If there’s one thing that’s for certain, comic books come in different genres and in different styles. Not any one comic is made for everyone. That is certainly true of horror based comics. While some readers will find them entertaining and fun, others might find them upsetting and grotesque. Thankfully, the comic universe is big enough for everyone.

So when a title like Fantagraphics Red Room is available, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But for others, it is a can’t miss comic. Especially when a creator like Ed Piskor is doing the work. Fans know him from his work on his Eisner Award winning series, Hip Hop Family Tree, which is a historical account of the Hip Hop culture and the artists that have shaped the genre. In addition, Piskor has worked on Marvel’s X-Men: Grand Design. But these days, he is exploring the dark web and those who stream torture for Bitcoin in his new comic book on Fantagraphics, Red Room. So let’s see what it’s all about and welcome Ed Piskor to GVN’s Talking Comics Interview.

The Genesis of Red Room

GVN: Thanks for giving us some of your time, Ed. Red Room is an amazing look at a dark and seedy part of society. What inspired you to focus on this story and how did you decide on the best way to tell it?

EP: I wanted to task myself with coming up with a modern horror comic that couldn’t have even been possible ten years ago. The drips and drabs we get to read about the Dark Web, Tor, online black markets, and the urban legend of Red Rooms are perfect fodder for such a universe that’d be rife with scary possibilities. The idea of the dark web being a kind of wild west where people do scary things without fear of being captured is another piece to the mixture.
I almost knew what I wanted the aesthetics to look like before I even decided on Red Room. I’m a big fan of the 1980s duotoned comics like TMNT. But more specifically, the hardcore stuff like the works of Eric Talbot, James O’Barr, Tim Vigil, Tim Tyler, Vince Locke, and Troy Nixey. This look to comics hasn’t been around for 25-30 years and it’s something that I really miss. Lots of black on the page, duotone, zipatone, spatter, hardcore violence, urban decay, unsavory characters. I always wanted to make a comic with this spirit and Red Room is the perfect vehicle.

Building the ‘Red Room’ World

GVN: The amazing thing about Red Room is there are so many different aspects to examine. There is of course those who actually perform on the streaming, and there are those who watch it and the use of Bitcoin as the currency of choice. Your streaming sequences are so well done, and part of the most intriguing dialogues are the text messages being displayed on the right as the “performance” is ensuing. How important was it for you to explore all sides of that society? Those who do and those who watch and those on the outside.
EP: The connective tissue between Red Room and my two earlier works, X-Men:Grand Design and Hip Hop Family Tree, is that it’s a world building exercise. In the world of Red Room, everybody is a creep. It’s fun to explore these different characters to figure out what their creepy angle is in this universe. Each self contained issue will focus on a different POV ranging from the viewers, the victims, the killers, the collectors, the enablers, but we’ll never have any procedural law enforcement stuff, I don’t think.
The interesting aspect of the dark web and the criminals involved is that they pretty much have no idea the tricks law enforcement uses to obfuscate the anonymity protections provided by Tor and other anonymous vectors to the internet. Because of that, it renders the feds as like some kind of specter hanging over everyone’s head, ready to pounce. The feds are ghostly, ether people in this universe.

Their Other Lives

GVN: That explains the Mistress obsession with leaving no clues to where their streaming from. Another interesting aspect which you explored is the strange dichotomy of the different lives that some of those who participate lead away from their “performances.” Such as Davis situation away from Red Room with his daughter, whom he obviously wants nothing but the best for. Was this an important element to your story?
EP: Sure. This is the kind of relationship you read about whenever a new serial killer gets discovered and we find out he has a wife and good family life or something like this. The knee jerk reaction is always to look at the family accusingly like “how the hell did you all not know the patriarch of the family was skinning and eating random hookers in town?”
I do imagine that serial killers cosplay as normal folk so it was fun to explore a bit in this first issue. Every issue is self contained but that doesn’t mean that the endings are nice and tidy. I liked these characters enough to bring them back for another issue and I think I have one more in store for Davis and his daughter.

Working with Fantagraphics

: You are partnering once again with the great team over at Fantagraphics on Red Room. Were they completely supportive of your story from the beginning or were there any points where they expressed concern over any elements of your story? (I would imagine they were onboard from the start).
EP: Yep, they were on board from the start. We’ve done great business with one another before and, even though this is such an insane comic, the numbers oare in and we’re doing great business with Red Room, too. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Eric and Gary are into this kind of comic. I’m sure it’s the complete opposite, but they know I won’t lose them any money with their investment and support.

Focusing on Red Room

GVN: Thanks again, Ed. Red Room invokes so many different emotional reactions. While someone might be reluctant to read at first, it kind of draws you in regardless. Which is probably what makes it work so well. Beyond Red Room, do you have anything else coming up you are free to discuss?

: Red Room is dominating my time in a big way. I have 7 more stories to tell at the very least. We just got some rough numbers for the Free Comic Book Day comic and there are going to be tons of them available. Right now it’s the latest piece I’ve drawn, so it’s the best comic I ever made and it’ll cost a sum total of zero dollars and zero cents at your local comic shop this coming FCBD in August.
Thanks for taking the time to chat and I want to thank the support of the audience for showing up in droves for the first issue!

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