Metalocalypse Director Jon Schnepp Riffs on Slayer: Repentless

The Thrash Metal Icons Head to Comics for a Dark Horse Mini-Series

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<i>Metalocalypse</i> Director Jon Schnepp Riffs on <i>Slayer: Repentless</i>

Comics and metal have long shared roots in the realm of visual drama, from Glenn Danzig’s perverse sequential art to GWAR’s successful comic Kickstarter that topped out at—you guessed it—666 backers. Slayer, one of the most respected acts in the thrash scene, has been busting eardrums and stirring up controversy for over 30 years. Their shock-and-awe tactics make the jump to comics later this month with Slayer: Repentless, a three-issue Dark Horse series written by Metalocalypse director Jon Schnepp and drawn by Guiu Vilanova with covers from living legends Glenn Fabry and Eric Powell.

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Based on the brutal video sequence for Repentless, Slayer’s most recent studio album, the comic charts a savage road trip through white-supremacist hate groups, starring a pair of brothers caught on each side of the ideological divide (with a cameo from the band itself). In advance of the first issue, which hits stands January 25th, Paste chatted with Schnepp to discuss his “long and sordid” history with metal, the whiplash pace of the series and the unintended timeliness of the book’s violent core.

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Paste: Comics take months, if not longer, to put together. Did you have any inkling how timely a story about neo-Nazi violence and white supremacy would become in early 2017? What kind of research did you undertake to tap into that ideology and its adherents?

Jon Schnepp: I didn’t foresee this kind of reaction in our country, or globally for that matter, but it’s been seething under the surface for a while. I felt like addressing the issues that have been brought up over centuries of war and violence, and adding some subtext to the overall ideas of what the songs that Slayer sings could be interpreted as being about. I think the lyrics are far deeper than most read into at the surface, so my attempt is to add the layers in the storyline of one of the oldest stories—Cain and Abel, North vs. South, brother against brother—and bring those forth within the characters.

Paste: The book is extremely violent, pretty much from the first page onward. What do you think the appeal of that kind of horror is? Is there a cathartic element to all the bloodshed and anger?

Schnepp: The most terrifying violence is that which mirrors reality, and “man vs. man” has been in our gory past from caveman to present day. I found that by not shirking from what happens in real life, our very own brutality toward one another and the messed-up, violent history that already exists, and by magnifying some events, our story can help the reader feel what our main character is experiencing and the path he takes. I also think the comic can operate like a videogame, and be a cathartic experience that can only happen inside those pages.

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Slayer: Repentless #1 Interior Art by Guiu Vilanova & Maurício Wallace

Paste: The narrative in the first issue moves as fast as a Slayer song. Does Repentless directly adapt the story already established in the music video cycle, expand on it or some combination of the two? What do readers coming in fresh need to know to get up to speed?

Schnepp: I wanted this comic to flow like you are on a speeding motorcycle, headed into a fiery future, a shotgun-blast surprise every couple of pages with explosions from the past ricocheting off the road on both sides. To create a fever-dream state on almost every page as we headed toward the inescapable future, with the road-show horror ever present. I based my outline on expanding the ideas from their three music videos made by BJ McDonnell, and I wrote a bigger story about family, betrayal, trust and love around that.

Paste: The dialogue at times feels almost lyrical—how much influence do the Repentless lyrics have on your approach to the script? Are you incorporating the source material directly into the book?

Schnepp: I’m using the past 30 years of Slayer’s music to help shape and mold the storyline as well as the dialogue. I enjoyed finding musical passages that could be flipped or reflect the thoughts of the characters, and weaving them throughout the entire storyline.

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Slayer: Repentless #1 Interior Art by Guiu Vilanova & Maurício Wallace

Paste: Repentless isn’t your first foray into the world of metal. Did Slayer influence your work on Metalocalypse? Are you a longtime fan and live-show diehard or a more recent convert?

Schnepp: For myself as the main director and visual creative on Metalocalypse, it was always really important to me to keep the rough edge on the visuals and the edits and the feeling you got from going to see metal live, as well as all the fun horror elements that populate the visual world of metal, from the album covers to the music videos. I loved making that show! I’ve been a fan of heavy metal, including Slayer, my entire life, jamming out to Dio and Judas Priest when I was in high school. I remember really getting into Slayer in the late ‘90s, drinking and playing darts with some metalheads when I first started working in LA. I’ve also directed several metal music videos myself, including some for Exodus. I have a very long and sordid history with metal.

Paste: Has the band been at all involved in the adaptation or are they largely trusting you to do your own thing and remain faithful to the intent of Repentless?

Schnepp: They have been pretty hands off, outside of approving the storyline along with [music label] Nuclear Blast and Dark Horse. I sent in outlines for each issue, and everything got approved before I began scripting. I think once they saw what I was doing, and the direction I was going in, everybody felt good.

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Slayer: Repentless #1 Interior Art by Guiu Vilanova & Maurício Wallace

Paste: Aside from buckets of blood, what does artist Guiu Vilanova bring to the book? And how does it feel to have the legendary Glenn Fabry providing covers for the series?

Schnepp: It’s such an honor to have the first issue’s covers by both the legendary Glenn Fabry (I’ve got every Preacher cover he’s ever done) and Eric Powell, the mastermind behind The Goon. I was not familiar with Guiu, but I am now. His artwork is the perfect style for this story, and is exactly what I was hoping for! He is the perfect blend of Steve Dillon, Sean Phillips, John Cassaday, Eduardo Risso and Darick Robertson. All these masters, then hit the blender, add some Wally Wood inks, the knowledge of light and shadow, and you’ve got Guiu! This guy is incredible! I was beaming as I looked at the finished art from my first issue, brought to life like I was hoping—as a cinematic horror/action road movie!

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Slayer: Repentless #1 Variant Cover Art by Eric Powell

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