Celebrity culture is a fickle beast. One day, you're on top of the world; the next day, as Heidi Klum says, you are out. It's a train wreck that most of us hope to avoid and one that we sometimes can't help but watch. It's also the journey of Leon Stokes, better known as the title character in "Whatever Happened To Baron Von Shock?," an upcoming Image Comics and MVCreations eight-issue series from horror icon Rob Zombie that focuses on the rise and fall of a television star. CBR News spoke with Zombie and his collaborators to learn more about the project.
"The idea for the comic came basically from living in Hollywood and seeing what happens to people when they are stripped of their fame and fortune - it is not a pretty sight, but it is a good story," Zombie told CBR. "Baron Von Shock, also known as Leon Stokes, is somewhat of a loser. But with that said, he was a natural talent when it came to playing Baron Von Shock. He had a brief moment of fame and immediately fucked it up. The book tracks his last attempt to regain the life he feels he should have had."
Fans of Zombie's might be in for something of a shock with "Baron Von Shock," a significantly more grounded-in-reality story than "Spookshow International" and "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," his previous comic book work. "This book is one hundred percent a real world slice of life story; it's the exact opposite of 'El Superbeasto,' which was a goofy book about a moronic superhero living in Monsterland. This is a drama about a washed up TV star living in Burbank trying to regain control of his life," said the writer. "The main difference [between 'El Superbeasto' and 'Baron Von Shock'] is that it all has to make perfect sense. You can easily get your story out of a hole with a superhero book because anything can happen, but with a book like this, it has to work within a real life structure."
That said, Zombie still believes his established fan base will get a kick out of his latest story. "I think my fans will love it because it contains, for lack of a better term, very Rob Zombie style characters," he said.
Given the story's focus on celebrity culture, it's not surprising to learn that "Baron Von Shock" was initially envisioned as a film, not a comic book, and it's still Zombie's intention to create the movie version of the story at some point. "The comic is just the first step to the end product - as with most things I do, I like to try and take the idea as far as I can," he said. "The main challenge is making it work as a comic since I can already see it as a finished film. So in some respects, I am forced to think backwards. Also, it's not a splashy looking book art-wise; it needs to be more subtle in order for the story to be taken seriously. But we are in a great groove and things are moving fast."
Helping to achieve that great groove are Zombie's collaborators: illustrator Donny Hadiwidjaja, colorist Val Staples and editor Leanne Hannah. For Hadiwidjaja, this is his first time working alongside Zombie. "Working with Rob is a rare and fantastic experience," said Hadiwidjaja. "As Rob has mentioned, this comic presents a story that works more on a slice-of-life human level. This is a unique and unpredictable concept, and Rob has showed some very creative aspects on this one...I feel that the media creates an illusion about celebrity lifestyle, and in this comic, Rob brings out the truth behind those illusions."
Hannah and Staples have both worked with Zombie previously on "Spookshow International" and "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto." Hannah echoed the sentiments that "Baron Von Shock" is markedly different from what Zombie has produced in the past. "'Von Shock' feels deeper and more real," she said. "There are still crazy elements to this series with all the colorful characters fans should come to expect, but this is the first time we're really seeing a gritty, darker side to Rob's characters. It's been really intriguing seeing where things are going, and I think fans will be both surprised and pleased."
Staples agrees that there's something different about "Baron Von Shock," but argued that the same could be said for Zombie's other stories. "If you look at 'The Haunted World of El Superbeasto,' 'House of 1000 Corpses' and 'The Devil's Rejects,' they are all different," he said. "Rob is always coming up with something different. If I had to peg a description on it, I'd say 'Baron' contains a lot more human drama. It has a taste of Rob's sense of humor which we saw in 'Superbeasto' and 'Corpses,' but aside from that, there's a real focus on personal interaction."
Regarding the emphasis of "Baron Von Shock" on celebrity culture, Hannah said that the book explores a topic rarely discussed in comic books. "One thing I find fascinating about celebrity culture is that we the public love to latch onto someone and build them up into this larger than life figure who is adored by millions, and then just as easily, we'll tear them to shreds," she said. "We go from wanting someone to succeed to wanting them to fail miserably, just to perhaps make us feel better about ourselves. 'Baron Von Shock' addresses things from the celebrity point of view - from a regular guy who finds himself thrust into the spotlight and surrounded by millions of adoring fans, to someone who has the rug pulled out from under him and falls. Hard."
"It's the classic Hollywood story," Zombie concurred. "The sad fact is that most people gain their greatest fame once they die. Everybody loves to watch their favorite celebrity self-destruct. Why, I don't know. I guess it makes one think that maybe their life isn't so bad - you build up your gods so you can tear them down."
"Whatever Happened To Baron Von Shock?," a new eight-issue miniseries from Rob Zombie and collaborators Donny Hadiwidjaja, Leanne Hannah and Val Staples, arrives in comic book stores on May 26th, 2010, courtesy of Image Comics and MVCreations.