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Tina Horn & Lisa Sterle debrief on DEPROG

We didn't land the publication date on International Women's Day (Friday, March 8th), but in the Yeti Cave, the team will take any opportunity to showcase the indisputable fact that all sorts of women are awesome people doing awesome things, every day of the year, year after year. Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, was lucky to get the behind-the-book details on DEPROG (to be released through Dead Sky Publishing).


 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Tina and Lisa, welcome to the Yeti Cave today. We’re excited to have DEPROG featured amongst our interviews. How are the two of you doing in your respective locales?


TINA HORN: I just moved to a new neighborhood in Northeast LA and the view from my office window is a big improvement. Lots of blue sky and fruit trees and native plants and other people’s dogs. I’m fully caffeinated and somehow also hydrated and ready to talk cult mysteries and queer undergrounds with you!


LISA STERLE: I’m in Columbus, Ohio, where we are finally starting to exit the miseries of winter, and with a 15-month-old, it’s a welcome relief! I just moved into my house about 3 months ago, and I am still unpacking–half my studio is still in boxes. I’m definitely hoping the sunshine will be the motivation I need to finish unpacking. 



CBY: For the uninitiated, I should preface that this is a mature title with subject matter beyond the comfort level of most general audiences, so with that trigger warning laid out, can you both share with our readers how the two of you met and where the idea for this story first arose? When did you each realize, “now this is someone I can write a comic about sex cults with!”?



TH: Lisa was at the top of the list of artists I wanted to work with for this project. I was a fan of her Modern Witch tarot deck so I knew she had a great visual imagination for occult symbolism combined with stylish and witty characters. Her piece in an anthology called Dead Beats stood out to me, and I really loved the “acting” of her characters in the book Squad. As for the sexuality element, it’s always refreshing to collaborate with queer creators who are willing to “go there” with me when it comes to the more R rated pleasure and fetish content that I favor. 


LS: I’ve been a fan of Tina’s since her Image comic SFSX


Steve Wands from Dead Sky reached out to me with the pitch proposal for DEPROG, and I was immediately sold. I believe the story was described as Jessica Jones  meets The Big Lebowski meets Midsommar. I couldn’t say no to that! This was also my first opportunity to do a mature comic in terms of imagery, which I was definitely eager to dip my toes into.



CBY:  That's quite the synthesis of influences, Lisa! Tina, I know your podcast, Why Are People Into That?!, tackles a lot of the topics you begin to delve into with issue #1 of DEPROG around fetishism and fringe/taboo sexuality. Lisa, your portfolio has been less topically focused, so what sort of reference points did both of you draw upon from your lived experience and the creations of others to capture the dark, pulpy aesthetic and voicing you’ve delivered in this title? What sort collaborative process did you go through to develop the characters’ traits and make sure you were both on the same page with the world you were shaping and populating?


TH: I’d say Lisa and I had the perfect combination of open communication and giving each other trusting space. If there was a reference I thought would be helpful I’d put it on the ole Mood Board: whether it was a pop culture scene like this odd movie about twins called The House of Yes (1997) or a tip to search for real desert images of the very strange and very real Slab City, California. But it’s also a wonderful feeling to step back and let a sequential artist dream up outfits and gestures and compositions that I could never invent as a wordy person. We chatted about how to push beyond cliche tropes for the sex scenes and fetish play. And for our protagonists, Tate and Vera, how to depict butch and femme genders in a way I believe our queer readers will find refreshing, which will hopefully seduce our non-queer readers into a fascinating counter-culture. 



LS: Totally agreed with Tina here. The collaboration really started with a phone call where we chatted about visual and story influences (I mentioned a few earlier). It’s always exciting to get to know another creator and discover you love a lot of the same things. I remember geeking out about Dead Ringers (both the original and the recent remake) and cult movies like Martha Marcy May Marlene. Tina had a wealth of inspiration and knowledge on the kinkier aspects, although I’m not ignorant on that aspect. Ha! Her scripts were also always detailed enough to guide me in a direction but also left plenty of room for my own personal touch. 


CBY: Oh, I never took a class with Wendy MacLeod, but The House of Yes was definitely a point of pride in the Kenyon Drama department - definitely see where you're both coming from with that and Dead Ringers. Conversely, California is known for its plethora of cults, and since the Hollywood Babylon days has been viewed by much of the rest of the more puritanically-rooted country as a den of sin. Tina, you’ve spent a large part of your career there, in the Bay area, which is also known for a much more open-minded, sex-positive cultural climate than the Columbus, Ohio area where Lisa and I both hail from. The first week I moved to L.A. from Columbus, my roommate took me on a “field trip” to the Museum of Death and the Scientology Celebrity Center, so I quickly got a large dose of the vibe you capture in DEPROG. Given your different locales and the perspectives that come with them, what sort of conversations arose around building an audience for this work, and tapping into a fascination by those in the American cultural center with all the sordid activities that happen on the edge? 


