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Fans of actor Bruce Campbell know him best for playing the character of Ash in the “Evil Dead” series of films directed by his friend Sam Raimi. More recently he received praise for his work in “Bubba Ho-tep.” He’s been described by some as the consummate A-list, B-Movie actor. This fall, SciFi Channel will release Campbell’s latest effort, “Man With The Screaming Brain,” which he directed, starred and co-wrote with writer David M. Goodman. But the acting world alone isn’t enough for Campbell. He’s set his sights on comics.
Before fans get to watch the new film, they’ll get to “Man With The Screaming Brain” in comic format first. Coming from Dark Horse Comics this May, Campbell is joined on the four-issue mini-series by artist Rick Remender and Hilary Barta. We sat down with all three of them to get the skinny on this most bizarre of stories.
“‘Man With The Screaming Brain’ is a story of greed, betrayal and revenge in the big, bad city,” Campbell told CBR News by phone last week. “In this case, it’s the city of Bravada, Bulgaria. It’s sort of a sociological metaphor masquerading as a horror film. It’s the struggle of a right-wing capitalist who has part of his brain removed and replaced by a former KGB operative in gypsy town. So, it’s a strange combination of characters, but they have to make peace with each other and team-up to find the woman who killed them both, so it’s a murder mystery at the same time.”
The series stars one William Cole, a wealthy industrialist who goes looking for a tax shelter in the wrong part of the world. Once there, he winds up as a guinea pig for a mad scientist’s plans to have his brain merged with that of Yegor, the aforementioned KGB operative. As you can imagine, the results are a bit unpredictable.
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It’s not easy to pigeon hole “Man With The Screaming Brain” into a single category. It clearly has elements of horror, comedy, action and science fiction. Campbell says it’s best to think of it as a horror/sci-fi hybrid of some sort. “To me there’s still a lot of sociological overtones. It really is the story of an asshole who, by the end of the movie, through a bizarre set of circumstances, is less of an asshole. It’s a redemptive story about a right-wing dick!”
What’s unusual about the comic is that it’s not a straight adaptation of the upcoming film. In fact, it’s kind of the other way around. The comic is actually based off the original screen played by Campbell and Goodman. After almost 18 years of development, SciFi Channel finally gave Campbell a budget to make the film, but it was about half of what he’d need to produce the original script. So, the shooting script underwent many changes, while the original script will be made in to the comic.
“The comic is truer to everything and the movie is really an adaptation,” said Campbell. “In a comic it doesn’t matter if you make a scene take place at night or during the day, it can be windy or rainy, none of that matters. Whereas in a movie, that all costs money. We were shooting in Bulgaria and there was a lot of stuff that just wasn’t going to happen.
“[Rick and Hilary] are working from the original screenplay,” continued Campbell. “That’s the template and then they convert it to the comic book format, which means they have to make changes anyway. We talked about the key elements to keep and they were good about compressing it all. I just retain bitch rights. We had a bunch of conversations and then I had to let the guys go and do their thing.”
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Inker Hilary Barta and Dark Horse Editor Scott Allie got together and broke the original “Man With The Screaming Brain” script down in to pages for penciler Rick Remender to work from. “Hilary isn’t changing anything much, but he’s the one who figured out the panel count per page and found the best places to plan page turns, etc.,” Remender told CBR News.
“Once that was done I was basically working from a broken down version of Bruce and David’s film script,” continued Remender. “It’s actually been a real challenge for me. There are seven major characters in the script and they are all quite distinct and required a great deal of design work. The Eastern European location alone took me a couple of weeks to lock down an understanding of the basic architecture. Bruce and David were very clear that they wanted the city to play as a character, the details were very specific.
“The fun of it has been that Bruce wanted us to interpret the script without seeing much of the film. He wanted to be able to do things in the ‘directors cut comic book’ that his film budget didn’t permit. He wanted me to design the characters based on what I envisioned when I read the script. So to me, as an artist, the job has been amazing fun. I got to help Bruce and David design the more fantastical characters and backdrops with no restraints.”
Barta explained that the teaming of he and Remender shares some similarities to the main character of the book. “As a team we evolved kind of like Bruce’s character in ‘Screaming Brain,'” explained Barta, “who has half of another guy’s brain sewn into his head: at first we stumbled around punching ourselves in the face, but soon we became a four-armed, kick-ass art-monster.”
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Barta continued, “From the start we agreed that I would try to add some of the lighting that [artist Wally] Wood was famous for at EC, that ‘double-lighting’ that really helps create that EC-style mood. Rick is bringing a dynamic in-your-face-style to the pencils. This project has him flexing some new muscles, and I think readers will love it.”
