Shawn French, the evilly kind-hearted creator of Escape from Jesus Island was kind enough to discuss with me the future of his wildly popular comic series. The series itself is mired in controversy, is full of gore, it’s vile, it’s disgusting – and we love it. Escape from Jesus Island is an incredibly crafted piece of art, which tells a fascinating story along with incredible art. Of course, a project of this magnitude takes a lot of work and collaboration, and Shawn had acquired some very, very talented individuals. In the interview below Shawn will talk about his work with Mortimer Glum and Peeter Parkker, as well as Eriv Pavone for work on a video game. Furthermore, he’ll talk about being discouraged, keeping at it, working hard, and finally getting to harvest those creative seeds. Shawn French is an intelligent and personable fellow, and his creativity oozes from every one of his pores. So please, take in the wisdom of one of the most twisted creative minds out there.
Q: Escape from Jesus Island – I remember reading the very first issue, and ultimately talking to you about it. It seems so long ago, but just like yesterday at the same time. I’m sure time has been flying for you throughout this whole adventure, what’s the experience been like for you seeing your brainchild grow into a successful being?
It’s been a crazy ride. I first wrote this story in 1993, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. One of the things I struggled with during those two decades was finding the right medium and vibe. I wrote it as a slapstick comedy short that was basically a Scooby-Doo episode. I wrote it as a feature-length comedy/action script. Then as a horror short. Then a horror feature film. Then a graphic novel, and now finally as an episodic comic book series and video game.
Maybe ‘struggled’ is the wrong word, because I loved each version along the way. What I found is the heart of this crazy, Jesus-cloning monster story remained intact regardless of what I did to the format or genre. The story knows what it wants to be and when you have a structure that solid, it gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility.
Enter Mortimer Glum, the mad genius illustrator who brought this story to life. What we’ve created, along with our editor Shawn Greenleaf and letterer Peeter Parkker, is wildly different than any previous incarnation of EFJI, but the essence of the story remains unchanged. I tried to come in with a blank slate as much as possible, with just the structure and backstory locked in. Certain scenes and moments were load-bearing and cannot be moved. Anything else was negotiable. Mortimer then designed the island and cranked out a collection of monsters, mutants and freaks, which I used to build the story around.
I think this true sort of collaboration is rare. Yes, I’ve been carrying this tale around in my head for a long time, but the incarnation of that story in our comic is something Mortimer and I created together nearly from scratch. It’s the version of the story I hadn’t realized I was searching for this whole time.
Q: Could you have ever predicted the success and attention that EFJI has garnered since launch? I mean, the effort and talent that went into the project was a recipe for success, but as a creator myself, I tend to always have the nagging feeling that my work is going to flop. Unlike my work though, yours has flourished. Was there ever any doubt or worry that this wouldn’t take off like it did?
That’s always a concern, especially when dealing with a subject matter that some folks get a bit testy over. We faced resistance right out of the gate when stores pulled out of the Phantom Group over their unwillingness to carry the Phantom Variant cover of our first issue. I still get some colorful emails from religious folks, and I thought I was going to have a fight a guy at a convention in Maine earlier this year. He went nuts when I mentioned that the Antichrist was the playable character in our video game and nearly came across the table at me. Starting ranting about “The Jews” and then stormed out of the place, scattering people as he went. Good times.
So yeah, we get some resistance, but I always believed that the people who were into Escape From Jesus Island would REALLY be into it and fortunately, that has been the case. The diehard fans make it easy for us to laugh off the crazy stuff.
The Kickstarter campaign to launch us was the scariest part and the next one will be terrifying as well. They are crazy stressful. We spent a year building up to the first campaign and felt we had put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed, but you don’t really know until it’s too late. Fortunately, our fans stepped up big and helped get us into print.
Q: Issue 4 of the series is set to come out in early 2016, what plans do you have for that? Any convention dates, tours, store launches that the fans can look forward during the launch of the book?
I am super excited for our upcoming Episode 4, “What Lies Beneath.” Readers get their first look at what’s happening in the tunnels beneath the Malsum Island Research Facility and a few of the Big Bads in our story make their first appearances.
For conventions, we try to hit most of the big ones in New England. Last year, we did Boston Comic Con for the first time and that was a blast. We’ll be back there. If the EFJI#4 launch goes well, we’d love to add New York Comic Con to our schedule in 2016. Those in Maine can also catch us at Coast City Comics in Portland and Awesome Hobby Shoppe in Biddeford. We always do signings at both places with each issue launch.
Q: I know you have big plans for Escape from Jesus Island, such as a second book, a paperback featuring the first four episodes, and another Kickstarter campaign. What can you tell us about those?
Our plan is to compile every four issues into a trade paperback that we’ll load up with bonus features. Island maps, concept art, backstories, cut scenes and other fun stuff.
