In Sweets, a new five-issue miniseries from writer/artist Kody Chamberlain (30 Days of Night, Challenger Deep), the hunt is on in New Orleans for a crazed killer. What nobody knows is that
something far more dangerous is on the horizon–Hurricane Katrina. We had the opportunity to ask Chamberlain, a Louisiana native, about this powerful new series, his take on the aftermath of Katrina, and what other projects he has on the horizon!
TFAW.com: Hi Kody, thanks for joining us. Can you introduce Sweets to us?
Kody Chamberlain: Sweets is a five-issue miniseries about a New Orleans homicide detective named Curt Delatte. He’s hunting a psychotic spree killer who’s terrorizing the city days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall. This detective just buried his only daughter and he’s on the verge of divorce, he’s in bad shape.
Everyone with a badge is trying to catch this killer and put an end the slaughter, but the bodies just keep piling up. Curt has to pull himself together and join the hunt. He’s got no choice. It won’t be long until his city and his evidence gets washed away. A true ticking time-bomb scenario. The story is dark and gritty, but there are a lot of fun characters and some big twists along the way.
TFAW.com: Since you’re a native of Louisiana, I imagine that the story of Hurricane Katrina is a personal one for you. What was that experience like for you, and how did it influence Sweets?
KC: Everyone in the gulf coast felt the impact of Katrina in some way, I’ve got lots of friends and family that were in New Orleans for the storm, or got out just in time and their homes were destroyed. We had a few people living with us for a while until they could get back on their feet. But we had our own major storm with Hurricane Rita just a few weeks after Katrina.
Rita was the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. We didn’t get the media attention, the politicians, or the National Guard, so many people may be unaware it ever happened. Parts of Cameron Parish were completely washed out to sea by a 12-foot storm surge, leaving nothing behind but sand and dirt.
My wife’s office was in Cameron Parish at the time of the storm and it was under six or seven feet of water. Thankfully our house is in Lafayette Parish, north of Cameron. We got some flooding, downed trees, and power outages. But with that kind of chaos from Rita, Katrina wasn’t something we were focused on at the time. But there’s no doubt Katrina and Rita were a one-two punch for everyone along the gulf coast.
Any time a major hurricane is headed our way, we stock up on bottled water, batteries, food, etc. Chances are pretty good that we’ll lose power for a few days and heavy flooding usually makes the water undrinkable. Preparation and anticipation is part of the process. You’ll see plywood screwed onto windows to protect the glass from flying objects and everything gets tied down, including lawn furniture, trash cans, etc. There’s never a “Calm before the storm,” it’s usually filled with stress, urgency, and tough decisions. Do you stay and face the storm, or do you evacuate?
I was actually working on the script for Sweets when both storms hit, so there was no choice but to consider the impact on the story I was trying to tell. I realized the urgency of a homicide investigation would be greatly increased by an approaching storm. Having lived through several major hurricanes myself, I decided to use those experiences to inject as much as I could into these characters to bring them to life. But the readers have the advantage here, as the approaching devastation gives them a bit of insight the characters don’t have. The characters don’t know what’s coming, but the readers do. I hope to use that to my advantage.
KC: I started writing around the same time I started drawing, late in high school, I haven’t published much of the writing because it just wasn’t good enough. But I’ve slowly been building a catalog of ideas and inching forward on a few different scripts. My first published writing work was a short story called “The Crescent Flame,” part of the Pulp Tales anthology published by Boom! Studios a few years ago. It was a benefit book for Josh Medors, who I’ve known for a long time online, hanging around various message boards and comic book chat rooms, long before either of us had any published work. Josh has been fighting cancer, and the anthology was done to try and help send some money to him and his family.
Drawing comics is a major time eater, so Sweets was actually written slowly over a three- or four-year period, stealing time as often as I could to get it done. I found it very helpful to spend time working with so many amazing writers these last few years. I saw many different ways of doing things, asked a lot of questions along the way, and that’s been a great education for me. But I’ve also been taking writing seminars, getting critiques from industry professionals, and even hiring a Hollywood screenwriting consultant to help push my script to the next level.
TFAW.com: What is it like to write for yourself?
KC: I don’t think it’s much different writing for myself than writing for another artist, since I work in full script format, so it’s all worked out long before I pick up the pencil to draw. I focus on pushing each scene in a visually interesting direction, knowing I’ll be drawing it later, but I don’t take any shortcuts by writing around my shortcomings or sticking with the things I like to draw. I do the complete opposite; I go out of my way to push in new directions and create challenges for myself.
Having said that, I think there’s a real pleasure in reading creators like Frank Miller, Chris Ware, Will Eisner, Phil Hester, Mike Mignola, Colleen Doran, Paul Pope, and many others. When a single creator handles story and art, there’s a purity I enjoy that creative teams have a hard time matching. I don’t know if auteur is the right word, but vision, style, voice, and personality all shine through. Having recently finished the first issue of Sweets and passed it around, other creators claim to see it in my work as well. I’m skeptical, but I’m starting to think it’s all too subjective to ever get a grip on. Time will tell.
TFAW.com: A lot of your past work is in the horror genre, while Sweets seems more like a crime comic right off the bat. Is this a departure for you, or do you consider this a different type of horror?
