The moral panic associated with ‘Video Nasties’ in 1980s Great Britain is a cultural and political phenomenon that continues to live on in infamy in the memories of UK horror fanatics, including indie comic writer Mario Covone, who spoke to us about his new series, Video Nasty, which takes place during the mindless witch hunt of the times.
Having previously been founder and manager of the pioneering comic book store ‘Apocalypse Comics’, Covone makes his physically published debut with Video Nasty.
So what exactly was the turning point in his career? What gave him the inspiration and drive to take the leap from store manager to getting his very own product into the market?
Covone says, “I have always had a deep love for the medium of comic books and known that I wanted to be a part of the industry in some capacity, but growing up in a small town before the boom of the internet, limited to the resources available to me and being a child of two working class parents with no real love for any of the arts, I didn’t really comprehend that it was at all achievable for me to become a creator on any level. To be fair, before my twenties, I didn’t really pay much attention to the creative team behind a comic book as I was only concerned with the character whose name was on the masthead. But opening a shop seemed easy and I had decided by the age of eighteen that that was what I was going to do.”
“From that day I took it upon myself to gain as much knowledge as I could about the industry, to listen and learn from other store owners, readers, collectors and creators. I knew I had a whole bunch of stories inside me, but the day-to-day running of the shop was all-consuming, and it wasn’t until the store closed that I had time on my hands to actually put pen to paper and it all snowballed from there.”
When it comes to comic books and horror, has Mario always found these to be an integral part of his life growing up or an interest garnered later on by some specific event? He explains, “I am most certainly a lifelong comic fan. It’s in my blood. I started, as most British kids do, reading the Beano, Dandy, Topper, Beezer, Whizzer & Chips. I remember a comic called ZOO which was my introduction to Calvin and Hobbes, which I adore still to this day. My father took me to the local market at the age of nine and there was a guy that sold Mills & Boon romance novels and second-hand jazz mags and this one particular day he had a short box of American comics. I was allowed to pick out the ones that I wanted, so I flicked though his selection and pulled out all the Hulk and Fantastic 4 books and was hooked from that point. It was a culture shock seeing the difference between the British children’s comics that I had been used to and the American superhero books that I had just discovered. It was my first realisation that comics were a medium not limited to any one genre.”
Covone continues, “As for horror, I was petrified of fright flicks in my youth. I can vividly remember visiting the local video shop and being scared of the visceral images on the front of the boxes in the horror section. At the age of ten I was at my friend Michelle’s Halloween party and at one point in the night A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3 came on the TV. All in attendance were excited to watch the scary movie amongst friends, whilst I cowered behind Michelle’s mum not wanting to look at the screen. I felt embarrassed to be the only person too afraid to watch the movie, so the next day I vowed to overcome my fear. I convinced my mother to rent Freddy’s Dead from the local corner shop and I sat through it, unafraid, and was converted from that moment. I have a huge respect for the horror genre and its many facets. A genre whose sole purpose is to strike fear into the hearts of its viewers and remind them of their own mortality: That’s powerful stuff.”
We move on to the juicy details of Video Nasty itself, which sees beleaguered Inspector David Gorley deployed to small town ’80s Britain in order to investigate a series of brutal murders, all of which appear to be referencing various horror films. As the media-led hysterics surrounding the ‘Video Nasty’ craze continue to mount, Gorley finds himself caught in the middle of a political war intent on ensuring the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of filmmakers and their mind-warping product, while the killer continues his slaughter of innocent local folk.
What we’ve seen of the ongoing series so far feels personal in a sense – with anger and dismay at the incessant displays of idiocy from those in power during the entire debacle. Was this intentional on Mario’s behalf, and did the events of the era actually have any personal consequence for him? He says, “I hate bullies, and the entire ordeal was based on those that had power and influence pushing the smaller guys around. There was no balanced argument or investigation into whether or not the films in question were actually harmful; instead it was a bunch of toffy-nosed cunts who needed a scapegoat to further their own political agendas and take the focus away from the actual problems happening in Britain at the time. A scandal built on lies and beneficial only to Mary Whitehouse, her cronies and the right wing media.”
“I wouldn’t say I had an agenda with this comic. To be fair, those that read it are probably already Nasty fans themselves and perhaps I may educate a few people along the way, but that wasn’t my mindset entering into the project. I had stumbled across Jake West & Marc Morris’ documentary ‘Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape’ and was genuinely horrified by the way in which we, the people of Britain, were conned into this moral uproar and witch hunt in regards to these films. It inspired me to create a fictional story set in that period and mix real world horror in with the fantastic. I also wanted to take certain cues from the films in question themselves and give the story that sense that it could be taken from one of those movies. I hope I’ve done it justice.”
