Clay McLeod Chapman is a Brooklyn-based writer, novelist, screenwriter, and comic book creator on titles like Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, Edge of Spider-Verse #4, Amazing Spider-Man, American Vampire, and most recently, Journey Into Unknown Worlds. He has written two creator-owned comics titled Lazaretto and Self Storage, and his new horror novel THE REMAKING, just released from Quirk. On November 27, his new Marvel comic Scream, Curse of Carnage debuts.
MACK JOHNSON: Clay, first I gotta say congratulations on your first ongoing comic series! As a writer who loves both horror and comic books, Scream: Curse of Carnage seems like an ideal title for you. Did you lobby for this title (if so, why?), or were you approached and asked if you were interested in writing it?
CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN: First off—thanks for having me back to chat. I really appreciate helping spread the word on Scream. I’m in that weird calm-before-the-storm headspace right now, where all I can think about is what folks are going to think or say about it. I really hope people dig it. It’s a complete dream project, to be honest… and I have the Life Foundation to thank for it. At the beginning of the year, I was invited to write a one-off for the Absolute Carnage event, titled Separation Anxiety. The art was by Brian Level and we really went balls to the wall with it. It was so much fun. That issue made such a splash, that my editor was like—Sooo, hey, guess what, we’ve got this idea for a new series and we want it to be spooky and intense and a weeee bit grody, so… wanna do it? And my answer was—Absoluuuutely.
MJ: For those who aren’t familiar with this new character, can you give us a primer? Who is Scream, and where did she come from?
CMC: The short-and-not-so-sweet version is that Scream was one of five symbiotes “spawned” from Venom by a survivalist group called the Life Foundation. Over the years, Scream has had three hosts—Donna Diego, Patricia Robertson, and Andi Benton—and the relationships between them have been pretty… oh, shall we say, intense. Scream eventually struck out on their own, leaving their parasitic siblings behind for life on the road, hitching a ride with Andi again… which is where I come in! This is far too reductive, but still, that’s the parasitic gist.
MJ: Are Scream’s abilities the same as Carnage’s? In general, what are her similarities and differences from Carnage?
CMC: I would say Scream is quite different from Carnage. How’s the saying go? It’s not the symbiote that makes the man; but when they have merged, they greatly improve their lethalness? I believe what makes Carnage so singular has more to do with Cletus Kasady… while Scream has had wildly divergent hosts and therefore different personalities throughout the years, all thanks to Donna, Patricia and Andi. Each particular combination of host and symbiote has brought something very different out of Scream. But as far as capabilities go, the real charmer is Scream’s… prehensile hair. Scream has very exceptional hair. It’s absolutely amazing.
MJ: What makes Scream worthy of her own series? What drives this series? what is the overarching storyline?
CMC: I can’t give away too-too much, but there were certain themes that I wanted to explore for the first arc… Family, biological or otherwise, is key. Motherhood in particular. I’ve always considered the symbiote storylines—Venom, Carnage, Scream or otherwise—to be primarily relationship dramas. It’s not just one character, but two, and how they navigate the rocky terrain of their new union. They must learn how to live together. Two now as one. Where do they see eye-to-eye? Where do they differ? How do they find common ground? Who do they kill? It’s quite romantic, actually. These types of relationships should bring out the best in us.
MJ: Do you consider Scream to be a horror title? Will it be horror-themed?
CMC: I’d say so… Just by sheer default of the story coming out from my head, yeah, it kinda has to be. There’s the surface horror found within the storyline, the creepy-crawly stuff, which has been a blast to see Chris bring to life. But the more grounded horror, the emotional horror, rooted within the situations Andi finds herself in… that stuff, to me at least, is far more terrifying, because it’s aiming for the dreadful elements in everyday life that we all deal with on some level. What it’s like to be alone. Lost. Without family. What it’s like to be powerless. To be unheard. Disregarded. Invisible. That’s the stuff that really scares me. Hopefully readers will agree.
MJ: You set a horror tone very early in this first issue: page two’s full page splash of the body from the river and the fisherman’s chilling statement. I would love to see your script’s description for this page that was sent to the artist.
CMC: Ha! Pretty gnarly, right? Chris (Mooneyham) did an amazing job on the page. As far as the script goes, here’s what I had scribbled down… Hopefully it’s okay to share this:
Full-on bird’s eye view of the body. It’s a young girl. A child. No older than ten. Pale, almost blue. No blood. Her body has been turned into something… else. An aquatic work of art. Like a dead partial mermaid. One of her legs is missing. It has been replaced with the lower torso/tail of a big fish. It’s not a perfect fit, but it’s a part of this new amalgamation of parts.