One of the biggest hurdles in self-distribution is getting on shelves. Lots of stores won’t carry a comic unless it’s in the Diamond catalog and it’s not cost-effective for a small comic like ours to list each issue through Diamond. We can, however, list a trade paperback of our first four issues, which is what we’ve been working toward from Day One.
Printing a 175ish-page, full-color book in high enough volume to fill all potential orders from Diamond won’t be cheap, so we’ll be going back to our fans for our Phase Two Kickstarter campaign to raise money for us to take this big leap onto the national stage.
As with our previous campaign, we’ll have opportunities for backers to appear as characters in our comic (more than a dozen fans appear in Episode 4 alone). This time around, we’re offering up some major, recurring roles in the story, including the chance to join Inquisition and Mother Superior as one of the Antichrist’s 12 Apostles.
We’ll also be rolling out our first Escape From Jesus Island gaming miniatures by Nicolas Genovese Sculpture as rewards, and possibly an Antichrist action figure as a stretch goal. We’re still running numbers on a bunch of cool potential rewards.
Q: Maybe the biggest news on the grapevine is that EFJI has a video game in the planning stages? Furthermore, and this is something for the gamers, Eric Pavone (Deus Ex, Army of Two) is involved – how did that collaboration come about? Whom approached whom? And, if you can, what will the style of game be like? Survival horror, or perhaps character action game – or, are you going to throw everybody a loop and make a Mario Party style party game? 😛
You laugh, but I would play the fuck out of a Mario cart game set on Malsum Island. Mutants racing through the tunnels and around the hospital. That would be epic. But yeah, we’re making an old-school dungeon crawler set in the EFJI world. It’s a prequel to the comics where you control a teenage Antichrist as he comes into power and, along with three custom-made cannibalistic mutants, tries to seize control of the island.
How it came about was actually an important lesson for me as a writer, so let’s rewind a couple decades.
It’s 1994. I’m a 23-year-old kid who very much wants to be a writer, but hasn’t actually put in the time to develop the skills or assemble a body of work. Through dumb luck of the friend-of-a-friend variety, I ended up spending a fair amount of time in the company of a game designer whose work I admired tremendously. If I had the writing chops and work to show, my life could have very well taken a different path that day. But I didn’t, so it didn’t, and that always haunted me.
I decided if that situation ever again arose, I would be prepared. The pain of that day—of not being ready when opportunity knocked—has been one of the single biggest motivators for me as a writer. Finish what you start and send some of those stories out into the world. A dusty box of mostly finished stories helps no one.
Fast forward 20 years. A friend from out of town is visiting with her husband, who I hadn’t yet met. We get to talking and it gradually occurs to me that the guy sitting in my living room is Eric Pavone, whose games I have played a whole lot. The locomotion engine on his Spider-Man games remains one of my favorite movement systems ever.
The moment was surreal. The exact same situation as 20 years before, except this time I was ready. I had spent that time writing obsessively. I had battled in the trenches at a newspaper. I’d worked as a freelance writer and editor in any field that would have me. I wrote and directed a horror flick, and of course had the EFJI comics to show, which Eric had already read and dug. He and I hit it off like long-lost brothers and immediately knew we wanted to work together on something.
Two decades later, I was finally ready. It hit me hard that had I let that crushing day 20 years prior discourage me, I would have missed this opportunity as well.
Q: Comics this large often require more content to keep the ravenous fans at bay in between major installments. You mentioned to me earlier that you have a webcomic called Mutant Babies in the works? What’s going on there? And what was the thinking behind creating something new for the web? Will it tie into EFJI directly, or is just going to take place in the same universe?
Our upcoming Mutant Babies webcomic is a tribute to all the cartoons our crew grew up loving. It’s set in the EFJI story world, except with the Antichrist and his murderous mutant pals as toddlers. Each Mutant Babies story will be released in three parts and cover one of the Antichrist’s elaborate and gory escape attempts.
Peeter Parkker, who lettered our first three issues, is illustrating this series and his style is such a perfect fit. The mutants are cute and horrible and murderous all at once. We’re having a blast with this one.
Since our crew all have other day jobs, we’re limited to a couple issues per year with our main comic. Mutant Babies will give us a way to release fun new stories in the EFJI world between issues. We have the first episode finished and we’ll start releasing them once we get a couple more banked.
Along the same lines, we’re also doing an Ask The Antichrist advice column on The Blood-Shed.com where Yeshua offers horrible and inappropriate advice to anyone foolish enough to ask. The first one of those should run Christmas week.
There you have it – Shawn has a way with words matched by only a select few. He’s easy to talk to, and even better, he’s full of insight. His advice on being ready, and taking opportunities is so incredibly apt, and very fitting to what I talk about a lot on this blog. His hard work and perseverance with the twenty-year-old idea finally has come to fruition, and it’s a glorious achievement. An achievement for which horror and comic book fans are incredibly thankful.
You can check out Escape from Jesus Island Here.
Mutant Babies on Facebook, Here.
As well, don’t forget to keep a look out for their next Kickstarter Campaign. I’ll post the link when it goes up!