Interview: Chad Helder Takes Us Into the Scissor Swarm

by Jeff

jan094051f Interview: Chad Helder Takes Us Into the Scissor SwarmThere’s been a lot of attention on Bluewater Productions lately, due in no small part to their Female Force line of illustrated biographies, which focus on powerful women in politics. But a lesser known fact is that Bluewater is also the home to a resurgence of horror with their Vincent Price Presents line and Bartholomew of the Scissors–a disturbing tale of an undead boy named Bartholomew and his quest for revenge. TFAW.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chad Helder, writer of Bartholomew of the Scissors (as well as writer and script editor on Vincent Price Presents) to talk horror and delve into the darker side of Bluewater.

TFAW.com: Chad, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Chad Helder: It’s great to have an opportunity to talk about my little undead friend, Bartholomew.

TFAW.com: A little background for our readers: you’re not only the editor on several titles at Bluewater, you’re the writer on a few as well. Can you tell us a bit about juggling those two roles?

CH: I’m a script editor and writer for Vincent Price Presents. I have the great honor of being the “voice” of Vincent Price for the intro and outro segments that bookend each issue of the series. In addition to writing those segments, I also write some of the stories. In some cases, I work with writers on their scripts for the series, and I collaborate with publisher Darren Davis on which scripts we want to include in Vincent Price. It has been an awesome journey so far. The stories I’ve written for the series have involved cross-genre elements like pairing vampires and cyborgs. I’ve also used lots of animal characters in strange horror settings (like Canus the cyborg dog in issue 4, and the anthropomorphized zombie skunks in issue 7). A lot of the other one-shots in the series are more situated in the classic horror genre. We have lots of exciting things coming up for this series.

TFAW.com: Tell us a bit more about Bartholomew of the Scissors, and Vincent Price Presents.

CH: Bartholomew of the Scissors has been a real journey for me. I first conceived of the idea for Bartholomew’s Scissor Swarm way back in 2001, and since then I’ve written a couple drafts of the novel version. Over various revisions of the novel, I put a lot of work into developing the world that Bartholomew occupies, including various monsters and creatures from another dimension. Bartholomew himself went from being like a poltergeist to being an undead being more akin to a vampire with off-the-chart psychic abilities that manifest as his Scissor Swarm. When I met publisher Darren Davis (I asked him to be a guest speaker in my English 101 class when my students were writing an essay about comic book heroes), it suddenly occurred to me that Bartholomew was really a very visual tale that would work perfectly in a comic-book format. The story really fell together when I wrote the script. After I wrote the script, Darren found Daniel Crosier, who immediately understood the vision of Bartholomew. He used this really innovative artistic technique of burning the illustrations into pine planks, and then augmenting the pictures with paint and pencils. The creepiness of Daniel’s amazing faces and the dynamic energy of his illustrations really bring a lot to the story. The characters really came alive for me through Daniel’s work. Also, the effect of the wood-burned art really creates a creepy story world for Bartholomew to occupy, and it is so perfect because there is a lot of fire in the story, so burned images are a perfect way to tell this story. Bartholomew is all about fire, scissors, and milky-white blobs. Those three elements are always at odds with each other in the story. You can even see the lines of the wood (and sometimes knots) in the panels. It has an awesome effect.

For me, Vincent Price Presents is about telling imaginative new horror tales with Vincent Price as the muse and host. I am really inspired by the work of Tim Burton, who also used Vincent Price as a kind of muse. I really admire an artist like Burton who can create his own vision while still drawing on the elements of a genre, and that is what I have tried to do with my strange stories that draw from Price’s tradition and Poe’s tradition too (the two are inextricable in my mind).

TFAW.com: What do you see as the role of horror in the comic format? Do you think there’s still room for it on the illustrated page with television, movies, and even video games vying for the same fan base’s attention?

CH: I see comic books as bridging all of those other mediums. I think graphic storytelling is the ultimate, prototypical story medium. Comic books provide a kind of template or storyboard that other storytellers like filmmakers can follow. I think that is why comic books are so adaptable into film and video games because they provide a powerful visual story, which is the foundation for those other mediums. I think horror stories will always be popular in the world of comic books because of the subjective emotion expressed through the art and the beauty of monsters. Horror fiction requires a different type of artistic flourish through psychological suspense (think of the amazingly rich, textured worlds that Poe created, for example), but in the comic-book format, artists have such a wonderful opportunity to create these surreal, nightmarish landscapes populated by the most beautiful and grotesque monsters, and I can’t think of a better place for a monster to be exhibited than in a comic book. In a movie, they almost always look fake (especially digital monsters), and in fiction they are only in the reader’s imagination, but a monster can really live in a comic book.

