Interview: James Aquilone on 'Kolchak: The Night Stalker'
Updated: Jan 18
We chat with the writer and editor about the new 50th Anniversary graphic novel celebrating the seminal supernatural series.
If you're a horror junkie, you eventually discover Kolchak: The Night Stalker at some point in your journey. The television series didn't last long. It ran from September 1974 to March 1975, and before that, there were two TV movies (The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler), both adapted by Richard Matheson and based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice.
The X-Files is probably most famously influenced by Kolchak, but you can see its impact in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Supernatural. In recent years, Moonstone Books has published several novels and short story collections involving the paranormal investigator. With this month marking its 50th Anniversary, they wanted to celebrate with something extra special.
Author James Aquilone has assembled an incredible stable of writers and artists. Their mission is to tell Kolchak's life story, from beginning to end. And they're doing it in the new Kolchak: The Night Starker 50th Anniversary graphic novel, which just launched on Kickstarter.
Here's their all-star writer lineup: David Avallone (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark), Rodney Barnes (Killadelphia), James Chambers (Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe), Nancy Collins (Swamp Thing), Peter David (The Incredible Hulk), Kim Newman (Anno Dracula), Jonathan Maberry (V-Wars), Richard Christian Matheson (Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks), Tim Waggoner (Temple of the Dragonslayer), and Aquilone.
On the illustration front, they've assembled Jonathan Marks Barravecchia (Scarlet Witch), Marco Finnegan (Lizard in a Zoot Suit), Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (Mr. Higgins Comes Home), Paul McCaffrey (Anno Dracula), Clara Meath (Midnight Vista), Julius Ohta (Iron Man), Tom Rogers (Herald: Lovecraft & Tesla), J.K. Woodward (Star Trek), and Colton Worley (The Shadow).
A few weeks before the Kickstarter campaign launched, we jumped on the phone to chat with Aquilone about the project. We discuss his origins with Kolchak, the character's appeal, and his importance within the genre. We discuss what separates this anthology from other Night Stalker projects and the tricky task of maintaining the character throughout his timeline using multiple authors and artists to do it.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity, but if you would like to hear the entire thing, you can join our Patreon. At the $1 level, you'll have instant access to over fifty bonus episodes, including dozens of unedited creator interviews like this one.
Brad: I guess I first encountered The Night Stalker through The X-files or through showrunner Chris Carter's infatuation with The Night Stalker. Or maybe, I even first heard about it because of my love for its creator, author Richard Matheson, and books like I Am Legend. But whatever the case, once I got there, man, I fell hard for Kolchak. I'm guessing your love for the character has been present for a while as well.
James: Yeah. I mean, I don't remember exactly when I first saw it. It was probably similar to your experience. I was a big fan of The X-files. Maybe I heard it first through Chris Carter. The Sci-Fi Channel [now dubbed SyFy] started airing those episodes.
James: I wasn't old enough to see it's first run. But it would play as the late-night movie at midnight somewhere. So I probably caught it. Yeah, I don't know. It seemed like it's always been around.
Brad: It feels like once The X-files put the spotlight back on Kolchak, and Sci-Fi did start airing it again, and then I can't remember when exactly, but Shout Factory released some nice DVDs/Blu-rays of The Night Stalker movie and The Night Stangler. That rekindled some interest around the show too.
James: And I think they just put out a blu-ray of the entire series in like October. [Not Shout Factory, but KL Studio Classics]
Brad: Yeah, okay, cool. But for those that maybe are not as aware of Kolchak, how would you describe it?
James: I guess he would fall into the category of like, Urban Fantasy. It's kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I guess. But probably the closest thing would be Supernatural.
Brad: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Supernatural certainly owes a great debt to The Night Stalker.
James: It's not as hard nowadays to describe it, because we've seen so many shows that are similar to it. It's basically just Kolchak hunting down a different monster every week.
