This Man, This Monster – Interview with Legendary Comic Scribe John Rozum

From somewhere deep in the woods he lurks… a man, some say a man “thing,” possessed with an innate talent for the arcane art of “words.” It’s strange to think that one man could possess such a extensive love for these ethereal creatures which exist in our everyday lives – even more that he can turn them into interesting stories – but he does.

His name is John Rozum and like so many writers in the comic book and television industry he’s one of the unsung heroes of creativity that has given birth to (or at the very least nurtured) some of the most interesting characters in the last decade including Xombi, Scooby-Doo and The X-Files.

Okay, John. This question may very well decide if we need to go any further… Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) or Christopher Lee (Curse of Frankenstein)?

Without a doubt, Boris Karloff. Between Jack Pierce’s make-up and Karloff’s performance (and James Whale’s direction) they created the most iconic monster of all time. He’s completely fascinating to watch, childlike and sympathetic, but when his rage in incurred with all that strength behind it, pretty fearsome. I simply don’t think that the look of that monster can ever be topped.

Lee does a great job creating a creature that comes off as pitiful, somewhat aware of its state of existence and terribly unhappy to have been created, but ultimately his performance takes a back seat to Peter Cushing who is the real monster as Baron Frankenstein.

The question that I’ve always wondered about the Frankenstein monster is not only why does he always wind up with a disfigured face, but more importantly, why did Dr. Frankenstein need more than one body in order to create him? Couldn’t he just have taken one fresh, intact corpse and brought that back to life? Why all the mix and match? It seems like a lot of extra work for an experiment that’s iffy to start with.

That’s a good point. To be honest I’ve always wondered the same thing, using more than one body seems quite… “mad.” Okay, so you pass. Can you give us a brief overview of who you are and what you’ve done?

I’m a writer, primarily of comic books though I dabble in other things periodically such as magazine articles and television shows. Most of my work tends to at least brush shoulders with the horror genre in some capacity.

In comic books I’ve written for such characters as Batman, Superman and the Flash, but am primarily known for work I did on The X-Files comic book series for Topps in the late 90s, Midnight, Mass. which was a creator-owned project I did through DC’s Vertigo imprint that was about a glamorous husband and wife team of paranormal investigators which people often described as a supernatural version of The Thin Man movie, and Xombi a critically acclaimed series I wrote for Milestone Media in the mid-1990s and recently revived at DC Comics to even more acclaim. Xombi was about David Kim, a normal man who through a tragic accident finds that he can never die and has also become something of a weirdness magnet. The incredible art on the recent run was by Frazer Irving.

I also wrote a lot of kids comics such as Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, The Secret Saturdays and over ten years and well over one hundred stories for Scooby-Doo.

That’s a pretty broad range of work. How has your more kid-friendly work been received?

The kids comics made me a popular guest at elementary and middle schools where I got asked so many questions that I ended up starting a blog (http://johnrozumforkids.blogspot.com) just for kids to learn about the whole comic making process from inspiration to sales. A number of parents and teachers have used it as a resource, but I’m always looking to spread the word about it since I think comics are a great storytelling medium, which unlike when I was a kid, is actually something teachers are embracing, but aren’t really sure about how to go about teaching kids how to create comics.

Would you say you’re still in touch with your inner child?

I find that as a creator, both as a writer and a visual artist, that what fuels my creative process the most is the stuff that really ignited my imagination as a kid; primarily monster movies, science fiction, comic books, animation, the Disney theme parks, fairy tales and mythology, and so on, and that these are some of the things I’m still most interested in as an adult. I’m sure this is probably the same for most creative people. It’s a pleasure for me to take something that I’ve always enjoyed recreationally into something I do professionally, but it’s also great when the two worlds meet more directly.

For example, I’ve taken villains from comic books I made when I was in fourth or fifth grade and incorporated them into comics I’ve written professionally as an adult. I wish I could go back in time and tell my 10 year old self that those creations would one day be featured in comic books published by the same folks that publish Batman and Superman. Another example is that when I was a kid, the first comics I bought myself were all of the monster comics published by Marvel, so when the opportunity came to write an episode of Super Hero Squad using Werewolf By Night, Dracula, Man-Thing and others, I leapt at the chance! Not only was it a lot of fun, but it was nice to be able to introduce those characters to a new audience who is the same as as I was when I first encountered them.

