Outcast, Image and Skybound’s demonic possession series written by Robert (Walking Dead) Kirkman and drawn by Paul Azaceta, stands apart from its horror brethren by emphasizing the creepy over the gory. The creative duo create a more ominous, lingering horror story than the visceral surrealism of zombie wastelands. The protagonist, Kyle Barnes, has lost everything to demons that have inhabited his family, and now with the help of a local reverend, is out to find answers. With its diabolic premise and talented pedigree, Cinemax has already begun to develop the story as a television series.
The slower pace and dreadful quiet of the series presents a challenge Azaceta doesn’t shy away from. “There’s a great page in #3 of Kyle sweeping up the living room — the whole page is him sweeping up,” he said a few weeks ago amid the frenzy of New York Comic Con. “That’s the stuff I love to figure out. How do I make that interesting?” The result is an eerie tale saturated with character drama and mounting mystery. Echos of William Friedkin’s disturbing classic The Exocist ring throughout the page, but there’s also a clear twist looming in the near future.
Azaceta took some time to chat about his favorite aspects of horror and what he’s trying to bring to the genre with Outcast.
Exclusive images from Outcast #5 courtesy Skybound.
Paste: It seems that as readers, we’re trained to look for action, but you mentioned that Outcast relies a lot on quiet moments. How do you navigate that?
Paul Azaceta: It’s definitely more of a challenge. It’s easy to make it exciting when you have somebody punching somebody in the face. But with the quiet moments, there’s a tone. I try to get into that, and work with character poses, their body language.
Paste: How do you go about developing the body language?
Azaceta: I actually have a mirror right next to my desk at home, so it’s a lot of looking at the mirror and making silly faces. It’d probably be funny to film me drawing. I think I approach it a lot like acting. I picture these as real people, or at least like an actor trying to do a scene. Sometimes I act it out myself. I love watching actors and the choices they make. I try to keep that in mind, like if the mother dies, how would someone actually react? Would they get weak in the knees, maybe have to hold the wall? A lot of times when you get into the feeling yourself, that kind of energy goes into the art.
Paste: Do you get sad when you’re drawing a sad scene?
Azaceta: Yeah. I won’t start crying, but I’ll get in the headspace when I draw it. Hopefully the reader will get that kind of energy I put into it.
Outcast is being developed as a TV show. Do you think that aspect of your style and the realistic body language lends itself to this adaptation?
Azaceta: Just in the sense of getting the characters to feel alive. I hate to say I think of it as a movie, because I have a real deep love of comic books and comic book art, and I actually don’t like when comic books try to be like movies. There are things that comic books can do that movies can’t. I try to take advantage of that.
Paste: Artistically, how are you trying to set this book apart from other horror comics?
Azaceta: The great thing about comics is that you can work atmosphere, being creepy. That’s what I’m trying to do. There’s only one comic book that ever scared me — it was Uzumaki, which is a manga. That was a creepy, creepy book, and I always kept that in my head. That’s how you do horror in comic books. The other stuff with blood and gore, at the end of the day it’s a drawing so it doesn’t have the same visceral effect. But the creepy atmosphere is what I’ve been trying to bring to it.
Paste: What other ways are you developing a unique aesthetic for this book?
Azaceta: A lot of credit goes to Bettie [Breitweiser], the colorist, who’s doing a phenomenal job. It’s easy to fall into the rut of a horror book – everything’s desaturated, dark. So I said let’s do all that, but let’s have these pops of color. Let’s have cool effects and lighting that doesn’t necessarily make sense in the real world, but it looks really awesome and gives a mood. When we get to the creepy stuff, then really ramp up the contrast and the shadows, make it hyper-real.
Paste: Did you bone up on horror before (illustrating) Outcast?
Azaceta: I was looking at some horror to get in the mind space, figure out what works. John Carpenter’s stuff really stood out to me. He’s really good at that same kind of stuff I’m talking about. Dario Argento, his stuff really influenced me, especially with the coloring. His stuff is mostly all hyper-real — it’s crazy lighting, but it looks amazing. There’s no reason we can’t have amazing visuals like that. Just because it’s set in the real world, who cares — it’s a comic book.
Paste: Speaking of the setting, how are you tackling that?
Azaceta: I’ve never been to West Virginia, so I wanted to make sure it felt like West Virginia. I think I’m getting better as I go along at capturing our little world. When I did Spider-Man, one of the main things I was trying to do was I wanted it to be New York. You can tell some people are from the area when they start drawing New York. I went through Google Maps and picked different streets, so it was actual places in New York. Now with Outcast and West Virginia, I’ve been looking again. I don’t know what I did before Google Maps.
Paste: I heard that you drew a floor plan of Kyle’s house.
Azaceta: With any book I do, I try to get in and pre-plan as much as possible, but with this one I remember being very nervous about the fact that it’s ongoing. I’m going to draw that house…I don’t know how many times. I could draw it 50, 100, 1,000 times, who knows. So I really should have a set thing so I don’t run into problems — like I drew him walking two steps to the bedroom, but now Kirkman wants this long hallway shot. It makes sense for the long haul.
Paste: Were there things, like say green puke, that you were outright trying to avoid?
Azaceta: Just as far as tone and keeping everything creepy. A couple of times [Kirkman] said when somebody’s punching somebody, let’s not make it superhero. Let’s try to make it a little more visceral, more real. You know, make it look like it hurts. I’ve been trying to do that with the impact, so as soon as they get punched you see swelling, you see blood.
Paste: One of the visuals that stood with me was when the mother was kicked in the nose by her possessed child in the first issue.
Azaceta: We’re trying to make real life consequences. A lot of times in superhero books, Superman punches a guy through a building and maybe he has a couple of scratches on him, but he gets up and he’s fine. With this one, the next time you see that mother, she has a band-aid. Here, you get punched in the face a few times, you get your nose broken and there’s going to be blood all over the place.
Paste: So The Exorcist is like the gold standard. Do you feel any pressure to be different?
Azaceta: It’s funny because I grew up Catholic — I’m not very religious now, but I grew up with that, my mother’s very religious — so I have a natural kind of aversion to exorcism or religious stuff like that. The Exorcist is the one movie I didn’t watch in gearing up for this. That one still creeps me out. Whatever Catholic is still in me is like ‘This is just wrong!’ But yeah, it is the gold standard. Also, what Robert’s doing with the story, it kind of starts in that area, but it’s going to take its own road. It’s going to separate itself naturally because we’re not doing a straight exorcism story.
Paste: So what type of horror are you generally into?
Azaceta: My favorite movies are John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien. And, the original Night of the Living Dead. What I love about those is having the group with the character dynamics and having the outside threat. All the infighting, that’s my favorite kind of stuff. I never watched Night of the Living Dead [as a kid] — I saw it a few years ago, but it’s still way late in the game. I was so surprised when I watched it how little zombies are actually in it. It’s so much about them inside. Alien is similar.
Paste: Is there any other horror you’d like to do?
Azaceta: I’d love to do something like Alien or The Thing, where it’s just the small group in one location dealing with some kind of threat. I think about things more as character stuff, dealing with people and relations, whether it’s horror or superheroes or whatever. I have stuff I want to write too eventually, hopefully when I’m done with this I’ll be writing and drawing some of my own stuff.