Splatterpunk pioneer John Skipp has succeeded as both a writer and filmmaker for the past thirty years, publishing twenty-one books and editing the 2006 Stoker Award-winning anthology Mondo Zombie as well as writing such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Class of 1999. In the interview after the jump, fellow Stoker winner Lisa Morton speaks with Skipp – who was just appointed editorial director of the new horror/thriller e-publishing imprint Ravenous Shadows and is responsible for launching a new line of genre book titles this fall -- about projects, past, present and future.
You're one of horror's true renaissance mutants (from your own description) -- author, editor, filmmaker, musician -- and you've been around the scene for thirty years. Is there anything you haven't done yet that you still want to try? Maybe painting, poetry, or...?
Well, I still haven't completed a feature film as writer/director/producer, so that's the big one. I want to make a lot of movies before I die. And I'd love to record and release some music that people might enjoy.
Past that, I never learned how to whistle, or play jazz piano. And I have still never sunk the eight ball on the break. (laughs) These are the critical challenges of life.
I thought The Long Last Call was a great book, and I know it was based on a screenplay. Do you have other screenplays waiting in the wings that you might adapt one day to novel form?
Oh, absolutely. Jake's Wake (with Cody Goodfellow) was one, too. I'm doing Rose right now, as a solo novel for Eraserhead Press. Cemetery Dance (CD) has a story from it in an upcoming collection. The story's called "Rose Goes Shopping," and it's a corker.
That said, CD is publishing a collection called Sick Chick Flicks, which contains three as-yet-unproduced fem-o-centric kickass screenplays (including Rose) that I wrote during "the lost years."
I'm excited about this, because I made it a point to make these screenplays fun to read, and very clear as to the movie-in-your-head you're supposed to be seeing.
I may wind up writing the other two as books, as well. But frankly, I'd just rather make the movies.
When you co-edited (with Craig Spector) Book of the Dead -- which I think really started the zombie literature phenomenon -- did you have any inkling that zombies would become the superstars they are today? And would you ever edit another zombie anthology?
I always thought zombies were superstars, from the moment I first saw Night of the Living Dead. I was amazed that no literature for them existed, in their modern form.
So then one day, we got a call from George fucking Romero, who wanted to direct our first novel, The Light at the End. And in the course of talking to this guy, who remains one of my heroes, I got this stoned flash.
So I said, "George? We know all these great horror writers, who love what you've done almost as much as I do. What if we got a bunch of them to write original stories set in the world you've created, where the dead are getting up to eat the living? Unleash their genius, and just kick ass all over the place?"
George said, "I honestly don't think anybody'd give a shit. But if you don't use any characters or scenes from the movies, you won't get sued. And if you pull it off, I'll eat my hat."
George says he ate a Steelers cap with spaghetti sauce on it, but I remain skeptical. (laughs)
So yeah, Book of the Dead was flat-out the beginning of modern zombie literature, with amazing writers pioneering the parameters, and literally inventing on the spot a subgenre that did not exist before.
And for three anthologies (Still Dead and Mondo Zombie followed), I got to help set the standard for what great zombie fiction might be. A lot of ground-breaking shit was written in that phase. Much of which still stands up amongst the best.
That's why it was incredibly cool when Black Dog and Leventhal asked me to do a jumbo 700-page "Greatest Hits" anthology called Zombies: Encounters With the Hungry Dead. Which is starting to be actually taught in classrooms. And may be my final statement on the subject, as an anthologist. Although you never know.
You've done very well as editor of a recent series of themed horror anthologies (Zombies: Encounters With the Hungry Dead, Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters With the Beasts Within, and, forthcoming on September 21, Demons: Encounters With the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed). Can we look forward to more in this series? (Surely a Vampires: Encounters with Non-Sparkly Bloodsuckers must be coming up?)
Black Dog already has an excellent vampire book, edited by David J. Skal (Vampires: Encounters with the Undead). So I won't be going back there. But yeah, we'll be doing more. Editing these books is one of the great joys of my life.
It's like erecting a series of monuments. They have that kind of heft. They feel like they might survive the ages. Did I mention I love those books? (laughs)
You've had multi-book collaborations with both Craig Spector and Cody Goodfellow -- what is it about the process of collaboration that appeals to you? How does it compare with writing solo?
Don't forget Marc Levinthal, with whom I'm now in the plotting stages of a sequel to The Emerald Burrito of Oz. I've got three major literary collaborators so far. All of them rewarding.
The thing is, actual writing is a solitary affair. But it's fun to have someone to play with. That's why I love film, and why I love music. PEOPLE TO PLAY WITH! Life's funner than way.
You also get input and insights you would not have on your own. If the other person loves researching shit outside of your purview, all the better. Not to mention the fact that the other person is theoretically writing roughly 50% of the pages.
And writing big fat novels is a lot of fucking work. Short novels, I can handle on my own. Long novels? I want help!
From chats we've had in the past, I can safely say you know more about obscure horror and exploitation cinema than almost anyone I've ever met, and that includes people who have written books on the subject. So how ‘bout it -- will we get some Skipp non-fiction in the future?
Well, my book Stupography covered a lot of ground. I wrote the liner notes for the long-awaited DVD release of An American Hippie in Israel, which I just can't wait for. I've recently published pieces on Repo Man, The Hills Run Red, and Twitch of the Death Nerve.
If somebody paid me to write about my favorite films, in a book-length analysis, that's a gig I would probably take. I love writing about things I love. And God, do I love movies.