Interview: Howard Wong & Josh Stafford on 'Damned, Cursed Children'
We chat with the comic book scribes about their rampaging terror tale and discuss why these kiddie munchers aren't zombies.
Every once in a while, you pick up a comic book, and you start chuckling along, and then suddenly, you're howling, and with every page-turn, your smile gets wider and wider. That's what happened after we picked up the first issue of Damned, Cursed Children. It's not a comedy. God, no. It's horrific. Every ounce of it. But the terror is so wild that you can't help but give yourself to the madness. The comic makes you howl, and halting that howl becomes incredibly difficult.
The premise is so simple. One day, the children of this world transform into stark-raving-rampaging-maniacs. They want your flesh! And they're gonna get it! A small band of survivors attempts to navigate a new universe where their sweet kiddos are now hungry for their guts.
Damned, Cursed Children goes for it. And it does so hard. Writers Howard Wong and Josh Stafford take their love for George A. Romero and Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror and a million other horror gems and jam their book with passion. The comic is bonkers, but it never winks or swerves from the serious dread baked into the grotesque situation. As such, Damned, Cursed Children feels like something extraordinaryl. There just are not many books out there like this one.
And we cannot go any further without championing Robin Simon Ng's stunning visuals. The illustrations are equal parts raw and sumptuous. You'll recognize the artistic references and influences, but it's rare to see imagery that's so unrelenting. Every panel is a slap; every page is a punch.
Chatting with Howard and Josh about their comic was a delight. They've worked frickin' hard to make this comic a reality, and they were deeply excited to chat about it. And we were deeply excited to chat with them.
If you haven't done so already, jump on over to Source Point Press and order these comics. The trade paperback containing all five will be available on July 27th. Don't sleep on this book.
This interview was edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the entire 50-minute conversation on our Patreon feed. Just $1 Dollar.
Brad: So, okay. Here's where I want to start with the comic book. Neither Lisa or I have children, we are a childless couple.
Lisa: Child-free! I would say child-free.
Brad: Yes, we're a child-free couple, happily child-free and maybe I'm demented and I just had so much fun with your comic right from the jump with the insane child terror that kicks the book off with these child zombies. Like, why?
Lisa: What made you go zombie kids?
Howard: That's an interesting story because I kind of blame Josh for that in a way. Well, back when my kids were younger, way, way younger and they were in daycare - and any parent who has sent their kids to daycare, they know this. [Children] bring back the plague on a weekly basis. So, I was sick for a good month and a half straight to the point where my doctor literally did not give me any more antibiotics for the fear of it no longer working on me, because I've been taking it so much.
So, I was sick in bed and it was like, I think a couple weeks or two, maybe a week before a Fan Expo, which is the big convention here in Toronto. And Josh rings me up, not to make sure I'm not dying but to ask the question of, "Can I come in with you and help you at the table?" So, I'm like dying, and I'm in bed and I'm like, "Sure, yeah if I live." And then, Josh asked me was I sick again or sick still? And I was like, "I'm pretty sure it's 'still' and 'again' at the same time," and he's like, "Did your kids making you sick again?" and I'm like, "Yeah," and then he blurted out, Josh, you can say it -
Josh: Yeah and I just said, "Damned cursed children," and then from there, Howard I believe said, "Oh, that's a good name for a book or for a script." And I said, "Oh, you should go do it. Take it, I don't care." But he had a number of projects and was on a deathbed so he said, "Oh, I don't have time but you go work something out." So, I put together an outline and sent it back to him and it's just a good example of inspiration coming from strange places and it just came as an aside because we all know - whether you have kids or not - you know that kids are germ factories and if you go visit a friend with a kid or if you know someone who's a teacher or whatever, you're going to get sick.
So, that was the inspiration. I just offhandedly said "Damned cursed children" so if I get credit for that, Howard gets credit for thinking it could actually be something and then we both just worked really hard putting together. A concept to script. 10 years later we have a comic book. So, it was a long haul.
Howard: Yeah, I forgot that part. Yeah, it's been long. A decade? Holy shit.
Lisa: There are two kinds of zombie movies, there's the zombie movie that's just wild, insane, crazy, violent, fun but then there are zombie movies where they have this rich cultural subtext. I love the moral ramifications of the zombies being infected children. Is there a deeper subtext here?
Josh: I think for myself it's just, kids are scary and that's nothing new. Just recently, I happened to hear an interview with Neil Gaiman and he said, "Never be afraid of expanding an idea on an idea or ripping off an idea or rebooting an idea because there are no new ideas, everything is there already." So, there have been a number of really good, scary kid horror movies and comics and stuff like that. So, when we come at it, we're just putting a different twist on it, a different angle on it.
But I think that's the big thing, it's something innocent. You're kind and nice or beloved as a kid. But, then all of a sudden, at the drop of a hat for no reason, they just become monsters. And I think Howard came at it from a parent point of view and seeing the fear in that and I just came at it from a horror geek point of view and seeing the fear in that.
Howard: Well, they're not zombies because they're not actually the living dead because they didn't die and come back - they're not zombies. So, I can share that, it's not really a spoiler because we have those preview pages from Issue one to show that. As to the social context and stuff like that, for me, there are things that I put in there purposely and personally for messages and stuff like that. But any good story should echo out to people and connect with whatever they have. If you want them they're there. If you don't want them and you just want to have a fun, crazy-ass ride, you have that too. You can go deeper or not and it works both ways.
I tried to make sure we had a good balance of both, because if you lean too much one way versus the other, you lose that fun aspect of these kinds of stories. The core can be really silly and stupid and then basically, you're not immersing yourself and you fall out of it, but the ones that I connect to really well, it stays with you forever. You can literally recall scenes and movies and stuff like that and you tell friends about it years and years later, because of that aspect. So hopefully, we did our job and did that too.
Lisa: I'm just thinking about our current pandemic situation. The world shut down quickly. And now, we're at the other side hopefully, and things are opening up fairly quickly. It got me thinking: what happens if we find out there is a cure for these children? It would still be so devastating.
Josh: I'm really inspired by George Romero. So, as Howard said - I always do it jokingly but it's my pompous thing with this comic that I always point out, "No, no, they're not zombies because you don't got to shoot them in the head. They're not crawling out from a grave. This is more of just a magic snap of the finger. Something horrible happened." And that's like Night of the Living Dead. What I like about that series is they never explain it. They never say it was because of this toxic waste, or it was because of this witch curse. It just happened.
And that's my favorite kind of horror where you don't need an explanation, you just need to be in that terror. And I think that's what we were doing with this. Don't waste time with an origin story, just get to the characters and the world.
Damned, Cursed Children is OUR favorite kind of horror, and you can get all five-issues from Source Point Press right now. The trade paperback will drop in stores on July 27th. You will want that comic on your bookshelf. Just don't turn your back on it. And, don't forget, you can listen to this chat in its entirety by supporting us and joining our Patreon.