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Come and Sup Full with Horrors – An Interview with JAMES AQUILONE

Comic Book Yeti contributor Lauren Smith sits down and chats with James Aquilone regarding the prose and comic horror anthology, SHAKESPEARE UNLEASHED, currently on Kickstarter until July 21st. Lauren chats with James about the origins of this project, the talented creators involved, and what fans can expect from this fascinating anthology.


COMIC BOOK YETI: Thanks so much for chatting with me, James! Congrats on being funded already!! Where did the idea for this horror anthology come from?

Cover art by J.K. Woodward, design by Shawn T. King

JAMES AQUILONE: I've loved Hamlet since my senior year in high school and around the same time, I saw the movie adaptation of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. I was fascinated by that movie and thought it was so cool to see two minor characters as they flit in and out of the events of Hamlet. So this idea of working in Shakespeare's world has been percolating in my mind for a while. CBY: Can you tell us a bit about how you brought together different creators for this project, such as Cullen Bunn, Joe Lansdale, and Ian Doescher, author of William Shakespeare's Star Wars, William Shakespeare's Avengers and Deadpool Does Shakespeare?

JA: Cullen is someone I've admired ever since I read Harrow County. Joe Lansdale is in my Top 3 favorite speculative fiction writers of all time, and Ian Doescher just perfectly fits this project.

The rest of the lineup is just as amazing. Some of them I've worked with on previous books and some are working with me for the first time. Contributors include Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Lee Murray, Gemma Files, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Lisa Morton, Gene Flynn, Hailey Piper, Philip Fracassi, Gwendolyn Kiste, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Jessica McHugh, Sara Tantlinger, Stephanie M. Wytovich and Lucy A. Snyder. CBY: This anthology is primarily short stories and sonnets — why choose these instead of filling it with another art form?

Illustration by J.K. Woodward & lettering by Tom Napolitano

JA: Well, we couldn't make a movie or play, so we had to make do with the printed word! There is a comic, as well, and the prose anthology will have several illustrations.

Ian will write his story in iambic pentameter like a Shakespearean play, so there's that. But I thought it would be interesting and different to see Shakespeare adapted and reimagined in prose short stories.

CBY: You DO have a Shakespeare Unleashed comic book though! What made you choose to make it manga-sized?

JA: As a kid, I loved those little digest-sized comics. They were like little paperbacks but with comics inside. I'd love to see more of that.

The comic will be at least 22 pages (possibly more) with at least three stories. David Avallone wrote a fun Richard III horror story, which has nods to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Italian artist Helena Masellis illustrated the story and did an amazing job.

I wrote two stories: "Romeo and Juliet: Afterlife" with art by J.K. Woodward and "Exit Pursued by Bear" (based on Shakespeare's most infamous stage direction) with art by Zac Atkinson. All the stories will be lettered by Tom Napolitano.

CBY: Why did you decide to make the comic book black and white?

Illustration by J.K. Woodward & lettering by Tom Napolitano

JA: I thought black and white lends itself well to Shakespeare, and though the art isn't in manga style, I wanted to keep it as close as possible to a manga. CBY: In addition to the comic, you’ve got some fantastic art pieces illustrated by J.K. Woodward and lettered by Tom Napolitano. Did you have specific pieces you asked them to contribute or did they come up with them on their own? JA: We had a bit of an issue because we needed artwork for the campaign but the stories weren't in, so we couldn't base them on the fiction. I came up with the idea of doing illustrations based on iconic Shakespearean quotes like "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" and "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." J.K. really outdid himself and created amazing illustrations. He's even offering the original artwork through the Kickstarter campaign.

CBY: This anthology will be published by Crystal Lake Publishing AND Monstrous books — the former of which you founded! What else has Monstrous Books published?

JA: This is Monstrous Books' first project! CBY: Can you tease any other projects that we can expect from you and Monstrous Books after the fulfillment of this successful campaign?

Illustration by J.K. Woodward & lettering by Tom Napolitano

JA: You can expect more anthologies and comics from Monstrous Books. I'm hoping to do a graphic novel based on my Dead Jack Zombie Detective books very soon. But I have so many possible projects to choose from that I'm not sure which ones I'll do next.

CBY: What are some of the stretch goals you’ve unlocked in this campaign? With 30 days to go, what other stretch goals can you tease for people that find the campaign later? JA: So far, we've unlocked a free print. If you get the 4-print set you'll get a fifth one for free. We also unlocked a free digital book of the art from the campaign and some behind-the-scenes stuff. I'm still ironing out the details for the next stretch goals, but the next one will be coming when we hit $35K. CBY: Obviously, all these works are magnificent, but are there any in particular that you are excited for others to read once books are shipped?

Illustration by J.K. Woodward & lettering by Tom Napolitano

JA: I wrote two stories in the comic book and I'm really excited to share that. Two pages from my Romeo and Juliet story are previewed on the campaign page, and we may release the entire "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" story soon. But as always the real excitement is to finish the books and hold them in your hand. CBY: Is there anything else about this book and campaign you’d like to share to get us all excited? JA: This is going to be a gorgeous book. We really knocked it out of the park with Classic Monsters Unleashed, and I think we're going to top that. So if you like beautiful print books, Shakespeare, and horror, this is the project for you.


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