Spotlight Interview with Sandy King, Publisher of Storm King Comics

Happy Halloween!!!

We are bringing you a special treat on this spookiest of days. Earlier this year, at Keystone Comic Con in Philadelphia, we were able to sit down and talk with Sandy King, the publisher of Storm King Comics.

If you are not familiar with Storm King Comics, you should be. Sandy and her husband John Carpenter are cultivating a wonderful stable of comic titles and stories for fans of horror and science fiction comics.

Recently the fifth edition of Tales for a HalloweeNight anthology was released, and you can probably still find it in your Local Comic Shop. It features stories created by such comic luminaries as Frank Tieri, Steve Niles, Andy Price, Amanda Diebert, Cat Staggs, Gus Vazquez, Bill Sienkiewicz and much more.

This upstart comic company is consistently producing high quality storytelling as evidenced by the recent mini-series Tales of Science Fiction: Surviving Nuclear Attack by Joe Harris and Cat Staggs.

We felt today would be the perfect day to bring you the interview that we did with Sandy King in which we talk about her vision for her company and comics in general.

PopCultureSquad: I noticed that you list stores that carry your books on the Storm King Comics website. Do you distribute directly to them or through Diamond Distributing?

Sandy King: We ask permission, and if any store who carries us wants to be listed, we will direct our fans there. One of the reasons that I go to conventions is to make direct contact with stores and service them with special things for say Free Comic Book Day or things leading into Halloween. Things that will help them, because I am a big fan of brick and mortar stores.

Our kids grew up with us taking them every weekend to the local comic shop. Even if we were on location, we would find the local comic shop. I think they are great, safe places for kids to grow up. I want to support comic shops. I find it difficult if Diamond doesn’t give us access to support the shops without me coming to shows. I go to New York Comic Con, C2E2, Emerald City. I come here [ to Keystone Comic Con]. I try to hit major areas of the country, and say, “I am here. What do you need?”

PCS: I have read through the first three issues of Tales of Science Fiction: Surviving Nuclear Attack by Joe Harris and Cat Staggs, and it is really excellent. The feelings of terror and suspense really come through, and there is a sense of claustrophobia that continues to grow through the story. Why is it that you came to the comics medium to tell these stories?

SK: Not all comics make great movies. Not all movies make great comics. They are different mediums and different ways of storytelling. For years people would come to John and ask him to put his name on comics. Usually because they were lousy comics. We didn’t want to do that.

We had a story that we developed with Thomas Ian Griffith, and originally, that was meant to be a TV series. We always do a lot of art and production for our presentations. It was originally considered too dark. This was in the pre- Breaking Bad days. Then, we were set up with a studio, and they kept trying to set it in a sleepy little town when it is supposed to be in Los Angeles. Then, some under assistant development person in the middle of me saying, “We are not going to shoot in North Carolina. It is set in Los Angeles.” said, “Well it’s not like a graphic novel that we have to match to anything.” At that point, I realized that actually it was, because it was going nowhere. I got kicked under the table by Thomas, and then when we walked out. I said, “Guys, It’s a comic book.”

I went home and John asked how it went. I said, “It’s a comic book.” He asked what we knew about comic books. I said, “Absolutely nothing, but we will learn.”

We spent two years researching the art and the business of comics. We were really fortunate. We had great friends: Steve Niles, Tim Bradstreet, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Bruce Jones, who really taught me comics by my editing him. You have to learn the art of what you go into. It’s a different storytelling medium.

Asylum went really well, and then we were coming up on Halloween. We didn’t have anything “John Carpenter” to give to comic stores. We were going to do a single floppy three-story special for Halloween. Then, everybody got drunk at San Diego Comic-Con, and it turned into the first Tales for a HalloweeNight anthology. We are now on our fifth anniversary of the HalloweeNight anthology.

That led me think that we didn’t have any science fiction. That evolved into Tales of Science Fiction. We followed that up with realizing that our books are thematically for adults, but our readers have kids with them. I think everybody has sanitized kids’ literature today. They don’t get to deal with their fears or subtext that I think they could. I thought that we were missing that audience. So, now we are launching Storm Kids which targets ages 12-18. I did a test to see if kids would be interested, and they loved it.

The first issue in the Storm Kids line by Steve Niles and Damien Worm

PCS: What have you found to be the most interesting part about making comics.

SK: First of all, there are a lot of similarities to making movies, and I originally came from animation. The process and layers of it are a lot like old school animation. It is also team building in the same way that we build teams to make movies. What I love is that I bring people from outside comics into comics. We have David J. Schow. We’ve got Duane Swierczynski who crosses from novels to comics to everything.

I try to encourage voices other than the usual, who I think bring our flavor to comics. I don’t like to follow in whatever we do, whether it’s movies or comics or TV shows. So, I think that makes us unique, but mostly, I just want everybody to have a good time and bring good value to the reader.

This is the people’s art. If you can buy a great nights read for four bucks or a trade for anywhere from ten to twenty-five bucks, I feel like, “Yeah, that’s it!”

My goal was to win over the most skeptical guy on the floor, who didn’t want movie people in comics and make them really want my book.

PCS: Great! It is all about the content, right? If it is good, it is good. It doesn’t matter who made it.

SK: Right! But there were people who didn’t want movie people in comics. When I did Asylum, I embossed that book. I glossed it. I did hidden ghost images. The inside art was as good as the cover art, because you know there is nothing more disappointing than you have a real shiny object, and when you open it, it is a letdown. I want someone to be happy that they bought the book, and happy they spent that time reading it.

PCS: As a smaller publisher are you distributing digitally as well?

SK: We are on Comixology. I am also partnering with a new upcoming sharing platform. There are problems with piracy. The comics industry has got to face the same problems that the music industry had to face. You want accessibility, but then you turn around, and you have 20,000 copies going out somewhere else.
There is an obligation on the public’s part to realize that “Theft is Theft”. There is an obligation on the industry’s part to protect copyrighted material.

So, there is a new platform being worked on that will recognize sharing in the ways that Spotify and Pandora do and have a access to all types of comics, and I think with better security it will be better. It is a frustrating situation. It costs me money to shut down every [piracy] site that we find. You just wonder why people would do this. Just because you can steal something, doesn’t mean that you should. I know I taught my kids better than that.

PCS: So, the current Tales of Science Fiction is wrapping up soon. Do you have more plans for that?

The cover to issue #4 of Tales of Science Fiction: Surviving Nuclear Attack by Joe Harris and Cat Staggs. Art by Staggs,

SK: Yes. Tales of Science Fiction is a series of mini-series. We have had Vault, Vortex, The Standoff, and Twitch. We now have Joe’s Surviving Nuclear Attack. We ‘ve got a plan for the next few years right now.

We are also going to add Tales of Terror, which will be whatever we get that doesn’t fit into one of our established anthology lines. It will be more of the horror stories in one-shot graphic novel formats, or limited series.

PCS: Are you open to submissions? How do you go about finding talent for your books?

SK: I tend to hunt down the people that I want, because it’s a fact that people’s money is tight, and they want some guarantee of what is in that book. I turn around anthologies and look to see who is in it. So, if I have a lesser known writer, I may pair them with a more well-known artist. Because, the brand is getting more well-known and trusted, readers are will to take more chances, but essentially, we are still a new company to fans. For example, with the Tales for a HalloweeNight anthologies, I will slip newer talent in, because the list of big names is so large.

PCS: Does that factor into what order the stories show up inside the anthologies?

SK: Well, in Tales for a HalloweeNight, John is always the first story, and mine is always the last. In between, we have Frank Tieri, Jimmy Palmiotti, Duane Swierczynski, David J. Schow, and more.

PCS: Ok. Here is an off-comics question. On your bio, it says you worked with sharks in the Bahamas. What was that like?

SK: They are scary. Man, I stayed in the boat. We were working with a shark in a lagoon, and they look dead until they bite you. We were also working with interesting trained dolphins, and the only thing that scared the shark is a dolphin. So that was pretty interesting.

PCS: That is cool.

SK: Yes, but sharks still scare me.

PCS: If you had to say that there is one aspect of pop culture that really excites you, what would that be?

SK: That it is ever changing. It keeps you engaged because it’s like mercury. It is moving somewhere else. It is doing other things.

When people ask me why we do comics the way that we do, my answer is that we do it this way because other people are not. I don’t like following others. I don’t care what other people are doing. I don’t watch for what other comic book publishers are doing. Let them watch me.

DC Comics is now bringing in Joe Hill to run their horror imprint, and that is a little interesting, because I really respect him. But John is going to be writing a Joker story for them, so now we are infiltrating them.

It’s kind of fun when you come into a space and people look at you sideways, and then they look a little more intently, and now they are saying “Good morning.”

PCS: Ha Ha. Well thank you very much. This was wonderful.

SK: Thank you.

This is the cover of the next Tales of Science Fiction series, “Redhead”, by Duane Swierczynski and Jason Felix