“Hilary is one of the greats, and it’s been brilliant to make art with someone of his caliber on the team,” said Remender. “Hilary isn’t afraid to tell me where I’m missing opportunities to make things better. To be honest, Hilary is the biggest pain in my ass, but he is also the reason I’m doing my best work. I’ve redrawn entire pages from scratch on numerous occasions for Hilary because he knew we could hit the shots with better staging and acting.
“I’d say we have a Karate Kid thing going on. I’m the cocky pupil (I’m also deadly sex-hot to the ladies like Ralph Macchio) and Hilary is the grumpy (and secretly Asian) master and even though we bicker and eventually I leave his dojo because he rides me too hard to find the inner master he knows I harbor within, I eventually come back to his home land and help him kick the shit out of some asshole who stole his best girl back in WWII. Seriously, it’s like having a second editor, I want to take him to a remote jungle and hunt him for sport. If he weren’t so damn amazing he’d have been found in the trunk of Scott Allies car months ago. Damn, should I have given the standard ‘he’s great, I love him, we like ice cream’ answer?”
Campbell said he’s mostly been letting his artists run wild with their ideas, offering up suggestions only occasionally. “If I thought a pose was too weird or something like that I’ll drop them a note,” said Campbell. “The covers I’ve paid more attention to. I really haven’t changed that much. I’ve only had a couple, I wouldn’t call them complaints, just suggestions or thoughts. Real basic stuff.”
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As the director of the film, Campbell was involved in every aspect of the production process, but found he had no trouble letting someone else “direct” the comic, in this case Remender and Barta. “It’s still my story, so I don’t really care,” said Campbell. “You could get in to micro-management, but then why hire Rick and Hilary? When a guy hires me I don’t expect him to spoon feed every line delivery.”
As for the interiors and the way the characters look, Campbell says they’ve given the artists complete freedom. “They didn’t want to be tied in to that and asked not to be and I said, sure, why not. As long as I look sort of like me to some degree only because we have to sell it.”
Remender noted he hasn’t seen much from the film other than some stills of Campbell as title character William Cole. Campbell is the only member of the cast that hasn’t been redesigned from the ground up. To assist Remender in capturing Campbell’s image, Dark Horse sent a bust of Bruce as William Cole. This bust will be available for purchase later this year.
“[Bruce’s] feedback is usually very encouraging and enthusiastic,” said Remender. “He and David have been hands on, which is a good thing because you know what they’re looking for from each character. The design stage took a good chunk of time, but it paid off. I think we nailed what they were after.”
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Barta added, “[Bruce] has asked for us to up the ‘what-the-f*@#!?!’ Bruce attitude on the occasional expression and we have been happy to oblige.”
Both Remender and Barta admit to being huge fans of Campbell’s, especially those “Evil Dead” films and “Bubba Ho-tep.” So they both jumped at the chance to work with the actor on “Man With the Screaming Brain.” Barta and Remender had already begun working on a new project for Dark Horse with writer Mark Rickettes called “Salt of the Earth.” Then Barta got a call from his editor at Dark Horse, Scott Allie.
“[Scott & I] have worked together before, and he had always said he’d like to find another project for me,” said Barta. “Editors use this as a Hollywood kiss-off all the time, but apparently Scott really meant it this time. I think that my love of EC comics brought me to the project.
“I couldn’t handle the schedule by myself, which was tied to the film’s release. I thought of Rick. Rick and I had done a few sample pages together for a comic proposal that was in the EC style — you know, lot’s of that Wally Wood style sci-fi machinery that looks like it could have been ripped from the dashboard of a ’50s Chevy. Bruce, writer David Goodman and Scott all agreed on the team of Rick and I.”
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“I have some real choice photos of Scott and he said if I’d send him the negatives he’d pitch Hilary and I as the art team,” joked Remender. “Scott pitched us to Bruce Campbell and I guess Bruce dug our stuff because here we are (and I didn’t even have any compromising photos of Bruce). So we jumped onto ‘Screaming Brain’ and put ‘Salt of the Earth’ on the shelf for a bit. It sounds like if all goes well you might see ‘Salt of the Earth’ from Dark Horse as well.”
In addition to acting in over 60 films, Campbell’s also spent time behind the lends directing a good deal of television as well as writing. Previously Campbell’s written only one comic, an issue of the BMW Film’s comic series “The Hire.” He admits that writing a comics script is more challenging than writing a screenplay. “That hurt my brain because of the way you have to tell a story – x amount of panels on x amount of pages, dividing up voice over, description and dialogue,” said Campbell.