Brad: Sure, and it's a format that lends itself really well to sequential storytelling, and to anthologies. It's an obvious marriage. And this collection you're putting together could act as the perfect introduction for an unfamiliar audience.
James: Yes, this would probably be the perfect way to introduce the character, because the theme of the book is the life and possible death of Kolchak. We'll be exploring stories throughout his life which has never been done. Culture has always been kind of stuck in time, and you never really knew anything about his personal history. He just took it case by case, and they were never linked in any way. So, now, we're actually giving it a format and we'll be following his cases starting during his time in high school. From the late 30s all the way up to the early 2000s. There's at least one story from every decade.
Brad: Freeing him from his television timeline.
James: Yes. Kolchak is the same age as the actor who played him, Darren McGavin. They were both born in 1922, and they never say when he died, but we stick with McGavin's timeline. [McGavin died in 2006]
Brad: How are you deciding who's going to tell which story? You've assembled an incredible lineup of talented writers and illustrators. But how do you determine who gets what? Is Peter David or Rodney Barnes gunning for particular eras?
James: First, I just let them decide, and it all kind of worked out perfectly. And when we get to the 70s, which is when the TV show aired, we have at least three stories for everyone to pick from. Rodney's story is in that seventies block and it's going to take place in Harlem and involve zombies. Peter picked the early 50s which is going to involve Joe McCarthy and demons. We got some really cool stories coming up.
Brad: I love the timeline idea, but it can also be a little tricky, right? You have to make sure everyone is writing the same Kolchak. That the character matches up, even when the stories and tones are wildly different.
James: Yeah, sure. I mean, when you're seeing him as a younger person, he's a bit more wet behind the ears. And then he gets a little bit more crotchety. In the seventies, Kolchak is more down and out, whereas in the fifties he's well-kempt. The story I'm writing takes place in the eighties, and it deals with the Satanic Panic. By then, Kolchak is working with those tabloids like the Weekly World News.
Brad: Okay, cool.
James: With a Kolchak story, you also want to make it a little different from the Kolchak stories we already got. Then again, you don't want to change it so much that it's unrecognizable. You have to ride that line. What's sticking with the formula? What's tweaking it and adding something?
James: None of the stories were ever connected. He just went from week to week. He finds a new monster but he never puts it all together. He never even questions why things are happening. Why are all these monsters showing up in Chicago week after week? That's something that I wanted to fix. I wanted to throw in there that maybe these things are more connected. He started putting these things together.
Brad: For me, the excitement of hearing this concept, is the timeline. I want to read those earliest adventures and I want to read those Old Man Kolchak adventures. It's really intriguing.
James: Yeah, well, that's what I loved about this idea. We get to tell the full story. We get an origin, which David Avallone is writing. It's his origin, he's in the high school newspaper. That was maybe the trickiest story. You have to hand that with a little more subtly because, in the TV movies, it's hinted that this is the first time ever that he's encountered anything supernatural. But if you read the original book, he's a little more familiar with the supernatural. So, I went with that.
Brad: Putting this project together is one thing, launching it through Kickstarter is something else. That's got to come with its own anxiety.
James: Yes. You're putting the book together and then you're putting together a Kickstarter campaign. I'd much rather be writing the Kolchak story. That's fun.
James: That's awesome. It has made me appreciate writing a lot more. I can't wait to just go back and write. I don't think I appreciated that before because now, I don't really have too much time to write or read or to do anything.
Brad: This is all-consuming.
James: You're really doing two things at once. You're putting the book together and you're putting the Kickstarter together. That gets really hectic. Then once the campaign starts, it's just craziness for thirty days.
You have less than 30 days to back Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary graphic novel! But you can jump on it by clicking HERE. You can also continue this conversation with James Aquilone by visiting his Twitter and his Website.
And if you'd like to hear the rest of this conversation, please consider supporting our Patreon. The un-edited discussion is available at the $1 level.