In a day and age where digital platforms have made consuming media as easy as clicking a button, collecting movies, music, and literature just isn’t what it used to be. The thrill of sifting through shelves for eye-catching titles in these mediums might not ever be felt by future generations raised on digital content, unless they inherit the insatiable desire to build collections. There is no denying that being able to purchase media online and have it readily available within seconds has its advantages, but nothing beats packaged content.
Eibon Press – a comic book publisher founded by horror veterans Stephen Romano (Masters of Horror, Shock Festival) and Shawn Lewis (Black Devil Doll) – understand this. They’re also aware that genre fans still enjoy collecting, especially when it comes with fancy packaging. That being said, at the end of the day, it’s the stories that matter the most, and with their upcoming comic book adaptations of Fulci properties, they’re catering to a specific, diehard audience ready to embrace them with open arms.
To celebrate the release of the upcoming Zombie comic, we sat down with co-creator Stephen Romano to discuss upcoming projects, inspirations, and of course, The Godfather of Gore himself.
First and foremost, for our readers who might be unaware with Eibon, who are you guys and what is your history?
Well, my background is in screenwriting, and I’m also a novelist, book editor and illustrator. I’ve spent the past 20 years working in some sort of professional capacity. I even directed audio books back in the early 90s. That was for Image Comics, actually. I did these wild ‘Comic Book Soundtrack’ albums for THE MAXX and SHADOWHAWK. That was early work. Then I got into doing comic stuff based on the films of Fulci, along with my future Eibon partner Shawn Lewis. We did a graphic novel of THE BEYOND in 1998. Then we got into some other Fulci-related stuff that was never really properly completed. It all sat in the can for 15 years until the time was right. In the years between our BEYOND comic and now, we’ve gotten a lot better at what we do. I’ve worked with some of the greats in the horror movie business, like Don Coscarelli, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. We’re coming back to the Fulci Comics with a lot of know-how and experience and we plan to finish what we started in high style. Plus, we plan to take it all a quantum step further. And we’re not just doing Fulci Comics. There’s a bunch of originals in the works too, like BOTTOMFEEDER, and we’re locking up some other great 1980s horror films for adaptation into comic books. Just this morning, in fact, I inked the deal to do a really notorious science fiction movie from the 1970s as a comic series. It’s been a dream of mine for years to do this film in four colours, and you’re gonna be blown away by what we have cooking with it.
Tell us about your relationship with Fulci’s work. When did it develop and what does it mean to you?
Well it all started when I was a kid, of course. I never grew out of my love of really raunchy sleazebag horror films, and Fulci was kind of the king of the post-Mario Bava slagheap. As I got older, though, I started to recognise the genius of Fulci on all these other levels. I saw THE BEYOND fairly late in life, like in my mid-twenties, and I was just astonished by it. The film was like an artier, less self-conscious version of THE GATES OF HELL, which is actually still my favourite Fulci. When I started doing Lucio Fulci film fests at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in 1999, I realised that these movies mean so many different things to so many different people. The audience would roar with laughter at all the bad dubbing and shitty production values—and yet they’d scream out loud and cheer like hell for the gore and the weirdness. I remember during one of those screenings, a lady friend of mine was down in front during one of the grosser moments and she literally screamed across the theatre at the top of her lungs: “STEPHEN YOU ARE A SICK MAN FOR MAKING US WATCH THIS SHIT!!!!” And the whole place cracked up. See, they all know. It’s impish abandon. Sick fun. It’s scumbag entertainment. But it’s also great art to about half the people in the theatre. That was when I realised that these assholes who assign categories to any sort of artistic expression are just … well, assholes. It’s ALL art. Even if you don’t agree that it’s any good. To me, these are some of the greatest movies ever made. I see a lot there. And don’t fool yourself—it’s not accidental. Fulci really was a genius. He was truly rolling the bones with a lot of his best work. Sometimes he was just there to do a job, but when he was really on his game, he kicked ALL the ass.
What are some of your favourite movies and comics?
DAWN OF THE DEAD is my favourite horror film, and I also believe it’s one of the best movies ever made, period. There’s a lot happening there. It’s incredibly ambitious in a way you never see anyone try these days. I mean, like, ever. I’m also a big fan of films like TAXI DRIVER, where the dark is right there in stark relief. That’s another type of movie that rarely gets made these days—and certainly not by a major studio. THE RIGHT STUFF is brilliant, epic Americana storytelling. I thought MAD MAX FURY ROAD was astonishing. THE DARK KNIGHT and the original SUPERMAN are my favourite superhero films. And of course I slum in the gutter a lot too. Big fan of blaxploitation films, revenge movies, shitty horror flicks. I got BIO-HAZARD by Fred Olen Ray on Blu-ray the other day and it was like nirvana for me. I’m the guy who gets really excited when they announce that MICROWAVE MASSACRE is coming out in HD. I rented all those back in the 1980s on VHS and loved them for exactly what they were – garbage art. But you find great things down in that gutter, too. MS.45, for example, is one of the best films ever made. As is (the original) BAD LIEUTENANT, which was actually written by the lady who plays Ms.45! As far as comics go, I’m a huge fan of the old Alan Moore run of SWAMP THING. Those were terrific sort of “revisionist” horror comics. I like TRANSMETROPOLITAN too. Spider Jerusalem for president! Robert Crumb is my hero. He has balls of steel. I grew up reading his comics, which are just FULL of the most twisted-violent sexualised fetishism and humour beats that mock basically everything scared. My mother actually gave me R. Crumb’s comics to read when I was 6, if you can believe that? I was doomed pretty much from birth.
