Sullivan, Tim (2001 Manaics Comic)
People write to us all the time asking if we have new openings for writers. The usual answer is “right now were all filled up, thanks” but when UK writer Barry Keating dropped us a line with an offer to do more comic coverage, we kind of couldn’t resist.
Barry knows his shit, you see, and can write with the best of them (check out my interview with him about the Re-Animator comic he’s working on here), but we realized we needed to test him. The subject of the test?
As you know, the sicko director is working on both a sequel to 2001 Maniacs as well as a brand-new comic adaptation of the Maniacs’ adventures for Avatar Press. So we threw Barr at him to see what he could find out, and the results follow. Fire up that grill!
Barry Keating: You’ve said before, in previous interviews, that Maniacs was destined to be a comic from the moment you started filming...
Tim Sullivan: When I first started the whole idea of 2001 Maniacs, I always saw it as more than just a one-off flick. I always saw it as a franchise. When I was a kid, I was hooked on Planet of the Apes. I had all the toys, the comics, the records, bubble gum cards; I never thought of it as "crass commercialism" ... Hell, I was too young to even know what that meant. I just felt it was awesome to be able to have supplemental, physical collectibles that could serve as a souvenir of the film experience. And I know that still, for myself, I dig going out and tracking down items I can surround myself with that remind me of a film I love. So from day one, it was my goal to have all that stuff for Maniacs.
Now first and foremost, you have to make a film worthy of that stuff. I hate when the toys are cool but the movie sucks. But if you make a cool movie, then why not have cool toys and comics? So yeah, I didn't set out to make a movie; I set out to make a franchise. And thankfully, the fans have responded to the film in a way that shows that 2001 Maniacs does have franchise potential, characters and storylines that go beyond just one visit to Pleasant Valley!
BK: Absolutely! And obviously it’s found its home at Avatar, how did this come about; you and William hooking up and trashing out the deal?
TS: Being an indie filmmaker is like being in an indie band. You've got to go out and tour with your movie the same way a band tours with its records. And so, after 2001 Maniacs came out, me and whatever maniacs I could round up would hit any fan convention that would have us. It was awesome getting to meet the fans face to face and developing friendships out of those encounters.
One of those fans was William Christensen from Avatar Press. Our booth was next to his a couple of times, and we just shared a mutual enthusiasm about what we do. I mean, we love comic books and monster movies and we get to make them for God's sake! And so we circled each other a couple of times like to people trying to get the muster to ask the other out on a date. Finally, William popped the question at a Stargate convention and I said "HELL YEAH!" There were other companies that were courting me, but my gut told me that Bill truly got what I was trying to do with Maniacs, and I knew that Avatar pushed the limit and would not impose any limits on me, so we began what I call "the beginning of a beautiful friendship"...
BK: You’ve gone on tour with the film; do you think you’ll do any treks to Cons with the book?
TS: For starters, we've got the mother of these cons coming up, the San Diego Comic Con, and yes, I will be there with Mayor Buckman himself, Robert Englund, greeting fans and unveiling the book for the very first time. I cannot wait.
BK: Cracking stuff! And of course Robert’s offered up his likeness to the books. That must have been super important to have that?
TS: Man, Robert has been there with me from Day One. Along with my writing and producing partner, Chris Kobin, the only constant through-line in this whole crazy dream of mine has been Robert Englund. There could never have been, and never will be, 2001 Maniacs without him. His enthusiasm fuels this franchise, and his presence completely bleeds thru every page of the comic. You can just hear his voice when you read the panels; truly amazing. And he just LOVES the book; loves the artwork, the story, everything. And that gut instinct of mine tells me the fans are gonna love it too.
BK: You’re playing around with all the different time frames in the books, the first issue being the origin/first massacre tale. Was this the natural choice to in terms of introducing the book to fans or were there any other ideas bandied about?
TS: When Bill and I first discussed the idea of doing a 2001 Maniacs comic, we knew up front we didn't want it to be an adaptation of the movie, as everyone already knew that story. There would be no surprise. We also knew we didn't want it to be like Twilight Zone with Buckman serving as Rod Serling, introducing unrelated ghost stories, so the obvious thing to me was to go back to the beginning, back to Pleasant Valley in 1864, and tell the story of how these people lived in an oasis of denial, frolicking and oblivious to the War Between the States raging right outside borders. Then we could show the massacre of Pleasant Valley by renegade Northern soldiers which we only talked about in the movie, you know, show how Mayor Buckman got his eye patch, how the town was cursed and what their first revenge was like ... As every year the Maniacs come back on the anniversary of the massacre to extract revenge, future issues will tell the story of various years and various "Guts and Glory Jubilees". So we might have, say, 1967, and show a bunch of hippies on the way to Woodstock taking a detour into Pleasant Valley. Or maybe set one in the Roaring Twenties and have James Cagney type gangsters going up against the maniacs!
