Eric Lieb talks "The Nightmare Factory"

If you're a true horror fan, the kind with a voracious appetite for reading tales of the macabre and things of that sort, then Thomas Ligotti is probably a name you're familiar with. But even with The Washington Post labeling the writer "the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction," he still remains relatively unknown in main stream circles. That changes now.

Out this week from Fox Atomic Comics is the first edition of a planned yearly series of graphic novels under the title "The Nightmare Factory." Fox Atomic has assembled an all-star list of creators to adapt four of Ligotti's stories in the first volume, bringing Ligotti's previously prose stories to print as comics. With the popularity of comics growing in the mainstream, especially horror comics, it's unlikely Ligotti's name will remain a mystery to the masses for much longer.

To learn more about what this volume has to offer, CBR News spoke with Fox Atomic Comics Editor-In-Chief Eric Lieb to learn how they chose the stories featured in this volume, how the creative teams came together and what the future holds for Fox Atomic Comics.

Eric, first off, introduce "The Nightmare Factory" to our readers. What have you guys cooked up with this?

We've been toiling away in the Fox Atomic Kitchen for some time now, and have cooked up a tasty treat that I hope people will enjoy chewing on. We're proud to present our third release from Fox Atomic Comics, "The Nightmare Factory," an original graphic novel based on the short stories of acclaimed horror scribe Thomas Ligotti.

"The Nightmare Factory" graphic novel adapts four of Ligotti's short stories: "The Last Feast of Harlequin," "Dream of a Mannikin," "Dr. Locrian's Asylum," and Teatro Grottesco." What's particularly intriguing about this project is that Ligotti isn't a household name to most mainstream horror fans; in fact, "The Washington Post" called him, "the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction." His work is more akin to writers such as Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, in that Ligotti's writing is grounded in the cerebral, not the visceral. As such, his style eschews the recent 'blood and guts' trend in horror in favor of the horror of the mind or the horror of the unseen/unknown, which I find to be much more menacing overall. Steven J. Mariconda provides what I think is a very succinct and pointed summation of Ligotti's style when he writes in "Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction," "Ligotti is resoundingly successful in convincing us that everywhere behind the common facade of life are other, sinister realms of entity more 'real' than that through which we so blithely move."

For "The Nightmare Factory" graphic novel we also focused heavily on the look as well as the physical feel of the book; given Ligotti's style, the art truly had to shine. To that end we were extremely fortunate to line up an amazing roster of artists (all of whom I have long admired), who truly knocked the ball out of the park: Colleen Doran, Ben Templesmith, Ted McKeever, and Michael Gaydos. I'm personally a huge fan of the cover as well; Ashley Wood nailed it, and does a masterful job of setting the tone for what is to follow. I've long been a fan of his work, and he was the first and only person I reached out to when I was designing the cover.

How did Fox Atomic and Thomas Ligotti get together for this OGN? What's the genesis of this project?

It was all rather direct: Fox Atomic's Chief Operating Officer, John Hegeman (one of the architects behind "The Blair Witch Project") is also a huge horror buff, and has long been a fan of Ligotti's writing. He brought the project into the studio and introduced me to Ligotti's writing, and I immediately dug his style. Given the range and style of Ligotti's work we thought "The Nightmare Factory" would be perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, one that placed an emphasis on the art and design to present a class-act package.

As you mentioned earlier, Ligotti's well respected within horror circles, but isn't well known in the mainstream. Tell our readers a bit about his history and about the man you've come to know through this project.

In terms of his work, Ligotti began his writing career in the early 1980s, and quickly established a reputation amongst aficionados of horror fiction for his Lovecraft-inspired writings. As for the man himself, I think author Poppy Z. Brite put it best when she said in her intro to the prose version of "The Nightmare Factory," "Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?" In the same introduction she goes on to say, "I have followed your career [for nearly a decade] and I still know nothing more of you than your fiction reveals." This, to me, is what is most fascinating about Thomas Ligotti: the fact that he is such a prolific and respected writer, yet he has managed to maintain a 'cloak of invisibility.' if you will, that shrouds his very existence in mystery.

Throughout the course of the book's development, Mr. Ligotti has very much remained the "man behind the curtain," so to speak, as all necessary day-to-day interactions were coordinated through his agent Michal Shlain. Mr. Ligotti was gracious enough to pen new introductions to the four adapted stories, which provide the reader with a fascinating look into the background of each story, but also served to help guide and direct us as we adapted each into graphic literature.

But this all begs the question: does Thomas Ligotti even exist? Even I cannot say with certainty that he does. This, to me, makes him the perfect horror author: the man mirrors his work; an enigma shrouded in mystery.

"The Nightmare Factory" adapts four of Ligotti's stories - "The Last Feast of Harlequin," " Dream of a Mannikin," "Dr. Locrian's Asylum" & "Teatro Grottesco" - which is just a fraction of the number of stories in the prose version. How did you come to choose these four specific stories for adaptation?