Can you tell us about some of the Fulci adaptations you have coming up?
GATES OF HELL will be next, after the first 4 issues of ZOMBIE have rolled out. We’ll be doing new issues of ZOMBIE also, an on-going sequel story, as we bring out GATES. The sequel issues of ZOMBIE will go on as long as we can hold onto the licence! We have some twisted, evil shit planned for the future of that series. And GATES OF HELL will blow your mind. We have some other Fulci properties lined up as well, but as of now they are top secret. You’ll hear all about it, and some other books, next year!
This isn’t your first time adapting Fulci to the pages of a comic. In fact, the project has actually been 16 years in the making, having previously The Beyond, City of the Living Dead and Zombie. What made you decide to return to this project, and what will you be doing differently this time around?
Well, there was always interest in coming back to these projects over the years, but it just never happened until now because the stars weren’t aligned right you know? I had a real career to get busy with, stories of my own I wanted to tell. And there was a lot of complicated legal bullshit that had to be cleared with the rights and everything. That took a while. But it was worth the wait, because in the interim I’ve become much better at what I do. So these books have been entirely re-thought from ground zero. They’ve been re-drawn, re-edited, re-written, and even re lettered, and they re now in colour – and not just any kind of colour, mind you. BRILLIANT colour. The guys working on this with me are just amazing. The original so-called “release” of some of this stuff wasn’t even a patch on what they look and read like now. These comics are totally reinvented in an absolutely state-of-the-art way and they will blow your mind like few horror comics ever have. No bullshit.
You say you want “to make owning and collecting comics cool again.’’ Can you tell us about some of the treats you have in store?
That’s the other reason we felt the time was right to do this thing. We wanted to do something very special with these books. Present them in a way that has never been seen before. I’m real big on innovation. I did SHOCK FESTIVAL, which was then – and remains – one of the most innovative books ever done. So we were, like, what can we do with comic books that’s never been done? And so we came up with a business model that would allow us to get these things out in SUPER premium editions with ultra-high grade paper and state of the art offset colour reproduction. Plus, we’re doing the Eibon Sleeve, which is a really fancy album-jacket style wrap that the comics fit into, making them extra collectable. Only 1,000 of each issue of each title will be printed, and the first 250 come with a signed bookplate and some other extra fun stuff. And the whole package comes in the sleeve, shrink wrapped by hand with stickers, just like a record album. You might also assume this would make our books extra expensive to the consumer, but that’s not the case either. They’re only slightly higher priced than your average premium comic. You’d expect to pay like thirty bucks plus for a high-end collector’s item like this. But that’s the awesome thing about Eibon. You can count on this high standard of quality and affordability on each and every issue of each and every title we do. And if that ain’t goddamn COOL, I’d like to see your definition of what cool is because I’m sure I’ll learn something. Lol!
How do you feel the internet has affected the way we consume media?
It’s nuts, really. It’s changed everything. People never want to get off the couch. They’d rather download something than actually walk three feet and put a disc in the machine! That’s bizarre to a guy like me, who grew up in a time when you actually had to leave the house and rent tapes in a store. Also, what’s happened with books has been interesting. There’s a LOT of digital comics now, which we saw a lot of when we were originally looking for a co-publisher. But you know, it’s funny, eBooks have really taken a hit in recent years. People thought digital was gonna completely replace paper. But that really hasn’t happened yet. That’s because people still dig physical BOOKS with pages you can turn. There’s no substitute for actually looking at shelf of printed matter and saying, “hey that’s my goddamn collection, man!” That’s another mission statement at Eibon. Nothing digital. We’re strictly analogue – and our books are not print-on-demand, either. They are held to the highest standard of professional offset four colour process printing. Old school. Where we DO enter the future at Eibon is our distribution model, which is based off our website, which goes live on June 6. That’s the online store where you’ll be able to buy our books exclusively. They won’t be available in any retail outlet. You order them direct and we mail them to you. 15 years ago, such a thing would have been virtually impossible. So the digital age has some perks!
What inspired your decision to make these comics exclusive and not go down the route of wide distribution?
I think we’ve covered that pretty well … but to sum up: This business model makes a kind of sense that combines the freedom to do great art with a way to connect directly to fans and give them amazing printed collector’s item books which have never been seen before. We’re just grinning big time over here!
Bottomfeeder sounds like a comic that’s going to go down a treat with horror fans. What can you tell us about that one?
Well, why don’t I let the book speak for itself? Tell your readers to head to this link, and you’ll get an extended preview: www.bottomfeedercomic.com It’s just wild, wild stuff! It may be the most audacious and politically incorrect comic series since Crumb!
Lastly, what does the future hold for Eibon?
As we roll out our Fulci Comics, expect much more in the vein of 1980s horror and science fiction films, plus BOTTOMFEEDER… and we have a couple of additional original books in the works too. And we’ll be putting out a few of my story collections and novels here too – the darker stuff. We’re just getting warmed up this year!
Words: Kieran Fisher