October is Horror

There are a lot of disturbing things that go bump in the night and Sam Costello is taking advantage of all of them for his horrific webcomics series, Split Lip. Costello's celebrating the second anniversary of the nail-biting anthology series, which has featured 20 different chillers. Costello's worked with a variety of artists to bring these tales to life. He told THE PULSE, "One of my goals for Split Lip is to try to head in some new directions for horror comics, to lay some new groundwork in the genre ..."

THE PULSE: When I hear Split Lip, I don't usually think horror, even though you kind of bite your lip when you're watching something really scary. How'd you come up with that name for your webcomic? Why that over something that might be a little more descriptive or horror evocative?

SAM COSTELLO: I thought about that same question when I was planning the series. One of my goals for Split Lip is to try to head in some new directions for horror comics, to lay some new groundwork in the genre. As a result of that - and even though I love the EC and Warren and other titles that came before - I didn't want to do something like "Tales from ..." or "Creepy."

Instead, I wanted a name that would encapsulate both that feeling of a new direction while also representing the stories well. A lot of the stories deal with not just the way horror can work on an emotional or tonal level, but also on a physical level for the characters. I liked the sense of trauma or a punch that "split lip" implies, but it could also be something that results from the atmosphere - say chapped lips. I liked that sense that horror could arise from both trauma and from just the natural, creepy state of the world - that sense that horror is all around us. Plus, the feeling of skin pulling apart a little bit and the taste of blood trickling into the mouth seemed like a good image and sensation to go with a horror comic.

THE PULSE: Just thinking about it gives me chills! I gather you're a big fan of the genre, what, aside from some of the horror you mentioned above, influenced you the most as you were originally working on the ideas behind Split Lip?

COSTELLO: The influences were kind of broad, really. Of course they included those comics I mentioned, but they were also more modern horror comics: Junji Ito's Uzumaki (which, for my money, is probably the best horror comic available in English) or the works of Kazuo Umezu or Strange Embrace by David Hine. All of those comics do a great job of providing both a strong atmosphere for the horror to happen in, which I think makes it more effective.

I was also really influenced by horror movies (big surprise!) like the wave of j-horror that started arriving in the U.S. in the late 90s/early 2000s. Things like The Ring, The Grudge, and Audition. Their ability to make you feel like you were living n a nightmare that had a logic, but not always a human one, were influential. I gravitated towards character-driven American indie horror like Session 9 and May, also.

If I had to say there was one series that I wanted to emulate, though, it would probably be The Twilight Zone. I love how that series was able to effortlessly bounce between thrillers and character stories, horror and suspense, all while putting an emphasis on production and story values and engagement with real-world issues. I remember sitting in front of the TV during one of those New Year's marathons of TZ and thinking this was basically the shape of my goals. Less than a year later, Split Lip debuted.

THE PULSE: Wow. I can see a little Twilight Zone here or Night Gallery .... What are the challenges of starting up a webcomic? I mean, just because you want to do one, you can, but it has to be quality to get noticed ....

COSTELLO: Absolutely. It's a big Internet and we're just one site. The challenges were myriad: from finding a place to host the site to finding artists, to making sure I'm writing scripts often enough to keep the flow of pages coming to learning how to letter (I didn't know how to do that before Split Lip) to marketing the site. It's been a lot of work - but also a lot of fun.

The artists I work with have been great in terms of hitting deadlines and delivering top-quality work. Only once or twice has someone agreed to do a story and then completely flaked out. Given that we've got over 20 stories at Split Lip, that feels like a great ratio to me!

I suspect one of the big challenges with a lot of webcomics is marketing - getting people to the site. I'm lucky in that regard: I work in marketing in my day job, so I already had some idea of how to go about that. Not that it's not hard, but I was glad to at least have had a sense of where to start.

THE PULSE: I think that does give you an advantage! So we now where you got your marketing savvy, what about the writing? How'd you learn to write comics?