TFAW.com: Bartholomew of the Scissors, in particular, is a dark tale with many interlocking (and disturbing) themes. Can you share a bit of the inspiration behind this story?

CH: It all began when I was walking through the forest one day in the Pacific Northwest and I had a vision (in my mind’s eye) of shiny stainless steel scissors floating out of the forest and catching the sunlight. It was a weird and disturbing image. And then I imagined what would happen in the scissors attacked, sort of like the seagulls in Hitchcock’s Birds. That was the beginning. Then, I needed to find a psychological motivation for this Scissor Swarm, and that was when I attached it to the murdered boy, Bartholomew. In my writing over the years, I created several characters that were like a Peter Pan vampire, but I never could get it quite right. Bartholomew, like Peter Pan, has the never-grow-old syndrome and something much darker because he is the victim of a murder. One of my favorite fairy tales is Hansel and Gretel, and this Peter Pan vampire became sort of like Hansel and Gretel in one, both the helpless boy who is kept in the cage and the clever girl who outwits the witch. Along with that theme of Hansel and Gretel in one, I made Bartholomew an adolescent who is uncertain about his gender identity. I would say he is questioning his identity when he is captured by the witch. In this case, the witch is Dr. Karen, who takes photographs of Bartholomew and spreads them across the Internet. The witch in the original fairy tale is a cannibal; Dr. Karen’s way of “eating” Bartholomew is to take these photographs. Bartholomew is a victim of exploitation and murder, and that is the source of his vengeful fury that he unleashes upon the world in the form of the Scissor Swarm.

I am also a huge fan of Moby Dick, and the White Blob is my homage to Moby Dick, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the Steve McQueen Blob all mixed into one. The story also follows a kind of X-Files story-line with my version of a film noir paranormal detective, Gordon Watt, who has white hair because he has seen so many terrifying things.

TFAW.com: Amongst the many striking elements of the tale, the unique approach to the art (and the wood-grain background) leaps out from the start. How did the team at Bluewater come to such a bold design decision?

CH: The wood-burned art is the vision of Daniel Crosier. When I first heard about his technique, I didn’t understand at all. I loved his initial character designs of Bartholomew, but I didn’t understand how his pencils would be translated to blocks of wood. And then when I saw Bartholomew and the Scissor Swarm as they appear in the initial pages of the comic, I “got” it. It totally blew my mind. People often think that we’re talking about some kind of wood-block printing. This is something much weirder and more wonderful.

TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the enmity between the Spectral Phantasms and the White Blob? What is the foundation of this conflict?

CH: These two monsters represent two completely different biological imperatives. The spectral phantasms are all about a symbiotic relationship between human hosts and phantasms. They need the life inside human blood to survive in our dimension, and in return they provide spectacular paranormal abilities to the host. The White Blob, however, is all about assimilation (the Borg is also a major influence here). The minions of the Blob blindly serve their master. There is very little of the original person left. If there is a specific allegory at work here, it is largely unconscious on my part.

TFAWcom: With the Bartholomew of the Scissors TPB coming out March 25th, what can we look forward to? Both in terms of Bartholomew and from Bluewater in general?

CH: I have lots of visions of Bartholomew and his friends on the big screen. I’m hoping that dream will soon materialize. I’m very excited about the upcoming issues of Vincent Price Presents. The lineup is getting better all the time. Bluewater in general is exploding. They are on the rise. I’m convinced Bluewater is going to be a major player in the future of the comic book industry.

TFAW.com: Any last bits of information, or teasers to share with our readers?

CH: I’m really excited about some of the upcoming issues of Vincent Price Presents. The art is finished on “Rue Morgue High,” which features a psychotic high school student named Edwin who is obsessed with Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe, and Edwin has a horrible gift for mind control. If you like Poe’s story, you’ll get a kick out of this modern-day homage to Poe. Not to spoil the story, but the orangutan with the straight razor is back! Another story, “Hamster Stratagem” is being colored, and I love the art. The main characters in this story are a trio of hamsters in a cage, and they are being terrorized by a teenager who worships the mirror witch, Bloody Mary, and Mary wants a blood sacrifice. The climax of this twisted story centers around a hamster ball and a microwave oven!

TFAW.com: We wish you every success with Bartholomew of the Scissors and your future projects. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

CH: It’s been a pleasure to tell you about my stories, which are a major labor of love. Thanks Andrew and thanks TFAW.com! You guys are awesome.

We really appreciate Chad taking the time to sit down and talk with us. And we’d love to know what you think about Bartholomew of the Scissors, or any of Bluewater’s other titles. Cheers!

Author : Andrew@TFAW

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