Exclusive Interview: Writer James Ninness Discusses John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction

While the name James Ninness may be new to some of you, he’s no stranger to horror and science fiction.  The fiction writer is readying for the release of his third collaboration with horror legend John Carpenter and his wife Sandy King.  Book one of his story “Vault” kicks off Carpenter’s latest comics anthology Tales of Science Fiction, which hits stores this July and is already gaining buzz among the geek and horror communities.  Just back from C2E2, I had the chance to catch up with James  (it helps that he also happens to be a colleague of mine) and interview him a bit about this exciting new project and working with these horror legends.  If you haven’t watched it yet, be sure to check out the trailer for the book below:

All Hallows Geek: You’ve just returned from C2E2 where you spent a few days alongside Sandy King Carpenter. As buzz has started to build around the upcoming release of John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction anthology, what sort of reaction did you get at the expo?

James Ninness: Well, first of all, any time I get to spend with Sandy and Ross is time well spent. I love those two. But yes, C2E2 is as awesome as everyone says (this was my first time).

The fans in Chicago are as beautiful as their city. There was hardly any downtime at the booth. People who already knew about me or Storm King were excited to see us, and folks who were unfamiliar with one, the other, or both, responded well to the work.

I’m hoping I get to go back next year. I loved it.

AHG: This is your third time working with John and Sandy on a book. You previously contributed to John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloweenight I and II. What has it been like working with these legends of horror and science fiction and how did you first connect with them?

JN: Both John and Sandy are great. The first time I was with them both at once was a dinner at their home. John is a funny fella. We spent most of the time that night talking about Westerns and video games. Sandy and I had been friends for a while before that. She was a fan of a book I worked on called in Sanity, AZ, and so we had shared many meals and laughs previous to working with one another.

Of course every time I pitch them an idea it’s a bit nerve-wracking… These two have been in the entertainment industry long enough to become icons, so most of the time I assume anything I’m pitching them has already been pitched to them before. It’s actually a great challenge to try and come up with stuff so out there that it has to be unique, even to them.


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AHG: When working on something like a Tales for a Halloweenight or a Tales of Science Fiction, how involved are John or Sandy in the creative process? Do you have to run concepts by them, or do they come to you with ideas, or do you more or less have creative control in the situation?

JN: Very. Both of them approve and edit the stories, but Sandy runs the company, so I work particularly closely with her. In my experience with them, I’ve only worked on stuff that I’ve created. Usually we’ll be hanging out at a show or a meal or something and I’ll tell Sandy about an idea I’ve had. If she likes it she’ll ask me to send her a treatment, which, of course, I do.

The writing part is interesting… With a lot of my previous publishing experiences, editors tend to tell me to “reign it in a bit” – that I’m going a bit too far. Not John and Sandy. They encourage me to push things, to challenge the audience and take them as far as I can, which I love. They give me total control of the story (which is wonderful), but encourage me to get the most out of it. When it’s over, have I mined the narrative for all it’s worth?

After the script is done, Sandy and I work together to find the right artistic team (pencils, inks, colors, letters). She’s very particular about that, and for good reason. Storm King demands a very particular aesthetic and level of quality in their books, which I appreciate.

The whole process is a blast. I’ve been very blessed so far.

AHG: Tales of Science Fiction will be a monthly anthology series with multiple stories. Both your story, “Vault,” and the next story in the series, “Vortex,” have been teased with a third installment planned for Spring of 2018. Are the stories connected in any way or is each writer telling a unique story?

JN: Nope! No connection. Well, other than the fact that I love Mike and David (the Vortex team), and that love is forever. Vault and Vortex are completely different stories with absolutely no crossover.

AHG: What can you share about your installment in Tales of Science Fiction, “Vault?”

JN: Hmm… Well, I have to be pretty guarded so I don’t spoil anything. If you’ve seen the trailer then you know about as much as you should.

I’ll say this: When the crew finds Vault they notice a part of a poem inscribed on the hull. That writer of the poem, and the poem itself, were chosen for a very specific reason. So, if you dig classical poetry, you may be able to use that clue to see where we’re going. Maybe. Or maybe not.

