Debuting in August, Show’s End from Mad Cave Studios is the story of a runaway with a supernatural secret. Writer Anthony Cleveland, winner of the 2018 Mad Cave Studios Talent Search, graciously gave us some insight into the book and his process.
Elizabeth Fazzio: What drew you to the idea of a story set in a carnival sideshow?
Anthony Cleveland: There were a few I.P.’s pitched to me by Mad Cave Studios. One of them was about a carnival with a supernatural angle. I clung on to that one, because I felt like it had the most space to pile on horror elements. Because this was my first series, I wanted to stay in the genre I was the most comfortable with.
EF: Feeding off of that, what was the appeal of the 1920s as an era in which to set the story?
AC: I felt like that was around the height of the traveling sideshow’s popularity, and right before the decline of similar shows. I debated between the ‘30s or the ‘20s, but I settled on ‘20s to avoid any unnecessary focus on the Depression. I’ll save that for another time.
EF: Did you base your characters on specific sideshow performers, or piece them together from different ones?
AC: There are some that are inspired by past performers. I wanted some familiarity to ground us into the setting. I also borrowed from modern performance artists. Twigs, for example is inspired by Bob Flanagan, who suffered his whole life from cystic fibrosis. He took to the stage to perform harmful acts to hurt his body back for all the pain it’s caused him.
EF: Show’s End has a strong supernatural element–what led you to following that route rather than sticking with straight historical fiction?
AC: That’s the route I originally planned when I first began plotting. I told Mad Cave that I preferred not to have too many supernatural elements, but I became attached to the idea of the character Loralye and her arc stirred a lot in me. After that, it’s been pretty much anything goes for Show’s End.
EF: Did your research lead you down any fascinating rabbit holes that ultimately didn’t make it into the book?
AC: What I was surprised to find during my research was that a lot of circus history occurred very close to where I live. One of the events was the Hammond Circus Train Wreck, where a locomotive plowed into a circus train transporting workers, performers, and animals. To this day, it is still one of the deadliest train wrecks in U.S. history. The bodies were transported to a cemetery that was created exclusively for those circus workers. It’s called Showmen’s Rest, and it was a massive inspiration for what happens in Show’s End #2.
EF: Who was your favorite Show’s End character to write?
AC: I really liked writing Twigs and Loralye, but I think I was most surprised by the villain Captain Corley. I’d get lost in writing his narration captions and found some bizarre revelations on life and the beyond that I was more than happy to run with.
EF: Could you tell us a bit about your process while writing Show’s End?
AC: I have a playlist on Spotify that I played for about three months while writing Show’s End. Before each issue, I’d dig around on Spotify and add more songs. I liked to get lost in the sounds and emotion from them. Once I felt hyped up enough, I’d start writing. I feel like if I can hear the world I’m creating, it’s easier to write it out.
EF: What writers have most influenced your style?
AC: I really look to writers who can hold the reader’s attention. The three I come back to the most are Garth Ennis, Brian K. Vaughan, and Junji Ito. Ennis for his use of shock to wake up the reader and keep them guessing what he’ll do next, Vaughan for his engaging characters and his use of transitions and page turn reveals, and Ito for the pacing he uses in his horror stories to deliver the big scares.
EF: What got you into comics as a reader? As a writer?
AC: The comics I grew up reading were mostly spinoffs from movies that I couldn’t watch as a kid, like Aliens, Predator, and Terminator. From an early age I always wanted to be a filmmaker. As I got older, I realized that all I really wanted to do was tell stories and I saw that comics was one of the best ways to do it with the limited time I now had.
EF: Have you worked with this creative team prior to this book? Are you happy with the results of the collaboration?
AC: This is our first time together. I didn’t have anything in mind as to how the book would look while writing the series. Once I saw the first few pages, it all clicked. Everyone on this team nailed it. I’m really proud of this book and I hope we all get to work together again soon.
Look for Show’s End at your local comic shop August 14th!