I sat down and interviewed Shawn French, creator of indie horror comic “Escape from Jesus Island”. Here’s it went.
John Lepper: Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview, Mr. French. To start off, I think it’s safe to say that Escape from Jesus Island is a very original idea. What were some of your inspirations? How did you come up with it?
Shawn French: Thanks, John. It’s great to talk with you. The initial concept is directly traceable back to the first Jurassic Park film. I first wrote it as a short comedy script that was essentially Jurassic Park, but with cannibalistic, mutant Jesus clones instead of dinosaurs. That was 21 years ago and I’ve been working on the story ever since.
Over the years, it evolved dramatically from a goofy short film to a really intense and dark horror series. It was when I started studying the Book of Revelation that the story really started becoming what it is today. The realization that this was a story about twin brothers (Christ and Antichrist), who are both clones of Jesus and possess his full powers and memories.
Illustrator Mortimer Glum also took this story to a whole new level with his elaborate creature design. He played a tremendous role in shaping this story as it evolved.
JL: It’s amazing that it’s been in the works for so long and you’ve stuck to it! Were there any really significant elements early on that are missing from this current iteration?
SF: I had no choice but to stick with this story. It’s been obsessively lodged in my cranium unlike anything I’ve ever written. Before finding the right medium for EFJI, I wrote it as a short comedy script, a feature-length comedy, a short horror script, a feature-length horror film and a graphic novel, before I finally settled into telling this story as a 40-issue comic book series.
That shift to telling the story as an ongoing series required that I uproot pretty much everything I had designed and start over, which was a blast. I love this story so much. Being able to really take my time to let it unfold is pretty much my favorite thing ever. There are a few elements left from the original script (the intro section of EFJI #2 is almost verbatim from that first version), but for the most part, when I transferred this to work as a comic, I started with a blank page. Every medium is different and really has to be treated as such.
My approach is always to be fluid and that nothing is sacred. You have to be willing to carve up your work, even the parts you love, to serve the greater good.
JL: Speaking of other mediums, I’ve heard this and that about possible future adaptations you may like to pursue. Is there anything you’re really hoping to do definitively or is nothing solid yet?
SF: We’re definitely looking to bring this story to other mediums. I desperately want to see EFJI as a film or TV series. It would translate soooo beautifully. Our editor, Shawn Greenleaf, has also started design work on an Escape From Jesus Island board game that we’ll be launching through Kickstarter eventually, and we just finished up an EFJI video game pitch that we’ll be sending out soon to a game developer fan of our comic.
Our approach is to treat this as a franchise from the start. Our first two gaming miniatures from sculptor Nicolas Genovese (https://www.facebook.com/NicolasGenoveseSculpture) are already complete and we’re planning many more.
We’re extremely fortunate to have fans who are super talented. It allows us to expand this universe with the help of artists who already love the story instead of having to cold-pitch to strangers. Down the road, we plan to team up with our friends at The Shoggoth Assembly (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Shoggoth-Assembly/108860862470296) to release some full character masks and other EFJI gory goodies.
JL: That’s awesome! Multimedia franchises are always so exciting. Now, another subject I wanted to bring up. In my book, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But I am aware that you guys have had a couple set backs. I know, for example, there was a CNN interview that fell through. Some people view this as a very controversial story. Do you have anything to say to them?
SF: Putting out a story like ours can sometimes be something of an uphill battle. You never know when a pissed off person is going to yank the rug out from under you, as happened with CNN. Twice.
We had stores leave the Phantom Group entirely over their refusal to put the Phantom Variant of EFJI #1 on their shelves, because they thought the cover was too offensive. I still don’t get that. Images of a crucified Christ are considered holy, but you put a couple nails in the Antichrist and people flip their shit. What are you gonna do?
There are seven billion people on this spinning ball of dirt and it isn’t my job to navigate around their emotional triggers. A story in which the Antichrist is a literal clone of Jesus is going to ruffle some feathers and I really don’t care. At all. The people who are enjoying our story are REALLY enjoying it and that’s what matters to me.
Plus, Clive fucking Barker (www.facebook.com/officialclivebarker/posts/422151551226901) chimed in with his support for our story. A blessing from one of the Gods of Horror means a whole lot more to me than a hundred nasty comments from people who think I’ve offended their imaginary friend.
JL: People take things far too seriously, at times. They really do need to just learn to sit back and enjoy a story. So, one last question. What’s next? Do you have any other projects now or in the future besides EFJI that you wish to talk about?
SF: What’s next for me is a whole lot more Escape From Jesus Island. It’s pretty much all I do. Mortimer Glum is starting in on the artwork for EFJI #3, which will be out this fall. We’re also working on a spinoff web comic (illustrated by our letterer Peeter Parkker) that we should be able to announce in the next month or so.
I’m currently working on the scripts for EFJI #4 and #5. I’m always most comfortable when I have a couple scripts banked ahead of time.
The Jesus Island crew is just now finishing up a 12-page Sci-Fi story that will appear in Cthulhu Williams: Monster Hunter (https://www.facebook.com/CthulhuWilliams) for writer Tim Stiles. That came together beautifully and I can’t wait to see it in print.
Mortimer Glum also has a planned anthology series called Glumly’s Ghastlies that we’re hoping to get up and running in 2015. That will be an old-school Tales From The Crypt-style series from the Jesus Island crew. That should be a blast. I love that style of storytelling.
And I’ve recently started dusting off my Children of Ascension story world I designed many years ago for a video game that fell apart before launch. The beauty of the age we live in is that you no longer have to be rich or connected to get a story out into the world. If you have a great tale and are willing to put in the insane amount of hours to bring it to life, everyone now has a chance to succeed. We’re busting our collective asses to make sure that.
JL: Sounds like you have a lot going on! I look forward to seeing more from you in the future and seeing what’s next with ESJI! And thank you again for your time!
SF: It was great talking with you, John. Thanks!