You attended NYU as a film student back in the 80s, correct? What sort of experience did you have there?

I’d been a movie fan my whole life, and was interested in making them myself from a pretty early age even though I had no concept of the real process. I thought that the orchestra sat on the soundstage when the actors were being filmed and that the music was recorded with the scenes they went to.

In terms of film school specifically, the best thing about it is you’re thrown in with a bunch of ambitious people with a passion to create films and also given access to the equipment to make films. The drawback, at least when I went, is that I went in the pre-digital era, and film was expensive to come by. Adding things like sound and even titles was also labor intensive and expensive. Now, almost anyone with patience can create pretty sophisticated special effects on their home computer with footage shot on a camera that costs next to nothing. the footage itself being only as expensive as a memory card. The cost of buying and developing a roll of silent super-8 or 16mm film was a serious limitation on budgets.

Having a degree in film production is pretty useless in itself. It won’t get you a job, so my advice is to take the money you’d spend on tuition and go out and make your own movies instead. It will be less expensive and after four years you’ll probably have one or two films worth showing people who can get you a job. Now there are certainly more ways to get a film seen.

Was there anything specific that prompted the change of direction from filmmaker to writer or were you always more interested in writing?

Filmmaking, for me, was one of many means to telling stories. It’s still something I’m very interested in, though it’s fallen by the wayside. The change of direction was one that came about from circumstance more than anything else. About halfway through my third year at NYU I ran out of money. In order to finish I took a full time job at the library and was able to finish for free at the rate of two courses per semester. The drawback was that as a full time employee I didn’t have the time to mount any productions of my own, so I ended up taking more screenwriting classes than production classes.

Before I finished film school, I’d already started doing some writing for Marvel and ended up falling into writing comics quite by accident. At the time I looked at it as a side job, but found a lot of things about the medium that I really enjoyed. So I’m still here, though I’d like to venture away from comics a bit and into children’s and young adult books.

Can you remember the first book you ever read?

As early as first grade I [remember] unlocking the secret code of reading. It was the moment clearly when something clicked and I didn’t have to struggle through sounding out each word. Somewhere in the first pages of Danny the Dinosaur something turned in my brain and suddenly I could read and I spent the rest of the school day sitting in the little back room where the books were kept working my way through all of them. In that one book I went from that basic, painful process of trying to decipher each word, one word at a time, where the connection between the words is lost, to suddenly being able to read all of these words strung together in a way that put images and ideas in my head. It was like discovering magic. The next step was making my own stories by choosing the words myself.

Your stories always seem to be full of science fiction mixed with the supernatural. How did you become interested in those genres?

It probably stemmed from my childhood fascination with dinosaurs. I think that ends up being a gateway to so many other things. Dinosaurs can lead to King Kong and Godzilla, which is probably what got me directly interested in monsters and horror. I was fortunate to have grown up at the tail end of the monster boom that began in the late 1950s and fizzled out in the mid-1970s when Planet of the Apes and then Star Wars put an end to it. Because of this, there were a lot of monster related cartoons on tv and merchandise in the stores. I had all of the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes model kits as well as the monsters and the MPC Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion models, and some of the Weird-Ohs. Where many people bemoan their parents tossing out their comic book collections, the loss of these models is my equivalent tale of woe.

Allow me to get Freudian on you for second. What was life like for you as a kid?

Growing up in New England, everything feels haunted, so I thing the idea of ghosts and headless horsemen, and strange things in the woods just seemed like something I accepted about where I grew up. There are plenty of houses and churches and places that simply look old and look like some of the houses and churches and places that they use for haunted locations in movies and episodes of Scooby-Doo. Seeing that stuff on tv and then right down the street from your house as a real existing place, sort of opened up the idea that if a real house that I could walk up to looks just like a haunted house in a movie I’ve just watched, then maybe this real has has real ghosts, or vampires, or monsters inside of it too.

I have a drawing that I made in kindergarten that I think sums everything up nicely. It’s titled “My Family” and has a person in middle clearly meant to represent me, and surrounding me are a bat, a ghost, Frankenstein’s monster and either a mad woman or the Bride of Frankenstein. There’s also some other weird creature that I can’t decipher. I was really fascinated by The Addams Family and especially The Munsters because they seemed to be the families I should have been in. I used to speculate that, despite our age differences, Marilyn Munster and I had somehow been placed with each other’s real families.

