Jesse Snider is a comic book writer with a huge task in front of him. He is currently in the process of bringing Evil Ernie back to the racks. And if his first two issues are any sign of what’s to come, the future is bright for the Evil one. Snider recently sat down with Dread Central to talk about the book.
Son of legendary rock star Dee Snider, Jesse Snider’s deep love for the Evil Ernie character and the Chaos! universe led him to tackling the task of evolving Ernie, as he feels what worked for the story in the 90’s should be modified for greater appeal to today’s audiences. He discussed why he felt Brian Pulido’s original Evil Ernie character needed new life.
“Lady Death is still owned by Brian Pulido and Lady Death is integral in 99.9 percent of the characters that Chaos! was publishing, so there was a real need to reevaluate the whole line,” Snider said. “I think Chaos! suffered because all the characters began as incidental characters in a book with one of their main characters and grew into their own thing but were still so reliant on Lady Death’s backstory to tell their own story. They weren’t as strong because everything about them was based on another character.”
“So as we’ve been taking these characters, starting with Ernie, it’s been so wonderful reinventing them as an island with no connection to anyone. Just them as a character and giving them the spotlight 100 percent. In doing that with Ernie, it had to be all about him. And although I always struggled with the Chaos! Comics they published back in the day, I loved the company. I love Brian Pulido and his wife; they’re all great guys. They’re headbangers that I think your average person would have stayed away from because they were the scary guys at the comic con, but if you were just willing to go talk to them, they were the nicest people at the comic con. And at a time when I was just getting into the business, they were very welcoming to me. But they came out of the 90’s when it was very style over substance and the formation of these stories was very chaotic. Brian Pulido wrote this stuff by the seat of his pants and a lot of things didn’t line up. And I’m really picky about my horror stuff and I need it to be rooted and I need it to make some sense for me.”
As a writer and a fan, Snider explained what type of horror works for him. “Horror tends to fall on the line of magic and fantasy and supernatural stuff, where things just happen. And I don’t like things to just happen,” Snider said. “Things have to happen in a context that I understand and can follow, so I can go, ‘Okay, you’re playing by the rules’ and can keep going. And Chaos! wasn’t like that. It had no rules. It was Chaos! Comics and I think that stopped people like me, people who are story people, from getting involved in the comic. Visually they had all these great characters and things about those characters that were amazing, but they weren’t really well put together storywise. They were chaotic fun. For people who enjoyed it, that was great. But I said we can have that chaotic fun and still have a really great structure and a really great story and some pathos and some character development that is meaningful, so when some of the horrible things happen, they actually mean something and it’s not just gratuity.”
Snider spoke on what influenced his version of Evil Ernie. “Our book is an answer to some of my problems with the book when I was growing up and it’s also an answer to getting the Chaos! characters, like Evil Ernie, across to the mainstream audience,” Snider said. “I think some of what the mainstream audience was missing from the Chaos! universe back in the day we are giving to the universe now. We’ve gotten really great reviews so far and it seems like people are saying we’ve done that. People who have never read Chaos! before, people who aren’t big horror fans, are really enjoying the book; and that was really my goal.”
Snider explained exactly what fans could expect when diving into this reincarnated Evil Ernie. “It’s a dark book, it’s a gory book,” Snider said. “It’s a horror comic but at the same time, there’s a lot more going on and I think there’s a little something for everyone, as long as you can get past the gore and shocks.”
But Snider feels the gore is serving a purpose in Evil Ernie and it’s there for more than just shock value. “Some people have commented on the book being gory, and occasionally we’ll do some gore where we’re just killing somebody,” Snider said, “but for the most part, whenever we do something really heinous, it’s story-driven. It’s like, ‘This is something Hell has chosen to do and it’s something horrible because it should be horrible.’ If Hell is getting into your life because they want to build a better killer, then they’re going to do some terrible things to you.”
Readers of Evil Ernie will quickly see what kind of terrible things are being done. Snider spoke about his views on horror and what gets under his skin. “I tend not to be scared very easily,” Snider said. “I’m not very superstitious so movies like The Ring and even The Exorcist, possession stuff, they don’t bother me because I don’t believe in that stuff at all. There is no part of me that is nervous or scared of this stuff ever happening. However, there are things that scare me, like a mob for instance. A mob scares me because a mob could happen. Something crazy could go down and a bunch of people who are regular, free-thinking human beings could turn into crazy people. That’s scary to me. So I need to go into the well of real human fears while I’m doing the supernatural stuff. But when it comes to the gore stuff, I do like the gore stuff, but it has to be varied. A bad slasher film just has the same kills over and over and over again, where a good slasher film is like, ‘All right, how do we kill somebody this time?’ And that seems to be the battle. If you’re going to kill a bunch of people, how do you keep making it interesting? One of my favorite moments from Evil Ernie so far is in Issue #2, where we’ve got Ernie giving the middle finger and then he blasts a middle-finger-shaped hole through somebody’s midsection. You’ve got to keep it interesting and show people things they haven’t seen before.”
