Thrash metal band Slayer have a new comic (and why not). The series’ writer lifts the lid.
The director of Metalocalypse and The Death Of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? talks to Claire Lim about his latest project, returning to the world of comics for Dark Horse’s Slayer: Repentless
Comic Heroes: Slayer is a metal band, so what is Slayer: Repentless all about?
Jon Schnepp: It’s about hatred and injustice and revenge, a deadly bloody road trip of horror, where a family is literally torn apart by stupidity, jealousy and love. I wanted to show how two brothers can be torn apart completely by different ways of thought and how that kind of pure hatred brings nothing but death and destruction.
CH: How closely did you work with the band on the story, if at all?
JS: They were pretty hands-off – I spoke with both Dark Horse editors as well as Nuclear Blast [Slayer’s record label] and I talked to the band about the storyline and they approved everything and just let me run with it. They really let me tell the story I wanted to tell. CH: When were you first approached to work on the comic? JS: I was approached a few months into 2016 by Chris Warner, one of the editors over at Dark Horse. I’d worked with him on the Metalocalypse comic book series. He remembered a bunch of really horrifying storylines that I had told him that we never fit into
Metalocalypse, so he knew I had a dark and twisted mind. So, when the comic book opportunity to write Slayer came up, he instantly thought of me.
CH: How much of the band’s Repentless videos influenced the way in which you told the story?
JS: I was influenced by BJ McConnell’s three music videos, which he wrote and directed for Slayer. I took the storyline that was established in the videos, using the character with the eye patch that I named Wyatt, and brought in a brother who he grew up with in Chicago: their parents were murdered and they were both raised by their neo-Nazi uncle. I created an entire backstory establishing his relationship with his girlfriend,
Angel, who dies. I wanted to show the difference between his hatredfilled upbringing and Angel’s family, which he grew to know through his love for her. CH: The comic is as abrasive as the music and the videos. As a director yourself, do you think it’s easier to tell the stories you want to tell without restriction on the page as opposed to on-screen?
JS: With comic books you have a limitless budget as well as an open palette to tell whatever kind of story you feel is necessary to tell, especially when you’re writing specifically for adults. I knew I wanted to incorporate Slayer’s music and lyrics and infuse that into the storyline as well as take a lot of the feelings and emotions that come from listening to 30 years’ worth of Slayer and bring that to life through certain
characters. Also, in comics, you literally have almost no people telling you what you can’t do – I was given complete creative control in writing this comic book and bringing the story to life, which is a lot different than working in the medium of television or film, where you’re weighing in a lot of decisions with writers and other producers. CH: You explore a lot of touchy topics such as racism and extreme violence. How important was this for you to do? Are there enough comics creators, filmmakers and TV shows doing the same?
JS: I think it’s very important to express your opinion in elevated situations such as graphic novels and comic books. I wanted to show the different worlds seen through these different characters as well as highlight the horror of pure hatred and the freedom of pure love – Wyatt and many of the characters live between these two worlds. The ability to showcase horrific violence and disturbing scenarios is only one of the tools which add deeper layers, by using comic books as a metaphor to tell a story that is steeped in our own history of abuse, racism and aggressive hatred of each other for being different. CH: Are there any other bands you’d like to collaborate with in this way in future? JS: I would love to write comic books and/or graphic novels for Amon Amarth, Mastodon and Behemoth. Coming up with visuals as I did for the band Deathlok as well as doing music videos for bands like Exitus and Pilgrim, I found it very exciting to be able to tell stories visually – the good oldfashioned way. By writing comic books I’m able to add dialogue and deeper messages baked into those visuals, and that’s what I look forward to delivering more of in the future.
CH: Do you have any plans to dip back into comics in future?
JS: I do. Comic books are one of the biggest and most important parts of my life. I absolutely love reading comic books, buying comic books and now writing comic books. I have two competing science fiction and horror comic books that I’m writing right now and plan on getting some artists together and either self-publishing them by raising money through crowd funding and/ or going to some independent comic book publishers to make these a reality. I also want to take a crack at writing the Batman, as well as one of my favourite cosmic teams, the Fantastic Four. I have barely cracked the surface of my future writing ambitions, so get ready, here comes the rocket!
Above: The three-part series features covers by Glenn Fabry evoking some of his memorable Vertigo work.