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Making Horror Comics for Kids – Talking House of Fear with James Powell

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

This May sees the release of House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Stories from Dark Horse Comics. If that title sounds familiar, it's because I've been a big fan of this series dating back to its crowdfunding campaigns for individual issues on Kickstarter. I've spoken with writer James Powell a few times over the course of the past year about the project and reviewed some of the single stories under the House of Fear banner. Powell, along with his son Daxton, shared a list of the best horror comics for kids too.

On the eve of the trade paperback collection release of House of Fear, I had a chance to catch up with James again.

James Ferguson: Horror for kids is something near and dear to my heart, but it's not an easy task to accomplish. How did you thread the needle with House of Fear to make something spooky, but not too spooky?

James Powell: You know, it’s funny. When I hear that question, my instinct is to say, oh no, it’s totally easy. But when I think more about it, I realize it’s a little more complicated than other comics I’ve developed.

At every stage, even way up front when I’m first kicking around ideas, I’m constantly going back and forth, trying to find a story, a villain, or an ending that’s scary enough to be thrilling, but never so creepy that it crosses a line.

That balancing act continues throughout development. There have been times I’ve asked Jethro to tone down a panel, and other times I’ve asked him for more intensity. I’ve asked Josh to sample different color pallets to help find that zone, too. I’ve even modified dialog after all the art is complete to help lighten a scary moment.

With that said, though, one of the reasons I’m doing this is to get kids interested in horror. To help progress them from kid-friendly scares now, to something more intense when they’re teens and adults. To do that, I’ve tried to push the boundaries, just a little, in every story.

That might mean intensifying a specific scene, or it could mean making a panel or two look as frightening as possible. I want kids to feel, at least for a moment, that they’re getting away with reading something they shouldn’t be reading. Something their parents wouldn’t approve of, even if it never actually reaches that point.

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JF: House of Fear has its own host in the tradition of classic horror anthologies. Tell me about Boyle.

JP: Boyle is the House of Fear caretaker, so he has lots of odd jobs to do around the house to ensure guests are comfortable during their stay. Unfortunately, he’s got a bit of a split personality. One moment he’s a caring, gentle old man. The next, he’s vicious and snarky.

Boyle’s pride and joy is the library of scary stories he curates. Like you and me, he loves horror, and his favorite thing to do is share stories with eager readers. He’s sort of a champion of the genre, and he wants others to enjoy being frightened as much as he does.

Just don’t upset him. If you do, you’re liable to be pulled into your own horror story.

JF: How has the reaction been from kids? They can be the harshest critics.

JP: We had friends over not long ago, and I handed out copies of a House of Fear comic to the kids. They immediately ran to the couch and began reading. Most of them were completely immersed and didn’t say a word.

One boy, though, he’d occasionally make a comment. “Oh, that’s stupid,” he said at one point. Then later, he said, “Oh, c’mon!”

The parents in the kitchen laughed this awkward laugh, sort of embarrassed for me. When the kids were done, though, the boy went right up to his dad and said, “That was awesome. Are there anymore?”

Even though kids don’t have filters and will happily point out a mistake or tell you when they don’t like a particular story, the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. I overheard one girl say, “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever read.”

It’d be impossible to give up creating comics when you hear feedback like that.

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JF: How many stories are included in this collection?

JP: We’ve put five stories into this first volume. Instead of creating a collection of shorter, 10-page stories, I wanted these comics to have a little more meat to them. I wanted to create comics that are more than just a cool idea followed by a quick, shocking twist.

With stories that are a little longer, I like to think there’s a greater sense of relief for the reader when the characters finally succeed in defeating evil at the end.

Oh wait. That last part might not actually be true. I make no promises about the kids succeeding in all of these stories. So be warned.

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JF: What's the feeling like to take House of Fear from some successful Kickstarter campaigns to a release from a major publisher like Dark Horse Comics?

JP: It’s been incredible. I can’t express how grateful I am to those who supported me on Kickstarter.

But it’s so much more than the money the campaign raised to help me finish the comics. Many readers reached out to express how much they enjoyed the comics, while others shared stories about their kids reading the books multiple times and then acting out key scenes.

I can’t tell you how motivating the feedback has been.

And having Dark Horse publish the collection is a dream come true. They’ve shown support for me and the book throughout the entire process, and I genuinely feel like they want the book to succeed. They’re doing everything they can to help it reach its potential, and I feel like I’m a part of something so much bigger now.

Horror DNA would like to thank James Powell for taking the time to speak with us today. House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Stories is set for release on May 1st, 2019.

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About The Author
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Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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