TH: Ohhh, I love how deep you’re going with this question! I’ve been very open in my writing about the fact that some of my family were deep in the rural California branch of a global cult; that’s definitely the origin of my fascination with con artists and mass psychological control. I’ve lived in California most of my life except for a decade in NYC so I’m also constantly exposed to every shade of hippie nonsense you can imagine. I myself am into some hippie nonsense! Although I have that New Yorker cynicism to balance it out. Sometimes it does seem like the veil between worlds is thinner here, which leads to all kinds of wingnut beliefs and behavior. I didn’t really have to make up most of the “spiritual wellness” stuff Tate makes fun of in Issue 1 alone, just closely observe and satirize it. One of the key elements to Tate’s backstory is a system called Adaptogenetics, which we will learn more about in future issues: that’s a pun on Adaptogens which are this new brand of supplement that all of a sudden seems to be in every beverage in the grocery store and means a bubbly water with mushrooms that, “improve your brain function” costs $11. I would love to hear how Lisa and the rest of the art team perceive all of our wacky California ways. 


LS: I’ve had a bit of my own fascination with cults and fringe beliefs since I can remember. California definitely has its own unique, sometimes theatrical flair but you can find cults in the Midwest as well! My husband, Matthew Erman, was in a cult when he was young that met weekly at the local rec center. There’s a definite mundane aspect to a Midwest cult, but they’re no less insidious, as they’re either leaching your free will or your bank account. Or both. I also grew up Catholic, which is its own kind of cult that requires followers to blindly follow. 



CBY: I can relate to both, and that's part of why I loved this book so much. There’s a line when Tate meets Vera, “Personally, I can’t get enough of this problematic shit,” which seems to work both within the narrative around her willingness to embed herself in socially/sexually dangerous scenarios, and in a meta-narrative sense, as the focus of DEPROG puts a variety of practices in the spotlight that require a certainly level of maturity to reckon with. There’s a lot of shit out there - how does DEPROG serve as an opportunity to shed light on some of the most problematic shit out there? Are you able to orchestrate fictitious scenarios where characters deal with all that shit in a uniquely communicative manner that another medium besides comics might not allow?


TH: I love crime fiction for the same reason I love kinky underworlds: I have a need to roll around in the muckiest, darkest things people are capable of. Deprog has so many influences, and a big one is books where women are disgusting (Queenpin by Megan Abbott; Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh; The Grifters by Jim Thompson, which also has an excellent film adaptation), and movies where women use sex to get what they want (‘40s noir and ‘90s erotic thrillers). Real equality involves celebrating women and queer characters who are just as vile and amoral as anyone, maybe more so! Comics are such a great medium for antiheroes, for lovable scoundrels, and I had a lot of fun writing queer characters who are selfish and rude and profane, who drink too much, who use the people they’re close to, and who squat to piss on the side of the road (that’s a tease for Issue 2!). 


LS: Tina’s answer is so perfect here I don’t even have anything much to add other than comics is a medium in which you often get the opportunity to take a lot of risks, especially with a publisher like Dead Sky who was so willing to let us tell this story the way we wanted to. I really admire the indie publishers right now who are supporting stories that push the envelope in one way or another. 



CBY: Yeah, I think there's a whole additional interview worth of content to explore in that response alone. I was having a conversation with my daughters (who are young teens) about the context of the song One of the Girls, by The Weeknd, Jennie Kim, and Lily-Rose Depp, and the way in which it is, by way of being proliferated across mass media outlets, a depiction of sexuality that can be tied to abuse and unhealthy power dynamics. (I”m thinking back to the early ‘90s, the parental advisory label debates, and how Tipper Gore must go into conniptions when she hears a track like this three decades later.) Tina, I’m looking forward to listening to your podcast to hear how much of this is explored in detail. For the moment, can both of you share a bit of your perspective on what constitutes normative sexuality in a world where the baseline keeps shifting? Tate claims, “there’s nothing we can’t unfuck,” so what do healthy sexual expectations and personal equilibrium look like in a world where the baseline around sexual conduct is continually shifting? How do we evaluate what’s really fucked, and when norms or practices need to be unfucked?