COSTELLO: Lots of trial and error, basically! I was writing comics scripts for a few years before Split Lip debuted. I think I had one published story in those three to four years - in a small, print-on-demand anthology. My background is writing - I was a reporter and editor for a while - but not in comics. To learn, I read a lot of comics, read scripts when I could find them, and just wrote and wrote and wrote. I've got a bunch of old scripts on my hard drive that will never see the light of day, but that were in getting me used to writing comics. Since then, it's been the my normal process: read as much as possible, take feedback from those who know more and are better than me, set tough goals, and keep doing the work.

THE PULSE: And now, two years later you have quite the body of horrific work out there! What's it like looking back at these past Split Lip comics? How does it feel?

COSTELLO: It's pretty great, really. Looking at the site and seeing over 20 stories (or, from another perspective, something like 250 pages of comics) is really satisfying. Even more satisfying has been getting to work with amazing artists from around the world, interacting with other comics creators who I never would have met otherwise, and hearing from people from almost every continent who have found and liked Split Lip. Considering I'm just a guy in Providence, Rhode Island, writing comics from his home office, that's kind of amazing to me.

THE PULSE: So who are some of these artists you've collaborated with in these strips?

COSTELLO: I've worked with close to 20 artists and obviously there's not space to list them all, but a few of them include: Sami Makkonen, from Finland, who's drawing the new Deadworld mini written by Gary Reed, and did Blue with Elizabeth Genco earlier this year. Erik Rose, whose art graces the pages of The Roberts, out from Image right now. John Bivens, who had a story in Comic Book Tattoo earlier this year. Anthony Peruzzo, whose Unconscious Life story was in a recent Zuda competition.

But really, all of the artists I've worked with have been great. Check out the Split Lip site for their work!

THE PULSE: What are some of the recent or new stories appearing on Split Lip? What kind of horror have you in store for October?

COSTELLO: This month, to celebrate Split Lip's two-year anniversary, we're running four stories, one every week. So far we've run: Bad Radio, with art by Nelson Evergreen, which is a cute little piece about Ed Gein's childhood; Mujer, with art by Sami Makkonen, about the murders of women in Juarez, Mexico; Long Live the King, art by Gary Crutchley, about human experiments in English coal mines in the 1890s. The final story for the month is a tale about persecution called Panopticon. Joel Vollmer drew it.

In November, the new story will be "Ashes to Ashes," with art by Anthony Peruzzo. It's a tale of corrupt undertakers and religious apocalypses.

THE PULSE: Do you ever get disturbed by the stories you're telling?

COSTELLO: Depends on how you define disturbed, I guess. Scared? Not too much. I certainly have to find the concept for a story unsettling and exciting in order to want to write it, so there's that. But, no, not really scared.

One story that really got to me, though, was Se Perdre, which John Bivens drew. That story was so sad that I actually had to take a few days off from writing it. I loved the concept and was willing to take the characters where they went, but about halfway through the first draft of the script, I did need to take a little time away from it. That was a tough one.

THE PULSE: How do you go back to something bothering you or blocking you ...?

COSTELLO: Just take the time away, really. After a few days away from Se Perdre I was ready to go again. I believed in the idea and what I was doing, and felt it would make a good story, so I just tried to keep my eye on that goal and push through it. With those few days to reset, all was well.

THE PULSE: Sounds like a good plan! What other projects are you working on?

COSTELLO: Not too many others that will see the light of day any time soon, I think - Split Lip occupies a lot of my time. I have a new story coming out in Cthulhu Tales from Boom! Studios in coming months, and am working on a few other ideas. In 2009, I hope to add another long-form comic to my roster, either a webcomic or something in print. I'm developing a miniseries with British artist Shane Oakley that we hope might see print next year.

And, of course, there will still be Split Lip. We've got stories for the next five to six months already in the works, and I've got about 10 more scripts that need writing, so I suspect Split Lip will be with us for years to come!

THE PULSE: Speaking of other projects will there be a print edition of Split Lip?

COSTELLO: I hope so! Split Lip's in print in Australia through Local Act Comics; Australians, head over to that site or go see Dave Cunning at a convention and pick it up. In North America, we don't have a publisher yet, but are actively seeking one. So, publishers, if you're interested, drop me a line!

PULSE readers can learn more about this spooky series here: