(Courtesy of Source Point Press)
Now available from from Source Point Press’ must-read catalog, Villain Media has an exclusive interview with writer Greg Wright about Holliston: Friendship is Tragic, his fun adaptation of the cult TV show. The beloved characters from the fan-favorite TV series are back to celebrate Halloween to the fullest.
As we mentioned in our review, the Holliston graphic novel is based on the cult TV show by Adam Green, but it’s not just for fans of the show. The basic idea of the standalone is that it’s like The Big Bang Theory, except for horror nerds. The story follows four friends who find a cursed credit card that threatens to destroy them, their friendship, and annihilate the town of Holliston itself.
Villain Media: Tell me how you became involved in Holliston: Friendship is Tragic.
Greg Wright: This collaboration came about as a very fortunate alignment of the universe for me. The idea for Holliston: Friendship Is Tragic as a story was pitched by Josh and Gary Sobek to Adam Green, via Source Point Press, and SPP editor Travis McIntire approached me to write the script after it was approved. This graphic novel has probably been my favorite piece of writing during the process, too. Honestly, I’ve been “researching” to write this graphic novel pretty much my entire life. It pulls together a lifetime of horror and science fiction references with a sense of fun and reverence. I hope that movie buffs get that sense when they read it, that kind of, “Oh, this person legitimately loves the same stuff I love.”
Likewise, I have to tell you that I had a lot of freedom during this process because I was able to bring so much failure to the table. Seriously! Over time, I’ve written so many things that have never “made it” into the wider world of readership; every creative person I know has experienced this process of things not quite working out on some percentage of their efforts. Because I kind of thought, “This comic might never get made,” I had as much fun as I could with the dialogue, characters, and situations. I figured I might never get to play in this toybox again, so I gave it my all. And, in the end, Adam Green loved it, and Steve Sharar and Josh Werner put their beautiful art-stuffs into it. For me, the final result is a joy to behold. I couldn’t be happier. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten this opportunity, and just holding the book in my hand is still pretty exciting.
VM: I originally saw Holliston back when the show was on Fearnet. How much research did you have to do for this adaptation?
CF: First and foremost, I wanted to be true to these characters. One of the great features about the TV show is that the cast of Holliston feels like your friends, like you know these people and want to hang out with them. I wanted to rewatch episodes again and again to get the rhythm of the humor and the dialogue without becoming too stuck in repeating what had come before. I love running gags, but I wanted to be sure I could venture out into new territory to figure out how these characters would talk about the different situations we were putting them through.
Also, I wanted to take what was in the show and kind of break it. I love the show (yes, really!), but I also wanted to see what kinds of tricks we could get away with because it was a comic book instead of a TV show. We essentially had an unlimited budget on visuals, so it was kind of like, “What can we get away with?” You get to see Joe Lynch’s character turn into a giant kaiju ape, and most of Holliston gets destroyed. Our beloved heroes are threatened by cursed objects, dinosaurs, and even…success. It was kind of like, “Hey, Adam Green, you know that show you made about your friends in your beloved Massachusetts hometown? We are going to wreck all of that.” Out of love, of course! I wanted to wreck it all out of love.
And the research in many ways goes back to well before I even knew I’d be writing this script. The DNA of countless horror movies, late-night sci-fi, and The Simpsons is hardwired into this thing. While it’s an adaptation, it also feels very personal to me. I think it helps that my sense of humor parallels Adam Green’s sense of humor, if I can even say that without sounding like a self-righteous tool.
VM: The narrative balances the humor with the horror. Tell me about the challenges of writing comedy in the horror genre.
GW: I’ve always been one to preach about how great it is when horror harmonizes with comedy, in everything from the Evil Dead movies to the Hatchet movies to the Scream movies. And Shaun of the Dead will always hold a special place in my heart. Call me ghoulish if you must, but I think the best reaction to most non-comedy horror movies is laughter, too. Sure, you can get nervous or scared or whatever, but it’s like a roller coaster. Afterwards, you can admit that you had fun and release some of that tension with laughter.
