Splatter n’ shred pioneer Matt Harvey joins forces with acclaimed artist Kelly Williams (The Cabinet, Eerie) for the deliciously demented banshee-centered graphic novel romp, Howl — and the velocity and transgressive brutality the Exhumed/Gruesome vocalist/guitarist delivers in this new realm is totally what horror-obsessed metalheads would hope for from the twisted genius behind Gore Metal, Slaughtercult, and Necrocracy.
Harvey was kind enough to give Decibel the inside scoop on the comic — the second volume in Williams’ multi-author series The Dark — out on Halloween via Alterna Comics.
Tell me a little bit about where your interest in comics began.
I have been a comics fan since shortly after I was able to read. As a kid, I was obsessed with the re-runs of the Spider-Man cartoons from the 60s. I remember picking up Amazing Spider-Man #208 when I was about five years old. Then Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends came onto the Saturday Morning scene and I quickly became a total Marvel nerd, diving into the X-Men, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, etcetera. My original career goal was to be a comic book artist, but when I was eleven I heard this record called Master of Puppets, and decided I needed a guitar. In fact, I sold my comic collection to my Grandfather, an antique dealer for $350 to buy an Epiphone Les Paul when I was 13! Luckily I started working when I was 15, and I was able to buy it back from him. Only a few issues were missing! [Laughs] Throughout high school I worked at a Comic Store in San Jose called Comics Pendragon where I was exposed to a lot of stuff and became a total Jack Kirby devotee, as well as learning about guys like Grant Morrison, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, and many, many others. I had a forty percent discount and was spending about $40-50 1992 dollars a week on comics! [Laughs]
Was your interest in the darker/grosser side of metal intertwined with your love for this other medium? It seems like horror stories and horror culture might have informed Exhumed lyrics…
Well, I was more into horror movies and books than Horror comics as a really young kid, but then in high school, I went back and delved into all the old EC stuff, the Bernie Wrightson stuff, and then a bit of the Warren stuff, like Creepy and Eerie. Col [Jones, original Exhumed drummer] and I both really liked Faust at the time, because it was so over-the-top and gory, haha! Also the early Dead World stuff was cool back then as well. Bissette’s Taboo seemed like it was a cut above as far as the writing though, and had a bit more variety going on. For me, the horror films came first — Re-Animator, Evil Dead, Toxic Avenger — then Death Metal, which I immediately recognized as the aural equivalent to the gore movies I already loved. Horror comics came later. I have always been a superhero guy at heart, as far as comics go. I know that may be un-metal to say but I have way more issues of the Fantastic Four than House of Mystery. Ouch, I can feel my credibility dissolving! [Laughs]
Having that lyric writing background, was it more or less difficult than you thought it would be to write this story?
Well, it’s a completely different discipline. I think the lyrics help with being descriptive — which is a big part of horror. I’ve always thought that H.P. Lovecraft isn’t too great at plots, but he’s great at description. But with comics, the writing has to step back and let the pictures do the description, so it’s a whole other animal. Plus there’s the mechanics of sound effects, how the whole process of page-turning works, etcetera. I’ve been sort of quietly writing scripts for the last couple of years and — hopefully — improving to the point where I don’t feel like a schmuck showing my scripts to folks. I had a whole different idea for a story to pitch Kelly, but it started getting a bit too busy plot-wise, and would have been unwieldy to fit in the ten-page format. As an aspiring comics writer, the hardest thing to do is to get people to sit down and read your scripts, so I figured that the best way to get an artist to look at a script would be to write one about something they were already interested in drawing, rather than having to talk them into a concept of mine! Kelly was great, though, very open to what I had in mind and he offered some good advice on helping the story work better within the confines of the format. He knew it was my first time, and he was very gentle! [Laughs]
How psyched are you to work with Kelly in this capacity?
I’m embarrassed to say that I was unaware of his work before our mutual friend, Michael Klein — who has built me some fucking amazing custom guitar gear — introduced us. It was a very fortuitous coincidence that he happened to know both a comic book artist and an aspiring comic book writer. Once I saw his work, though, I quickly became a fan. Kelly has a great touch for comics, and horror stuff in particular. He’s able to have fun with dark subject matter in a way that really comes through on the page and has an evocative style that puts you into the story straightaway. Like I said, I’ve been quietly working on writing stuff for a couple years now, so to actually see a script that I wrote turned into a finished comic was a really rewarding feeling, and I’m super grateful to Kelly for making that happen.
Do you have any immediate plans to do more of this?
The next thing I have coming up is a story in an anthology called “Not Forgotten,” which is a collection of stories about lesser-known Golden-Age super-heroes who have lapsed into the public domain. I’m working with an old friend, who was actually one of the customers at the store I worked at in High School, named Sinclair Klugarsh who’s doing the art and I’m really excited about it. The book should be a lot of fun, and I think the story we’re doing is pretty off-beat, so it’ll be interesting to see how it contrasts with the other stories in the book. As a rookie, I don’t really have a good grasp of how long it takes from completed art and story to a finished product, but I’m thinking it should be out early next year. I have a couple of ideas for ongoing series that I’ve been developing, but, much like the music world, it’s a pretty insular kind of “you need to know someone” kind of industry that I really don’t know a lot about yet. But I have plans to do as much of this as possible, for whatever that’s worth, haha!
Do you think you’ll carry this experience forward and incorporate it into your work with Exhumed/Gruesome?
I don’t know that it would really be applicable for Gruesome, just because what we do is so closely aligned with Death that a comic feels a little too far afield of the core concept. But It has been a consideration multiple times throughout the years with Exhumed. The next Exhumed album is — spoiler alert! — going to be a concept album, so if we ever were to do it, I suppose this would be the time. We do have some interior illustrations for the songs, a la “Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein” in the works at this point. I feel like it’s been done quite a bit in metal, although I’ve yet to really see a comic that I feel like takes full advantage of the opportunity to really intertwine a record and a comic: The comics often seem like little more than a cool collectible afterthought. We’ll see what the budget for the next record turns out to be…