You may be familiar with Pornsak Pichetshote's work as a comic book editor, but for the new Image Comics series Infidel, Pichetshote steps behind the keyboard in a different role to write a multicultural horror story that's as timely as it is unsettling. Set in a haunted building where an American Muslim woman and her multiracial neighbors live, the first issue of Infidel comes out on March 14th, Daily Dead caught up with Pichetshote in a new Q&A feature to discuss the transition from editing to writing comic books, researching diverse cultures for Infidel, and facing the horrors of the blank page.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Pornsak, and congratulations on your new five-issue comic book series, Infidel. How and when did you come up with the idea for this series?
Pornsak Pichetshote: The development of the idea started years ago, back when Barack Obama was president. It began with how people were talking about the post-racial society we had become—we had a black president and yet Islamophobia was still rampantly on the rise. It seemed to connect with this conversation about race that we as a country have only started to clumsily have. That dovetailed with my love of horror movies, and suddenly I found I had one of those ideas that was so simple I couldn’t believe anyone hadn’t done it sooner. As the years passed, and the themes of the book became more and more relevant to the world, I felt like I couldn’t just have it collecting cobwebs; I needed to put this book out there.
In Infidel, you inject the timeless haunted house story with a very timely topic: xenophobia. How important was it for you to do something different with the haunted house theme and make it relevant to what is happening in today’s divisive society?
Pornsak Pichetshote: It was one of the major impetuses for doing the project. I’m such a huge fan of horror and haunted house/ghost stories in particular. I’m Thai American, and during my teenage years in Thailand, I honestly was the only kid I knew without my own personal ghost story; it’s something that’s just ingrained to that side of my culture. But with all these remakes and reboots in the zeitgeist right now, I felt like horror was getting a little too stuck in amber, still reflecting the fears of the ’70s and ’80s when there’s so much more other pressing stuff to be afraid of now. And watching the success of movies like Get Out, The Babadook, and It Follows push what horror can look like today made me believe that others wanted to see that, too.
You have lots of experience in the comic book industry as an editor, but what was it like for you to work as a writer on this project? Did your prior experiences as an editor help prepare you for Infidel?
Pornsak Pichetshote: Editing by its nature is a very reactionary job. You have to wait for material to come in before you can get to the real nitty-gritty. So, the biggest difference I found being a writer is the blank page. I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan, and he once said, “I love writing, but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, 'You may have fooled some of the people some of the time, but those days are over, Giftless. I'm not your agent and I'm not your mommy: I'm a white piece of paper. You wanna dance with me? And I really, really don't.' I completely agree with that. So, for me, the biggest shift is that writing is constantly battling the blank page and finding different ways to tame it.
Now the good news is, part of what you learn as a writer is the importance of structure and the mechanics of the medium, and that can—at times—make taming the blank page a little easier. But like everything else, there are disadvantages, too. I remember reading how filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has this belief about the “inner editor.” He thought writers are more productive when their inner editor is at his or her most tired. So morning writers are more productive because their inner editor hasn’t woken up yet. Night writers are more productive because their inner editor is too tired to stop them. I do think there’s something to that, and part of my writing now is to not edit myself for a while and just let the ideas and emotions flow—which can be hard when editing’s become intuitive.
The artwork in Infidel is very striking and really couples nicely with your prose. What made Aaron Campbell the right fit to create the visuals for this story?
Pornsak Pichetshote: I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that Aaron even exists as an artist. My editor, legendary artist and comic book colorist José Villarrubia, and I knew we needed someone with a somewhat realistic style to handle the book’s multi-racial cast, since when you try to do multiple ethnicities in too stylized a manner, those depictions can easily run to the offensive side of the gamut if you’re not careful. And yet, José and I both like a little expressionism to our art, so we knew we wouldn’t like someone rigidly photorealistic. On top of that, he had to draw scary, which—while there are a lot of artists drawing horror comics—there aren’t a ton who actually draw scary. On top of that, we wanted a professional that we could trust and who wouldn’t flake out on us. On top of that, he had to not be scooped up by Marvel and DC. So, it felt like an almost impossible task, but Aaron fit all those bills and not only that, we both saw eye to eye in terms of horror and the themes of the book.
What was the most challenging or rewarding experience you had while writing Infidel?
Pornsak Pichetshote: Since this book tackles headfirst into the sensitive topic of race and tries to portray it from multiple angles, by far the toughest challenge is doing the research and talking to the necessary people to make sure there’s a level of truth to those voices and perspectives. I’ll let the reader tell us how well we did, but hopefully, if we came close, the reward—for both the team and the reader—is a horror story that feels more like, well, the world outside my window at least.
Did any other comic books, movies, or novels inspire you while writing this series?
Pornsak Pichetshote: A lot! Interestingly, the bulk of this story was conceived before Get Out, even though I’m sure readers will find that movie to be the most spiritually similar to ours. J-Horror flicks like the original Ju-On and Dark Water had a big impact, as did Scott Snyder and Jock’s Wytches, the work of Junji Ito, and it’s hard to do any kind of “sophisticated suspense” without standing in the shadow of Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette’s Swamp Thing and Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer. There are tons more as well. I watch a ton of horror movies and read a lot of horror comics, but those are the particular standouts.
In Infidel, you created an eclectic cast of characters from diverse backgrounds. Did you have to do a lot of research on other cultures to prepare for this story?
Pornsak Pichetshote: Tons and tons and tons. It’s the part of the book that I gave the most attention to and the part I’m most worried about getting wrong, to be honest. As I mentioned earlier, at the end of the day, at this point, I just have trust I read enough things and spoke to enough people, and now I have to let the audience tell me how well I did.
Infidel is currently set for five issues at Image Comics. Do you have ideas for additional stories beyond five issues, or are you satisfied with its current run?
Pornsak Pichetshote: Right now, we’re trying to keep ourselves focused on just making this series terrifying, timely, and provocative, but the entire team has talked about what a follow-up sequel or prequel could look like. Like this one, though, it’ll take time to do the research and do it right…
With the first issue of Infidel due out on March 14th, do you have any other projects on deck that you can talk about? Where can our readers follow you and your work online?
Pornsak Pichetshote: I’m mostly on Twitter @real_pornsak. As for future projects, I was just announced as part of the 2018 Disney / ABC Writing Program. I just wrapped work on the second season of the digital series Two Sentence Horror Stories. If people are interested in Infidel, I highly suggest checking Two Sentence out, currently streaming on go90.com. Vera Miao is a kindred spirit and a beast of a storyteller, and I’m really proud of the stories we got a chance to dig into on season 2. I’m also working on a brand new comics project, but as much as I’m dying to talk about it, it’s still a little too soon…
In my opinion, what’s way more interesting is Infidel artist Aaron Campbell’s list of upcoming projects. He’s contributing art to Image Comics’ incredibly important Where We Live: Las Vegas anthology in May as a benefit for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. The book is spearheaded by JH Williams III and 100% of the proceeds are being donated to the survivors. He’s also tackling his own “white page” and writing his own horror comic as well.
Cover art and preview pages courtesy of Image Comics: