Fans of John Carpenter: familiarise yourselves with the name James Ninness if you haven’t already. The writer previously collaborated with the horror master and his wife, Sandy King, on both of their Tales for a Halloween Night anthologies, released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, through their Storm King imprint. Furthermore, he also has the honour of being part of the inaugural terrifying tale for their upcoming Tales of Science Fiction series, set to arrive this July and hopefully bring some much needed darkness and chilling despair to the light nights and warm weather. That said, fans of genre comics in general ought to discover Ninness’ work across the board, as he’s penned several releases in recent years – ranging from horror noir, fantasy, westerns and more – which have garnered critical acclaim and favour among aficionados of fantastical storytelling.
Ninness introduced himself to comic fans with MYTHOI, a fantasy series which ran from 2009 to 2012 and told the story of characters from multiple mythologies – Wiglaf, Vito, Yuki, Taros and Touch – who must band together to protect humanity from various threats. But, Diabolique readers might be more interested in the The Undergrounds, which depicted some of our favourite monsters – Wolfman, Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and more – working in the retail sector. It’s just a shame that it’s no longer in print.
However, given that John Carpenter and Sandy King are immortalised figures in the realm of horror and science fiction fare, Tales of Science Fiction marks a highly-anticipated event series for their fans. Ninness’ arc “Vault” – along with collaborators Andres Esparza, Sergio Martinez, and Janice Chiang – tells the story of a moon-bound crew who discover a mysterious alien vessel and the terrifying secrets within. Recently, Diabolique had the opportunity to speak with Ninness to discuss the upcoming series, as well as some of his previous work.
Diabolique: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got started in comics?
Ninness: Sure. I was late to comics… I didn’t start to read them until my pal (and frequent collaborator) Ben Glibert introduced them to me in college. I was studying English: Creative writing, specifically the short story. Ben showed me books like 100 Bullets, Planetary, Sandman, and Preacher – all examples of stories that use the short story (single issues) to build massive narratives and expansive mythologies. I was hooked.
After that we started dabbling in our own ideas for books. The first project was MYTHOI, a series that focused on various world mythologies as though they actually existed. We did all right for an indie book (despite the numerous mistakes I made on my first comic), enough that it led to a few other indie books.
Since then I’ve been consuming the medium, all flavors. I love the big two books, but I probably spend more money on the independent books. Publishers like BOOM!, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and Black Mask (and many, many more) make my heart sing.
Diabolique: What are some of your biggest inspirations as a writer?
Ninness: The list of writers I look up to is long. I grew up loving the Beatniks like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. I love the way they disguise their truths. Writers like Stephen King, Dan Simmons, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens are also among my favourites.
In comics, I follow the usual writing suspects: Steve Niles, Mark Waid, Gail Simone, Rick Remender, Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, and a bunch of others — I’ll pick up anything with these names on it.
I’m a big fan of stories that keep criticism just under the surface. It’s a fine line between lost and preachy, and walking it while keeping the meat of a narrative interesting can be a big challenge, but the folks I admire most make it look easy. Writing must have a point, not the story, the purpose. I love books that call out some bullshit in the world, but I like it when they do it with a whisper.
Diabolique: What can you tell us about your “Vault” story in the upcoming Tales of Science Fiction?
Ninness: Well, let’s start with the team. I’m so fucking lucky on this book. Andres Esparza is on pencils/inks and he is a badass. Andres is taking these pages and crafting one of the most lived-in universes I’ve ever felt from my writing. He’s amazing. He’ll be too famous to work with me after this book comes out. Sergio Martinez is on colours and functions like some sort of insane lighting director – if there’s a “mood” in this book, it’s because of his brilliance. And, of course, there’s Janice Chiang, our letterer. Janice is a godsend. She’s come up with multiple ways to tackle each page and challenges (in a good way) how I thought the book would “sound” – she’s made it much better. I am blessed to be a part of this team.
As for the book, “Vault” is a three-issue mini-series from Storm King’s new, branded line, John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction. It’ll be released monthly, beginning in July. It’s the first of several series they have planned. After “Vault” wraps up we get “Vortex” from the brilliant gentlemen Mike Sizemore and Dave Kennedy – I can’t wait for that one.
“Vault” follows a crew of miners, headed towards the moon, as they stumble – sort of – upon a derelict alien vessel with the name, “Vault,” written in English along the hull. Where did it come from? Where is it going? Who (or what) was on it before? And most importantly: What’s on it now? These are all questions you’ll have to wait to have answered.
I’ll say this: It was inspired by some of my favorite science fiction: Alien (1979), Sunshine (2007), Event Horizon (1997), and a few others that might give too much away to reference… If you like that stuff, hopefully you’ll dig “Vault.”
Diabolique: This isn’t your first contribution on a Carpenter project, as you also worked on the Tales for a Halloween Night anthologies. How did you first become involved with him and Sandy King?
Ninness: I met John and Sandy through a mutual friend at Long Beach Comic Con. Sandy and I hit it off and started grabbing dinner whenever we were at the same shows. After a few months, She and John offered me a slot in the first Tales for a Halloween Night book, which I was honoured to be a part of. Thankfully, the book did well I was invited back for the second volume.
I love John and Sandy. They’re some of the nicest people I’ve met since I moved to Orange County with my family a few years ago. And working with Sandy is a dream. Her honest, no-bullshit outlook is refreshing and she’s smart as hell. I’ve learned a lot in my chats with her and I’m grateful she’s willing to keep me around. I’ll keep writing for Storm King as long as they’ll have me.
Diabolique: Moving on to some of your other work: I absolutely love the concept behind The Undergrounds and the idea of these iconic monsters working in retail. Was that inspired by real life experience?
Ninness: Absolutely. I came up with the idea while working at Starbucks over ten years ago. The artist, Daniel Touchet, was working at Edwards Theaters at the time. The two of us had plenty of experience in customer service, for better or worse. I pitched the idea to Semantink Publishing (later Keyleaf Comics), and they let me bring in a few other writers who also worked at Starbucks: Joe Pezzula, Marcel Losada, Michael Drace Fountain, and Derek Johnson.
I loved working at Starbucks. I made some great friendships I maintain today, and had a genuinely good time making coffee and meeting people. However, like all service industry gigs, I had to deal with absurdity and assholes (at times simultaneously). That frustration was at the heart of The Undergrounds. The monsters were just an extension of the writers. We got to vent about the things that drove us crazy, and people responded to it. I’d wager most fans were also employees in the some sort of customer service job.
After a successful first season, we brought it back for a second and added a few other talented writers/comedians, Shannon Forrey, Ryan Darrow, and Eric Jennings. We were lined up for a third season when Keyleaf when out of business.
The series is out of print at the moment, but I’m talking with a few people about maybe bringing these characters back; perhaps as a comic, perhaps as something else. We’ll see…
Diabolique: MYTHOI looks at characters from various mythologies from around the world. Are there any particular legends or myths that fascinate you?
Ninness: Oh, yeah. I think myths, legends, and folktales fascinate me for the same reasons that I love the writers I love: they attempt to explain something. Right or wrong, mythologies serve to unpack a (usually) complicated concept in a way that everyone can understand. Sometimes those myths evolve beyond their intended purpose and we end up with shitty books about glittering vampires, but at their heart there’s a beautiful attempt at understanding the unknown. I think, in many ways, humans are doing the same thing today.
Among my favorites: Beowulf, almost anything with ghosts, Egyptian and Roman/Greek mythologies, and the standard werewolf/vampire/zombie stuff – the more macabre the better.
Diabolique: What other projects do you have coming up you can tell us about?
Diabolique: I’m working on a few pitches at the moment, but nothing I’m quite ready (or allowed) to talk about. I am doing a creator-owned book with Daniel Touchet (The Undergrounds) that’s more fantasy than horror, and maybe reinventing an old book that once lived at Keyleaf Comics. Hopefully, I’ll be able to talk about all of this very soon.
And, of course, I’ve got another short story in the upcoming Tales for a Halloween Night volume three. It’s a bit different, but I’m hoping people enjoy it. That should be out this October, I think.
For more information on James’ work, check out his website.