the audience that it can take her 10 hours to illustrate a single page.
When asked about her wide-spread appeal and popularity, Jay sums it up simply and succinctly: “sheer talent”. “Being one of the artists associated with The Sandman probably didn’t hurt, but her own Scary Godmother and Magic Trixie characters, aimed at younger readers, are also great,” he adds. “She has a great knack for imbuing life and enthusiasm into everything she draws.”
Evan Dorkin’s Beasts of Burden series, wonderfully illustrated by Thompson, is about a gang of dogs (and a cat named Orphan) who protect the town of Burden Hill from evil forces, including tortured spirits and demonic cannibal frogs. “There’s a strong supernatural element in place, and while there’s some cute anthropomorphism at work, there’s also a lot of demonstrations of the brutality of nature (and supernature). It’s very different from the cartoonier work that Evan Dorkin is more usually known for, although I suppose his Milk and Cheese (‘Dairy products gone bad’) characters are more violent.”
Not only are there more issues of Beasts of Burden in the pipeline, but a film adaptation is on the way too. Many of Jay’s other favourites have already been committed to celluloid, including Oldboy, Hellboy, Death Note, Hellblazer (Constantine), and there’s even a Cartoon Network adaptation of Thompson’s Scary Godmother comic. “We recently re-ordered our DVD collection,” says Jay, “and pretty much the entirety of one Ikea Benno unit turned out to be comic adaptations…”
Horror comic to film adaptations
He may own a fair few, but Jay admits that he has mixed opinions about the adaptations:
“In general, I’d say that adaptations rarely come close to the source material. Sometimes they get close – Oldboy is pretty much as good a film as it is a comic. Sometimes they miss by a country mile - League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell, I’m looking at you… Mostly, they fall somewhere into the middle.”
As well as comics, Jay reads widely where novels are concerned and has a good overview of the genre. “When the horror boom struck in the eighties, I probably read more horror than any other genre,” he muses, mentioning highlights such as I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Crucifax by Ray Garton, The Light at the End by John Skipp & Craig Spector, The Drive-In by Joe R Lansdale, Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, Fevre Dream by George R R Martin, Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A Collins, The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, and Drachenfels by Jack Yeovil (aka Kim Newman).
What is splatterpunk?
Considering Jay’s passion for 80s horror, and with titles like Crucifax and The Light at the End in his list of favourites, conversation turns to the ‘splatterpunk’ label. Some genre fans and authors consider it helpful and use the term fairly liberally, whilst others, including writer Joe R Lansdale, object to the term being used to describe their work, but what are Jay’s thoughts?
“I don’t especially seek out one type of horror story over another, but I do have a fondness for the splatterpunk sobriquet, as it was the bucket term that was going around when I read so much of it,” admits Jay. “I guess splatterpunk is one of those terms that gets used as an umbrella to cover so many different things … I guess it was the steampunk of the day. It’s difficult to say whether the label gains you more sales or less, but I suspect it’s inherently limiting for the author if you don’t necessarily want to write explicitly all the time.”
In contrast to hard-hitting splatterpunk-style fiction, a real classic in Jay’s mind, and indeed in many others’, is the subtler Casting the Runes by master-of-the-ghost-story M R James. His tales still elicit strong reactions in readers today and have the ability to chill to the very core: “the central conceit of Casting the Runes is probably the most influential piece of writing I’ve ever encountered. Night of the Demon, Christopher Fowler’s Rune and an absolutely corking HBO TV movie (sadly unavailable on DVD, except for dodgy VHS-to-DVD copies floating around on the internet) called Cast a Deadly Spell have all made good use of the idea, and I’ve stolen it myself a few times.”
Something that Jay’s read more recently, which also possesses the ability to strongly unsettle its audience, is the atmospheric prose of Adam Nevill. Jay describes Nevill’s writing as “moody and charged” and highly recommends Apartment 16, the second book from the talented British author: “you can see he’s slaved over every sentence, and he’s good with building unease in the reader. There’s some really quite disturbing imagery at work, though I don’t think I want to spoil any of it for potential readers by saying any more.”
Nevill’s new book, the eagerly-anticipated Last Days, is coming out later this month (May 2012), though the prologue is already available to read on Nevill’s blog, and it hints at more of the goosebump-inducing prose we have come to expect from him.
Possession and body-hopping are recurring themes in some of Jay’s favourite novels. Beginning with an early favourite, Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, in which a powerful being is banished to Earth after being falsely accused of murder and reborn into the body of a puppy – he then has the lifespan of the puppy to discover the real murder weapon, else he will die. One of Jay’s highlights from the 80s horror boom, Valley of Lights by Stephen Gallagher, is about a body-hopping entity. More recently, he’s enjoyed I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan, in which God gives Lucifer one final chance to redeem himself by living sin-free for one month inside a human vessel on Earth. These themes are present in some of Jay’s favoured comic books too, such as Zenith by Morrison and Yeowell.
“It’s not something that I’d particularly noticed a preference for,” Jay comments, “but it’s obviously there, buried within my unconscious mind. I could possibly blame it on the influence of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Evil Dead at a delicate age!”
“I suppose one of the primal fears is of the ‘Other’,” he adds, “but how much worse is it when someone you know, someone you trust, turns out not to be who you thought they were? I like a zombie story as much as the next person, but the really horrific part of it isn’t the relentlessness of them, as they slowly surround you or track you down. Never tiring, never stopping, never sleeping. It isn’t even that when they catch you, they eat you. It’s that they might have once been your friends and loved ones. And you might be next…”
A number of the titles that Jay mentions are set in the city of London (Simon R Green’s Nightside, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels, and Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle, for example), a setting which one could argue lends itself well to the horror genre. Jay remarks that this location-choice is probably more by default than anything else and says he would welcome something different: “Personally, I’d like to see more diversification, and stories drawing on the history of other cities. Perhaps I’ve been drawn along by the psycho-geographers like Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore, although of course, even they have used London a lot in their various works. I think I could quite happily get along without a single new story about Jack the Ripper. Bring on Skulking Dudley of Clopton and Tanky Brown, Leicester’s first detective, I say!”
In terms of upcoming book and comic releases, there’s plenty Jay is looking forward to, and he currently has plenty of projects on the go himself, including editing Faction Paradox: Burning With Optimism’s Flames, an anthology for Obverse Books (due for publication in the summer). He’s also working on some novella pitches, and has a story in upcoming anthology Alt Zombie, which is due out from Hersham Horror next month.
As our discussion draws to a close, Jay reflects on what ultimately draws him to the horror genre and what he, himself, strives to put into practice in his own work: “mostly, it’s the same things that attract me to stories of any stripe,” he says. “Good writing, strong ideas, characters you can empathise with, or if they’re deliberately unpleasant or enigmatic, that you can at least engage with. I want stories that drag me into their worlds and show me something I didn’t already know. I’m not looking for comfort reading. I don’t want to be spoon-fed, but I want there to be a point to the experience.”