Alison Sampson & Steve Niles Stir Up Satanic Panic in Winnebago Graveyard

Plus an Exclusive First Look at Pin-Up Art from Jen Bartel and Donya Todd

Comics Features Steve Niles & Alison Sampson
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Alison Sampson & Steve Niles Stir Up Satanic Panic in <i>Winnebago Graveyard</i>

Over a decade and a half since reinvigorating the horror comic scene alongside artist Ben Templesmith with 30 Days of Night, writer Steve Niles remains one of the foremost names in sequential terror—and collaborator Alison Sampson meets him scare for scare on their upcoming Image mini-series, Winnebago Graveyard. The road-trip-gone-wrong story finds a young family stranded at an unsettling carnival, where tastes run bloodier than cotton candy and funnel cakes. Sampson’s photo-realistic style, as seen in the Image OGN Genesis, helps sell every ounce of viscera dripping from the page.

STL046945.jpeg While Winnebago Graveyard revels in the cult-fearing “Satanic Panic” that dominated headlines off and on between the ‘60s and the ‘90s, each issue’s backmatter essays from Sarah Horrocks and Casey Gilly contextualize the horror and reveal a fuller portrait of real-world Satanism—a practice (typically) devoid of human sacrifice. Sampson has also recruited a who’s-who of rising artists, most of whom aren’t traditionally known for horror work, to provide pin-ups for the series. We’ve got an exclusive first look at issue #1 art from Jen Bartel and Donya Todd, as well as confirmation of upcoming contributors Paulina Ganucheau and Aud Koch. Check out the full interview below to uncover Sampson and Niles’ devilish plans for Winnebago Graveyard, which hits shelves June 14th.

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Winnebago Graveyard #1 Pin-Up Art by Jen Bartel

Paste: Road trips seem to be an experience on the decline thanks to AirBnB and other modern conveniences. Do either of you have personal experience with long-haul journeys—or, for that matter, with creepy (or at least not up-to-code) carnivals?

Alison Sampson: Who needs an AirBnB when you have a campervan? My partner and I have a 1994 Bongo (a very small Japanese RV, you sleep in a pop-up tent on the roof) here in the UK and go on trips in it regularly—we’ve been to Ireland, France, Spain, Australia and all over the UK with it. It is a good van but like a lot of older vehicles it doesn’t go too fast, so we often break the journey at whatever is around, and we stop where we can. When you go slow, you find all sorts of things. And it is a very modern convenience—all we need to do is park, switch off the engine and make the gin and tonics. That said, we’ve been to places where we moved along very quickly and one of those, in Ireland, was an inspiration for this book.

Paste: Alison, Steve’s name is synonymous with horror, but is it a genre you hold close to your heart as well? Are there any novels, films or other horror comics that inspired you to co-create something as bloody as Winnebago Graveyard? Or was this a darker place than you often go creatively?

Sampson: It is. I’m from a farm and I was brought up on the horror stories my dad told to keep us safe there. It was the 1970s and we had a lot of freedom, so we needed to know: the rats go for the throat, you’ll drown in the grain, be crushed in the machinery like (name of person we know), be dissolved by acid (they burned the potatoes off with sulphuric acid!), be poisoned, be trapped by fire, or get stuck in a space where no one can find you and so on. I believed all this because it either was true, or was sufficiently credible, and I tend to think horror is very close to us in the real world. I don’t think of horror as a genre, I just think of it as something that is. But—when our lives seem to governed by fear, as they seem to be more and more in our current political climate, horror stories actually seem to take the edge off. It is dealing with those edges and borders and achieving some level of catharsis, in a safe space.

If I’d have to name a literary inspiration, it would be my early-adult reading. Most people in the UK of my age have read James Herbert and I was going for that similar pass-it-around-at-school feel. This isn’t by any means the first horror story I’ve drawn, but I think it is the first that demanded a particular mindset where I’ve had to “go there.” I think “there” is an interesting place and appealing for a lot of artists to do that.

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Winnebago Graveyard #1 Pin-Up Art by Donya Todd

Paste: Steve, you’ve been writing comics for decades, and your breakout work—30 Days of Night—came out 15 years ago. What keeps the horror genre exciting to you after all this time? Which horror archetypes are you still dying to put your stamp on?

