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SYFY WIRE Interviews

John Carpenter takes on the Joker: He's a 'sick piece of s**t'

By Dana Forsythe
Joker: Year of the Villain (Jock variant)

With his work on films such as The Fog, Halloween, They Live, The Thing, and Christine, John Carpenter has lived up to his reputation as a master of horror. Now he's set to take on one of the most terrifying villains in the comic book world, the Joker. As part of DC Comics' Year of the Villain crossover series this month, Carpenter and collaborator Anthony Burch wrote the Joker: Year of the Villain one-shot, which is due out on October 9.

Carpenter tells SYFY WIRE that writing the Joker was a kind of dream come true, even if it wasn't really on his radar when he started working on his own comic books a few years back. While Carpenter enjoyed reading comics in his youth, he wasn't really interested in writing or creating comic books until his wife and longtime collaborator Sandy King Carpenter talked him into the idea several years ago. Out of that conversation came Storm King Comics, which was established in 2012, and since, the filmmaker and musician has added another medium to his resume.

In the last seven years, Carpenter has worked on several books, including the horror comic Asylum (which is on hiatus) and Tales for a Halloween Night for Storm King. He's worked for other publishers, as well, including last year's Old Man Jack for Boom! Studios, which saw him return to one of his most famous characters, Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China.

Now he's moved on to the DC Universe, which is in a bit of in-world turmoil. Lex Luthor has asked the world to "embrace doom and give in once and for all to evil, humanity's true nature." In Carpenter's book, the Joker, who has never been one to be outdone, goes on a mission to "out-bad" everybody else.

Here Carpenter talks about his entrance into the comic book world, taking on one of his favorite villains, and what his (surprising) favorite comic book growing up was.

Joker: Year of the Villain (variant)

Can you tell me a bit about how you got into comic books in the first place?

I was a comic book fan when I was younger, and I was a big fan of Uncle Scrooge and Mickey Mouse comic books. I loved them, and they had some elaborate stories in there. I'd have to say they're still my favorite. There's one with Uncle Scrooge and Parsnip Pudding, and I just remember it being really funny. I just liked their sense of humor, the way they were drawn, and they had a fun point of view.

When I was a little older, I got into superheroes a little bit. Batman, especially, because Batman was kind of the best superhero. Then Marvel was fun. It was well-drawn, interesting, and full of outsider superheroes. It was on the fringe. I wasn't a collector exactly, but I did read a lot.

Sandy King Carpenter, your wife, really got you started creating comic books with the creation of Storm King, right?

That's exactly right. It was her instigation, and I just went along for the ride. [Creating comic books] is a very interesting process and very different than movies. Comic books come to life [with] several people involved: pencilers, inkers, letterers, and all. All these processes bringing the idea to life. It's really interesting.

It wasn't something [I was] interested in creatively, but I got that way and here we are, running a little mom and pop comic book.

Joker: Year of the Villain (variant)

Can you describe the process of writing a comic book versus a film? Seems like it would be like writing a distilled version.

It is a little bit, but the narrative is different. It has its own limitations, just like a movie does. But it's similar in some ways. I take the rules for what they are and just invent little stories.

Can you talk a bit about how you got the Joker book?

Well, I have to back up a bit. I was working for Boom! [Studios] on Old Man Jack. That project involved Anthony Burch, who is a writer also. Anthony is one of the most inventive writers I've ever worked with. We did that together and I was very happy with it. Anthony does most of the work. I'm kind of the girl on the parade float waving "hello."

DC had heard about Old Man Jack and called me up and invited me to do a one-shot Joker book. This is the Year of the Villain or some business like that, so immediately I thought of Anthony and asked if he had any interest. He was really excited when I called him about it and immediately jumped aboard. He hasn't stepped into the comic world a whole lot either.

But it's a really weird comic and I'm happy with it.

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Can you tease a bit of the story?

Well, I don't want to talk about it too much, but the Joker has become a little bored with things. He's gotta change everything up. The Joker is an amazing villain, so we wanted to take him in a little different direction.

What do you like about writing the Joker?

He's a sick piece of s**t, you know. He's a sick villain, and even though he feels a need to do this kind of stupid stuff, underneath he's a vicious piece of trash. I don't know what it is, but there's something really appealing about that [laughs].

Are there any other Big-2 characters you'd like to write in the future?

Not particularly. I'm not looking to be a comic book writer, but this was an opportunity I just had to take.

Lastly, can you tease a bit about Storm Kids, Storm King's upcoming kid-friendly horror imprint?

Well, it's my wife's idea, but she thought it would be fun to skew horror comics to young adults, as opposed to horror fans. It's kind of a starter kit of sorts. I guess Fredric Wertham was right in the Seduction of the Innocent: We'll start you out with Storm Kids and then drag you into the horror.