Creative accomplishment, personal acclaim and you don’t have those wee hour movie-set call times? No wonder legendary filmmaker John Carpenter is enjoying such a prolific moment in the comic book world.
Long known as one of cinema’s preeminent “Masters of Horror” thanks to his enduringly popular works like “Halloween,” “The Fog,” “The Thing” and “They Live,” as well as the sci-fi and action genre classics “Escape From New York,” “Big Trouble In Little China” and “Starman,” Carpenter has reinvented himself in recent years as something of a comic book auteur. Teaming with his wife, producer Sandy King Carpenter, and various collaborators, he has created, overseen or consulted on a host of illustrated projects. They rang from original fare like “Asylum” from Storm King Productions as well as faithful continuations of the movie universes he launched in “Escape From New York” and “Big Trouble In Little China” at BOOM! Studios, even as those properties grow ever riper for Hollywood re-exploration.
As the 67-year-old recently told CBR News, he’s absolutely loving the creative freedom provided in a format he’s loved since he was a kid. Carpenter explains how comics have rekindled a passion for his longtime love of music — think Carpenter in Concert — and maybe even a return to the big screen.
CBR News: There has been a lot of fun stuff going on with you and your properties happening in the world of comic books of late. What’s it been like for you to dip your toe in and dive in deeper into that format?
John Carpenter: It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s a different world than the movie world that I come from, and it’s a different form of storytelling. I just love what’s going on. I love the stuff that we’re doing, that my wife and I are doing. And I love seeing what everybody else is up to. I mean, it’s incredible.
“Asylum” has gotten such great reception. What’s been the creative satisfaction of working on that with Sandy?
Well, you just don’t get to do work like that. Not even in a movie. It’s rough. It’s on the edge. There’s no doubt about it, and we’re pushing it a little bit. But that’s what’s so much fun about it is it’s just a joy. And Leo Manco is a genius artist, so I mean, you can’t go wrong.
You also have another book coming out, which is appropriate for the current season. Tell me how that got off the ground and what you were hoping to accomplish with it.
Well, “Tales for a Halloween Night.” Is kind of a throwback to when I was growing up. We had EC Comics, they were called, and they had “Tales from the Crypt,” a collection of horror stories drawn by these really famous artists. So my wife and I were talking about that, and we were like, “Wouldn’t that be great to do again?”
I mean, it’s such fun. So we came up with a character who introduces all the stories, and he’s sort of drawn in the old style, and then we just have these great artists illustrating. I mean, it’s just amazing, and it’s fun. That’s all I can tell you! It’s just a blast. Easier than waking up at 5 in the morning to go shoot a bunch of actors.
How fun is it been to see some of these great comic book creators — like Steve Niles, Darick Robertson and Tim Bradstreet, to name a few — coming together for this project?
It’s unbelievable. And we’re able to do it because of “Asylum.” Because we have a little bit of credibility in our little comic because we’ve lasted a while and we’ve maintained a quality. So we said, “Hey, come on — let’s play,” and they came on board.
Did the comic books of your formative years like those EC titles have much of an influence on your filmmaking career?
Well, they had an influence on the kind of movies that I grew up loving, and therefore got me interested in making movies. But in terms of narrative, no. It’s a different form. And you can pick out certain little ideas from some of the old comics, but it’s such a different narrative form. It’s hard to compare them.
Other than being able to stay home in bed at 5 A.M., has there been some special creative element that you’ve really responded to in the comic book form?
Well, it’s such a unique narrative form for me, so I’ve just been living many, many years in feature films. And to be able to do this… there’s a brevity to comics, and there’s a directness that I really, really like. And to be able to do that now, at my age, is just incredible. God, I’m lucky. That’s all I can tell you.
Has the opportunity to work in this format helped you reconnect or connect more strongly with your loyal fan base?
Well, yeah, a little bit more. And I’m just enjoying — people who love genre, who love science fiction and horror and fantasy, are my kind of people, because that’s the way I grew up. So this is the fan in me that reaches out and touches the fan in them.
You also just made an official announcement about another forthcoming project called “Vortex.” What can you tell us about that one?
That’s right. We’re going to do Vortex, written by Mike Sizemore. He’s a writer from England. He did “Howl’s Moving Castle,” the stage adaptation, over there in England. He’s done a lot of comics, and he came with up with this idea along with my wife and I, and it’s an outer space-type deal here, and it’s really cool! And kind of just in general, something is released on a deep space mining colony, killing everything. And the only witnesses to the creature’s existence — there is a creature — he’s blamed for the deaths, so we’re going to start there. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.
I understand there’s also a possible television connection with this?
There’s always that possibility.
Do you have a drawer full of ideas you’ve developed over the years that haven’t found traction in Hollywood and now your have the option to revisit them and say, “Hey, the comic book form is a perfect place to do these things”?
There are some ideas that I’ve had that I’ve noodled around with for years, that I’ve never been able to get into a feature. And so sometimes I draw on them for inspiration for comics. Yes, you’re absolutely right. The drawer, though, is in my head — not a literal drawer.
What’s been fun about doing it with Sandy?
Well, she does all the real heavy-duty work, and I can sit around and take credit! It doesn’t get any better than that. [Laughs] No, it’s really fun to work with my wife. It’s really, really fun. We’re having a great time. But this family affair keeps going on: I’ve released one album this year, “Lost Themes,” and I’m going to release another one next year. And my son and godson are playing on this album. I bet you didn’t even know about that.
