Welcome to Creator Signal folks! A new way of connecting the comic book fans to the creators. A series where we talk to the writers, artists, actors, youtubers and more that help make this industry thrive and share their vision and experiences with you the fans. This time we have the writer and artist of Image Comics’s latest series Infidel, Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell! Infidel is a story:
“A haunted house story for the 21st century, INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multiracial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.”
Now Let’s get into it!
STBC: What got you interested in writing comic books?
Pichetshote: I’ve wanted to write comic books as long as I’ve been reading comics. The funny thing is, since I didn’t know how to break into comics, my first ambitions was to be a short story and then screenwriter. One fateful day, though, I got the job of being Vertigo editor-in-chief Karen Berger’s assistant editor, and… decided I would never want to write comics as long as I was there. Different people have different perspectives on this – and my own feelings on the topic have definitely evolved since then – but at the time, I believed that every good editor has their own internal list of writers that they know would kill if given the chance, and at the time, it felt wrong to compete with my own writers for that slot. Plus, at Vertigo, I was literally working with the best in the business, and it’s hard to convince yourself you’re the right person for any job when you can call Peter Milligan and know he’ll do a more brilliant job than anything you could ever imagine. It wasn’t until finally leaving DC and pursuing my own writing that my brain gave itself permission to get excited about writing comics, and once it did… it really did.
STBC: What inspired Infidel?
Pichetshote: INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who find themselves living in a building haunted by creatures fueled by xenophobia. It’s our attempt to update the haunted house story as aggressively as possible, partly by having the world of the book reflect the world we see outside our window. It tackles themes like xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism – these seemingly omnipresent forces in our society while questioning if we understand them well enough to fight them. It’s all part of our hope to make a truly scary comic and update the haunted house genre as aggressively as we can.
STBC: Was there any particular influence that inspired you to create a horror in such a realistic modern day setting?
Pichetshote: I came up with the idea of INFIDEL years ago, back when President Obama was still in office, and it was something I would slowly find myself coming back to over the years. Back then, the initial spark came from how people were talking about this post-racial society we’ve become because we had a black president and seemingly had no problem with the rampant Islamophobia on the increasing rise. That dovetailed with my love of horror, and suddenly I found I had one of those ideas that was so simple but provocative I couldn’t believe anyone hadn’t done it sooner. As the years passed, and the themes of the book became more and more relevant to the world, I felt like I couldn’t just have the idea collecting cobwebs, I needed to put this book out there.
STBC: Are there real-life experiences that had an influence? If so, what are the ones you are comfortable with sharing?
Pichetshote: Like every person of color, I’ve had my experiences with microaggressions, gaslighting, and full-blown racism, but the part of my personal experiences I really wanted to capture was the doubt that can come with it. How racism never presents itself as racism. It leaves you to interpret it. It leaves you to wonder if you’re wrong for seeing something a certain way. And sometimes you actually are… and other times you’re not.
STBC: What’s it like working with Aaron Campbell to bring this project to life?
Pichetshote: I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that Aaron even exists as an artist. My editor – legendary artist and comic book colorist José Villarrubia – and I knew we needed someone with a somewhat realistic style to handle the book’s multi-racial cast, since when you try to do multiple ethnicities in too stylized a manner, those depictions can easily run to the offensive side of the gamut if you’re not careful. And yet, José and I both like a little expressionism to our art, so we knew we wouldn’t like someone rigidly photorealistic. On top of that, he had to draw scary, which – while there are a lot of artists drawing horror comics – there aren’t a ton who actually draw scary. On top of that, we needed a professional that wouldn’t flake out on us. On top of that, he had to not be scooped up by Marvel and DC. So it felt like an almost impossible task. But Aaron fits all those bills and not only that, we saw eye to eye in terms of horror and the themes of the book. So it’s one of those miraculous marriages in comics that you hear about that just ended up astonishingly working out.
STBC: What do you want people to take from Infidel?
Pichetshote: More than anything, I hope they find it scary, and it creeps them out. The whole team has worked really hard to bring the haunted house genre into the modern day as aggressively as possible. We wanted a book that reflected all the things unique to our time that I personally think there is to be scared about. And if in the process, if they engage in a discussion about the different aspects of race, faith, class, and gender at work in our society, then I couldn’t be prouder.
STBC: Can we get a tease of what’s to come in this series?
