MYSTERY SCHOOL COMICS GROUP INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Richelle Charkot
Richelle Charkot: Tell me how the Mystery School Comics Group came into being.
Mystery School Comics Group: You can only throw yourself against a wall so many times before you invite your friends to join in on the self abuse. Making comics is a wretched and lonely affair, every step takes forever, and it is so rare to actually feel good when you review the work. After all of that agony, you have a flimsy little ghettoized product that cost way much to make, and people are too embarrassed to purchase. This kind of thing requires a support group, and that more than anything else is the most honest answer I can give.
RC: Introduce yourselves and tell me about the pieces that you contributed to the first volume.
Michael Conrad: My name is Michael W. Conrad. I wrote and drew several pieces in A Minor Spell. The stories told in this volume are pretty bleak, but I try to think positive as much as I can. I do a daily drawing on my Instagram: @michaelwconrad, which is kind of a meditation on being positive and the importance of reflecting on the day. That said, it's a lot of fun to just be gross and mean spirited, that end of my personality is put on front street in Volume 1.
Jef Overn: My name is Jef Overn, and my contribution to our book A Minor Spell is a series called 'Movie Mutations', which is basically a deranged parody of classic movies we all know and love, ruined by making the characters deformed and taking the actual movie situations/dialogue and twisting them around in a fucked up way. It's fun, but your mom probably won't like them. I also contributed some other random single-page images and I did the front/back cover design. If any of you HorrorTalk readers want to check it out, I also co-host a horror movie podcast called 'Forever Midnight'. It might just be what you need in your life. You can find it on iTunes or on our website forevermidnight.net.
Justin McElroy: I'm Justin McElroy, I'm a freelance illustrator and comic creator. I also go by screenname "thoughtographic" on Twitter, Instagram and Wordpress. I contributed 'Parasitus Hospes' (a manuscript that deals with the instruction of preparing a host body for a parasite), 'Phantasmagoria' (a comic strip where an unnamed man explores and suffers in a hellish dreamscape), and 'The Darkness Embraced Me Like Family'.
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Ryan Taylor: I'm Ryan Taylor, newest member of the Mystery School Comics Group. Michael approached me with a script of what I read as a love story gone bad. Luckily, I am such a jaded guy, I had enough mental reference on the subject of lost love that I was able to sit down without reference and bang out the four-page story in less then a week. We had a tight deadline to meet and the self-pressure of finally finishing a comic and seeing it printed helped me get motivated too. I couldn't be happier with my first published work in comics. The piece 'Rock Limp' was actually the scratch paper I used to clean out my pens while I illustrated the comic.
Winston Conrad: I'm Winston Conrad. I live in the woods and, like the animals that surround me, spook easily. I drew 'Frown', a comic written by my brother, Michael Conrad. Michael has also written the stories I drew for A Minor Spell and Dimthroat's latest collection. I write review comics for eatgeekplay.com and my comic strip Savage Land appears on their site on Mondays. I have a lot of other projects, and information about most of them can be found at winstonconrad.com.
RC: I love the “Bad Comics for Bad People” tagline on the front of the issue, tell me, apart from ‘bad’, who is your perfect audience?
MSCG: Wow, that's an interesting question, I'm tempted to be cheeky here, but instead I'll stick with honest. Our perfect audience is intelligent, discriminating, well respected, and willing to provide us money so that we can continue to create freely... Now that I think about it, we already have our perfect audience in ourselves, but where's the fun in that...
RC: Michael, although the whole series is dark, there’s a particular gritty vibe to some of the pieces you created – 'Ritual' and 'Unrequited' come to mind immediately. Why do you think people like to be scared? What attracts you to the horror genre?
MC: I have a bad habit of telling people I don't like horror. The fact is I love horror, it's just such an easy genre to screw up. With the stories told in A Minor Spell, I didn't really think in terms of genre, I just wanted to tell stories about misunderstandings... It's pretty revealing as to the nature of my character when you look at the stories all together. 'Homunculus' for example was supposed to be a cute little story based on some really endearing drawings my brother Winston had drawn of a Mandrake root playing and dancing with various animals that live near his home (this kind of led in to his ongoing webcomic Savage Land which you can check out at eatgeekplay.com), but the script I wrote based on that notion includes a dying dog, two other deaths, spousal abuse, and murder... again, I wasn't trying to be horrific, I just am that kind of guy.
RC: Jef, your series in Volume 1 'Movie Mutations' is hilariously twisted; where did you get the idea to create messed up takes on classic movies? What movies would you like to tackle next?
JO: Thank you! I believe the birth of the original idea came about in a funny conversation Michael Conrad and I were having one evening about about a very un-P.C. "what if" Home Alone scenario, which I won't give away here, but I instantly thought it would be a perfect thing for me to draw since it's every bit of the things I'm into: deformities and film. I have an unhealthy obsession with both. If I remember correctly, in the very next moment we also came up with a really messed up idea for E.T. as well. We knew then that this could be an ongoing series for me to draw in the MSCG. By the time I got home that evening I had already come up with a title plus the idea for Stand By Me and Big, which both appear in A Minor Spell. And not to say that I don't put hard work into them, but the ideas seem to come pretty easily. I think that's because I might be a horrible person. [Laughs] As far as movies I would like to tackle next... I'm currently finishing up Titanic right now and of course Michael and I will do our initial ideas for Home Alone and E.T. I have many more ideas for future 'Mutations' of great movies, and look forward to eventually compiling them all into one big book.
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RC: Justin, one theme I could see emerge in your pieces was the idea of an outsider in one community, of course the most obvious being 'The Darkness Embraced Me Like Family'. How do you perceive being a part of the horror community? What is it like to meet like-minded fans?
JM: The outsider is a big theme in the horror genre. The outsider is often the feared one in horror stories (the monster, the alien, the freak), but it is also scared of this other world with other minds. It is a crazy and complicated world we live in, and we have all felt like an outsider at one time. Sometimes it is best to let that otherness embrace you so you can understand it better. I plan on doing a lot more horror comics in the near future. It is a genre in comics that I feel needs more attention and has untapped potential in the medium. I love meeting and talking with horror and comic fans. I invite anyone to strike up a conversation with me on Twitter or Facebook.
RC: Ryan, tell me about one of your first memories with expressing yourself visually; have you always drawn darker pieces?
RT: I used to draw the most elaborate and complicated roller coasters as a kid. I'd draw these crazy long trains that would be full of the happiest people, having the ride of a lifetime. Eventually I just started taking out crucial pieces on the coasters. Over time the riders in my drawings stopped being happy. I think that's right around the time I started drawing "darker pieces."
RC: Winston, your artwork has a super identifiable vibe; who or what would you say are your biggest influences?
WC: I'm usually influenced by a mixture of very serious and very playful sources. The cave paintings of Lasceaux and Groo by Sergio Aragones are probably equally influential. I like the honesty of a rough edge or a jagged line... the proof that a human hand made an image. The cave paintings have awkward proportions and very little depth or perspective, but there is something raw and emotional about them that excites me. Groo is funny and sweet; qualities I like to see in my own drawings even when the subject matter is morbid.
RC: How can people get involved with the Mystery School Comics Group?
RC: What can we expect in Volume 2?
MSCG: Volume 2 will be a lot more refined, we learned a lot from Volume 1, and definitely want to outdo ourselves with every project. I think it's safe to say we will be heavier on the narrative content, and even more grim.
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