NYCC ’17: Horror Series Infidel Announced From Image Comics With Pornsak Pichetshote

by Hannah Means Shannon

At a special press event at the opening of New York Comic Con today, Image Comics revealed information about upcoming books and gave press a chance to talk to creators about these reveals.

The first book announced was INFIDEL. Aaron Campbell will be the artist, and it will colored by Jose Villarubia. It will be written by Pornsak Pichetshote, who joined us for a Q&A.

It’s a horror book that is about an American Muslim woman and her multi-ethnic neighbors who move into a building that appears to be haunted and is fueled by xenophobia. The writer is formerly an editor at Vertigo, and since working with them, he moved to West Coast working with Geoff Johns in media, and this is his return to creating comics. The book is a “super updated” haunted house story with characters who are like folks he hangs out with, representing more of real life in that way. He finds that in comics, you’ll find some diverse characters but their “perspectives rarely inform the story”. Whereas INFIDEL will.

Their personalities will strongly affect their paranormal experiences. The art is “next level”, mixing digital art with wash, by Campbell. Asked about comics horror, he said it’s very different than live action horror, and you can do things with comics like “drawing scary” vs. drawing scary. In comics you can get into the “specificity of an image” in a way you can’t with other media. If you look at the work of artists like Steve Bissette, they make a “creative leap” that helps with the comic approach. With colors, they’ll be doing the same, using the medium in unusual but versatile ways appropriate to the medium.

He learned working with Karen Berger, that horror is about “human psychology” and he’s carried that forward to this new horror book.

The book will be released in March 2018.

Albert Ching of CBR asked how the xenophobia aspect came into the story for INFIDEL. He said that iconic horror has been about “anxieties of the era”. Now in this era of reboots, we’re taking old stories made for different times, and in this book the team really wanted to do things that haven’t become “tropes” and haven’t been “seen before”. Race comes up in the conversation about fear in society sooner or later, he said. The “mentality” that informed the “creation of the piece” touched on racism, and the many types there can be. Many cases of racism, of course, are basic, but there are other types where we “don’t agree about what it looks like” and we may not even agree that it is racism. Those ambiguities are part of this discussion.

INFIDEL is a 5 issue miniseries.

Asked about the haunted house situation, he said it takes place in a New York City apartment building. It’s rare to see haunted house stories set in a city.  New York feels like “living in the future” because of the number of languages spoken and number of racial groups blending. To tell a story like this, it “made sense to do it in New York”. Watching a writer like Scott Snyder handle horror has been really inspiring to him, someone who lays his anxiety on the line with a lot of “courage”. This book shows a lot of personal insecurities about “race”.

Asked how he brought the project to Image, he said he finds that the publisher is “just the place to be”. Page numbering, for instance, has a lot of freedom at Image, unlike his previous experiences. You can add pages if you can afford to, and the story can “dictate” the “physical length of the book”.

Asked about the lead characters, he said that the “cast” involves a Pakistani American woman, an Asian American woman, a white kid, a white guy, and a white grandmother, among others so there’s a wide range of backgrounds.

Asked about how characters react to the supernatural in the story, he said that even if you moved into a place that seems haunted, he’s not someone who would immediately accept that. “Younger Millenial types” would have similar resistant reactions. People are “familiar” with the supernatural in the story, but there is a realism in their reactions, it seems. It also takes a lot to move your life, even for ghosts invading, especially in New York City. He said he’s “definitely had worse roommates” than ghosts.

Asked how the team avoids the “being stupid” trope of horror where characters just won’t accept what’s really going on, he said that was a specific concern, and making sure there are people around who the characters “care about” helps with that, making it real for them.

Speaking about the role of Campbell and Villarubia in the creation of the comic, he said that their “ideas” have been a big part of the story, even the script. He knew he needed creator who could do “scary” who were “seasoned” too, and would really follow through, and Villarubia helped him find Campbell through his teaching connections.

“It’s an artist’s medium” he said, where all the hard work gets done, especially to be “scary”, so Campbell took on the dual approach of having normal digital art for the realistic parts of the narrative and “washes” when the supernatural is involved.

Looking at the approach of creators like Jeff Lemire and Tom King, who work on the full-page level, he’s tried to learn from their ambitious take on comics.

Asked to comment on the idea of ghosts feeding off xenophobia and the role of research, he said there has been a lot of research, talking to friends and other people. Newspaper articles and books also contributed in working on the reality of racial backgrounds and tensions that arise.

People can be very “private” about “religion and faith” and talking with many, many people was necessary to inform the book. He’s “terrified of getting this stuff wrong”.