Artist Alison Sampson steers through the road trip horrors of Winnebago Graveyard

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Apr 29, 2019, 6:11 AM EDT (Updated)

Is there any moment more terrifying than when your parent threatens to turn the car around after your younger sibling pushes your buttons one too many times?

Okay, maybe there are scarier things than that, but nevertheless it's a well-known fact that summer road trips can be the stuff of nightmares. And that nightmare fuel is what's in the tank of Image Comics' latest horror hit, Winnebago Graveyard.

The first issue, now on sale, introduced readers to a grumpy 13-year-old boy named Bobby, his mom Christie and his stepdad Dan, who are on a road trip across the southwestern United States when they decide to take a detour to check out a local carnival. Upon their return, however, they find their camper has been stolen and are forced to walk to a nearby town, where things begin to go horribly — and hellishly — wrong for the family as they get mixed up in a plot involving cults, carnivals and perhaps even a blood sacrifice or two.

If you're any kind of horror fan, I highly suggest picking up the first issue next time you're in a comic shop; I got to read the first two issues, and it feels like a horror classic in the making. It's timeless, fast-paced, tense and darkly beautiful. Not only that, you also get more bang for your buck with back matter like essays and pinups.

This is all thanks to the work of series artist and designer Alison Sampson, who was kind enough to answer our questions about the series. She discusses her process, her background as an architect, working with legendary 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles, making the story her own and more.

Plus, she shared an exclusive four-page look at issue #2, which arrives in stores July 19.

Be sure to let us know what you think — and share your own road trip horror stories — in the comments below!

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The thing that struck me most about the first issue is the dad's insistence to put the cellphones away for some "just us" time at the carnival, and how it brings up a bit of a generational difference in how scary or refreshing being completely cut off from the outside world might be. Is that an important theme for the series?

Alison Sampson: What people are like when they are put under stress in a claustrophobic environment is a theme. In fact, this is a theme of a lot of Steve's work (30 Days of Night, anyone?). The losing of the phone not only adds to the isolation but also to the sense of grievance Bobby might have towards his new stepdad. Who knows how that might play out? I think Steve thinks very carefully about his script, and more than one thing is happening here. It opens cracks in the relationships — it is a set-up in so many ways.

I like the moments, like on the first page of issue two, where the perspective becomes subtly warped, in a "funhouse mirror" fashion. Have there been any artistic techniques you've used in this series that you hadn't experimented with before or found a new use for in horror?

Thank you! I do use Sketchup for some things, sometimes. When you have a lot of vehicles, if you try to twist the perspective it does not work, and the model is useful for just keeping the panels with many vehicles looking readable. I'm also inking "with a heavy hand," almost dropping the brush on the work. That was a conscious decision for this series, to give it a brutal and dirty look. When you are showing a situation at night, you might choose to ink differently than you would for daylight (can't say more as spoilers).

[Winnebago Graveyard] is actually more realistic than my previous Image book, as it is set in the (or a?) real world — the American Southwest. But I only really use "true" perspective when there is a reason for it, and the funhouse mirror effect may be more widespread — I just don't know if you would see it — for the following reason. I don't think people see in a true perspective way — that way of drawing is super static as it comes from a single point only. So what I draw is hopefully closer to what people actually might see, or think they see. So this is less a new technique — you'll see it in all my work. The people are there and the world revolves around them. But sometimes not. Winnebagos have a geometric logic of their own.

The color palette of this series is very unique, feeling both oppressively dark and feverishly hot at times. How much direction did you give to colorist Stéphane Paitreau for the look of the series?

We started by looking at each other's complete work, and I identified which bits and what I liked about Stef's work, and he looked at mine. He did a sample page which condensed his approach, and I could see how he worked. After that I gave/give him (at his request) page-by-page notes, marking on the art what we are trying to achieve, mood and time of day, light sources, masses, any specific colors, ethnicity of the people (Chrissie is Asian-American, Dan has olive skin, is maybe Spanish, Deacon is Pakistani-Scottish etc.), other structural details like that, and leave him to it. The pages come back and they are great. There's no notes.

