Don't (Satanic) Panic! It's Emmett Nahil's 'Let Me Out'
We chat with the writer about their scary good comic and how they embraced the Satanic Panic for their narrative.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Emmett Nahil about Let Me Out. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.
On Halloween, we love a good scare. We buddy up with fear for a month and have a little fun. However, away from the pumpkins and candy corn, too often, we allow fear to take hold in far less fun ways. America's Satanic Panic era began in the late seventies and took over the eighties. We saw the devil and his cult everywhere, and we used this paranoia to inflict harm and create disconnection from our neighbors.
In their new graphic novel from Oni Press, Emmett Nahil and George Williams return to 1979 to battle Satan and the jerkwads who commit violence in his name or for fear of it. Let Me Out is a clever subversion of the stories we generally get from this moment in history, told mischievously through Williams' playful illustrations. Their characters challenge genre conventions and invite new readers to play in an old realm.
We spoke with Emmett Nahil about the long, twisting road they traveled to bring Let Me Out into reality. We talked about his love for seventies horror and why the comic could only exist in its specific year. Comics are a relatively new medium, and we must carve space in genres previously guarded by the fearful.
Emmett Nahil on Let Me Out, Crowdfunding, and Panic
Brad: This comic has had a few iterations. It's taken a long time to get to Oni Press. What has that journey been like for you?
Emmett Nahil: It's certainly been a journey, number one, but number two, it's been one that's been really driven by the community, maybe more obviously than not. We had a Kickstarter campaign. The idea was crafted in 2019, 2020-ish. George and I were working on it for a little under a year and then basically went through to Kickstarter, went through my agent. It went through a lot of revision and a lot of love, basically. But yeah, we finally landed at Oni in a much better state than when we started, I think.
Brad: Well, congratulations.
Emmett Nahil: Thank you! Thank you.
Brad: I was taken with your afterword at the back of the book. I don't know why I want to start there, but that's where I'm going to start. I think it's because we tend to think of comics as you don't need a lot of people to put a one out in the world. You need an artist, a writer, a small team, and you can make the book and get it out there. At the same time, you also do need a lot of people to get that comic out there and to rally around that comic once it is out there. You thank your Kickstarter backers at the back of the book. It's amazing when you do go through the crowdfunding route, as you say in the afterword, you see your audience build in real time. That must be an incredible sensation.
Emmett Nahil: Yeah. It's very surreal, first of all. More than anything, it's very surreal to conceptualize X, Y, Z number. Hundreds of people have seen what I'm doing? That's crazy. It doesn't feel very real. But then you look at it and it's not only those Kickstarter backers, it's everyone who's spread the word about the comic, everyone who's ever championed it or supported it. Some of my strongest supporters are people who've not given the campaign a cent, but have just been there for me, friends and family through every step of the way. And same with George, I'm sure he would say, too. So yeah, it's one of those things where comics more so than a lot of other media do really take a village, I think, specifically.
Brad: I think one of the reasons why Lisa and I gravitate so much toward comics is because it is so community-based. We love the medium itself. When we crack open the pages, we look for ourselves within those pages. We often find some aspect of ourselves in every story that we engage with. At the same time, we also recognize that the comics community is nowhere near as big as maybe some of these other pop culture pockets, and that is sometimes frustrating, but also I think ultimately is a gift, too.
Emmett Nahil: Yeah. It's something that I think we as a comics community generally have seen build over time, really. It went from being something that was very insular in the initial, if you're looking at comics as like floppies or whatever. As the understanding of what comics can be, and not to minimize any aspect of it. It's grown to encompass a much wider audience and people can find different niches to settle into, be it genre specifications like horror, obviously, or cape comics. Anything else, there's something for everyone. I think that's what makes it really beautiful as a space to work in.
Brad: It's only taken a hundred years for people to realize that comics is a medium.
Emmett Nahil: They're barely stumbling out of infancy, right?