It wasn't an easy process to pick the final four, I can say that much. Given Ligotti's style we knew from the outset that this book was going to be difficult to adapt from his very layered prose into a graphic format, and in terms of sheer volume, "The Nightmare Factory" book contains close to fifty separate short stories in what I swear is eight-point type. When we first started working on the book we weren't sure how many stories to adapt; editor Heidi Macdonald and I started by going through the book and selecting our favorite stories. From there we pared the list down further based upon length, and finally settled upon three stories ("The Last Feast of Harlequin," "Dream of a Mannikin," and "Teatro Grottesco"). However, as Stuart Moore and Joe Harris finished their scripts, we found that creatively the book could fit another story, primarily because we wanted to present as many stories as possible that represented the breadth of Ligotti's work. We selected "Asylum" as the fourth and final story, as by that point we were well into the art stage and we were able to secure Ted McKeever, whose style we though would be a perfect fit for that particular story.

You've assembled an eclectic mix of creators for this book, all well respected in the field. Talk a bit about the creative teams and how they came together.

One of the biggest buzzkills about comics (to me at least) is when I see a great story ruined by mediocre art. Given that Ligotti's stories are so cerebral, it was of vital importance that the art act as perfect compliment to the words. When each script was complete we were careful to peruse it in detail in order to determine what art style (realistic, 'comic-y,' surreal, etc) would fit the best. Since this book would be so dependant on the art I pulled out my handy-dandy (and ever growing) artist "wish list," filled with people whom I have long admired, and ultimately we were very, very fortunate to secure some very talented folks who are at the top of said list. To round out this question I would like to turn the bright light on our fearless editor Heidi Macdonald, who truly went above and beyond to help secure the artists you see in this beautiful book. Take it, Heidi:

Heidi Maconald: Putting together an anthology like this is a bit like casting a movie. After I read Ligotti's stories, I knew this wasn't a case of just finding someone who drew well or scary - I needed people who could get the mood and vibe. Stuart Moore and Joe Harris were both naturals for the writing - in addition to his writing, Stuart is one of the finest editors ever in the business himself and I knew he would get the literary qualities of Ligotti. Joe is a horror maestro himself, of course, and I knew he'd groove the dark psychology. The artists were all "cast" for what they do well. Colleen Doran and I are friends who talk all the time, and I knew she would pounce on the chance to draw a pulpish, Lovecraftian horror story, which she did. "Mannikin" was a very odd story - written as a letter with all the action taking place in the narrator's mind...maybe. Both Eric and I had always wanted to work with Ben Templesmith and he seemed perfect to capture subtle moods and nuances with lighting and color. Next for a story about crazy towns and haunted asylums, is there a name that jumps out at you faster than Ted McKeever? That was sort of a no-brainer. Finally, I heard Michael Gaydos was available, and once again, with his psychological subtlety I knew he would be ideal for "Teatro Grottesco." We were very lucky to get some superb artists and present four completely different visions of Ligotti's unique world.

Thanks, Heidi. Eric, how involved was Ligotti in the production of this book? Did he have approval every step along the way?

We were very careful to keep Mr. Ligotti in the loop throughout the entire development process, but given the stellar job that Stuart Moore and Joe Harris did in both adapting the original stories and staying true to the source there were fortunately never any issues on the approval front. Mr. Ligotti was also gracious enough to pen the aforementioned, brand-new intros to each of the four adapted stories. Mr. Ligotti did also give his seal of approval on the final product, which is a definite sign that we did something right!

As Fox Atomic has a filmed entertainment division, is this book being eyed for possible feature film adaptation? It seems like it could make for a cool "Creepshow" style film with four vignettes.

Before I start, big points for the "Creepshow" reference; I've always had Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" in the back of my mind as an analogue to "The Nightmare Factory" graphic novel. Fox Atomic Comics is certainly in a very unique position as far as comic publishers go, given that we're the only film studio (other than Warner Bros/DC, naturally) tied in so closely to a movie studio. As a result all of our books are put under the microscope in terms of how they can be transitioned into film, TV, or even digital entities.

For example, the "Nightmare Factory" brand has already been extended to an online series of viral horror short films that I also oversee. These shorts are not tied into the graphic novel, as each is much more rooted in the "blood and guts" side of the horror coin. A link to one of the aforementioned shorts can be found here, but before you watch please note it's fairly intense, so please clear all little ones out of the room!

In addition, we've also animated stories from our first graphic novel, "28 Days Later: The Aftermath" (one of which is set to premiere on the "28 Weeks Later" DVD, but you can watch the other story online here). These were animated using that art from the book, and we're currently animating one in a similar (yet different) fashion for "The Nightmare Factory" that is set to premiere later this month.

As far as a feature film adaptation… you never know!

Anything else you'd like to add that we didn't cover or as a conclusion?

"The Nightmare Factory" is available in comic and book stores across the country right now! (I couldn't resist). We are very proud of this book, and stay tuned for a few announcements that we'll be making shortly regarding our upcoming titles from Fox Atomic Comics.

By way of a conclusion I would like to say how proud we are of this book, and hope that people will enjoy the read as well. I would also like to extend heartfelt thanks to our editor, Heidi Macdonald, and our incredible creative team: writers Stuart Moore & Joe Harris, and artists Colleen Doran, Ben Templesmith, Ted McKeever, and Michael Gaydos. Thanks also go out to Peter Rice, John Hegeman, Michael Shlain, Jimmy Palmiotti, and the fine folks at HarperCollins.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Indie Comics forum.

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