On Kagemono

My first published comics were anthologies: One More Bullet and Rockstar Pizza. They were a mixed bag of whatever I had written at the time–I write in whatever genre takes my fancy on a given day, and the anthologies reflected that. Autobiography, travel, science fiction, horror, war stories, comedy–whatever I felt like doing and could hustle some poor artist into drawing. Hard Words, which followed those two books, was presented in the same spirit, except for that book I asked a group of my writer friends to contribute. It was through Hard Words that I first met Yuriko Sekine, who would later become my wife.

I loved doing those books, but people complained that they didn’t understand: why was all of this disparate material together in the same book?

Kagemono was my answer to that. The title is Japanese for ‘Shadow Things’, which I decided was a cool name for a horror anthology, and indeed that was what I decided to focus on: horror stories. I’ve some about this at length inside the books, but my definition of horror is extremely inclusive. Kagemono was filled with  everything from supernatural to splatter, dark fantasy,  crime, science fiction and black comedy. Horror is an emotion before it’s a genre.

I had a definite vision for Kagemono. I didn’t want to do the same old homage to the EC and Eerie books of the fifties and sixties. I didn’t want to do the traditional monsters. I didn’t want to do traditional anything. I wanted to do new, subversive stories. I wanted twists that would genuinely surprise people; I wanted situations that would evoke genuine horror, rather than servicing the tired old tropes: the dripping tap, the unexpected cat, the vampire who LIVES.

At the time I was unhappy with how infrequently I was putting out books and I decided that I would just generate as much material for Kagemono as I could and publish it as often as I had the minimum 22 pages worth to make up a single issue. This would give me a more frequent product and would, to an extent, alleviate the deadline woes that plagued my other books. I did two issues like that. There were stories by other writers in those early Kagemono issues, but mostly it was my own work, following my original intention. Yuriko drew stories for me in every Kagemono publication.

When I started Kagemono, I was hoping to do three-five issues and then move on. I never reckoned that other writers would want to be a part of it.

I didn’t exactly open up for submissions, but I agreed to read stories from people I knew or from creators who were recommended to me. I agreed to take on these stories, provided that I was allowed to edit the scripts and that I would be involved in the artist selection. At that time, anthologies that were properly script-edited were rare in Australia.

Kagemono #3 was growing huge, and at some point I realized it was big enough to do as a trade paperback. So I delayed the release and the ever-growing Kagemono #3 morphed into Kagemono: Tooth and Claw. But with the expanded size the deadline woes returned with a vengeance. In the end we rushed the book out and numerous typos slipped through. Still, I thought it was a terrific book and I was proud as hell of it.

Tooth and Claw  was equivalent to having done five issues of Kagemono.  I was ready to leave it there.

But people liked it. Writers told me they had stories ready for when I was ready to do the next one. Artists wanted to draw for it. I decided to tee it up, and Kagemono: Flowers and Skulls was the result. Almost twice as big as Tooth and Claw, the final Kagemono was created by a really diverse crew of writers and artists, from never-before-published Gerard Dwyer to Australian indie scene veterans like Bernard Caleo to guys with Marvel and DC credits, like Christopher Sequeira, Russell Lissau and Steve Horton. Flowers and Skulls was a big, fat, beautiful book full of killer original stories and it still surprises me that we were able to pull that off.

I loved doing those books and I’m really proud of what we achieved. I’d like to do more of them, but at this point in my career I need to focus more on my own private, longer-form projects and I just don’t have the time. I do want to collect those first Kagemono issues not a single volume, together with some other bits and pieces, when I have the time and the budget for it. But, a new one? Not any time soon.

There are now a lot more anthologies from other Australian publishers in which people can and do collect this kind of material: the perennial Decay from Dark Oz, the Beginnings Anthology, FEC Comics’ recent Fireside Tales, Neville Howard and Moray Rhoda’s Velocity, Dale Maccanti’s upcoming Ink Tales… the emphases are a bit different for each one, but I don’t think there’s a need for Kagemono right now. Maybe some day.

Ask me again next year.

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