Posted by Decapitated Dan |

Deep Discussions with Decapitated Dan: James Maddox & Todd Beistel

I recently had a chance to talk to James Maddox and Todd Beistel about their comic The Horror Show. Check it out: 

Decapitated Dan: Let's start simple guys, who are you and what do you do?

James Maddox: Such an existential question. In the comics industry, I spend my time writing comics. My usual stomping ground is Sci-Fi, Crime and Horror, but honestly, I enjoy a damn good story in any form or genre. Beyond that, I’m also a co-owner and co-organizer for the Tri-State Comic Con in Huntington, WV.

Todd Beistel: I’m Todd Beistel and I handle all visuals of Horror Show.

DD: How did you find yourself getting into making comics?

JM: A while ago, I was asked to write a comic script by a friend. I had been writing prose for years, short stories and novels, but I’d never tried scripting. The experience was amazing. I was able to develop details and structures in my story that prose couldn’t accommodate, and once I saw those words get turned into illustrations, I was hooked. Before long, I had turned into a pulp writer, churning stories as fast as my brain could create them. I love writing comics. I love working with the talents of comic artists and editors and calling them my friends. It’s the greatest job in the world.

TB: I’ve been a fan of comic characters as long as I can remember and I think it stems from watching Superfriends, Spider-Man and his Amazing friends and all of the Batman and Robin guest appearances in shows like Scoobi Doo. Then at some point during grade school I thought I had outgrown them. It wasn’t until high school that I had seen a Amazing Spider-Man 328 with the Hulk that I realized how cool they were. Todd McFarlane’s art brought me back in a big way. I wanted to draw just like him. I copied his style, or my best attempt at least. Then went to art school and discovered many, many other artists that I found influential in comics, fine art and illustration. By the time I graduated I didn’t want to pursue comics. I wanted to paint magazine and book covers. I thought marketing for the film industry seemed like a lot of fun. Paint movie posters like Drew Struzan, but the illustration industry was closing in and I went into graphic design. About 4 years ago I was bitten by the comic bug and since then I had self-published 2 comics before meeting James, leading to The Horror Show. I’m here for good now though.

DD: So what can you tell me about The Horror Show. What’s it all about?

JM: The Horror Show is my love letter to horror comics. I wanted to deliver a story that built up reader expectations, then threw in twists at just the right time to take old concepts and make them punch horror fans in the face.

When Todd and I began working on this, the story was supposed to be a one-and-done kind of experience, but after it was released, readers of the book kept coming back and asking “What’s next?” So with some urging from Broken Icon, we decided to release two more installments of THS, and while issue #2 keeps to a much more linear and straight-forward plot, our plans for issue #3 will hopefully pack as much awesomeness as both Todd and I think it will and create a package that readers will find complete and satisfying.

Conceptually, THS is all about fun, monsters and dismemberments, but emotionally and thematically, I really tried to work in a mix of details that are familiar in horror while introducing a tension-driven plot that may challenge the reader’s understanding of right and wrong, just and unjust. The decisions in this story are harsh, to the point that you might find that the monster in this story doesn’t exist on the levels of run-of-the-mill werewolves or vampires. The terror our monster inflicts on the people of this story has a purpose that I think most readers can understand, if not identify with—which creates a heavier impact to the situation presented.

TB: The design of the monster is basically a cross between HR Gigers Alien mixed with Nosferatu and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Every depiction of the monster in the book is in shadow, especially issue 1. I wanted to keep his shape a mystery as much as possible and cloaking him in shadow as much as possible is the best way to accomplish that. I think that’s why the old Universal Studios monster films were so creepy. Once we know all of the visual details then the mystery is lost. It’s that old “fear of the unknown”.

DD: Who are the main characters?

JM: There are a few characters, but the two that we place our primary focus are Tom and Jess. Tom is a man with a secret that is quickly found out during a prank orchestrated by a television show and his best friend. Jess is a make-up artist for the show who is about to find herself in the middle of a massacre. Hilarity ensues!

DD: Where did this idea come from?

JM: I’d had this story in my head for a while. The original idea was a goof that involved a more well-known comic character as the star (*snikt*), but the more I thought about it, I began to see that the story’s situation was something that carried real potential. It showcased a character’s emotional range with such intensity, and it showed just how far he would go to keep his and his family’s safety intact.

DD: I want to know more about the “monster” in your book. What is he?

JM: When Todd and I started tossing around concepts for the monster, I knew it would have a lot of details and characteristics that might scream werewolf, so it was really important that the thing looked visually separated from that classic villain. For our monster, I wanted something disgusting and dangerous, sure, but this visual base would be undermined by its ability to remain rational while transformed. So really, the monster is an ugly yet enhanced human.

DD: With issue #1 you threw me for a complete loop, with the big twist. So what can I expect to find in future issues?

JM: Issue #2 is more traditional in its storytelling, less plot twists and more action. There you find a struggle for survival on the part of Jess and a struggle to cover up mistakes on the part of Tom. Issue #3, however, will return our readers to some of the fun that was found in the structure of issue #1, along with another sequence of actions that will call into question the role of villain vs hero. It’s a great way to bring everything to an effective close.

If you were to give this book a movie style rating (G, PG, PG-13, R,  X) what would it get, and why would you say that?

JM: I could see some producer trying to pull it off with a PG-13 rating, arguing that it will widen the pool of potential viewers, but doing so would require a lot less blood and a lot less severed limbs. Fuck that. To do horror right, you can’t hold back on the horrific details—or your entire team needs to be super talented and know their craft backwards and forwards. You would think that this was common sense, but then again, we continue to get movies like 1408, which was a great concept that could have been made so much better if they had taken off the kid gloves.

Sorry, what was the original question? Oh, definitely an R rating, for nothing more than the blood and violence.

TB: I would go with an R just for the violence.

DD: What are you hoping readers can take away from this story?

JM: I want readers to identify with the monster, and feel kinda uneasy about that.

TB: I think it’s just a fun read. A throwback to the old EC books so I want people to be entertained and surprised when we change directions without a moments notice.

DD: Were you into any horror titles growing up that lead you to want to create a book like this?

JM: A Cask of Amantillado is one of my favorite stories. Cold and calculating and willing to act, Montresor is the kind of villain who can be patient and ruthless.

Stephen King’s The Long Walk is also another in my Top 10 list. It examines the human condition in an impossible situation. 

In comics (and in prose, really), Steve Niles’s Cal McDonald Mysteries are stories I always pick up. You can’t beat the downtrodden private eye, but add monsters into the mix and you’ve got some awesome entertainment.

TB: I’m a huge Bernie Wrightson fan so I was drawing zombies all throughout college. I didn’t start reading much horror until maybe the last few years. Then I was reading books like The Walking Dead, Rachel Rising and anything by Steve Niles.

DD: What was the most horrific thing that happened to you when you were working on this book?

JM: Truthfully, this book has been a dream come true. Todd has been proactive in getting the right look and vibe for the title and the effects of the tale have been exactly what I’d hoped they would be. So far, we’re sailing pretty smoothly. Oh, but a tree fell onto my house after I finished the final issue, so that was kind of freaky.

TB: Nothing with this issue. I lead a pretty boring life. Issue 1 was rather difficult because I had the whole book drawn except for the attack page. Then the Sandy Hook shooting occurred. That was a difficult time for me because my son was in Kindergarten at the time. I would sit there and try to visualize this violent page for the book and it became too much. I had to shelve the page for about a month before I could work on it.

DD: Can we expect more from you horror comic wise in the future?

JM: Definitely! I have my indie horror comic THE DEAD—which is NOT a zombie comic—being produced right now. We’ve got issues of it on Comixology and we’re posting a new page each week at We recently ran a successful kickstarter for the book, so we’ll have all six issues in trade paperback form by the end of 2014.

Beyond that, my series Arkham Pulp will also be coming out of Broken Icon Comics. This story has a more lovecraftian influence to it, but the stories in it are going to be killed.

TB: Absolutely! Issue 3 is in production and it’s a genre that I’ll want to explore afterwards.

DD: So where can readers find out more about this book?

JM: or We also have a dedicated Facebook page for the title.

DD: So in summary give me a quick recap on The Horror Show and why fans should give it a try.

JM: The Horror Show tries to bring out the best in horror without using a lot of cheap cliches in the wrong way. This book was made by horror fans for horror fans, so come get some.

It’s a freakin’ good story and what James has done with issues 2 and 3 will blow people away.