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INTERVIEW: Sam Costello, Creator Of Split Lip

Greetings and salutations, fans of the macabre! You may have had the chance to check out our review of Sam Costello‘s What Lies Inside: The 10th Anniversary Split Lip Hardcover not too long ago, and if you did, then you would know just how dangerously obsessed with it yours truly is! No seriously, I’ve been sleeping next to it for a few weeks now (accurate account of lifestyle of writer), which is why I was extremely excited to interview Costello about his work. Keep reading to see what he had to say!

AP2HYC: Ten years of Split Lip. What has changed for you since the very first issue?

Costello: Practically everything! Split Lip is published on a new software platform and on a different schedule. I’m at 3-5 conventions every year selling comics and books – things I didn’t use to do, respectively. I’ve become a better writer. Horror has become more popular and readers are more interested in the anthologies than they were in 2006 (a phenomenon that I credit a good deal to their popularity on Kickstarter).

All in all, there have been a lot of changes in ten years, and almost all of them good.

AP2HYC: What were some of your inspirations for Split Lip?

Costello: It all started with The Twilight Zone. I’ve loved The Twilight Zone for years, and have always enjoyed checking out the all-day marathons run on holidays on SyFy and other channels. In the early 2000s, I was watching one around Thanksgiving, I think. As the fourth or fifth episode started, I got to thinking about comics – which I had been thinking about writing, but hadn’t really started doing yet.

I thought it was so exciting to watch a show like The Twilight Zone, that could be so different each week, tackling different themes and tones and genres, while still reflecting the vision of primarily one creator (while a number of people besides Rod Serling wrote episodes, there’s no question the show is most closely associated with him).

There have been lots of other influences on themes and tone and execution, but without The Twilight Zone, Split Lip would look profoundly different – if it existed at all.

AP2HYC: In many of your stories you tackle some heavy subject matter. Would you say this more often comes as a result of personal experiences, the world in general, or a bit of both?

Costello: A mixture of both, though nothing in my life has ever been as heavy or intense or dark as a Split Lip story. Most of the darkness either comes from my imagination or from the world. Still, a lot of the stories originate from a kernel of an idea, or insight or experience drawn from my life

A few examples; “Lone and Level” was a reminder that money can’t solve all problems. “In Another Room” came out of news coverage of Extraordinary Rendition, the War on Terror-era practice of the U.S. kidnapping suspected terrorists and taking them to other countries to be interrogated/tortured. It struck me that having a family member taken that way was pretty similar to a supernatural occurrence.

Doll’s House” didn’t happen to me, but the setting for the story – the woods, the sculptures in them, the little houses – are real and were a short walk from my family’s house in Western Massachusetts.

AP2HYC: You have worked with some incredibly talented artists on Split Lip over the years. Tell us a bit about the collaborative process that goes into creating these stories.

Costello: It differs by artist, really, since every artist likes to work slightly differently. Some take my script and weeks or months later send me finished pages, with no conversation in between. Others like to send sketches and talk on the phone. Some like to really dig into the motivations for the characters and suggest changes to the stories based on them. Others want to work from no script at all, and take my notes and break them down into panels and pages on their own.

Discovering the varieties of ways artists like to work is part of what makes doing an anthology so much fun for me.

AP2HYC: The eclectic mix of artists featured in Split Lip spans the globe. How did you wind up working with some of the artists?

Costello: It all comes down to asking. Of course there are artists I’ve wanted to work with who haven’t had time of who have turned me down, but it’s surprising how far a good, solid email (and a professional website, and offering a page-rate, and 10 years of track record, etc.) will go. Some artists I email cold, having just seen their work. Some I meet at conventions. Others are introduced to me by other artists I’ve worked with. One was even a neighbor.


AP2HYC: What are some of the stories you have done that you are most proud of?

Costello: There are things I like about every story, but a few that come to mind in particular are “Lone and Level,” which I forced myself to write a true ending to, rather than ending on a cliffhanger of a too ambiguous note; “Unsub” – the subdued tone contrasts the high-pitched horror of the plot, and “Termites in Your Smile;” some people find it too obtuse or confusing, but it’s exactly the amount of subtlety I wanted. Everything you need to understand the story is in it and I like that it’s not too close to the surface.

AP2HYC: For the 10th anniversary hardcover of Split Lip some of the stories have been “remastered.” Explain the process of remastering comics.

Costello: In this case, the remastering has taken two forms: relettering and re-exporting pages at a higher resolution; and completely retoning and relettering. For the first set of stories, I went back to the original pages that the artists sent to me and resized them and resaved them. I then relettered them in Illustrator. I’m a much better letterer than I was 5 or 10 years ago, so improving the lettering really improved those stories. I think re-exporting them had a better quality.

In one case, “Last Caress,” the transformation was more profound. The artist, Doug Draper, took the original pages and added a whole new layer of graytones. The original story was just black and white, but Doug added a ton of new texture and depth with his grays. He also completely relettered it. It lookes like a new comic. The original was really good; this version is spectacular.

AP2HYC: What themes or fears would you like to explore in future installments of Split Lip?

Costello: Looking at my notes for upcoming stories, a few of the themes that stick out to me include: fears relating to eating and bodies; horror as a metaphor for post-traumatic stress; the way that second guessing yourself can undermine the past; hidden family truths; parental neglect; the urge to give up on the world and let it destroy itself; the horror of history.

AP2HYC: Split Lip continues to receive critical praise. What’s next for you as a writer?

Costello: My immediate future in comics is two-fold: first is getting back to writing. I’ve had a few pretty major events in my life this year that took up most of my spare time and energy. Nothing bad, luckily, but dominant nonetheless. I’ve been making notes for about a dozen stories and a handful of very long ones. I want to get back to writing them and get new stories onto the Split Lip site.

The second  is to run another Kickstarter to fund What Lies Inside: 10th Anniversary Split Lip Collection. The first Kickstarter, which ended in early July came close to getting funded – it hit 82%, I think – but didn’t quite make it. I’d never done a Kickstarter before and learned a tremendous amount. I’ll be bringing the campaign back in the fall to coincide with Split Lip‘s true 10th anniversary. I’ll have new goals, new rewards, new pricing, a better promotions strategy, and more. I think both the people who supported the first campaign – thank you all! –  and new people discovering it for the first time will really like it.

AP2HYC: What are some of your favorite horror stories and comics of all time?

Costello: Horror stories: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates; Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; The Books of Blood by Clive Barker; “So Much Water, So Close to Home” by Raymond Carver; “The Farm, The Gold, The Lily-White Hands” by Dan Chaon. There are, of course, a ton of things by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and others that could go on this list too.

Comics: The InvisiblesWatchmen; Black Hole; anything by Emily Carroll and Josh Simmons and Junji Ito; Ultra-Gash Inferno by Suehiro Maruo; Pluto by Naoki Urasawa; Swamp Thing by Alan Moore; Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben. I could add Kazuo Umezu, Pope, the EC (EC Comics) artists, Sandman (Neil Gaiman), and many more here.

AP2HYC: Thanks Sam!

Well kids that about wraps it up for our interview with Sam Costello. For even more Split Lip action, check out the official website here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you haven’t read this comic, go do it. You will not be disappointed.




About the author

Robert Porter