I read that you have a background in architecture. What made you want to explore the world of comics? Were you a comic book fan growing up?

I read 2000AD from when it started (I was far too young for it) into my teens and then stopped. I actually did make a comic for part of my architecture course, but the course pretty much directed us away from commercial and contemporary art — that's not where architectural education resides, as it is supposed to be less ephemeral. So there was a long gap and I missed out on the explosion of UK comics and Vertigo that occurred just after. I didn't know anything about it until I started watching Marvel films perhaps 20 years later. I sought out a comic and here we are.

I like comics because they give structure to art and give me all the reins. I'm making something and it is mine. Despite more than 25 years of architecture practice on award-winning buildings, I've never had a personal credit, as that's not respecting the team. So this is quite a big deal to me.

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What is your process like for drawing a page? Are you working digitally or with traditional tools?

I go through the script, do thumbnails on the script pages, layouts, pencils, inks (all traditional, but inking on blue lines). There's nothing odd about my process except to say I do really quick thumbnails and then do layouts (on layout paper!) at print size. The bigger the art is, the better it is for composition. I also do a lot of composition on the page — I don't really try to envisage the art, as to me that's a bit pointless.

What has collaborating with Steve Niles been like? He obviously knows his way around a horror story, but he also seems to have given you plenty of room to make this story your own.

It has been great. I can just totally rely on Steve to deliver a compelling story, and that gives a foundation to build on. He made a concise script, and I've made the comic (as well as making the art and being a hub within the team, I also art direct and design the book, manage and coordinate the project, make all the other materials like posters and prints, bring in collaborators, commission/make/assemble/pay for the back matter and covers, market the books and approve everything for print pretty much on my own). That follows the Image ethos that we deliver the whole book. I mention this as I want to see the comic as a "thing" — it is more to the reader than just the story pages, and I want to design and build the thing, where Steve wants to write. A clear division of labour makes for easy working.

This story is very rooted in Americana imagery. Being a London-based artist, did you feel you brought a different perspective to it than Steve?

Inevitably, as I'm not Steve, although I think we are on the same page with what we are trying to do — we may not be close in geography, but we are relatively close in age and were both brought up in the 1970s. The work of making the actual comic (Steve made the script) is all mine, and hence I have to derive all of it personally. Looking at 1970s horror films was a familiar touchstone for both of us, and inevitably we drew on that in a general sense. Also, I did go out and visit Steve, and he and his awesome wife Monica hosted me. They took me to see the place where the book is set, so I hope we leveled up on that. As an architect we should have an eye for setting, regionality, what we want to draw, and so on. Sometimes the idea of a place is more useful than the reality.

The fact is, a good part of the book is not set in Southern California, but elsewhere, some of which I've made up entirely. I'm a professional designer of environments—it is my job to create convincing worlds. I like the graphic nature of Americana, and I like drawing it, the stripes and the lettering and so on. Like with the perspective, if I can convince you the world I've drawn is more real to you than me and give you a sense of Americana/place/atmosphere/whatever, which I seem to have done, then I'm winning.

Are there any characters in this series that you relate to more than the others?

I'm actually in it somewhere — people who know me IRL know where. Possibly, possibly not to the main characters — they are usually based on other people that I know, with full lives. I feel I've traveled alongside them and I've listened to the same country music on the van radio. I know them quite well, mostly. We do also have a camper van, so I know what it is like.

Without spoiling anything, what are you most excited for readers to experience in upcoming issues of the series?

When Chrissie loses it.

Winnebago Graveyard #2 is on sale July 19 from Image Comics. Cover art by Alison Sampson and Jordie Bellaire with a variant cover by David Rubin. Interior art by Alison Sampson and Stéphane Paitreau.