Smash Pages Q&A: Beukes and Halvorsen on Vertigo’s ‘Survivors’ Club’

In Survivors’ Club, writers Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen and artist Ryan Kelly set up a very modern story about the child protagonists of 1980s horror movies. It begins with a meeting of six people, each of whom had a horrific experience in 1987. Chenzira, who called the group together, played a video game that created a catastrophe and is finding evidence that the game is making a comeback. This is the first clue that the dark forces of the past are returning to the present, and the six main characters of this book, the only survivors of the horrors of 1987, are being drawn together not just to solve the mysteries of their past but also to face a new threat in the present day.

strBrigid Alverson: You have described Survivors’ Club as sort of a “what happened next” to the protagonists of the great horror films of the 1980s. How did you decide which tropes and characters to use, and how did you refine them to make them work together into a unified story?

Halvorsen: We wanted each character to be representative of a genre of horror: slasher, J-horror, haunted house, creepy neighbor, cursed artefact, gates of hell. You don’t often get to see these interacting, like, Freddy vs Exorcist, for example. That’s what interested us, how we could play around with this.

Beukes: I think we’re both big fans of the mash-up and I’m known for genre-blending in my novels. It makes things fresh and interesting and subversive. We looked at what films we loved and how we could match up those different genres with our characters; what would suit them, what would be hideously uncomfortable for them.

Given that horror films are your biggest influence here, what parts of the story are pure Lauren and Dale—what makes it unique to you as a creative team?

Halvorsen: We both share a love of horror films. Lauren is more of a horror connoisseur, but I’ll watch anything. Part of what I bring to the storytelling is my encyclopedic bad film appreciation, throwing in suggestions from Basket Case or EvilSpeak.

Beukes: I don’t think you can separate us out. Our brains have commingled into one evil story-telling sentience. We riff off each other, the collaboration becomes play. We act out dialogue or stage block action. Dale says I’m the dialogue queen, but I can tell you that the wittiest and punniest lines are all him. I sometimes have to rein him in.

I’ve really been enjoying the collaboration and the way our minds work together. We’re always leveling up. It’s very different to the loneliness of solo novel writing.

Being from South Africa (although I know you have traveled to the U.S.), how did you perceive these films at the time you were first watching them, and how do you see them now? Did you think of them as foreign films or just part of the mass culture? How do you think the fact that you are viewing them in South Africa changes your point of view—are there particular things that resonate with your own world view?

Beukes: In pop-culture, we all grow up American. (Especially if you’ve been deprived of British television as a kid because of the UK’s sanctions against the apartheid government). We both have a very low tolerance for torture porn because the reality of violence in South Africa is so horrific, especially against women, those films demean what real people go through.

Halvorsen: Horror films are our generation’s fairytales. We all grew up with them, we all know those monsters. The good horror films are social commentary, like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Beukes: Oh yes! A lot of good horror is really about the monster within.

Why is Vertigo the right home for this comic? How do you think it fits with their line?

Beukes: [Vertigo editor in chief] Shelly Bond is a genius. She’s an amazing editor who has pushed for me to develop my own original title at Vertigo for years. But she also sees to the heart of the work, she knows how to push the story further and deeper, in the writing and the art. Vertigo has published some of my favorite adult comics and many of my favorite creators including Ed Brubaker, Paul Pope, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, G Willow Wilson, David Lapham, Pia Guerra, Tara McPherson, came up through Vertigo.

Halvorsen: We’re like the vampires who needed to be invited in by the publisher who saw the potential in our story. Hopefully they Let The Right One In.

Once you pitched the concept to Vertigo, how did Shelly Bond (or any other editor) help you refine it? Did you just go ahead on your own, or did they have any suggestions or guidance for you?

Beukes: Oh, Shelly had suggestions. So did our associate editor, Rowena Yow. 96% of the time, they’re absolutely right. The other 4% it’s because we haven’t explained our long game properly and they come round to why we’re doing a particular thing this way. We regularly have hour long Skype chats and they both push the story. We’re relative rookies (I’ve written one six issue comic arc before, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom with Inaki Miranda) so their experience in the best ways how to tell the story are invaluable.

Halvorsen: They’re our first readers and they have a lot of questions that we take seriously.

Your writing process is very collaborative. What unique attributes do each of you bring to the team—does one of you sort of specialize in humor, action, snappy comebacks, creepy details?

Beukes: We’re both witty but Dale dials it up to eleven. Sometimes I have to reach in and dial him right back. The creep factor comes from both of us. What’s exciting is when we elaborate on each other’s ideas. “Yes! That’s so horrible and awful and twisted and what if we also did this?” Dale’s more visual so he thinks about what the panel looks like to better brief Ryan Kelly, our amazing artist, so we don’t drive him to distraction with conflicting actions or impossible camera angles. Dale does a crazy amount of research and brings all these weird articles or true crime podcasts to the table that we can feed into the story. He’s also a horror trope master. He’ll say things like “We need to bring in the prophet of doom”. Not forgetting that he’s the one who came up with the concept in the first place.

Halvorsen: We’re good at all of those things, dark humor, creepy details, snappy comebacks. I’m good at plotting. Lauren is the alien queen of dialogue and is an actual award-winning novelist, which means that words are her power. I’m learning a lot working with her.

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