Indeed, even today some elements of the media continue to attempt to draw parallels between consumption of certain entertainment and violent acts, with video games being the modern prime target of choice. Mario puts it to bed once and for all, stating, “It was sensationalist bullshit back then and it is sensationalist bullshit today. The Daily Mail wants to sell more papers so they plaster their fear-mongering lies across the front page in an attempt to scare people into buying their shitty rag. I give it no credence whatsoever. Those that are inclined to commit acts of violence will do so regardless of whether they play violent video games or not, and I’m not even a gamer!”
Covone’s previous comic writing work has been on his ongoing web series Circles and A Stranger Comes to Town. Were the challenges of creating a product for the physical print market much different to those faced when putting together an online/digital product? “It is essentially the same as far as the creative process is concerned,” he tells us. “The marketing is different, but I use both my print and digital media to promote each other so hopefully they will both grow readerships as more content is released.”
“I wrote Video Nasty in 2011, so three years all in all it took for me to get a finished product out on the shelves. I was completely naïve to the process entering into it, thinking that once the script was written, finding an artist to collaborate with would be a piece of cake. Boy, was I wrong! You see, comics are a collaborative medium, but what most will fail to mention is that as the writer, it is your job to find the artist/colourist/letterer; fund the project and promote it. Everyone else gets paid, and guess who’s paying them! Not that I’m complaining (much) as this is my baby and I wanted the best for her, so being patient and waiting for the right people and opportunities has benefited the book at the end of the day.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [nervous about the comic’s reception]. I’m a writer and have an ego that doesn’t like to be bruised, but at the end of the day there are seven billion people on the face of the planet and not all of them are going to like what I do, so I can’t dwell on it too much. I’ve been fortunate with this particular project that it has been so well received, but you never know; I could always be a one-hit wonder.”
Speaking of having to seek out various other professionals for artwork, colouring and other facets of the production, line artist Vasilis Logios has been doing an excellent job on the series’ frames so far – and of course, who hasn’t immediately noticed those fantastic covers by modern legend Graham Humphries? Of choosing his potential artists, and getting them on board the project, Covone says, “Vas is the man and I am proud to call him co-creator on this book. I had been through three artists before being introduced to him and all with big promises and bluster about their commitment to the piece. None of them really got it or had the work ethic needed to work in the comic book industry, so for one reason or another I had to let them go. I met Vas through a mutual friend and sent him the script to gauge interest. He understood the script straight away and my vision. He may not have been familiar with the politics behind it but was able to dissect my panel directions and add his own artistic license to really bring the book to life. I also have to give a shout out to Sam Palmer, the colourist of Video Nasty, who has done a spectacular job in making the book look like an old school grimy VHS movie.”
So, looking to the future and the end of the current run of Video Nasty, what’s in store for Mario? “Circles and A Stranger Comes to Town will both continue to be released in monthly chapters for as long as the stories keep coming,” he explains. “I have two other print books in the works, one entitled Imperfect World, which is a horror exploitation book that is essentially about wrestlers vs. zombies, and the other is called Stars Above Love, which is an existential love story about a man reconnecting with an old lost love and looking at his life from that point from the perspective of both acceptance and rejection. Both will hopefully be hitting the shelves at some point this year.”
“Next year will see the release of Video Nasty Volume 2 and hopefully, if I can get an artist on board, Jail Bird, which is an action/adventure book with touches of horror.”
To bring us home, and keep with the theme of our conversation, we ask Mario whether he has actually managed to see all of the films on the BBFC’s infamous DPP Banned List – and what is his own personal favourite Video Nasty? His response: ” Most of them. I’d say [that I’ve seen] over 60 of the 72 films on the list. I own a good chunk of them on VHS, still. I am a HUGE Lucio Fulci fan and love all four of his movies that appear on the list, but my absolute all-time favourite would have to be House by the Cemetery! Gotta love a bit of Dr. Freudstein!!!
Mario: We approve of your choice and extend our deepest thanks for taking the time out to chat with us!
Volume 1 of Video Nasty is currently in mid-series, and you can check out more information, including a sample and purchase details, at MarioCovone.com.
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