“I’m used to writing screenplays and that’s a real simple format. With comics, it’s like a mathematical equation. You have x amount of panels, which are basically shots, and if you lay out too many panels you get these little tiny images and it gets all jumbled. I also learned that some of the hardest stuff to convey is action sequences. It’s tough to pull off.”
“Man With The Screaming Brain” the comic came about because of Dark Horse. Campbell worked with them previously on the “Army of Darkness” adaptation in 1992. “I thought they did a great job,” said Campbell. “They got John Bolton to do the art for it and we were really happy with how classy we thought it was. So, Mike [Richardson] and I were always trying to figure out things to do so finally I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be making this dumb movie, so how about a comic?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, sure!’ Really, it’s better suited for comics than it is as a movie unless you really have the money.”
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Talking about the film a bit, the movie was made over 20 days in Bulgaria. The crew took over an old, massive military compound, turning it in to their back lot so as to film the “Screaming Brain” in as few places as possible to stay within their budgetary restraints. An interesting location choice considering most film productions are run with military style efficiency. “In fact, one of the Bulgarian crewmembers remembered going there as a cadet in the Communist days,” said Campbell. “The place was completely overgrown when we took over, so we hired a team of Bulgarian workers and gypsies and we unearthed stuff that was just fabulous. Streets, alleys, parks, huts, etc. There were buildings everywhere. And this place was for sale for like 100 grand! It just kills me that I didn’t have an extra 100 grand because it was the perfect, funky back lot.
“It was a really good experience, but a very strange one and you had to adapt like a mother scratcher as a film maker. Everyday you’d get the Bulgarian surprise: ‘Oh, we didn’t get the so-and-so’ or ‘Oh, you mean it was supposed to look like that?’ You’re speaking through translators all the time and you have to pray that they understand what you’re saying. I had a dry erase board in my office and had to draw everything for them. It was fine, because it helped you think visually.”
While the film will air on the SciFi Channel this fall, it will also be shown in limited theatrical release this summer.
Returning to comics, Campbell said he’s interested in writing more comics, but he’d really like to start from scratch. Campbell said, “‘Screaming Brain’ was an adaptation. ‘The Hire’ was for BMW and that had it’s own retarded restrictions (like, ‘You can do this with the car, but you can’t do that with the car.’). So, I’d rather start fresh with a whole series created around a character who’s a bit more of an anti-hero. Comic book heroes, to me, can get a little boring if there’s nothing I, Bruce Campbell, can relate to. So, I’d like to kind of set a whole series around a garage mechanic who has some crazy adventures, but he’s no more powerful than you and me.”
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Don’t expect to see Campbell writing any of your favorite super-heroes any time soon, though. He said he has “zero interest” in doing that. “Those stories have been told so much. He’s old Batman, he’s young Batman, he’s this, he’s that. He’s dead, he’s not dead, oh my God he’s been brought back! There’s only so much you can do with that shit.”
With regards to the “Army of Darkness” comics, currently published by Dymanite Entertainment, Campbell said he’s not been involved with that as it was all handled by MGM, the rights holder for the comics. Campbell said he doesn’t feel comfortable writing for the series since he didn’t create it. “I’m kind of determined not to write on any ‘Evil Dead’ anything. I’m going to leave that to Mr. Raimi. I have more time to do that stuff than Sam does, but I don’t want to. So, we don’t really participate in that because we’re also not really happy how they [the movie studios] handled it. I have no problem with the comics because it’s fun to keep the character alive. I haven’t read them, but I’ve seen the artwork and I think it looks cool.”
As for Campbell’s own history with comics fandom, he says it goes way back, but he didn’t read the comics you might have expected him to read. “I read all the loser comics! There’s no cool comic that I ever read,” admitted Campbell. “I wasn’t a Silver Surfer guy or a DC guy. I read Sad Sack and a little bit of Archie comics. I didn’t know any better! Sgt. Rock I read all the time. I read Turok; that was cool shit. So I was good to go on some of those, but a lot of them were more about average shlubs. Like, Sgt. Rock was just about guys in the trenches fighting the Nazis! The covers were so fantastic on those! It was always them in the trenches, there’s 1000 Americans on the left side, 1000 Germans on the right side, and they’re all pointing machine guns at each other and sweating. I think if I were a gay man I’d get every back-issue of those because they were some handsome men!”