Pichetshote: Oh, these teases are so tricky, because we do want you to be surprised… So what can I tell you… Well, it’s a horror book, so expect heartbreak (and if you come to like any of the characters, I apologize in advance for what they go through); expect us to continually try to up ourselves in some really creepy visuals; expect a lot of different perspectives on things; watch Aaron really stretch his muscles, because trust me, you have no idea all the different tricks he has up his sleeve, and I’m trying to do all of them in this book. And if you’re digging on these characters and the way they and the story explores questions of race, faith, gender, and privilege, then hopefully you’ll find what comes next really interesting.
STBC: What led you to want to be an artist in comics?
Campbell: I think like the majority of us in the industry, comics were a childhood passion. I knew from the age of seven that I wanted to be an artist and sometime around ten, when I discovered comics, I knew I wanted to draw them. Along the way, it became a difficult passion to maintain. In college my professors discouraged dit, not understanding the industry. Our editor and colorist, Jose, had just begun teaching at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, where I went to undergrad, so I didn’t have the benefit of his encouragement at the time. And so for about ten years, I flirted with fantasy illustration and teaching. But I never quite fit there. When I finally got my first gig at Dynamite I immediately felt at home.
STBC: How did you and Pornsak get together for this project?
Campbell: It was all Jose. I think he says a potential in my work that I probably didn’t even realize. But I’ve always loved the horror genre so when he contacted me I jumped at the opportunity to flee from my comfort zone only to discover that I’m more comfortable now than I’ve ever been.
STBC: How does the artwork add to the message behind Infidel to you?
STBC: What led to the style decisions to accentuate the differences between the human characters and the spirits haunting the apartment?
Campbell: So I need to answer these last two questions as one because the stylistic differences are about the message. I explain it this way; anything in the book that is corporeal is executed using digital process while everything that is supernatural or incorporeal is traditional media like gauche, brush and ink, mixed media, etc. My idea for this is that the conceptual boundary between the digital and traditional represents the division created by intolerance, bigotry, hate, and xenophobia. It is the wall that obstructs and separates us.
STBC: Is there a reason behind the almost caricature designs for the people on the newscast, or the intent-full drawing on the money?
Campbell: Ha! You’re only the second person to ask this. I thought there would be way more questions about that. The caricatures were a bit of self-indulgence on my part but also I wanted to point out the toxicity of modern punditry especially from far right outlets. Facts and civil discourse no longer matter to so many of them. News outlets throw up half a dozen talking heads on a screen to dissect every minute of the 24 hour cycle and all they do is chaotically peck at each other like a flock of pigeons fighting over a scrap of hot dog bun. So if they refuse to treat the news with integrity I refuse to draw them with integrity.
The thing with the money was more precautionary. When I shot the reference for that panel I had my model holding actually money. When I then tried to open that photo in photoshop it wouldn’t let me. I got a pop up saying that reproduction of currency is a federal crime! So I was like, “oh, shit! Is it illegal to draw money faithfully in an illustration?” So I put a Groucho face on him just to be safe.
STBC: It seems like you have a very deep love for shadows in your art. from how you accent characters faces to creating eary vibes in single lit rooms. What created this love for shadow?
Campbell: “What lurks in the dark” is humanities most primal fear. We have spent millennia trying to banish it so we could see the leopard coming for us or the Ripper waiting with blade in hand in the alley. So if you want to instantly connect with the anxieties that remain in our lizard brain you impose shadow upon it. And I have always been exhilarated by the confrontation with this anxiety; exploring my grandparents musty attic after midnight, my middle school friends and I camping in the swampy woods of New Hampshire in the summer telling ghost stories, trying to conjure Bloody Mary in front of a candlelit mirror, or playing Blind Man’s Bluff during sleepovers. Who doesn’t love that kind of safe danger?
STBC: In a creator-owned series like this, you’re able to cut loose and be as graphic as you desire. How does that affect your style in this book?
Campbell: It just means I don’t have to pull any punches and I can venture into territory that pushes against my comfort zone. For example, I’ve never been very comfortable with nudity. In most cases, I find it gratuitous and often it’s there simply to titillate and indulge. It is rarely used to revolt. But as we have so woefully learned from recent events, the body can be weaponized with grotesque purpose. Just think of the events surrounding Harvey Weinstein, Louis C. K., and all the others as you experience the encounters Aisha has in issue one with the naked, twisted things in the apartment.
There you have it folks! What did you think? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter @shootthebreezeC and you can purchase Infidel #1 and #2 at your local comic book store or on comixology right now!