I actually did. Your father was a music professor, right?
Still is! He’s going to be 96 — still with us.
Obviously, you were so heavily involved in the music of your films — I think, a lot by financial necessity — in the early days. To return to music as you have, what did that do for you, for your creative spirit?
Oh, it’s unbelievable. It’s just a whole second act of my life. So there may be a tour coming up.
Did I hear right that you’re doing a live performance in Iceland?
Yeah, and maybe other places also.
Have you ever performed this kind of music in front of a live audience before?
No. Never have. It’s been unbelievable. So you see, there’s a certain point in every director’s life where they open the corral door, and they put you out to pasture. And they say, “Go. Go feed out there.” And I said to them, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to work on some comics and some music. So fuck yourself.”
And yet Hollywood is in such a franchise mentality at the moment. Do you the time time might be riper than ever for you to get back on set?
Sure. If the right project comes along, and we do it the right way, sure, absolutely. A lot of interesting projects come, but some of them, they make them for so cheap. My god — for so cheap, I don’t want to make a movie that cheap. Or it’s so expensive, I wouldn’t be very good at being the director of just a ton of special effects. I’m just not interested in that. But the right story, the right time, the right way of doing it, I’d come back, sure.
You had the opportunity to revive a couple of your iconic properties in the comic book form over the last couple years. First, you got to work directly with Eric Powell on the “Big Trouble In Little China” comic for BOOM! Studios.
Yeah, we really had a blast.
What was the treat for you to play creative consultant on that one and make sure the story belonged in the world you’d created on film?
Well, once again, as a consultant, and having done the work back in the ’80s, I don’t have to work as hard, which is the greatest! I don’t have to get up in the morning. I don’t have to stay up late working. It’s fantastic. And Eric, he was just so much fun to work with.
He really nailed the Jack Burton sensibility.
Oh, yeah, he understood it. He understood who Jack Burton was, and he understood the adventures of the Pork-Chop Express.
How much of a hand did you get in the “Escape from New York” comic?
Well, I don’t know where we are on that right now. I guide it a little bit.
In the film world, we’ve heard talk of Dwayne Johnson as a possibility for Jack Burton in a “Big Trouble” reboot or revival. And I know they’ve talked about bring you in, in some capacity–
Well, there’s a lot of talk. But we’ll see. The way Hollywood moves these days is a whole different — it’s a giant corporation. It’s not like one guy there, greenlighting a movie. And it just doesn’t happen that way, so it takes a long, long time. But we’ll see what happens.
What do you think about the possibility of Dwayne Johnson as Jack?
Well, I’d have to have a big talk with him and see what everybody has in mind for this. Nobody can be Jack Burton but Kurt Russell. But to be a different kind of Jack Burton, I’d have to see what everybody wants to do. But I’m not going to say no. I’m not going to say yes. I’m going to play hard to get. That’s what I’m going to do.
We’re heading into the winter of Kurt Russell with “Bone Tomahawk” and Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” Why do you love Kurt Russell — both as an actor, and as your buddy?
Well, as an actor, he’s just astonishing. I’ve worked with actors. I’ve just never worked with anybody with a kind of ethic that Kurt has. He has a work ethic — he explained it to me. I said, “What is the deal with you? Why are you so different than everybody else?” You know, he was Disney-trained back in the old days. And they cut the film if you don’t say the line exactly as written. It’s a whole different regime. And Kurt is just amazing that way. And then he just has a level of talent. And I suppose we’re so different politically. He’s this crazy right wing guy, and I’m a left wing guy. But we seem to get along.
I spoke to Kurt not that long ago about a possible “Escape From New York” reboot. He was okay with it in theory, but he felt really strongly about recasting Snake with an American actor over a European-born actor.
[Laughs] That’s right.
How do you feel?
I think I need a reboot [Laughs]. No, I don’t care. I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter. My movie’s going to last. I’m not going to do anything to it. It’s not going to go away. They’re not going to burn it. They’re not going to destroy it. If you don’t like the new one, watch mine. Or you don’t have to watch the new one. This is not a big deal.
Is there anything happening in contemporary movies right now that gets you excited to possibly come back and play with?
Well, there’s a lot of things in movies that are exciting now. A lot of technology that you can play with, that can produce great results. I’ve always been in love with cinema, movies, always. So that hasn’t gone away, and that’s the big thing. It isn’t some lure of some special equipment or some special way of doing something. Cinema’s my muse, and it always has been.
We recently lost Roddy Piper, who was so great in your film “They Live.” Do you have a fond memory of him?
Several, several. Oh, I saw him just a couple months before he died. It was very unexpected, but then it wasn’t unexpected. We’re talking about years of damage from wrestling. Damage to your body. So I’m not that surprised.
Your work has stood the test of time, and here we are at the time of year when everyone loves to take a look at your first big one, “Halloween.” I just got a press release saying l that Fathom Events will be screening “Halloween” across the country this year. Is that still special for you?
That’s right, and I’m going to be on there [Laughs] in an interview. Ah, it’s unbelievable. Look, it’s great. It’s my movie, so the fact that it’s lived on like this, the fact that it got chosen for the National Registry. All that stuff is just wonderful. I mean, what the hell? It’s great. It’s really great that that thing still gets shown.
With all your films that you’ve made, is there one that you’d love to tell people, “Hey, if you like my stuff, go back and look at that one again?”
There’s a whole lot of them. I will say: “It’s okay. You don’t have to watch them if you don’t want. I don’t blame you for anything.”
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