Stayin’ Alive In A Shared Horror Universe – Eliot Rahal On Cult Classic & A Cable Access Event

by Hannah Means Shannon

Vault Comics is rolling out a new horror comic series in February that will initiate the world into the universe of Cult Classic. Conceived of by comic writer Eliot Rahal (The Doorman, Bloodshot’s Day Off, Shadowman: Rae Sremmurd), he will also write the first series, Cult Classic: Return of the Graveyard Gang, and an ashcan previewing three stories from the Cult Classic line debuted at New York Comic Con last month.

Cult Classic is inspired by many aspects of horror tradition, including film and TV, and wants to tap into those traditions while avoiding the nostalgia route. Rahal’s enthusiasm for the project led him to delve into the pulpiness of horror film and TV tradition last month on Halloween, when, after many months of preparation, he and several friends aired a skit-based framework for a viewing of Night of the Living Dead on local cable access in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the cable project, a horror TV host from Cult Classic appeared, Rip G. Raves, to introduce the film, bridging the gap between the comics page and a performative event. The world of Cult Classic thereby moved a little closer to our own experience of reality.

Eliot Rahal joins us here on Comicon.com today to talk about the whole concept of Cult Classic, what we can expect when his comic with Felipe Cunha, Dee Cunniffe and Taylor Esposito starts in February, and you’ll also be able to view clips from the Cult Classic cable event below.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Recently announced at New York Comic Con by indie publisher Vault Comics is Cult Classic, not only a comic, but a shared horror universe with 80’s pop culture aspects, and you’re the creator of this concept, and the initial writer on the series, correct?

Eliot Rahal: Correct! Although Cult Classic doesn’t JUST take place in the 80’s. It’s set in a town called Whisper–the most haunted hamlet in the upper northern midwest–and it lives throughout the decades. The first miniseries is in the 90’s and the present, and the second takes place in the 80’s, and so on. The goal is to subvert nostalgia. To demonstrate how there is no such thing. It is important to note, though, that each series is created by the art team involved.

So Cult Classic: Return of the Graveyard Gang (out in February) is created by me and Felipe Cunha. The second series has a different creative team. And not to mention, Vault Comics has taken an active role in collaboration. They are creators, as well.

HMS: How will the publishing schedule of the “shared” aspect of that universe work? Is there a specific number of issues you’ll be working on, and some that others will be contributing to under the heading of “Cult Classic”? But this all focuses on the same town, a very “haunted” one, called Whisper?

ER: Yes, everything is based in Whisper. It’s like Springfield from The Simpsons. Different creators will have pieces to use and play with made by other creators. They also can build out as they see fit, but everything is connected through the town. However, everything doesn’t need to be one linear story line. There are branches. Nooks and crannies. In terms of what it means to be shared: I wrote a short story, I’m writing the first two miniseries, and I will be onboard as a creative officer/editor of the series when we decide to use different writers to helm the ship.

There are plans for one-shots and other miniseries to accomplish this. We’ve already had several back up stories and shorts. I, and Vault, consider the teams on those stories as creators of their own little piece of Whisper and by extension…the Cult Classic Universe.

HMS: So, taking this idea of a shared universe, with these specific but permeable boundaries, one step further in reach, you helped carry out an event that brought a fictional TV show, called “Cult Classic” in the comic, into the real world on public access cable on Halloween, I believe.

At what point did this “Eureka” strike you, that you must do this wild and fascinating thing, and how difficult was it to actually arrange and carry out?

ER: Indie comics is a hard place. I’m really passionate about Cult Classic. And I wanted to do something to help shine a light on it. I’m really active in the arts community in Minneapolis, and I knew the right people to make this crazy thing happen. In terms of why? Well. I’m from Illinois. I grew up watching Svengoolie. In fact, in Cult Classic there is a character named Rip G. Raves who is the town’s local horror show host. I thought, “Hey, what if Rip came alive for one night to show a movie on Halloween!” I thought maybe it would be fun. Also kind of a dream come true thing. I really love stuff like that. Local myth. Regional culture. That being said, this one night only event took months to plan and execute. We worked on a shoestring budget and called in a lot of favors from a lot of talented people.

HMS: In your public access event, you’re wearing your pop culture heart on your sleeve as a Minnesotan, I think. What is the tradition of low budget shows in Minnesota, and does it overlap at all with horror tradition or cult film tradition?

ER: The big one is MSTK. Minneapolis is the home for MSTK. But also Minneapolis–and by extension Minnesota–has a really proud tradition for the arts. 1st Avenue. Prince. Garrison Keillor. Maria Bamford. Not to mention a KILLER comic book community. Tons of studios and small presses. A lot of DC heavyweights (Dan Jurgens) live here, and established creators in the indie scene. People like: Zander Cannon, John Bivens, Jen Bartel, Brent Schoonover and Katy Rex. Minnesotans do their own thing and are proud of it. I really connect with that. I will say this though…Neil Gaiman moved away right before I came here…and that really upset me.

HMS: I’ve known you for awhile as a comic creator, and been aware of your connection to live events and stand up comedy, but even though this event was skit-based, it still feels like a step into “acting” that I wasn’t aware you were into. What’s your background with performance, and did this feel like a new thing to you?

ER: I’ve always been more comfortable writing and performing than actually being with people. Being myself is difficult. A lot of creators can connect with that. I think a lot of people in general can, as well. It’s easier to be myself behind the page or on stage. It’s a way I combat my anxiety and indulge my desire to be a “real” person. With that knowledge though, I have no interest in performing or acting, only in creating. Live events, to me, are a form of creation. Unfortunately, I don’t really do stand-up any longer. My sole focus is comics. That being said, I just like doing shit. It’s fun.

