Heading off to summer camp can be a scary experience, especially when you accidentally go to one built for monsters. Teen camper Skye takes a fun approach to a frightening situation in Camp Midnight, the new graphic novel from Man of Action's Steven T. Seagle and artist Jason Adam Katzenstein. With the fun-for-all-ages Camp Midnight hitting shelves today from Image Comics, we caught up with the Seagle and Katzenstein to discuss the relatable elements of their supernatural story, real-life summer camp inspirations, and much more.
Camp Midnight started as a 2014 Comic-Con exclusive comic called THE BUS: A Camp Midnight Mini. What convinced you guys to turn it into a full-length graphic novel?
Steven T. Seagle: It's more the other way around. Camp Midnight is an original, 240-page book, and given our "day jobs," Jason and I could only do about seven pages a week max. So the first year we were working on it we decided to take a number of pages, re-sequence them, leave some pages out, write new dialogue, and make a mini-comic "remix" that doesn't really appear in the book the same way. That said, we also highly coveted the great minis that Becky Cloonan does and wanted to make one ourselves using her same printers.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Steve and I both love small press and alt books, and the mini was also our way of making a little zine to go along with our big full-color project.
This story explores real-life problems such as not fitting in with your peers, dealing with separated parents, and much more. How important was it for you to incorporate these relatable elements into the story?
Steven T. Seagle: I wanted to write a comic book/graphic novel that my younger fans of things I've made like Ben 10 and Big Hero 6 could read. Most of my comics work tends to be older/darker. But I also didn't want to just do a fluff piece, so I started thinking about themes that would matter to younger readers—headier stuff.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: It's a book for younger readers, and these are real-life problems that younger readers really do have. No matter how surreal the story gets, it's always in service of a relatable theme. It's hard being a kid, even when you aren't afraid that you're going to get eaten!
Summer camp is arguably the greatest setting for coming-of-age stories and horror tales. Did either of you go to summer camp growing up, and if so, did you draw from those memories when creating the world of Camp Midnight?
Steven T. Seagle: I went to a one-week camp in the Colorado mountains called "High Trails"—which almost writes its own joke these days. I was not equipped for nature and felt like a complete outsider. I fought the experience the whole time, but really look back on it fondly now. That's definitely a part of our book as well.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: I did a summer program for painting at Cal Arts called CSSSA. The campers in our story look forward to Camp Midnight because it's the one place they feel like they can show their true selves. CSSSA was like that for me, except my true self was a dorky painter!
Do you have any favorite movies, books, or comic books that have taken place at summer camp that influenced or inspired you while working on Camp Midnight?
Steven T. Seagle: My main inspiration for coming up with the idea almost 15 years ago was actually the Miyazaki movie, Spirited Away. It made me start to think of what kind of story I would tell if I got to work with him some day. That story was Camp Midnight, but my notes for it sat unused for over a decade until I met Jason via our mutual buddy and amazing actor, Daryl Sabara. Other than that, I saw Meatballs when I was a kid and I'm sure it has some permanent place in my brain.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Wet Hot American Summer is one of my favorite comedies. Maybe it influenced some of the more slapstick moments!
The humor in this story is wonderfully infectious, and the main character, Skye, makes the reader laugh while still empathizing with her plight. From both the writing and illustrating sides, was it difficult to interweave that humor with the story’s more dramatic aspects, and did the original draft contain as many funny moments as the final version?
Steven T. Seagle: Skye pretty much showed up in my head with a clearly defined attitude and I just let her run. But as we were working on the book, the expressiveness Jason gave her was incredibly fun and led me to write even more toward exaggerated moments just so I could see what Jason would do next.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: I love drawing Skye. Steve noted early in the script that she's "gestural," and I ran with that. It was a challenge to move from highly exaggerated art to the more subtle moments, but it was a fun challenge! Skye's design is simple and geometric, so it's important to get the tilt of her eyebrow and shape of her mouth exactly right.
Jason, your artwork in Camp Midnight is truly exceptional. The settings and characters come to life in a style that feels both vintage and modern. What kind of a look did you have in mind when you first started drawing this story?
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Thank you! I was looking at old Tales from the Crypt comics, early MAD Magazine, Bugs Bunny cartoons and Kate Beaton comics. We wanted a heightened and surreal look that lent itself well to moments of comedy and horror, so I just started drawing things that made me laugh and/or creeped me out.
Camp Midnight has a fun yet frightening premise that would be perfect for a TV series or movie adaptation. Has there been any talk yet about this story coming to life on-screen? Is that something you guys would be excited to see?
Steven T. Seagle: We first and foremost wanted to make a fun, all-ages comic/graphic novel for younger readers. And I think we accomplished that. Does it have a possible life in other media? Why not?! I didn't think Big Hero 6 had any movie potential when Duncan Rouleau and I made them up, but that was proved wrong!
Do you guys have a favorite scene from the graphic novel that was especially fun to create?
Steven T. Seagle: I like almost everything Jason did, but I'm particularly fond of a dark blue scene that takes place out in the creepy woods where Skye and her also-homesick camp friend Mia have a sweet heart-to-heart.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: I love Skye and Griffin talking on the docks, because Steve nails this moment that's funny, romantic, scary and sad all at once.
Were there any subplots or characters that ended up not making it into the final draft?
Steven T. Seagle: This was a story that I just "saw" full-sweep when I thought of it. I didn't go back to my notes until after I'd written the script, but it's all there as planned with no major additions or subtractions.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: At one point Skye was wearing a Pixies shirt, does that count? RIP Pixies shirt.
What do you hope readers take away from Camp Midnight?
Steven T. Seagle: The book is very much about owning who you are and sharing that truth with the world. It's something kids need to get for sure, but it's also something many adults I know still struggle with. It's a challenge to have the confidence to be who you actually are versus who you feel pressured to be.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: And trying to look and act like everybody else is tiring and boring. We can all learn a thing or two from Skye and Mia.
I would love to see you guys revisit this world again. Are there any plans for a Camp Midnight sequel?
Steven T. Seagle: Jason and I launched right into another project right after we finished this one, but it is not a follow-up. I think we both like the characters and the world, though, and would not rule out a revisit.
Jason Adam Katzenstein: Agreed!
With Camp Midnight being released today from Image Comics, what can you tell readers who may be interested in sampling this superb story?
Steven T. Seagle: The full book is out on the 27th. A 28-page full color excerpt of the book is available as Image Comics' FREE COMIC BOOK DAY gold level book on May 7th at no charge. We will be running a different 28-page excerpt via Image Comics/Comixology soon. CBR will have a different six-page preview soon. So it will not be hard for readers to sample this book and hopefully feel encouraged to give the full tome a read!
"CAMP MIDNIGHT (ISBN: 978-1-63215-555-9) is an original, 248 page graphic novel from the Man of Action imprint of Image Comics and will be available in comic book stores on Wednesday, April 27 (Diamond Code: FEB160616) and in bookstores on May 3.
Steven and Jason will be spending the morning of FCBD at Steven’s local store:
1298 E Colorado Blvd,
Pasadena, CA 91106
And in the afternoon they will both be at Jason’s local store:
GALAXY OF COMICS
17306 Saticoy St.
Van Nuys, CA 91406