BK: And Issue Two sounds batshit crazy too! Buckman versus Bin Laden!
TS: Because that's probably as politically incorrect as one could get, and 2001 Maniacs is all about being non-PC. There has always been a decidedly satirical and political view in the world of Maniacs. I mean, Robert Englund's character is called George W. Buckman for starters. So I think the idea of having these very "red state" characters go up against the terrorists would be a lot of fun. Maybe Buckman can do what Bush has failed to do, namely destroy Bin Laden. In fact, I think he already has, and that's why our soldiers can't locate him! And yes, the deaths will be quite nasty. Think Pig Roast and pork .... If the first Maniacs comic doesn't reserve me a spot in hell, I am sure this comic will guarantee it!
BK: So what books did you grow up on then? Where you a child the EC reprints?
TS: It was all about the EC comic book reprints. Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Shock Susspenstories; man, I had a paper route just to be able to afford the hard cover reprints. And I had them all. I would sit in my tree house and devour every word and every picture. I know that's where I learned to be a filmmaker, because comics are truly like screenplays. You have your exposition, your dialogue balloons, and your art, which is basically a storyboard. Now, they are coming out yet again with EC reprints, but this time in colour. Man, I feel like a kid again. In fact, I just took a vacation to Idyllwild with Thomas Dekker (he's the new John Connor in the upcoming Terminator TV series and will also be starring in my next film, Brothers of the Blood), and it turns out he's an EC freak, so we just sat there on the balcony overlooking the woods, silent and intent as we each read our EC comics. I felt like a kid again. And in re-reading this stuff, I can so see the influence of EC on my work. Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines' prose was so "noir" - so staccato and understated. And that is exactly how I write, especially the murder scenes! God bless EC!
BK: As an indie filmmaker it must be quiet freeing in comics to just say "Fuck it!’ I’m blowing everything up!" or have some awesomely elaborate kills that would just cost way too much too shoot?
TS: You hit the nail on the head. It's total freedom. Freedom of budget. Freedom of time restraints. Freedom of censorship. When writing the sequel to Maniacs, which is called Beverly Hellbillies, I was constantly thinking of how I was going to shoot everything, and how much time I would have and how many extras I could afford and how many different locations ... It's definitely a challenge, but I also think it really makes you work harder as a filmmaker and makes every decision you make more honest and calculated. It's easy to have an unlimited budget and shooting schedule, but I think that often makes filmmakers lazy and the final product without soul. But yeah, it was really nice to just burn down Pleasant Valley and tons of outrageous kills that would cost a fortune to film.
TS: Raulo Casseras is a goddamn genius. No if's, and's or but's. I owe our collaboration entirely to William Christensen. William discovered Raulo and gave him the opportunity to do his first American book- which I am honoured to say is Maniacs.
BK: Have you guys hooked up yet? He’s based in Spain, right?
TS: It is surreal to me, but not only have haven't we hooked up, we have never even spoken! The way the book is created is that I write a page by page script which describes each page panel by panel. This includes the actual exposition that will be printed in the book, but it also includes my descriptions of each panel for Raulo to use as a basis for his drawings. It's as if I am "directing" the book and Raulo is my "cinematographer" and "production designer" and "costumer" combined. I also would draw crappy little stick figure versions of each page which I would email to Raulo to give him an idea of the page layout. I also made sure he had tons of photographs of each actor and character from all kinds of angles, and of course, he was given a copy of the first film. The results have astounded and exceeded my expectations. It truly is nothing less than art. The likeness of the actors and their costumes is flawless down to the minute details. Thank you, Raulo, wherever you are!
Huge thanks to Tim Sullivan for taking the time to chat with us about the book! Keep your eyes out for the first 2001 Maniacs comic, which should be in better comic stores everywhere this month! Check out Avatar online here, and don’t forget to make friends with Tim Sullivan via the 2001 Maniacs MySpace page!