Exclusive Interview: Joe Hill Talks BASKETFUL OF HEADS & CREEPSHOW

Known for his always enthralling novels such as Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and the awesome NOS4A2, author Joe Hill is a man who refuses to slow down. Whether he’s writing some of the most entertaining horror novels around or knocking out great comics like Locke & Key, The Cape, or 2016’s comic reboot of Tales From the Darkside, it’s safe to say that when you open a book or comic from Hill, you’re in for a ride.

Teaming up with DC Comic for his new comic imprint, Hill House Comics, Joe is filling in the void comic fans have felt since DC’s much loved Vertigo imprint was disbanded. Giving readers multiple new comic series from some of the best writers around and utilizing a similar art aesthetic running through all of Hill House’s output (courtesy of Leomacs), the Hill House imprint comes out of the gate swinging with Joe’s series, Basketful of Heads, a throwback to not only E.C. Comics, but also adding somewhat of a Straw Dogs meets Creepshow vibe as well.

Related Article: Exclusive Comic Trailer Premiere: Joe Hill’s BASKETFUL OF HEADS

Basketful of Heads tells the story of June Branch in the summer of 1983. When her peaceful, lazy summer is shattered by a home invasion, she has to fight for her life with an ancient Viking ax that can impossibly decapitate a man in a single swipe. Only when the occult blade falls, the severed heads live on…alert, talking and terrified!”

We thought it would be a blast to chat with Hill about his Hill House Comic line, as well as the genesis of Basketful of Heads and how he’s aiming to give readers the equivalent of Blumhouse for comic books. Read on! 

Dread Central: Let’s jump right in: Basketful of Heads and your Hill House imprint in general has such potential, the possibilities seem endless with it, which is not only great for fans of your novels, but comic book fans as well. How did the partnership with DC Comics and Hill House come to be?

Joe Hill: Not too quickly, really. Mark Doyle was the senior editor over at Vertigo during Vertigo’s last year. We had been talking about doing a horror imprint there for two or maybe even three years. It just took that long for the planets to align. I’ve always been fascinated by Jason Blum and his horror model for Blumhouse, the stuff they’re doing over at Universal. There’s a lot of great horror, but you really have to give the lion’s share of credit to Blumhouse. They’ve been a machine that just consistently puts out smart, character-driven work, with Oculus, The Purge, the Paranormal Activity movies and so on. I thought “Why can’t we do that, but with comics?” To put out lean, mean, all killer-no filler horror stories. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, it was just a matter of clearing the schedule to be able to do it.

DC: It’s great how you throw the reader into it, right from the beginning. Basketful of Heads is very much a hit the ground running kind of story.

JH: I’ve always had that first page in my head for about ten years. It was always there and I even wrote a really dense, 70-page script of the first issue back in 2009. I ended up throwing it out because it just wasn’t ready. I think sometimes stories can be like aging your own private brand of whiskey, you know? You have to let it sit for one or two or even sometimes ten years. It was worth the wait though because writing it has been the most fun I’ve had writing anything in ages. It’s really flown together, I mean, I think I finished writing the seventh issue a week ago [Laughs].

DC: Having Leomac do the illustration is such a good touch, there’s a lot of emotion in his work and the action setpieces are so much fun to look at. How did his involvement with the comic come about?

JH: You really have to admire the way that DC Comics is a hive for talent. I was working with Mark Doyle on the imprint and I mentioned Basketful of Heads being pretty gory, running hard and at the same time having the same kind of comedy you find in horror like The Cabin in the Woods or Evil Dead 2. So, going into it, I knew I wanted someone who could do great action and could also characterize our leads in a way where they were fleshed out. Mostly I just wanted someone with a sense of humor, someone who could d gory work but make it fun looking and I think that’s Leomac. His sense of humor you could say is the ultimate tool in the toolbox.

DC: The color palette is so interesting. It’s not flashy and almost muted at times. The colors reminded me of the old school E.C. Comics stuff. Was that your plan from the beginning?

JH: That’s what Dave Stewart [colorist for Hellboy, The Umbrella Academy] brought to the project. I love those muted colors.  It really reminded me of early Vertigo comics or even before Vertigo WAS Vertigo. I believe Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was actually originally published with D.C.; the tones were very similar. It’s a horror story, but it’s also a mystery thriller, so some of the colors reminded me of the same thing you saw in Ed Brubaker’s noir series, Criminal.

DC: Setting the comic in 1983 is a lot of fun, what made you want to travel back a few decades for it?

JH: Because cell phones are a pain in the ass! [Laughs]. In the story, we have this woman, June Branch, who’s house-sitting with her boyfriend and is attacked on a literal dark and stormy night. They’re attacked by four home invaders and the home is on an island. There’s a way to the mainland but during the storm, it gets flooded and the entire island loses its power. I wanted June to be trapped out there and didn’t want her to be able to seek help, via cell phones. The other thing is that while it’s a horror story, in some ways it’s also a conventional mystery story. Who are these me and what are they after? It’s not a slash and grab job for these guys; they’re looking for something. I feel like cell phones would make everything harder when writing a thriller. In today’s day and age, the police can track you by your phone and I wanted to write myself out of that corner. So much of what I write, whether it be short stories, novels, comics or whatever, I always feel like I’m trying to write a Steven Spielberg or James Cameron movie from the ’80s. My first novel, Heart-Shaped Box was really me kind of writing a book like it was a John Carpenter horror film. Even when I don’t set something in the ’80s, there is always that Spielbergian or Cameron-esque feel to it…which I guess explains why I love Stranger Things as much as I do [Laughs].

DC: The character of June is very well written and fleshed out. She never plays the victim, she takes care of business she is put into some pretty gnarly situations.

JH: I love that she is strong, resilient and resourceful, but you wouldn’t consider her a “badass”, it’s something more than that.

DREAD: Somewhat like Halloween‘s Laurie Strode.

JH: The Laurie in John Carpenter’s Halloween, certainly. Not in 2018’s Halloween though; she was very much dealing with PTSD and trauma in that one. June might suffer from PTSD after Basketful of Heads, but she’s not quite there yet.

DC: With Tom Savini adapting your short story, By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain, for an episode of Shudder’s Creepshow series, it feels awesome to have another Joe Hill connection to the series. It seems that Creepshow in general, has been a pretty consistent part of your life [Laughs]. Have you seen the new series?

JH: I have and I think it’s really fun! I’d put the emphasis on the idea that it’s fun. The tagline for the first film was “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared” and I think the new series has such a fun, lurid, aesthetically scary but also goofy tone to it. I think it’s very similar to the original movie. I do find it interesting that horror comics have been a thread throughout my life. I was eight years old when I was in the first film and the character I played, Billy, was an abused kid who uses a voodoo doll to get even with his dad. If you think about it, that was a character who was defending his love of having horror comics in his life, which says a lot.



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