Brad: Yeah. And what I also love about comics is that just when you think you've read every kind of tale, every tone of comic, a comic will come along that really doesn't feel like anything else. And I do honestly feel like that is Let Me Out. From the jump, I think it's because of the story and the way that it mixes with George's art. It feels very unique and it's obviously influenced by a lot of things, and I want to talk about those influences, but it does feel like a new thing in some ways too.
Emmett Nahil: Thank you. I appreciate that. I'm always surprised because I think people see such different things in the media that they consume, and so I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone's like, this seems new. That's the highest compliment to me because I do definitely, I think personally as a person, I wear my influences on my sleeve a little bit in some ways. And so it's always fun to get the other perspective as well.
Brad: Well, you're playing around in some areas that I've always been fascinated by. The Satanic Panic era is just such a bonkers moment in American culture, and it's something that I find myself being pulled back to over and over again, and I think the newness that I'm referring to is how you execute the Satanic Panic.
And I don't want to spoil things, but I think when I started reading Let Me Out, I was anticipating it going in one direction and it definitely does not go in that direction. I guess the question there is, when did you know that these characters were going to interact with a Satanic Panic concept in this specific way?
Emmett Nahil: I just want to say I can feel you framing the question in a way that sounds as less spoiler-y as possible, and I appreciate that.
Emmett Nahil: It's a hard thing to do.
Brad: Because I just want folks to be excited that it's going to go in different directions. I don't want to rob anybody of that experience.
Emmett Nahil: Oh, yes, for sure.
Brad: But I also need to know how you got to that moment. Selfishly.
Emmett Nahil: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So I think I am very interested in the idea of playing with the historical, number one. That's something that I like to pursue in a lot of different facets of my work in comics, in novel writing and games and stuff. That's something that just interests me. I was an art history major, so I'm always looking backwards to see how can I take this idea that maybe has been done already or has been done to death in one specific way, but twist it in a way that might shed light on a different experience or a different point of view, or maybe show this experience from the point of view of somebody that a lot of audiences maybe haven't seen before?
That has to do with the character's identity, obviously, but also just with the general plot twists. I definitely find myself writing myself into a corner sometimes and then having to wiggle my way out of it as best I can. So I think part of that outlook is also me being a little bit contrarian as a person with what, for example, Stranger Things has done to how people see the eighties and how people see that era. I'll cop to being very contrarian in that way, too.
Brad: I was also fascinated by the choice of setting the story in the early days, really, of the Satanic Panic. When does the Satanic panic actually start? 1974, '75, really? And you're in '79, and I'm wondering why you chose this moment in time to tell your story, and could you have told this story now in 2023?
Emmett Nahil: Mm-hmm. I think for me, the era was really driven by a lot of the pop culture that was coming out around that era. I wanted to make reference to The Amityville Horror, specifically, to Phantasm, to the fact that Alien came out that year. All these things and also these political events that had happened or were about to happen. The time between decades is always an interesting transitional period, and I think that liminality really makes it a little bit strange and I guess more uncanny than if everything looked super eighties or everything looked super seventies.
And I think George's artwork really emphasizes that, too. His work lies on that realm where he really doesn't dig into super gritty, hard-edged art, but he also doesn't lean super soft. I think getting that in-between space is what makes things interesting and unexpected, but also lets you get away with a lot in terms of representation. So I think that era was just interesting to me as a consumer of pop culture, but I think I could have weaseled my way into setting it in the modern era, but I didn't really want to. A lot of the initial feedback that was given about the idea of the comic was, well, I don't know about representing queerness in this time. Would a trans person really have known they were trans in this time period? Et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that that's very much bullshit. I really felt strongly about depicting queer and trans people, specifically and trans people of color in history, because it's something that we don't get to see a lot in fiction specifically, obviously in history.
Brad: it's often ignored or erased.
Emmett Nahil: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and so it's something that, obviously, we need more of in contemporary culture, but I think also in loosely near historical fiction. It feels weird calling the seventies historical fiction, but in an era that's not today showing that trans and queer people have existed prior to 10 years ago.
Let Me Out is currently on stands. Find your local comic store.