Moreover, I think there’s a decent amount of horror in most comedies, too. I remember as a little kid finding Monty Python and the Holy Grail kind of terrifying. Here are all these people getting murdered, and we’re supposed to laugh at it. And don’t get me wrong, I love that movie, too!
The challenges as I see them–in combining horror and comedy–lie in figuring out where the boundaries are. If you stretch things too far into either comedy or horror, the imbalance throws things off. At a fundamental level, you still have to care about the characters if the story is supposed to work at all. There are plenty of comedies that are joke machines or horror stories where the whole thing is just about delivering kills, but the difficulty is that the audience burns out fast because there are no stakes, no people to really care about. For me, anyway, the difficulty is in finding that sweet spot of readers finding the humor while still worrying about horrific consequences, all while maintaining that the readers should also still want the good guys to survive.
VM: Tell me how the pencils and inks of Stephen Sharar pushed your story to another level.
GW: Steve is an amazing artist. I kind of want to stop there. But I won’t! Seriously, I consider myself extremely fortunate to know an artist as talented and professional and fun to work with as Stephen Sharar. We work very well together, and we have collaborated now on two issues of Wild Bullets and two Holliston graphic novels. Plus, we have a project in development together called Hench-Man that I will talk a little bit more about shortly.
On a fundamental level, when Steve and I work together, it’s like we are trying to crack each other up. We’re pretty much just hanging out and telling jokes back and forth. It’s an ideal collaboration because he takes everything in the script and makes it funnier and more absurd, more visually dynamic. We challenge each other, and it’s awesome. Plus, I really hope that everybody thinks Steve’s clever decisions were something I wrote into the script.
Each step of this process adds another layer of entertainment. I put jokes and references into the script, then Stephen Sharar comes along and tosses in some more, and Joshua Werner adds even more. It’s wild, but yes, Josh who did the colors and letters put in even more Easter eggs for people to find. There’s a horror movie nerd purity to this thing that’s rare. We’re all trying to put flourishes in for oddballs like us to find. So find all of the hidden treasures in this book, kids! If you’re the first person to find all of them, you’ll win … absolutely nothing! (Ha ha, another joke!)
VM: Tell about the Easter Egg references to Stephen King and John Carpenter Movies. Was that a challenge coming up with all these pop culture references?
GW: I don’t know if this confession falls into horror or comedy, but these references show how my brain works pretty much all the time! Also, Steve and Josh had to do most of the heavy lifting.
For instance, there is a fight scene between Adam Green and Joe Lynch’s characters in an alleyway that’s an extended reference to the alley fight in John Carpenter’s They Live. I’m honestly not sure how many readers even “get” that it’s happening, or when they realize it if they do. I rewatched that scene a whole bunch when I was writing it, but Steve and Josh then recreated the blocking and lighting and everything. I basically gave them a homework assignment while I got to play hooky.
Pretty much, I got away with writing, “This page borrows heavily from They Live, and the visuals should reflect that,” and then I made them sweat it all out.
If I had my way, more entertainment would have references and layers like this Holliston graphic novel does. I get bored easily, so I want to make sure that my writing features plenty of entertainment value for my brothers and sisters out there with similarly short attention spans.
VM: Friendship is Tragic makes me want to go back to seeing the first season on DVD. Tell me about writing a story that has to work for fans of the show and new readers.
GW: Ooh, this part was the toughest aspect of writing the script for Holliston: Friendship is Tragic. I’ve heard it said that every comic book issue is somebody’s first issue, and I’ve really taken that to heart. I try to provide context clues at the beginning of the story for people to figure out who everyone is and how they relate to each other. But I also want to make sure that longtime fans of the show are not rolling their eyes, saying: “Yes, we know that Joe and Adam are friends. Get on with it!”
I have seen this delicate balance not achieved in stories, and it’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. I hate it when dialogue announces its intentions to recap like that, “Hello, dear brother, and how are you coping with your recent unemployment and divorce after fifteen years of marriage?” I want to walk the fine line of giving the wink and the nudge to fans, while still welcoming newbies into the tent.
So far, from what I’ve heard, the book achieves that balance. People who have never heard of Holliston still love it, and so do Adam Green superfans. Trust me, people, when I say that Holliston: Friendship is Tragic really is for YOU!