Steve Niles: Horror has always been the thing for me. I’ve been lucky enough to write tons of comics, but I always come back to horror. I think it’s easier to relate to an outcast monster than a superhero, or maybe that’s just me. I’d say werewolves are the one creature I haven’t been able to really dig into, though I’ve written some werewolf characters. I know there’s a great werewolf story out there but I haven’t been able to crack it yet.

Paste: What is your collaboration like on this project? Steve, if I’m not mistaken, this is your first full-fledged creator-owned work at Image—why was this the right project for Image as opposed to some of your other regular creative homes?

Niles: I’ve written a few creator-owned comics with Image over the years, but this has definitely been one of the best books due to Alison’s amazing art and hard work. She really took the reins and steered the whole production, which is why it was perfect for Image. As a creator you can have full control of your book with them, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.

Sampson: Very straightforward and easy. This is mainly because we’ve had a very clear division of roles. Steve offered an outline, I made some art and designed some characters and settings and we had a bit of discussion, and then Steve wrote the script and I’ve drawn it and then I’ve put the book together. I have a strong sense of this being written for me, although much of it is things I have not drawn before. I told Steve not to hold back, and he hasn’t.

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Winnebago Graveyard #1 Interior Art by Alison Sampson & Stephane Paitreau

Paste: The book plays into some deliciously gory tropes surrounding devil worship, but you’ve enlisted guest essay contributions in the back that flesh out real-world Satanism. Was it important to you to pull back the curtain on that community?

Sampson: The backmatter is there for a number of reasons. I wanted to provide some non-fiction that is exclusive to the single issues because I (frankly) wanted to give people a bit more for their money, and then I wanted to provide some essays that were a foil for what people see in the book. Sarah [Horrocks]’ contributions provide color, where they explore space and violence in cult horror films, set in the space that our book inhabits. Casey [Gilly]’s contributions provide context for our story. There are questions and feelings that come out of reading the work—and we wanted to address some of those, and we do.

Niles: What made the Satanic cult movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s so great was the Fear of the Unknown. The cultists were mysterious and sinister. They came across as regular townspeople, they could be someone you’re supposed to trust—the mayor, the head of the church, but at night they’d be wearing black cloaks and holding torches, chanting something ancient and unknown. We never knew too much about them, but as a group, they had power. Alison added a whole new level of essays and voices to the back of the issues, and it helps flesh out a bigger picture for a new generation.

Paste: Alison, you mentioned when we first started e-mailing that you’ve particularly sought out artists known for their “Magical Girl” work to provide pin-ups and guest contributions. What inspired you to pursue that mash-up of genre influences?

Sampson: I don’t in any way think of this as a mash-up of genre influences. I was looking (and am looking) very much at the artists themselves and if this is something they wanted to do. There is a thin line, if indeed there is a line at all, between magical girl and Satanism. It is just bad magical girl, and that area is hugely appealing, and frankly I hope some of our contributors explore that it further.

I wanted to provide the best thing for our book and our readers and sometimes one doesn’t have to have a single reason for that, or indeed a single style of art. For example, I have a huge fondness for Donya Todd’s chutzpah and the matter-of-fact earthiness of her work. It just felt like a good fit for the actual feeling we wanted to evoke—it is almost folk art, yet is frenetic and full of emotion as well, and, if you look, it is very much about doing.

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Winnebago Graveyard #1 Interior Art by Alison Sampson & Stephane Paitreau

Paste: Winnebago Graveyard is billed as a mini-series. What else do the two of you have in the works that you can tease?

Sampson: I’ve got a story coming out in Shelly Bond’s Femme Magnifique book very soon, maybe July, written by Leah Moore about Beth Ditto. The rest I can’t talk about for now—to be revealed when it is ready.

Niles: I’ll be starting a new October Faction series, more books, comics and projects to come.

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Winnebago Graveyard #1 Interior Art by Alison Sampson & Stephane Paitreau

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Winnebago Graveyard #1 Interior Art by Alison Sampson & Stephane Paitreau

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