HMS: Who are some of the characters that appear in the Cult Classic comic and comic-localized TV show, and how do they connect to the show you presented?

ER: The only character from the comic that came to life on the broadcast was Rip G. Raves–as played by Adam Quesnell. Rip was created by John Bivens and myself. Think Svengoolie or Elvira. A late night horror show host. Vincent Price meets Paul Bearer. It’s a character type I’ve always loved. Regional heroes are fascinating to me. So I wanted to make one up for Cult Classic. In fact, in college when I first started writing by doing stand-up, my goal was to write for Svengoolie. I tried submitting jokes once or twice too.

HMS: Why did you pick Night of the Living Dead? Is it a film close to your heart and/or does it have some significance for the Cult Classic comic?

ER: Night of Living Dead is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s in my top five. It also doesn’t have a copyright. So…it was natural decision. I mean. I have a connection with Halloween. And I know A LOT of people in comics do. But…it doesn’t stop me from making me feel like mine is special. I was a child of divorce. My parents never fought over who gets who on Halloween, unlike other holidays. Halloween also goes back to performing. It was a day I could be anybody. Which means it was a day I could finally be myself.

Last though–and more importantly–Halloween was something I shared with my little brothers. I’m older than them. And I took it upon myself to show them cool stuff. I made them watch Night of the Living Dead when they were very little. It scared the shit of out of them. I took them trick-or-treating every year. The last time we went, I was 24. They were…twelve? Either way it was just us. We stayed out until 9 p.m. and got thirteen pounds of candy. We were zombies. And then we went home and watched zombie movies. I’ll always cherish that memory.

HMS: Who else took part in staging your event with you, and what did they think of your strange plan?

ER: Adam and I are very good friends. Everyone else I know and consider a friend, as well. They were all super cool about it. Like. It’s a testament to the Minneapolis creative community that they will jump in and do weird shit. I’m actually super touched by everyone’s dedication. Everyone brought something to the table. The only person we didn’t know was Katie Romanski–our special guest. We actually wanted to feature a food truck and a local business. My wife and I love Katie’s ice cream from the Minnesota Nice Cream food truck. I reached out. And she was super into it.

INTERLUDE: You can watch clips from the cable event below:

HMS: What do you think the role of having a “horror host” type figure like Svengooli or the Crypt Keeper brings to a viewing or comic reading experience? What does it do for you as a consumer of pop culture and why did you want to bring that into the world of Cult Classic?

ER: I think it brings a sense of fun and familiarity. It also helps establish that this is a shared Universe. He’s a local icon. Everyone in Whisper may not know each other, but they all know Rip. Just like everyone in Springfield knows Krusty the Clown.

HMS: It feels like Cult Classic is your baby, but it’s an experience of creation that you want to share with others. What’s the appeal of working in a shared creator-owned world and what excites you about what’s coming up?

ER: Community is important to me. That being said, it took a second for me to realize what that would actually mean for me as a creator. And how I would have to become comfortable with other people doing their own thing inside this universe. But…I love it. It makes the stories richer. It makes the world bigger. I get to work with so many people. Be inspired by creators who I have admired for some time. Like…in our ashcan for NYCC we had stories by Vita Ayala, Paulina Ganucheau, Daniel Kibblesmith, and Jen Bartel. WITH letters by Rachel Deering. AND colors by Marissa Louise. AND design work by Tim Daniel. I mean…HOLY SHIT! The more you share something, the more it takes a life of its own. It belongs to all of us now. I love that. I really do. Also.

I’d be ashamed if I didn’t point out that working with Vault has been an experience that keeps rewarding me. Adrian and Damian Wassel have a vision for Vault. They are kind and earnest. Plus they put up with a lot of craziness from me. I really appreciate their insight, creativity and professionalism. Not to mention, I get to work with Tim Daniel. And…Tim is the kind of person I want to be. LASTLY. Don’t forget that Cult Classic: Return of the Graveyard Gang hits shelves in February and becomes available to order soon. Interior art is by . Plus designs by Tim and a SUPER DOPE variant cover from Irene Koh. I’m really looking forward to how people will react to this first series. As Rip G. Raves would say, “Stay plugged in, stay tuned, and…STAY ALIVE!”

Official credits for the Cult Classic cable event:

The character of Rip. G. Raves was created by John Bivens and Eliot Rahal.

The character of Sven the Cat was created by Adam Quesnell and Eliot Rahal.

Original Puppet Created by Chris Lindblad and Diane Wehrman of Wehrblad Studios.

This particular adaption of Cult Classic was written by Eliot Rahal and Adam Quesnell.

Additional writing from: Brittany Ordahl Quesnell, Shelly Paul, Nikol Stein, Royal Stein, and Casey Flesch. Director of Photography: Casey Flesch. Lead Editor/Videographer: Casey Flesch. Editor/Videographer: Brittany Ordahl Quesnell. Makeup by Brittany Ordahl Quesnell.

Rip G. Raves played by Adam Quesnell. Sven the Cat played by Eliot Rahal. Katie Romanski of the Minnesota Nice Cream Truck appears as herself. Zombie Shelly Paul played by Shelly Paul. Executive Producers: Eliot Rahal, Adam Quesnell, Brittany Ordahl Quesnell, Shelly Paul, Nikol Stein, Royal Stein, and Casey Flesch. Recorded at CCX Media in Brooklyn Park.