Jeffrey Thomas is an American author of weird fiction, the creator of the acclaimed milieu Punktown. Books in the Punktown universe include the short story collections Punktown, Voices From Punktown, Punktown: Shades of Grey (with his brother, Scott Thomas), and Ghosts of Punktown. Novels in that setting include Deadstock, Blue War, Monstrocity, Health Agent, Everybody Scream!, and Red Cells. His stories have been selected for inclusion in The Year’s Best Horror Stories (Editor, Karl Edward Wagner), The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (Editors, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), and Year’s Best Weird Fiction (Editor, Laird Barron). Thomas lives in Massachusetts.
There is no doubt that, along with the horror and science fiction films and TV shows I worshipped as a kid, my love of comic books helped shaped the writer I am today. Comic books opened many worlds of rich imagination to me, as I followed the adventures of Magnus, Turok, John Carter, and that alien from Krypton. I’m often told my stories set in the nightmarish, far future world of Punktown are very visual in nature. If I have a penchant for creating pictures in the reader’s mind with words…yeah, I owe a lot of that to comic books. So it’s only natural that sooner or later there would come someone with a serious plan to turn Punktown into the comic book it was perhaps destined, all along, to become.
That someone is Christopher Taylor. I was introduced to Chris through my artist friend Erik York, who had previously done an illustration for one of my Punktown short stories. It was a fateful meeting. A Kickstarter campaign is now underway (running until November 20, 2015) in support of a project called Visions From Punktown. This comic book anthology will feature the work of eight artists from around the world – their styles very different, but equally compelling – adapting eight of my Punktown stories into a graphic format. Chris is the one who assembled this team, the one who has turned the eight stories into comic book scripts, the one heading the whole project with plans to publish Visions From Punktown himself, and thus he is also the one who has organized the crowdfunder. In short, he is a man with a vision.
For those unfamiliar with this project, I decided to ask Christopher Taylor a few questions about Visions From Punktown. Here’s what he had to say.
JT: How did you learn about my Punktown stories, and what made you want to adapt some of them into the comic book format?
CT: This was interesting. Artist Eric York asked me if I wanted to adapt a Jeffrey Thomas story with him. Jeffrey Thomas, Jeffrey Thomas… where had I heard that name before? I flipped through some content pages of my Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and there in #14 was “The Flaying Season.” It’s an atmospheric tale full of of alien wonder, while still retaining its human empathy. Character and setting are important to me as a writer, and this story had it. And when I began reading all the Punktown stories, it was the discovery of a new world. How often does someone get a chance to show people another world? Not just through your words, but also the visual translation of an artist. I wanted in. I immediately felt like I had been to Punktown before, maybe in some distant dream. I wanted to rediscover it, and share your work with others.
JT: Was it challenging turning my original stories into scripts? What was your general approach to this?
CT: Yes, or I wouldn’t have done it! I know it can be a cliché, but I need to be challenged as a writer. Science fiction or cyberpunk are definitely not my strong points. But setting and character are. Since you had these elements in spades, it was my task to reduce them to their essence. It means cutting a lot of fantastic prose. But as a comic book writer, you want to give the artist something compelling to work with to make up for this. We translate your words into visuals, and do so economically in order to control the pace. A straightforward adaptation of a short story would just drag itself out and lose its impact. So you need to hit the right spots at the right time and not too far apart.
My approach is to print out the story, and break each page down into individual panel descriptions, often adding stuff that isn’t there in order to create timely transitions or to replace elements that had to be cut for length. The artists have been great about offering their own feedback, often suggesting scene changes or key visuals. Then I sit down with my notes and write a full, panel by panel script. I don’t skimp, but I also try to not overburden the artist. I often do my own thumbnails to make sure I’m not giving the artist a page that will be cluttered with words that would cover their art. But I don’t show them my thumbnails because I have no interest in art directing them. I want them to be fully involved in the storytelling process. Artists are essentially co-writers.
JT: How did you go about assembling your team of artists?
CT: I had already collaborated on an unpublished story with Eric York, and knew I wanted to work with him more. The next two who I wanted to work with were Rafa Garres, with whom I had collaborated on Eerie #1, and Dug Nation, my collaborator on our other project, Pale Riders. All of these guys have a passion for storytelling and just producing great work, so I’m lucky. I was fortunate enough to inherit Frank Walls. He had already undertaken his own adaptations of Punktown stories. I didn’t want to step on his toes, so I asked him if he’d like to join us, and he did. Huseyin Ozkan and I had mutually admired each other’s work in the comic book anthology Hellraiser: Bestiary, and I was immediately struck by his talent and humility. Sinclair Klugarsh I knew tangentially from San Diego Comic Con. I had seen his work online, and it just spoke to me for your story “Willow Tree.” Sinclair suggested Steven Russell Black, who replaced an artist who dropped out. His textural style was just what I wanted for that story. And I came across Stéphane De Caneva a few years ago when he expressed interest in a project I already had an artist for. But I kept his information, and lo and behold, another artist dropped out. I remembered Stéphane, and knew he would be the perfect replacement. It’s almost as if all these artists were meant to work on Punktown.
JT: What do you envision for the future, if VISIONS FROM PUNKTOWN proves successful?
CT: What’s this “if” stuff? Huh? There is just so much more of Punktown to explore. So many of your stories and characters I still want to bring to comics. It was a tough decision choosing. So I want a chance to go back to those. It’s also the perfect sandbox environment to create more characters and stories. The mind boggles with the possibilities. With your blessing, of course!
JT: But of course!
So please…consider having a look at the Visions From Punktown campaign at Kickstarter. And please spread the word…that helps immeasurably. Remember: you’ll always be welcome in Punktown.