TH: If you’ll allow me a double plug, I go deep on a lot of these topics (fantasy, erotic power exchange and pain play, the tension between what turns us on privately and who we are in the rest of our lives) in my nonfiction book based on my sexuality podcast, Why Are People Into That?, which is out June 2024 from Hachette and available to pre-order now! For now I’ll say, the lyrics to One of the Girls portray a fantasy that I relate to, that a lot of people relate to. It seems like it’s co-written by several artists so I’d like to think it comes from a sincere expression of desire and not empty provocation. The characters in Deprog are into BDSM, so they have a code of ethics around power and fantasy: in fact, they prioritize care and consent in their kinky sex way more than other arenas of their lives! Songs, like comics, are stories, and I don’t believe in repressing dark desires in storytelling. We don’t need fewer dark stories, we need more conversations with more people about cultural context, like the one I applaud you for having with your kids. 


LS:I’m glad we currently live in an age where we are starting to openly talk about sex, consent, abuse, healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics. I don’t have all the answers, but I think as long as we continue having these conversations, both with our partners and the broader public, we’ll start to figure it out.



CBY: Perhaps we can turn to a less probing question with what might be a much more straightforward answer; can you tell us about your process in finding a home for DEPROG at Dead Sky Publishing? You’ve both worked with a variety of different publishers, so how’d it come about, and what did they offer that other publishers may not have put on the table?



TH: Steve Wands is one of the publishers of Dead Sky, and he has been the letterer for my other comic series SFSX since I started out in this industry. I adore working with him, and I was so flattered when he asked me to pitch him a twisted thriller. It’s a pleasure working with indie publishers, especially ones that take as good care of their artists as Dead Sky does. They gave us the perfect combination of support and freedom!


LS: As mentioned before, I came onboard after Dead Sky had picked up the project with Tina. Working with Dead Sky was an absolute pleasure in every single aspect. I hope they have all the success and continue collaborating beautifully with comics creators. I’d work with them again in a heartbeat! 



CBY: So this initial run of DEPROG is slated for four issues. Have you already considered additional cases for Tate for subsequent story arcs? How expansive a world have you built beyond the initial case Vera brings to Tate?



TH: In my fantasies, Deprog would go on for years as a procedural like Hellblazer where John Constantine (problematic bisexual icon!) learns a lot and then never really grows at all. There’s no end to the cults Tate Debs could explore and the warped and weird worlds we could create for her to stumble through. And I love working with this team very much. So it’s really up to you all, the readers, to let the market know how much you want to keep returning to this world!


LS: I’d love to get the opportunity to tell more stories with Tate Debs!



CBY: I would welcome the expansion of this world - there's so much to explore. I’ve mentioned your podcast, Tina, and I know you’re writing other books. Lisa, you’ve got a critically acclaimed tarot deck, and a portfolio of beautiful work, including Witchblood, Squad, Long Lost, and others. Beyond DEPROG, what other projects do you both have in the works that you’d like to share with our readers today?


TH: I’ve mentioned Why Are People Into That? : a Cultural Investigation of Kink, which is available to preorder now wherever you buy books, and out Pride month 2024! I’m working on an oral history project for the Hacking Hustling collective, my “educatrix” relationship coaching and kink workshop practice, and have a bunch of other books, podcasts, and comics in the works! 


LS: I’ve got a graphic novel, Dying Inside, out with Vault Comics in the fall. Other than that, I can’t say yet but rest assured there will be many more comics from me in the near future. 



CBY: Glad to hear you've got something coming out with Adrian and Damian - I'd enjoyed talking with them about their publishing philosophy. I also really enjoyed that you situated Tate’s office in the rear of a video store (as someone who used to work in Wicker Park’s Odd Obsession, and was a frequent visitor to L.A.’s Cinefile and Vidiot’s, I can hardly think of a better locale). What sort of films inspired this project, and should readers be keeping an eye out for key references popping up? Also, any reason why you went with the option of a video store, and not a comic shop?  



TH: I’m a child of the ‘80s, so many of my formative cultural memories happened wandering through the physical space of my small town video store, getting freaked out by horror VHS covers, wanting desperately to know what illicit pleasures awaited me behind the beaded curtain in the X-rated backroom. Early in the development of DEPROG (which was still pretty deep COVID-19 quarantine), I was walking through a strip mall near my place in L.A. and I saw a sun-bleached video store display next to a rundown doughnut joint next to a desolate auto shop and it hit me: I’m old enough to be nostalgic for this kinda thing now. It’s fun to imagine some readers finding a video store esoteric and others having their own warm fuzzy feelings about them. A video store is also a great setting for meta-commentary because I’m obsessed with movies to this day. Lisa and I had a great time deciding which posters we wanted to allude to in the background: I know DEPROG fans are gonna have fun decoding the hidden meanings in those tributes!