She no longer has eyes, replaced with sea urchins, the spines reaching out from her sockets.
Her mouth is full—and I mean full—of octopus/squid tentacles. They should be pouring out from her mouth, her jaw distended to the point of snapping to make room for this outgrowth.
A pair of blue crab claws reach out from her nose. Her shoulders are lined with crab legs. Lobster claws reach out from her ears. Spiny dorsal fins rim her head, as if it were a wet halo.
Somebody assembled this. Made this. They took all these bits and pieces and glued them together. Any skin we shouldn’t see is covered in a web of seaweed and… black, oily substance.
…Awful, right? What in the heck was I thinking?!
MJ: Yep, pretty grody, as you said earlier. I was curious how detailed your descriptions were for the artist, and I wasn’t disappointed!
I think Detective Castro’s monologue on that same page captures your writing style perfectly: conversational (in that it sounds like how real people speak, not comic booky), anecdotal, and alternately horrific and humorous. Are there any horror or comic writers whose styles have influenced you?
CMC: That’s a huge compliment. Thank you. Totally makes my day. It’s funny, because the first draft of the script started on page ten... but then the folks at Marvel got excited about the series and asked if I could add ten more pages. They let me crack the world open a little more, add some external perspectives to the story so we weren’t entirely trapped in Andi’s POV for the whole issue and it’s not so suffocating. Detectives Castro and Henley are my way to bring New York City into the story, make it a character, too, which I think the best Big Apple-based comics do. NYC makes Spider-Man. It’s silly, I know, but I really wanted to Law & Order this one up. Working joes, doing their job, faced with… this especially heinous crime.
As far as inspiration goes, I’ve been imbibing on a hefty amount of John Arcudi recently. Rumble is hilarious. But the comic that has just left me completely breathless is The Black Monday Murders. Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker make their story feel mythic and personal at the same time. I can’t read them fast enough.
But I’ve got to give credit where credit is due… I’m hoping to follow in Cullen Bunn’s footsteps and do him proud. The work he did previously with Scream, not to mention the rest of the Absolute Carnage crew, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman, is ravishing stuff. I feel like I’ve been invited into the big kids’ sandbox for the first time and all I want to do is dig as deep into the sandy pits of hell as I can.
MJ: You have already written many Marvel characters including Spider-Man, the X-Men, Deadpool, and Iron Fist. Are there any other characters you’re dying to write and you’d love to have guest-star in Scream: Curse of Carnage?
CMC: It’s interesting, because my editor at Marvel is always telling me that their stories should feel like a family affair. You never know who might pop their head in at any moment, just to say howdy, sit and stay for coffee, that sort of thing. My natural inclination is to write my stories so that they feel tight and confined, which is what horror does best, I think. Suffocate its reader or viewer. But the Marvel ethos is to make the world feel populated with these characters, make it feel like a massively expansive tapestry of heroes and villains whose stories intersect if not crash into each other. The world has to feel big. Huge. It’s an interesting challenge to take what I love about horror, the relative smallness of it, and apply it to the MCU. So... I’d love for Scream’s siblings to return for a family reunion at some point.
MJ: Any villains you’d love to see Scream tangle with?
CMC: When I was first trying to figure out what this first arc would be, I did a deep dive in the Marvel villain back-catalogue… and there were some pretty amazing characters that I’d never even heard of. That’s how I found our big bad for this first go around. It was a bit of kismet, to boot, because—no spoilers—this villain tied in quite nicely with some other loose narrative threads in the symbiotic universe. I had brought in two options, one I won’t mention because you have to read the comic… the other was a freaky elderly couple from X-Men called the Creeps that I’d love to do something with. Don’t be surprised if they show up at some point, editors willing!
MJ: What can readers look forward to seeing in Scream over the coming months?
CMC: A bizarro action-horror hybrid that focuses on what makes a family feel like family, whether it’s by blood or something more experiential. More personal. They say you can’t choose your family, but maybe that’s not true for Andi and Scream. They’ll come to discover their bond is something far more special. Something true.
MJ: In our last interview in April, I asked if you were developing anything for tv or movies. Any news you can share? Any other creator-owned projects in development?
CMC: There are some very, very exciting things brewing on the horizon, but the kicker is I’m sworn to secrecy. Forgive me for being coy. It’s been a great year for getting projects going, but they do take their dear sweet time. Patience is a virtue, my grandpa always said. I’m hoping I can say more soon. Rest assured, there’s a storm coming. New comics, new novels, new movies, new shows… new stories.