Asylum Press and Night Owl Productions have teamed up to publish Chopper, a gritty new five-issue horror comic book series with a tie-in to a live-action web series starring Tyler Mane (Halloween) and Andrew Bryniarski (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Chopper issue #1 goes on sale in stores nationwide on October 5, 2011, just in time for the Halloween season.
Written by screenwriter Martin Shapiro and drawn by acclaimed Dark Horse artist Juan Ferreyra (Falling Skies, Rex Mundi), Chopper is a modern-day reimagining of the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame. After taking a strange new drug with supernatural side effects at a party, the rebellious teenage daughter of a police officer starts seeing ghosts and is stalked by the Reaper, a headless Hell's Angel on a motorcycle who collects the souls of sinners in the afterlife.
Questions for Martin Shapiro, the creator of Chopper
Q: First, why horror?
As a kid, I grew up in a 200-year-old former plantation home in Virginia where many people had died over the years, especially during the Civil War when it served as a battlefield hospital. When my dad was renovating the basement one day, we found several sets of human bones buried there. I was very young then, but I remember some strange things happening in that house - unexplained noises, household items being moved, the security alarm going off for no reason on numerous nights. At one point, my parents even had a team of paranormal researchers come in from the local university to investigate. I never saw an actual ghostly manifestation, but I can tell you I was scared to go in that basement! Ever since then I've been fascinated by the notion of ghosts and the supernatural, and that's probably why I made the Chopper character a ghost.
I was also heavily influenced by horror movies from the 1970's and '80's such as Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, The Exorcist, and Silence of the Lambs, all of which are truly scary horror masterpieces.
Q: Why comics?
I stumbled into the world of comics a couple of years ago out of frustration with the studio system. As professional screenwriters, my friends and I have sold a few scripts in the past to production companies, but sadly most of the time they never get made into actual movies. They sit in development hell for years. Get rewritten multiple times by other writers they bring in. A star actor or director gets attached then later bails out to do another movie. The financing for the movie falls through at the last minute. You name it. I've experienced it.
When I finished writing my horror screenplay Chopper and was finally ready to go out with it to the town, my agent and I were talking about how hard it is to sell a spec script nowadays ever since the Writers Guild Strike - how the odds were like 1 in 50 of it getting set-up at a studio without a big name director or actor attached. I read Variety regularly and I started noticing that a lot of comic book properties were being bought by producers, even fairly obscure non-superhero titles that I'd never heard of before.
One year I was down at the San Diego Comic Con and ran into Hugh Sterbakov, an old friend from UCLA Film School. He and Seth Green (the actor) had created a comic book together called Freshmen and they were down there promoting it at the Top Cow booth.
Hugh is a big comic book and video game fan, and his particular story was perfect for the comic medium. This was his first book as far as I know, and he told me how cool it was to see his story idea come alive visually. Seeing him there at this big insane convention signing autographs like some rock star and selling his stuff directly to the fans was inspiring
After the Con when I got back to LA, I said to myself - if he can do it, so can I. The next day, I called my agent to get his advice, and he said go for it. It's easier to sell a comic book than a spec script. So, we decided to sit on the screenplay and not go out with it until after the comic book was published.
Q: I just finished reading issue #1 of CHOPPER and it has me hooked. It reminds me of a more modern version of THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN--and that one episode of the headless motorcycle guy from NIGHT STALKER. Were those some of your inspirations?
The story idea for Chopper came to me when I was at the Daytona Bike Week Festival in Florida hanging out with a bunch of bad-ass bikers, getting stoned and telling war stories. I love custom choppers and I love horror films, so I decided to combine the two elements into a hardcore, no-holds-barred, old-school R-rated movie.
The headless biker thing came about from a book I read as a child. It was the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I thought the headless horseman was just the coolest thing - scary and iconic. I figured if such an entity came back today, he wouldn't be riding a horse like in the Revolutionary days. It wouldn't be practical. Instead he'd be riding the equivalent of a horse - an iron horse (aka a motorcycle).
When I first started writing Chopper, I wasn't aware of the headless motorcyclist episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which is a fairly obscure TV series from 1974. Someone in my writers group brought it up after reading the first draft, so I decided to check it out. It was hard to find videos for such an old TV show. I checked several Blockbuster stores, but nobody had it in stock. I finally caught it one night on the Sci-Fi Channel. The core story was pretty solid, but the low-budget special effects back in those days looked hokey, almost comical. You can clearly see how the headless biker's shoulders are built up to conceal the stunt rider's head. I later learned that Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis wrote the script for that episode called "Chopper". It was their first professional writing credit after they graduated from USC Film School. They later went on to create Back to the Future. Interestingly, David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, also worked on the Night Stalker TV series as a story editor, his first regular crew position in Hollywood. It is inspiring to learn of the humble beginnings of such powerful big name storytellers.
Q: Tell us a bit about the main character, Christina. She's a bit darker than the usual type of teen we see in media lately.