LS: Every movie poster and VHS was selected intentionally! A group of my friends and I have been doing a weekly double-feature movie night for the last three years and horror, and strange ‘70S/’80’s movies, are often in rotation. It was so fun to select some of my personal favorites to feature. 



CBY: Oh, I love the intention behind that approach. So now that we’ve explored and unpacked some of the underlying thought behind DEPROG, I’m keen to hear your response to my customary closing question; once our readers give your work some attention, what other work (comics, film, music, literature, etc.) has been catching your attention and inspiring you lately? What should our readers ensure they don’t miss?



TH: Boys Weekend, by Mattie Lubchansky, is one of the best queer satirical sci-fi comics I’ve ever read, a belly laugh and a gut punch at once. The Seep, by Chana Porter, is a really surprising combo of Octavia Butler and Douglas Adams in which aliens exacerbate queer interpersonal drama. I saw Sparks at the Hollywood Bowl last year and I can’t believe they’re still so good after all these years. Roaming, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki made me nostalgic for just being broke and walking around Manhattan. If you loved Mark Ruffalo in Poor Things as much as I did, I recommend diving back into his pre-MCU days, especially the oh-so-problematic Jane Campion erotic thriller, In the Cut. I continue to be a movie podcast head, and can’t get enough of Blank Check, with Griffin and David, and Ruined, with Halle Kiefer and Alison Leiby.


LS: I’ve got to shout out Golgotha Motor Mountain, which is out now! Written by my husband Matthew Erman and Lonnie Nadler with art by Robbi Rodriguez, it is an absolute acid trip of a good time. I’m currently reading the novel Nightbitch, by Rachel Yoder, which I can’t recommend enough, especially if you’re a new mom. I recently re-watched the entirety of Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me, and Season 3 in the span of about two weeks which I can now say I believe is the best way to watch it. 



CBY: Ah yes, Lisa, I watched all of Twin Peaks many years ago over a similar timeframe while drawing a coloring book for the ice cream shop where I used to work, so I can wholeheartedly agree! Tina, you've opened up a whole avenue of new material to explore - thank you both so much for sharing your perspective with me and all the readers that pop by the Yeti Cave. I’m sure we’d all love to know more, so please share any  publication, portfolio, and social media links we should be aware of in the space below:



TINA HORN (Writer/Co-Creator)

Tina Horn is a writer, educatrix, and media-maker. Her book of fetish cultural criticism based on her long-running indie podcast Why Are People Into That?! will be out in 2024 from Hachette. Tina is the creator/writer of the sci-fi sex-rebel comic book series Safe Sex (Image) and the host/co-writer of the phone sex podcast Operator (Wondery). Her reporting on sexual subcultures has appeared in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Hazlitt, Glamour, Jezebel and elsewhere; she is the author of two nonfiction books and has contributed to numerous anthologies including the queer horror collection Theater of Terror and We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival which she also co-edited. Tina has lectured on adult entertainment politics and queer BDSM identities at universities and community centers all over North America, and works as an on-set consultant for theater, film, and television including the dominatrix scenes of Pose. She is a LAMBDA Literary Fellow, winner of two Feminist Porn Awards, an AVN-nominated director, and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence. Originally from Northern California, Tina spent a decade in NYC before re-settling in Los Angeles.


Visit TinaHorn.net for clips and newsletter

IG and Twitter @tinahornsass


 LISA STERLE (Artist/Co-Creator)

Lisa Sterle is the illustrator-creator of the iconic, bestselling Modern Witch Tarot deck, which has been featured in the New York Times, Vogue Italia and Cosmopolitan. She is also the co-creator and artist of the  comics Witchblood, Squad, Long Lost, and Submerged. She has worked with HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, DC, IDW, Image, BOOM! Studios, and many others.


IG @lisasterle, Twitter @lisa_sterle


DEPROG (Issue #1 of 4 in stores March 20, 2024; Dead Sky Publishing)

Meet Tate Debs, a hardboiled, hard-drinking, leather-loving dyke detective with an office in the back of Los Angeles's last video store. Tate specializes in rescuing and deprogramming people from abusive groups with extreme beliefs - like the one Tate herself escaped, that believed in inter-dimensional travel and taboo ritual sex. When a femme named Vera, who may just be fatale, hires Tate to infiltrate a group of mystical hippies out in the desert, she must decide if Vera's charms are worth being re-traumatized. Soon, Tate must face her past out of devotion to the femme she may be falling for, and a single-minded drive to avenge her family.

 

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