Did you have any favorite cartoons growing up?

I think I liked everything pretty indiscriminately, but I preferred the Hanna-Barbera action shows like The Herculoids, The Arabian Knights, Young Samson, Space Ghost and my absolute favorite, Jonny Quest. I also liked shows like the Groovie Goolies and was a big fan of Casper the Friendly Ghost.

You’re also quite the accomplished visual artist as well. How long have you been creating your college pieces?

I did my first one right before I left Los Angeles at the end of 2000. I figured out what I was doing pretty quickly, but it took me a few years to refine what I was doing, and feel I’m still working towards a style that makes me really happy. Some of those early ones, The Fly included, make me cringe now when I look at them. I like that they are all physical and actually cut from scissors, but they are tedious to do, so my output isn’t very high.

People can view my online gallery here (http://www.flickr.com/photos/31745900@N00/) and I still have a few cartoon character pieces for sale here (http://johnrozum.blogspot.com/p/collage-art-for-sale.html).

Have you (or do you plan to) exhibited at any art shows this year?

I participated in a few group shows at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles at both of their venues. I also took part in a Haunted Mansion Tribute show at the Parlour Gallery at Halloweentown in Burbank.

I’ll be taking part in some more group shows at Gallery 1988 in 2012 which I’m really excited about.

Its well known that you share a deep affinity for this time of year. How did your fascination with Halloween first manifest?

I think it was that it was because it was a holiday connected to spooky things such as ghosts, skeletons, and haunted houses and it allowed you to go out dressed up as something else and to beg for candy, making it something that was completely participatory and not just something that seemed more formally observed like other holidays. It was all about play and pretend. It was also a holiday that really seemed to belong to the kids.

I think the reason so many adults have latched onto it with such gusto, myself included, isn’t simply to recapture that nostalgic feeling from childhood, but also to make the holiday something special for kids now. Our house always ends up being a beacon in whatever neighborhood we live in, because we go all out and try to make it this amazing experience for trick-or-treaters.

I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s become harder and harder to find any neighborhood or street that’s got much Halloween spirit (much less safe).

Part of the reason I started going all out had to do with having kids of my own and thinking how lame it must be for them to go up to so many houses that don’t have any decorations up to emphasize the spooky nature of the holiday. It’s sadly been diminished by towns that no longer hold Halloween parades, even just the ones where elementary school kids march along Main Street, and school and town Halloween parties have been turned into Harvest Festivals.

What’s the worst/most embarrassing costume you’ve ever worn for Halloween?

In my 20s I was invited to a Halloween costume party at the last minute. I had no costume prepared so I put on a suit, a Dracula cape and strapped two bananas to my head with rubber bands for horns and went as the devil. It actually didn’t look that bad.

I don’t really dress for Halloween. I’m usually so busy getting the yard ready and my own kids’ costumes that I don’t have time to dress up myself anymore. I also wear glasses, but not contact lenses, and as a big fan of over the head latex masks, I have the uninspiring choice between being blind without my glasses while wearing a mask, or being blind with my glasses fogged up inside a mask. Neither situation really lends itself to dressing up with a mask, unless you’re planning on going out as Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster from Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.

You also run the Countdown to Halloween blog every year along with Shawn Robare. How did that collaboration come about and how long has the blog been running?

I’ve described the Countdown to Halloween as the virtual equivalent of the best neighborhood you could imagine trick or treating in. This is the neighborhood where all of the houses are completely decked out for Halloween and the best candy is being dropped in your trick or treat bucket. No one gets a rock or a toothbrush. Every day, for the entire month of October, every participating blog posts something to do with Halloween and all of its trappings, whether it’s artwork, music, reminiscences of Halloween’s past, photos of their costumes from when they were kids, DIY prop making tutorials, short stories, poems, recipes, horror movie reviews, monster toys, or decorations there’s something for everyone, every day all month long.