KC: Most of the popular work I’ve done has been horror, mostly because of popular writers like Steve Niles and Keith Giffen, but I’ve actually done a big range of work including comedy, action, and crime drama. In fact, Joshua Fialkov and I are planning a third Punks book very soon. Punks is a surreal comedy done entirely in traditional photo collage, quite a different style from Sweets. I’ve also done a bit of superhero work and sci-fi. But when it comes to my own writing, I do tend to lean toward crime and horror, so I’ve made an effort to seek out those kinds of projects as a freelancer.
TFAW.com: In the preview pages I saw, I noticed there seems to be a color shift from kind of sunny, bronze-y colors to black and white (and red). Is this going to continue throughout the book, and why did you choose this approach?
KC: Color is something I think about quite a bit. My background is in graphic design, so I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to use color to control and influence information. It’s very challenging, but I have a lot of fun experimenting with these things. One of the strongest attributes of a black-and-white comic is the natural sense of unity. Everything belongs on the page with everything else, strange contrast and value changes aren’t enough to disrupt the page. The clarity comes from the simplicity. It all stays together. But when you start adding different colors to different things, you begin to create different kinds of relationships between the things you’re coloring.
Color is more than just making things “pop” or separating foreground from background. It has a major impact on the story because it influences how things relate to one another on the page. These relationships can impact the mood and tone of the story. For that reason, I take great care in selecting my colors, and I often choose to work with a limited palette based on the point of view and mood of the characters, or to highlight certain changes in the way the story is being told. Limiting the color palette can also create a similar unity to black-and-white comics without sacrificing the power of color. You get the best of both worlds.
TFAW.com: Your art has a really cool, gritty look to it. Who were your influences growing up, and how did you develop your style?
KC: With the exception of Mad Magazine, I never read comics as a kid. My early favorites were mostly limited to library books, broadcast TV, and an occasional movie when we could afford it. The earliest stuff I remember going crazy over was Scooby-Doo, Warner Brother’s cartoons, Encyclopedia Brown books, lots of Kung Fu movies, etc. I was eventually drawn to crime dramas like Columbo, Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, and all the twisted shorts on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales from the Darkside. By the time I started drawing late in high school I was neck deep in all the great directors like Scorsese, Coppola, Carpenter, Sergio Leone, etc. I remember finding a magazine once that listed their top 100 greatest films of all time and I rented as many as I could over one summer living in the dorms at college.
When I started studying art and trying to learn to draw, I had more influences than I could comprehend but I didn’t have any particular direction. I was only drawing because I enjoyed drawing. I hadn’t even considered it as a career yet, I was still thinking I might go into engineering or some sort of science. So my earliest sketchbooks have strange little cartoons, life drawings, portraits, invention ideas, and even some caricatures of teachers. It’s all poorly drawn, but looking back, I can see that I never really had a natural style the way some artists do.
I eventually got my degree in graphic design and advertising, and that required me to be very diverse as a visual artist. One day I might be working for a hip skate shop, the next day I might be designing a brochure for a women’s hospital. Form follows function. So for me, style has always been more of a conscious decision than a natural way of doing things. The style is chosen based on what the story requires. But honestly, I do enjoy the rougher, grittier styles more than the rest. Seeing the hand of the artist has always been more interesting to me than something perfect and polished.
TFAW.com: What other books are you reading right now?
KC: I’m a bit behind on some of my favorites, but I’m currently reading Chew, Joe the Barbarian, Creepy hardcover archives, a few of the Vertigo Crime books, and re-reading all of Hellboy, since I recently upgraded to the nice hardcover editions. And the new stuff with Fegredo has been fantastic. I did pick up the first Scalped trade, I’m planning to start that one soon. That’s a short list right off the top of my head, but there’s a lot more in my stack at the studio. There’s a massive amount of quality work coming out, and reprints of classic work are flooding into shops and bookstores like crazy. There’s never enough time or money to keep up. It’s a great time to be a comic reader.
TFAW.com: What’s your dream project? Do you want to continue to do solo projects, or do you have a wish list of collaborators?
KC: Honestly, I don’t have any desire to work on a particular property or character. I didn’t grow up with comics, so I don’t have any nostalgia toward anything in particular. If a great project came up I’d consider it on its own merits, but my dream project is to do creator-owned work and tell the kinds of stories I’d like to tell, in my own way. I’ve got a few more unique ideas I’d like to do after Sweets, so hopefully I can jump right into that next, but Sweets is, without a doubt, my dream project.
TFAW.com: What’s it like working with Image?
KC: Image Comics has been fantastic. Eric Stephenson seemed to love my pitch right from the start, and everyone at the office got behind the book in a big way. It’s important to note that Image won’t help you create your book; they leave that part up to you. But if you have an independent spirit and you’re capable of delivering finished pages, Image Comics has what I consider the best deal for creators.
TFAW.com: Do you have anything else coming up that we should know about?
KC: I’m currently drawing a short, 10-page comic for MTV. I can’t give any details just yet, but anyone that subscribes to the MTV newsletter will get an early look in just a few weeks. It’s a small side project, but the script was one of the funniest I’ve ever read. I’m finishing up the inks this week. Should be a fun read.
Pre-order Sweets now and save 20%! You can also check out our four-page preview of Sweets #1 (also shown in this article), and get behind-the-scenes info at Chamberlain’s website, In No Particular Order.
Are you excited for Sweets? Have you seen any of Chamberlain’s previous work? Post your comments below!