Snider explained how the more he can relate horrific events to the reader’s own experiences, the more effective they become. “You can either go for a little bit of fun with a little bit of creativity, but the best gory moments are the ones where you see whatever it is happening and you envision a moment in your life where that almost happened to you,” Snider said. “It’s the equivalent of someone getting his finger slammed in something ridiculous as opposed to something you can imaging like a finger slammed in a door. Then you’re like, ‘Oh man! Oh god…that’s horrible.’ It needs to elicit that primal fear of ‘Oh no, I can totally imagine what that would feel like and that would be terrible.'”
Snider gave an example of exactly what he’s talking about. “I’m friends with Adam Green and Joe Lynch, and I always enjoy Adam’s Hatchet movies,” Snider said. “While not everything is scary to me, I’m interested to see what’s new. They’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve got a portable sanding machine…Great! That’s a horrible way to kill somebody.’ Because you’ve seen a sanding machine and you’ve gone, ‘Oh, that would suck if I touched that.’ When you can get into people’s minds and prey, not on legitimate fears, but on things that are just like, ‘I don’t want to touch that,’ or things that make people go, ‘Oh!’ There’s definitely appeal for things like that, but it’s a tricky game because you have to keep it interesting because it’s easy for stuff like that to get boring as it goes on.”
Snider enjoys different styles of horror and tries to bring them to Evil Ernie. “I’m a Godzilla guy, I’m a Lake Placid guy. And I like movies like Seven and Frailty, some of the darker, more rooted ones,” Snider said. “But I tend to either go for super dark and rooted or more fun and ridiculous.”
And Snider applies his horror preferences to his characters. “The evolution of Ernie, who I thought he was going to be and who he became while I was writing it, became two different things. I was trying to get away from the things I didn’t like about the original book. There were lot of bad puns that weren’t funny or cute, just silly. Basically, I wanted to take away the silliness. If we were going to do something, it had to be legitimately funny or legitimately scary and creepy, nothing in between.”
As Snider worked with the character, Ernie evolved into something the writer didn’t originally envision. “When I wrote the original thing, I planned on making Ernie more of a Frankenstein monster,” Snider said. “He would be darker and more brooding and then Smiley would provide the color commentary. Then my editors and people who read and give me input, including my dad, he gives his take on the project, said, ‘Who the hell is this smiley-faced button, why is he talking so much and why haven’t we heard from Ernie about what he’s going through? What does he think about this?’ I realized that people gave a crap about Ernie after the first issue and really wanted to hear from him and I was doing a great disservice to this character by making him Frankenstein, because there was a good story beneath him and people wanted to hear more of it. So I went back through and tried to get a nice balance between Smiley having his place and Ernie being the lead of the book, which is where he should be.”
Snider did his best to examine Ernie and take the character in a direction that someone who lived through those experiences would choose. “I really tried to get into his head,” Snider said. “Ultimately, he’s a kid. He went to jail at 13. What do you know at 13? You don’t know anything. Even at 18 what do you know? People have to learn things on their own. People telling you the world is different shades of grey doesn’t mean anything until you see it proved to you. And that’s the hard lesson lots of young people learn. This first story arc really became about Ernie learning life is not black and white, but lots of shades of grey and that maybe he made the wrong decisions and jumped to a lot of conclusions and now he’s got to live with that. And while that was present in the story I wanted to tell, I wasn’t planning on getting it out there so clearly through Ernie. But once I had him opening his mouth and figuring out the right things to say…because he’s still a kid so he’ll say a little something kinda creepy or something he thinks is cool now and then because he feels righteous in what he’s doing. And he is righteous. He’s killing bad people. And you’ll see more and more clearly that these people have been put in his path because they are evil. This is not him imagining anything. Hell is feeding him evil people so he can kill them. Ernie is Hell’s one-man recruitment drive. But he doesn’t know that. He thinks he’s just making the world a better place. He thinks, ‘I’m going to kill the bad people so the good people can have nice lives. And one day I’ll die and go to Hell.’ Because that’s what he’s chosen, to sacrifice himself for the good of mankind. He’s a martyr. He’s a good guy who’s doing bad so everyone else can have nice lives.”
The artist for Evil Ernie is Jason Craig, who has already produced some incredible work through the first two issues. “Jason Craig has been amazing,” Snider said. “He was out of comics for a while and then he got into this. He read my script and he really fell in love with it. Thankfully. He and I have become great friends and we’re working very closely on the book and every month he keeps turning the screws, trying to make it a little tighter, a little better. Jason has been going through some of the worst times of his life throughout the course of him drawing this book, and I think he’s kind of funneled his frustrations into the book and it’s so much better for it. The circumstances have not been great on his end, but they led to a really dark and wonderful bit of art from him, and I can’t wait to see the rest of it.”
That goes for us as well.
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