It began in 2006. There were only five of us at the time, we all had the idea to do a countdown to Halloween independently, but because we followed one another’s blogs we all linked to one another and it became something of an online community event (albeit a small one). I’m sure there were other people out there that year doing their own countdown’s in isolation. The next year we found a few more people and some others found us. I began putting together a gathered list of links to everyone holding their own countdowns which by default put me in an administrative role in organizing this as more of a collected event. A couple years ago Shawn, who’d been making the badges for it, took it upon himself to build a blog for it and to set that up as a launch page for the countdown itself so that everything could be centralized, which has made everything easier, and has allowed it to grow.

I think this year we’re past 250 participants, and now we’re being approached by various commercial enterprises for sponsorship. The amazing thing is that with all of the people participating over the six years this has been running is that there has been very little overlap or repeated content among all of the participating blogs. Even when there is, you’re getting it from someone else’s perspective making it unique.

Can anyone participate and, if so, how do they sign up?

Anyone can participate. We do try and keep this as close to family friendly as possible. Anyone interested just needs to email myself, or Shawn via the Countdown to Halloween blog and let us know that they want to participate. For the newcomer, posting every day can be daunting, exhausting, and stressful, as most of us found out in the early years. There’s no obligation to post every single day. The point is for it to be fun, not stressful. Most of us who have been doing this for a while are only able to maintain the daily schedule by preparing our posts months in advance.

So what are some of the highlights for your personal blog this month? Any special Halloween-specific features or articles?

I noticed that over the past few years that Halloween, horror, and horror movie related books tended to get short shrift during my countdowns. I do tend to read a lot of them, so this year I thought I’d do more book related posts, including one pertaining to one of my very favorite monsters from literature.

I’ve also been posting a different mask every day that can be printed out at home and worn. My countdown’s usually culminate with a look at what I’ve cobbled together to dazzle the trick or treaters that visit our house, but this year we’ve moved to a neighborhood where we are on a cul de sac with three homes that are vacant except during the summer on one side of us and little prospect for trick or treaters, and no drive by traffic, so it’s very likely that I won’t be decorating the yard this year which leaves my final post as a bit of a mystery even to me.

The Grim Gallery is another site of yours. What is it and how did it get started?

The Grim Gallery is an image blog that I started this past Spring. Every day there is a photograph, or piece of artwork depicting some sort of monster or curiosity. Most of them come from movies, but there are representations taken from comic books, paintings, book covers, television series and other venues. It started because I was looking for a particular image that I knew I had downloaded off the internet at some point in the past. I don’t recall what the image was, but it was something horror related.

While looking for it I was stunned to see how many discs and how many files of horror related images I had. Some were things I scanned or screen grabbed, but the majority of them came from other people’s websites. Looking through them, I recognized that some of them were pretty rare and many of them came from blogs that no longer exist. This made me decide that I wanted to put these back out in circulation, but didn’t think my regular blog was really the place to do it. So, I made a new on, The Grim Gallery, for the express purpose of putting these things back out there at the rate of one image each day. It’s easy and somewhat relaxing, and I get into a rhythm of how I choose what images will follow one another. The amazing thing is that with 600 posts prepared there are so many monsters and movies that aren’t represented at all, yet. I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

In 140 characters or less, what would you like written on your tombstone?

I’ve never really thought about it. I’m determined that my last words will be either “Relax, I know what I’m doing.” Or “Don’t worry, these aren’t the poison kind.” For my tombstone, I suppose it could read “Fed the bears.”

Leaving off on a lighter note, what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

Just about everything I did as a kid was strange. On the less questionably legal end of things, I used to post up missing pet flyers of animals like crocodiles and anaconda’s around town. They all said things like “Have you seen my pet? Answers to the name “Fluffy” Fond of small animals and children. If seen, please call…” followed by a real phone number that wasn’t mine. I was big on pranks like this. I thought they added a bit of magic into people’s ordinary lives. I also took advantage of the shift change at the police station and tied tin cans and attached just married signs to all of the police cruisers. I did not stick around to see how that one turned out.

Written by Rondal

Rondal is the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Kids Club and a creative instigator who tackles each day with Red Bull-induced enthusiasm and a mind for adventure. Rondal has written for other sites including Rue Morgue, Fuel Your Illustration and Bloodsprayer. His obsession with horror movies, 80s animation and action figures is considered unhealthy by medical professionals.

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  • That was a great interview! Very interesting indeed!!