I had a chance to chat with Jesse Blaze Snider about his newest comic endeavor, a revamp of the classic ’90’s horror comic Evil Ernie. The iconic character, known more for his look and his talking smiley face button than the actual storyline, is getting a major overhaul with it’s new license owner, Dynamite Entertainment. Jesse Snider (son of Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and Holliston fame) took some time to talk with us about the comic. And after reading the first two issues, this is definitely a comic I think you will dig.
How did you get involved in the Evil Ernie project and with the publisher, Dynamite Entertainment?
Dynamite has been wanting to work with me for a while and Alex Ross and Nick Barrucci read the whole comic that I worked on for Marvel and they wanted to work with me on a project that went on hiatus and I was waiting to hear from them about what they wanted to do. And while I was waiting for them I heard that they had acquired the rights to all the Chaos characters - minus Lady Death.
I was never a big fan of the Chaos books, they were always style over substance, written by the seat of their pants which was just the nature of the company. Which had its charms, but I was the type of reader who followed writers. And Evil Ernie and Lady Death were a lot of cheesecake, it was a lot of shock and gore and art. So I always had a hard time getting into those characters even though I had a real soft spot for them. When I heard that Dynamite owned the characters I thought “They can’t do what they did before, it will not work now.” What worked in the 90’s does not work today and for all the reasons that I didn’t gravitate toward the Chaos comics at that time are all the reasons they won’t function today as what they were. But I think I know how to set them up for the modern way. I can set them up in a way that will satisfy the readers and satisfy those who felt that there was something really missing from those books from back in the day.
So I immediately wrote up a pitch for Evil Ernie for Dynamite and I sent it their way. And they weren’t really sure what to do with the character, and with the line in general, and I think they pretty quickly saw that I had in inkling of what might work. And so far so good! It’s working so far.
It seems with this new approach to Evil Ernie that you’re giving the characters more substance, more legs to walk on.
It’s respect. And respect tends to be just taking something seriously. There’s things to not be taken seriously. In general our book is very self-aware. There’s a lot of ironic bits to it because you can’t avoid the fact that we’ve got this teenage zombie in a leather jacket with a talking smiley face button on his lapel. If you don’t acknowledge that that’s a little ridiculous your readers aren’t going to buy into everything else you’re selling. It’s like trying to sell them a broken car and you’re saying it’s not broken. We’re saying no, no, no, it is that. It is smiley button. It is zombie guy. But all the more reason to take it seriously. And people are responding to that.
What was the overall goal of revamping the comic?
I think we succeeded in what we set out to do which was to pay complete respect to what had come before but really organize it into a rules system. That’s the biggest thing. If there’s no rules while you[re dealing with the supernatural and magic and all this stuff, then you can do whatever you want and there’s no sense of danger, there’s no sense of anything. Because you know that anything could happen on the turn of a page. So it was very important to ground this in reality as much as I can while putting some rules on it. We’ve applied Dante’s Inferno in a big way to our heaven and hell structure. We’re trying to put as many blocks in place so it’s not this simple do-whatever-the-hell-you-want kind of thing. We actually have to figure out, within the rules we set up, how to achieve the things we want story-wise.
The original comic, especially towards its end, dealt with big themes of mass destruction and devastation. Are those themes that interest you in working with Evil Ernie again?
The devastation thing, there’s a lot of levels of devastation. Our opening origin story - there’s going to be devastation but by the end of the first arc it’s going to be Ernie who’s devastated. It’s really important when you have a character like Ernie who can survive anything, who is undead, the stakes for your average human is life and death. But really the most horrible pain you can experience isn’t life and death, it’s losing somebody. It’s experiencing that from the other side. Not actually being dead, that’s something that’s survivable: you’re dead, there you go. You don’t even know it happened, you’re dead. But somebody dies that I loved? Oh that’s horrible. That’s a story. That’s drama. For me, Ernie is ultimately a story about a kid learning that the world was really not as black-and-white as he thought it was and learning about it in ways that really break his soul and his spirit. Where he thought it was a good and evil sort of world and then he starts to see all the different shades of gray. It’s a really existential, internal sort of crisis that can’t be measured like “oh man, look Ernie got killed! Oh look he’s back again!” It’s way more important that he suffers in these really small ways, not the big ways.
How is the 1991 Evil Ernie different from what a 2012 Ernie has to be?
Back then there was no cohesiveness. I mean, there was, it was cohesive in that it was all kind of sloppy. But this is the reverse. This is not sloppy. This is very concise, very well thought out. This is the slow build with everything. I know where I’m going with this story in ten years, if we last that long. And the Chaos people, I’m sure they had no idea. They took turns all the time. They changed their mind. They went in different directions.
Has the world of Evil Ernie changed in your take on the comic?
The Chaos universe is our universe. This is Earth. And on Earth, the good die young. Why is that? Evil Ernie’s story is trying to explain that. Basically, the good die young because that’s the way heaven and God want it. They’ve built a system. It works the way it works, and it works for them. The good die young heaven’s armies are nice and full with all these young souls. And it keeps hell at bay, and hell can never overtake heaven, and the balance of prayer is achieved and that’s it. God doens’t have to get involved in any of the everyday things that go on on Earth. It works. He’s not watching, he’s off doing whatever he’s doing, not having anything to do with Earth because it’s doing what it should be doing. So if that’s true, and there are these other hellish forces, they are taking God’s absence to get their own plans going, and in this instance it’s creating Evil Ernie, who is a one-man recruitment drive for hell. Because if Ernie’s off on Earth and killing all these evil people, then hell’s armies are growing and pretty soon they’ll be able to overtake heaven.
Finally, let’s talk about Smiley. Evil Ernie’s companion portrayed as a smiley face button pinned to the lapel of his leather jacket. Do you enjoy writing Smiley or do you feel he’s a character that’s chained to the franchise?
My Smiley makes perfectly good sense. In the first two issues you only see hints of who Smiley really is, but I can tell you right now he’s not the reincarnation of Ernie’s pet rat (the original, Chaos Comics explanation of the button-buddy - Editor’s Note). When you finally understand who Smiley is, what his function is, why he’s a part of the story in the first place, his part will become abundantly clear. One of my main goals in getting this thing off the ground was to rework Smiley and Ernie’s story as a pair. Because the Smiley backstory was just ridiculously stupid.
I feel this way about comics a lot. An example I bring up a lot is a Punisher series written by Garth Ennis called Punisher: Born, (where Punisher is explained to have been kill-crazy all along, and that he used the death of his family as an excuse to go on killing sprees - Editor’s Note) that destroyed the character for me. What Punisher represented to me and what Punisher represented to Garth Ennis were two totally different things. And I just had to say “You know what? This never happened.” And I did the same thing with Smiley’s backstory. He’s important to Ernie, he should be important in the larger context of the story. And in our new story, without Smiley, there’s pretty much no Ernie.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Yeah, check me out, if you want to hear more about Ernie, follow me on twitter @TweetJesse. The first two issues of the book are out now, and we’re on the verge of selling out the first issue. So if you’re into it, try and seek out an issue!