Horror Writers Association

Interview with Horror University instructor James Chambers


Here’s the latest interview with one of our StokerCon 2017 Horror University instructors. This time James Chambers tells us about his workshop, “Picturing Fear: Writing Horror Comics and Graphic Novels.”

James Chambers: Picturing Fear: Writing Horror Comics and Graphic Novels

The medium of sequential art offers endless opportunities for great horror stories—but writing comic books and graphic novels is unlike writing for any other medium. Although they share some common ground of visual storytelling with films and television, comics and graphic novels have unique elements of design, characterization, pacing, and creating suspense. Blending words and pictures to tell a story requires an understanding of the storytelling techniques that comprise the “comics vocabulary” and how to use it. Drawing on twenty-five years of editing, writing, and publishing comics, James Chambers will explore the elements of sequential art storytelling, how to break out of the “prose perspective” to tell visual stories, and how to write strong scripts.

James Chambers started in the comics industry writing for Comic Book Collector Magazine (later renamed Combo Magazine), covering the collector’s market, writing reviews, and providing features and interviews in the early 1990s. He interviewed creators such as Dan Brereton, Howard Chaykin, Michael Jan Friedman and Rob Liefeld and twice visited the offices of Valiant Comics to interview staff and creators during the company’s original heyday. He went on to Tekno*Comics to edit Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe, Isaac Asimov’s I*Bots, the graphic novel adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, and Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, which he also wrote for several issues, including two special issues co-plotted with Mr. Nimoy. At Tekno, he worked with many top comics creators, including Art Adams, Dan Brereton, Howard Chaykin, Steven Grant, Paul Jenkins, Gil Kane, Jae Lee, George Perez, Walt Simonson, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Kirk Van Wormer and contributed to Tekno’s shared worlds which included Neil Gaimain’s Lady Justice, Mr. Hero, and Teknophage; Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger, and the Wheel of Worlds. After leaving Tekno, he co-created and wrote The Revenant with artist Pat Broderick, which ran in Shadow House, a critically acclaimed, independent horror comic he co-published, with Christopher Mills, Dan Brereton, Kirk Van Wormer, and Fred Harper. Other projects include the web comic, Tabula Rasa, for Adventurestrips.com, and a four-issue adaptation of a horror screenplay (not yet published) for CinemaGrafix. Most recently he has written the graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe, published by Moonstone Books. www.jameschambersonline.com

Tell us something about your Horror University workshop that is not in the original description.

In addition to discussing the basics of comics storytelling, the workshop will also focus on techniques for creating suspense, building dread, and horrifying readers. All good things to know for creating effective horror comics! The writing adage of “show don’t tell” has a special meaning in comics, and I hope to convey that.

What skills or achievements make you ideally suited to lead this workshop?

I have been writing, editing, and/or publishing comics for more than two decades. I’ve worked with dozens of artists and other comics writers on horror, science fiction, adventure, and super-hero comics. I’ve also worked in comics through the industry’s transition too the digital era, a change all comics creators must consider. Having worn many hats in my comics career, I have a comprehensive perspective on what it takes to make good comics.

Why do you feel that your workshop subject is especially important?

Many writers love comics and want to write them, but comics are a deceptively complex medium. It’s not easy to make the transition from writing prose to writing comic scripts. Over the years I’ve spoken with many talented fiction writers who have grappled with the differences and struggled to find their footing. One of the things I will address in the workshop is how to change gears and reboot your storytelling brain to write for a visual medium.

If you could participate in one other Horror University workshop, which one would you choose and why?

I’d have to go with Linda Addison’s Scary Forms: The World of Structured Poetry for All Writers. I took Linda’s poetry workshop at last year’s Stokercon. It was wonderful. She’s a fantastic instructor! And she always wears the coolest earrings. A very close second would be Jack Ketchum’s Writing from Experience, Writing from the Wound, a topic Jack has clearly mastered.

Do you approach the craft of writing horror differently from other genres?

Yes and no. I follow certain storytelling and writing fundamentals that apply to all genres. But unlike some of the other genres I write, such as science fiction or crime, horror often comes from a more emotional or psychological than logical perspective. I try to tap into different modes of thought when writing different genres. For science fiction, there’s always an element of extrapolation upon natural or scientific principles. For crime, there’s the need to explore motive and process. In horror, the story can be more about sheer experience and raw nerves.

Apart from teaching your workshop, what are you most looking forward to at StokerCon?
My favorite part of any convention, catching up with old friends, learning about everyone’s new books and projects, and making new friends.

What do you most hope that those attending your workshop take away from it?

A clearer sense of how writing and storytelling work in the comic book medium and a greater appreciation for the uniqueness of comics. Comics and graphic novels are sometimes mistakenly dismissed as “kids’ stuff,” and I like to do whatever I can to help dispel that misconception.

StokerCon 2017 will be taking place from April 27th to April 30th on board the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the StokerCon website.

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