AHG: After watching the trailer and viewing a preview of the first issue, I felt Vault’s imagery had a bit of an ‘Alien’ vibe to it. What were some of your inspirations for this story, and how involved are you in the creation of the look and feel of your characters and the environment when working with the artists?

JN: Totally. I love science fiction and I love horror, so when the two come together well I get all twitterpated. There are a few influences for Vault, including Alien, Sunshine, and Event Horizon.

Look, comic books are a team sport. I am very particular with writing a script that ensures the artist understand my vision for the story. Then, if I’ve done my job right, I get out of the way and let the artist get out their vision for the story. If I’ve written something that excites and inspires the artist, I prefer to let them run free. You ever read a comic and feel like someone on the team did it for the paycheck? Like it totally lacked enthusiasm from the writer ot artist or colorist or letterer? Any of those things can destroy a book. Everyone is equally important to a book’s success. As the writer and creator, I feel like it’s my job to generate enthusiasm in enough supply that it will run through the entire production process.

Yes, I provide feedback to Andres Esparza, the genius responsible for pencils and inks, Sergio Martinez, the color-wizard who blesses every page, and Janice Chiang, our lettering goddess, but only to look for things that they might have missed, or, even more likely, where I held them back. More often than not the stumbles we run into as a team fall on my shoulders — places where I’ve failed to be clear or written them into a corner. My job is to inspire the team, not trap them.

I also ask everyone to read the entire script before they start working on it so they can provide me with feedback. Each of these folks is the expert in their fields. I trust them. Is there something I’ve written that can be better? Spoiler: always. Too many panels on a page? Not enough? The wrong sound effect? The more I allow these folks to improve my work, the better (and easier) it is for them to remain enthusiastic down the line.

AHG: Horror and sci-fi seem to be common themes in your writing. Are you a long time fan of these genres and who or what got you into them?

JN: I’ve got my dad to thank for this. We bonded over movies when I was younger. He exposed me to the Alien and Predator films long before he should have. He let me watch Stephen King’s It well before the rest of the kids my age. He also introduced me the wonderful world of Ray Harryhausen, which brought monsters to life for me. But if I’m honest, the two genres gelled together for the first time when I saw Krull. That movie scared the shit out of me, but it also inspired me. It melded together fantasy, science fiction, and horror (especially for a younger kid), in a way I had never seen before.

What’s really funny about my love for horror, specifically, is that I’m an absolute wuss when I watch the movies, read the books, or play the games. I jump, I scream, and I hold whoever’s next to me. My wife thinks it’s hilarious. I don’t enjoy being scared, but I love what happens afterward: the clarity of it all. There’s a mystery to horror… The price for resolution is absolute terror. My favorite horror is when the payoff is worth the suffering. I like feeling as though I’ve earned the knowledge that comes at the end. At the same time, there’s nothing worse than a horror experience wherein the resolution falls short of the journey to get there. Fuck those.

AHG: Is there anything else that you’re working on or releasing soon that you think people would like to know about?

JN: Well, nothing I’m allowed to talk about. Not really… I mean, I’m working with two artists on some non-Storm King stuff, but it’s all pretty early at the moment. One’s a hundred page graphic novel in the fantasy genre, and the other is… Well, the other one is a book that people who are familiar with my work may already know about. We’ll see if that one happens. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

AHG: Finally, will you be making any appearances to support Vault issue #1 when it’s released in July?

JN: Totally. I’ll probably workout a few signings, but I’ll also be at some shows just before and after. Amazing Las Vegas Comicon is in June, I’ll be around San Diego Comic Con in July, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll be in New York in October.

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“Vault” tells the story of the moon-bound crew of Gaia who stumble upon an alien vessel, more technologically advanced than their own. Changing the crews’ priorities, the mystery deepens when they discover the name of the vessel along the hull… Issue one of “Vault” will hit stores July 26 with issue two being released in August and the third and final issue going on sale in September. A preview of issue one of both “Vault” and the second story in the anthology “Vortex” is available from Newsarama.

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