Christina is a high school cheerleader and part-time drug dealer, which isn't easy to pull off when your dad is a cop. She's reckless and cynical. Like many teens on the threshold of adulthood, she's dealing with issues such as school, dating, popularity, drugs, and peer pressure. She has no idea what she wants out of life, no sense of purpose. Beneath her in-crowd, cheerleader facade, she is dark, tormented, and self-destructive due to something horrible that happened to her as a child, a crime that directly relates to the headless biker's origin. Christina feels like something major is missing in her life, a sense that her past is cloaked in mystery and lies.
Christina is also a danger junkie, so she explores the limits of what she can get away with. She thrives on the excitement and danger of breaking the law and defying authority, perhaps as a backlash against her overbearing father, who is an asshole.
When Christina starts selling a new drug called Stairway to Heaven to her classmates, all hell breaks loose. The mystical substance offers a phenomenal high five times more potent than Ecstasy, but it has an eerie side effect - it opens your sixth sense, causing you to see ghosts, and because your spirit temporarily crosses over into a parallel world of the dead while you're high, these entities can affect you as if you were a ghost yourself! Some thrill seekers think this is the coolest thing ever, but unfortunately not all ghosts are friendly!
Soon, decapitated bodies start showing up around town and Christina's father is put in charge of the serial murder investigation. Naturally, he doesn't believe that a headless phantom could possibly be the murderer and he thinks Christina is either lying or hallucinating what she claims she saw. When she finally uncovers the truth behind their deaths, she sets out to makes things right. Consumed by guilt and unable to convince the police of what is really happening, Christina must find a way to stop the murderous ghost and get the supernatural gateway drug off the streets before more unsuspecting users fall prey to the chopper-riding Angel of Death.
Q: CHOPPER is also being made into a web TV series, starring Tyler Mane. How did that come about? And what is your reaction to it?
I'm really excited about the web series. The producer who bought the movie rights to Chopper decided to produce a live-action online series utilizing transmedia storytelling to introduce people across the globe to the Chopper mythology and build buzz for an upcoming movie. It will feature all-new prequel story material not in the comic book that will explore the origins of the Reaper and shine a light on the unknown pasts of several key characters.
JC has really gone all out to create a killer entertainment experience for horror fans. The fact that people can watch such a high quality original TV series for free on YouTube is incredible. The producer took a big financial risk with this innovative new social media approach to building a core fan base for the franchise before releasing a movie.
Working with horror icon Tyler Mane was a blast. He played Michael Myers in Rob Zombie's Halloween remakes, and Sabretooth in X-Men. His support for a small indie production like this has been very inspirational. He normally only works on big budget studio films, so the fact that he made the sacrifice to work on Chopper just goes to show the power of good, original story material.
For the latest information, go to www.chopperlives.com or follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ChopperLives.
Q: When you write a book do you have the "movie version" in mind, since generally, comics translate to movies quite well?
Well, in my case, the story started off as a movie script rather than vice versa. I originally wrote the script at UCLA Film School in a screenwriting class taught by Mike Werb, the writer of Face/Off.
For me, working in comics is very similar to movie making - it's like the ultimate storyboard. With Chopper, I wanted the artwork to be cinematic with lots of attention to detail in the backgrounds and characters. I didn't want it to be cartoony with exaggerated or hyper-muscular heroes. It needed to be realistic and gritty. That's why I teamed up with artist Juan Ferreyra. I've been a huge fan of his for a long time. His pencils and inks are amazing - very dynamic with lifelike, expressive characters. I couldn't ask for a better artist to bring the script to life.
Because of my film school background, I have a pretty strong vision for what I want the world of Chopper to look like. The challenge is to communicate what's in your head to the artist while giving him the breathing room needed to work his magic and integrate his own creative ideas into the final product. Placing your characters and your story into the hands of a stranger can sometimes be frightening, but I enjoy the collaborative process.
I just hope that comic book fans out there take a chance on something new and different, and buy the books. We've worked hard to put out a high-quality product that fills what I believe is a gap in the horror genre. There are so many recycled vampire and zombie books and movies out there in the market now. It's time for a new monster to step into the spotlight!
Q: What other projects are you currently working on?
I have another horror graphic novel coming down the road. It's called Skinwalker (not to be confused with that shitty werewolf flick Skinwalkers from a few years ago). Just to be clear, a skinwalker is not a werewolf - according to Native American folklore, it's an evil Navajo witch that has the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires, though they first must be wearing the pelt of the chosen animal, to be able to transform.
My story is about a group of college misfits on a road trip to the Burning Man Festival for a weekend of debauchery in the Nevada desert that end up pissing off a creepy old Indian shaman who doesn't like trespassers on his land, especially white people. After one of the guys while on high on peyote steals his ancestral medicine staff, the vengeful skinwalker summons the ancient warrior spirit Coyote to hunt them down at Burning Man and retrieve the stolen relic.
Skinwalker is a smart slasher tale similar in theme to the movie Deliverance - meaning don't mess with the locals and don't mess with nature.