Janaka Stucky is the author of two collections of poetry: The World Will Deny It For You and Your Name Is the Only Freedom. He is also the Publisher of Black Ocean, an indie press based out of Boston and Chicago. A Karmanaut in training, he is practicing the perfection of effort while working on silent relationships with knives, pugilism, and a history of tentacles. Learn more about Janaka here: http://janakastucky.com
Josh Wallis lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with his wife and son. Classically trained as an oil painter, Josh currently plies his trade as a tattooer and freelance illustrator. “Blackout” is his first published comics work. Janaka and Josh answered our questions together.
How did the two of you meet?
We grew up in neighboring towns, and knew each other peripherally through the adolescent rural psychedelic scene. However, we didn’t really get to know each other until meeting again through a mutual friend when in our late 20s. A few years later, Janaka commissioned Josh to help design and execute a large tattoo on his forearm, and thus the collaboration process was born.
What inspired “Blackout”?
One of our points of bonding, no doubt cultivated through the aforementioned psychedelic scene, is our nontraditional view of “darkness.” Once we decided to work on something for Hellbound III, we agreed on doing something that addressed the issue of darkness with some ambiguity—dealing with intensely personal fears like loss of self-control, the death drive, the very real threat of losing one’s mind, and the mutability of identity. Janaka also worked as an undertaker for seven years in the greater Boston area, and wanted to tell a story that tied in those fears with his experience in the dismal trade.
Explain to Hellbound readers your creative process. Was the story written independently and before the art or did both develop together?
It was very collaborative; we sat down and discussed the themes we wanted to address before any script was written. Janaka presented a draft to Josh, and then we began to sketch out the flow of the cells, roughing out the action across eight pages. It was very important to us that the overall composition contributed to the psychological atmosphere of the story—evolving, or devolving, visually, as the protagonist unravels.
Assuming you consider “Blackout” a horror story, is this your first horror story?
Josh has always been attracted to drawing dark subjects. Janaka, likewise, has been a lifelong fan of horror and wrote some horror short stories that aren’t worth mentioning… This is our first published comics work, and by that extension also our first horror story.
Are you each a fan of horror? If so, what are some of your favorite stories? (And they don’t have to be limited to comic book stories.)
Janaka moonlights as local horror impresario, J. Cannibal—co-founder of the country's first horror burlesque troupe, Black Cat Burlesque. He’s organized a number of horror film events and festivals in Boston over the past decade. Two of Janaka's favorite horror films are John Carpenter’s The Thing and Jacob's Ladder. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Poe made a huge impression on him as a child too. Not surprisingly, all these stories deal--directly or obliquely--with identity, and the uncanny divide between the self and the “other.”
Josh also grew up on a steady literary diet of Edgar Poe and Stephen King, and cites watching Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining as one of his earliest memories. It remains one of his “unholy trinity” of all time favorite horror films, along with The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Josh also cites the heavily stylized Italian supernatural horror films like Mario Bava’s Kill Baby... Kill!, Argento's Three Mothers films, and Lucio Fulci’s gorefests, as well as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, the work of David Lynch and Jean Rollin, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, and Bergman’s Persona as visual and narrative touchpoints.
Artistically, was there anything you were hoping to achieve? Where you happy with the results?
We wanted it to be subtle, and not overtly “horrific” in the comic's depiction of darkness. Our focus was on the complexities of psychological horror—alienation from oneself. During the conceptualization process Janaka told a story that really stuck with Josh, about working as an undertaker. After working in the funeral business for several months, witnessing the ubiquity of death across every demographic, the capacity for death in any living person became quite real for Janaka. This manifested most acutely in an experience riding home on the subway one night when the particular combination of fluorescent lighting and plastic odor of the subway car were especially evocative of the morgue. Looking around him, at the other haggard passengers subtly rocking in their seats, it quite literally looked to Janaka like he was surrounded by corpses--the living were in fact already dead in a very physical way. That ambiguous contrast, and that feeling of the uncanny, was something that Josh really wanted to capture.
The detail shown of the morgue seems authentic.
Josh is pretty fastidious when it comes to detail, so he felt it was necessary for all of the procedures and equipment depicted to be as accurate as possible. Janaka described the details of the embalming process quite thoroughly, and lent Josh a mortuary equipment catalogue for reference.
Finally, the narrator has a very distinct look. Is he based on anyone?
Well, we kind of wanted him to be an empty vessel. A consistent empty vessel from panel to panel but one the reader could project into nonetheless. In discussing our narrator we referred to him as “J,” which is our shared first initial. But by extension, his identity isn’t as important as his ability to be a mirror; as close to a smiley face as we could get inside of a psychedelic, Shaivite horror comic.
Thank you, Janaka and Josh.