Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More on Kolchak

I thought I'd write a bit more here about my upcoming Kolchak miniseries from Moonstone Books, "Night Stalker of the Living Dead."

When I was first approached to pitch ideas for a Kolchak miniseries, I was told they were looking for an "event" – something to excite the existing Kolchak fans and maybe bring some new readers to the comic.

My first pitch, "Deadlyland," had Kolchak investigating a series of fatal freak accidents at a famous amusement park, being chased through the empty park at night by life-sized, homicidal cartoon characters, and eventually facing off against the insane spirit of the cryogenically-frozen creator of the aforementioned animated 'toons, who was entombed beneath the park in a forgotten freezer.

That story was deemed to not be suitably "event-like" – or maybe they just thought it was goofy (ha!) – and was rejected. (I'd still like to write that tale someday, though....)

I then decided on a strictly commercial approach. If the success of such comic books as The Walking Dead, Zombies Vs. Robots, and Marvel Zombies, along with the plethora of George Romero rip-offs on the shelves at Hollywood Video, were a reliable indicator of pop culture trends, then flesh-eating zombies were hot. The new vampires, in fact. And although Carl Kolchak had once faced down an old school, voodoo-type zombie back on the TV show, he'd never been faced with a full-blown, modern-styled, "zombie" apocalypse.

Carl Kolchak and zombies. Two great tastes that just might taste good together – and I even had the perfect, if obvious, title: "Night Stalker of the Living Dead." (Of course, I had to have Carl point out at one point in the story that these flesh-eating ghouls weren't – strictly speaking, anyway – "zombies.")

Moonstone liked it, too. I was told that I had to adhere to their continuity – Carl and the rest of the old cast work for L.A.'s Hollywood Dispatch now, rather than the Independent News Service in Chicago – but I was given a pretty free hand, otherwise.

In writing the character of Carl Kolchak, I went back to the first two TV movies written by Richard Matheson. This was, as far as I'm concerned, the best incarnation of ol' Carl.

Now, Kolchak has had a number of different incarnations over the years (and I'm not even including that recent "reimagining"). The character in the Jeff Rice novel isn't quite the character from the Richard Matheson teleplays, and the guy from the TV movies isn't quite the same guy as in the TV series.

In the ongoing series, for instance, Kolchak was a bit of a bumbler and oddly asexual, but in those original movies, he was surprisingly hardboiled and definitely had an eye for the ladies. In fact, in the first film he clearly had an intimate relationship with a sexy young Vegas cocktail waitress, and in The Night Strangler, he was romantically involved with a belly dancer. While I didn't plan on giving him an outright romance in my story, I did want to at least acknowledge that he found women attractive.

I also thought it would make a nice change of pace if, for once, the local police chief was his ally instead of his enemy. By making the sheriff a woman, I managed to kill two birds with one stone, narratively speaking, and I'm rather pleased with the way their relationship developed.

The nature of the menace also allowed me to stray a bit from the established Kolchak formula. Instead of having the usual "Carl investigates and unravels the mystery" sort of plot, I instead treated Carl more as a war correspondent, swept up in the current of events, reporting on what he observes and the actions of the other characters as they are faced with the overwhelming threat of almost unstoppable, cannibalistic hordes of undead.

I struggled to try and capture Kolchak's "voice," and although I don't think I was a 100% successful, it mostly "sounds" right... to me, anyway. Fortunately, Moonstone also hired me to letter the book, so I had the opportunity – rare for a comic book writer – to go in and fine-tune the dialogue and captions a bit after Tim Hamilton finished drawing the book.

And speaking of Tim Hamilton – man, how lucky am I?

Moonstone recruited Tim to draw the miniseries, and he brought an awful lot to it, with atmospheric, moody compositions that really helped sell the horror of Kolchak's situation. I am thrilled with his work on the book, and love how he delineated the characters. His Kolchak isn't a perfect likeness of the late Darren McGavin, but certainly captures the character's rumpled, doggedly persistent persona. His rendition of Sheriff Kristin Collins is not your typical comic book bombshell, either, but is instead, an attractive, distinctively believable woman with a realistic face and figure.

Anyway, we're wrapping this up now, and the first issue is schedule to hit stores in March. Both Darren McGavin and producer/director Dan Curtis passed away (and an ill-conceived revival TV series came and swiftly went) during the time that this book was in the works, and I only hope that this comic book miniseries successfully conveys my respect and admiration for the character they helped create.

When all is said and done, I'm grateful I had a shot at the property, and I hope the fans enjoy what I wrote.

I know they'll dig the art. :)


Brian Meredith said...

I have to say, I am really looking forward to reading this, Chris. Best of luck with this series!

Charles Gramlich said...

I like the idea of Kolchack as a kind of war correspondent. A great take.

Glen Davis said...

It's already o my pull list.