VM: How did this project change you as a storyteller?
GW: I am really glad you asked that question because too often the aspect of change gets overlooked! As a writer, I want to grow and develop with each project, no matter how big or small.I approached writing this script with a legitimate sense of fun as a fan, trying to ignore the nagging doubts about it being good enough or true to the characters or even becoming a finished book. And, at the other end of it, I now trust my instincts as a creator much more.
Like I said before, creating new things means a lot of hard work, failure, and rejection. I’ve built up ways to cope with these things over the years, or else I would have quit. But having my writing attached to a licensed property like Holliston (and then getting a second graphic novel out of the deal due to the first one’s success) is great validation. I’m proud of my other work (like Wild Bullets and Monstrous), but to have a script attached to established characters feels like a new level.
And the fact that this book has done very well opens new doors and possibilities for me, which is great! Creative projects take a tremendous amount of energy and momentum, but my projects now are a bit easier to get off the ground. Part of that is due to the lessons I’ve learned, and part of that is because nothing succeeds like success. Once you get a thing going, that can lead to other things. It’s sort of like: “Look, they let me do this thing, and I didn’t wreck it. Let me do another thing!”
I really want to stress this point for anyone out there plugging away at something they care about. It’s worth doing, and stick with it. Not for the money, not for the fame. Just because you care about it. Wherever you give up, that’s your limit. If you don’t give up, who knows where it will take you? At the very least, you get to keep doing the thing you care about. I know it might sound sappy or preachy, but it’s probably the truest thing I know.
VM: What are you working on now?
GW: I HAVE SO MANY THINGS! Whew, this is a terrific problem to have. First of all, there is another Holliston graphic novel on the way! It’s called Holliston: Carnival of Carnage, and fans can expect it to be out sometime before Halloween. The carnival comes to Holliston, and it brings with it freaks, zombies, and slightly more puke than a normal carnival.
Wild Bullets: Christmas is on the verge of a wide release. (I’ve only had limited copies in-person at comic cons.) This project is a pulp mash-up where each of the Bullet family takes a turn telling the story and a different artist takes over in a different style and genre. The Bullet family’s Thanksgiving was in the first comic, and the Christmas story has that same mix of pulp crime, sci-fi, adventure, and horror in a story about aliens, gangsters, and a timebomb under the Christmas tree. Make sure to buy enough copies for your entire dysfunctional family!
And, oh hey, I have two issues out right now (available immediately!) of a four-issue miniseries called Last Monster Standing with Erik Reichenbach. He’s a two-time Survivor contestant, which ties into the comic because giant monsters invade Tokyo and then get their own reality show. If you’ve ever wanted to see a giant robot lizard admit she’s “not here to make friends,” then this comic is for you.
Next, the characters Ken Lamug and I introduced in the first collection of Monstrous all come together for a four-issue arc called Monstrous: European Getaway. In it, a steam-powered cyborg is falsely accused of murdering Dr. Frankenstein, and our hero has to prove his innocence while escaping from bounty hunters, the law, and a demon cult trying to unleash the Ancient One. If that doesn’t sound cool to you, buy a bunch of copies to give to people you know who are cooler than you.
Also, I’m working on a one-shot with Scott Sackett called “Heaven’s Rejects,” which boils down to answering the question: “What if Charlie’s Angels were real angels?” There’s a ton of violence, swearing, and outrageous fun, featuring rampaging hellworms, a horny hipster succubus, and the Pope of Evil.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, I have another miniseries Hench-Man forthcoming with art by Stephen Sharar. This comic follows a freelance henchman who has kept his job a secret from his family, but the truth comes out when a team of assassins arrives to kill them all one Saturday morning. Then the henchman has to rebuild trust with his wife and kids while fending off cops, superheroes, and his fellow henchmen. Plus, his brother, the supervillain, might help him out, or he might be behind the attack…
I hope folks feel even a fraction of the excitement I have in talking about these projects. They are going to be a blast! Also, there are some fabulous and exciting things I’m working on right now that I can’t talk about yet. So stay tuned for updates on my website, Facebook, and Twitter:
[Writer’s Note: Links are Highlighted in bold.]