Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Not sure who Asylum Press is? They've been around a long time, but they've still got that indie/underground horror comics cred. And so does its EIC, Frank Forte, who has decades of experience writing, arting (yeah, I said what I said) and more in the genre over numerous formats and media. Today, DC Horn interviews Forte about his history and horror roots, how Asylum Press came to be, and...Wolf Porn and the Apocalypse?
FRANK FORTE: My name is Frank Forte, I’ve worked in indie comics throughout the '90s working for Cry For Dawn, CFD, Boneyard Press, Anubis Press and others. In 1991, I published my first comic From Beyonde #1 which was with Mike Bliss, Scott DiAngelis and Al Columbia. In 1999, I started Asylum Press to self-publish my own comics and other indie creators. I published Hex of the Wicked Witch, Vampire Verses, Billy Boy, Satan’s Powder Room, Satan Gone Wild, Chicken Soup for Satan and many others.
CBY: You had a successful Kickstarter in October 2021 with the Halloween Horror Box. I have had the opportunity to read these, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. You clearly have an affinity for horror. What makes a great horror story?
FF: I love the short horror tale. I grew up reading the DC horror comics, House of Mystery, Ghosts, The Witching Hour, so I loved all that stuff. Then I found Eerie and Creepy on the newsstands. It was later that I found the EC reprints. Also some Bernie Wrightson collections of his shorts and, of course, Heavy Metal Magazine. I think a good short story should have a good set-up in the first 2 pages, some really good creeps and thrills, have a character you can identify with (his or her struggle, or obsession, then a good build up and a horrifying twist—I love the full-page shock flip ending, meaning the last page is an even numbered page—so you ‘flip” and there’s the ending.
CBY: Could you give us a must-watch horror movie or show, and a must-read horror book or comic?
FF: Any of the old Wrightson collections are great. Mutants, or any Swamp Thing collection—as most of those are really one story per issue. Swamp Thing #10, the Arcane story—is truly disturbing. As for films—I try and watch as many mainstream or indie horror that I can. I Loved “X” which was a kind of tribute to '70s horror and '70s porn, haha! Also, As Above, So Below was very twisted and unnerving—if you haven’t seen it—see it alone, in a dark house, after midnight- you won’t regret it.
CBY: I found it interesting the various positions and job titles you had with the Horror Box project. Story creator, scriptwriter, artist, cover artist, editor. How do you departmentalize these various tasks? Is there a role that you prefer?
FF: Well I prefer to just be writing and drawing the comics, but that isn’t possible when you’re an indie creator. I’ve been self-publishing really since 1991 when I was in college. I took breaks here and there, to work in animation, TV and film as a storyboard artist, but as an indie creator, it’s sometimes hard to find publishers to take on your work, and even if they do it doesn’t mean you’ll make any more profits. Trying to departmentalize and do everything can be tough, you just have to have lists, get up early and try to get it all done. Running a Kickstarter is very time-consuming—in building the project, promotion, then finishing the books—and fulfillment! Whew, that’s nuts! We just finished shipping Halloween Horror Box this week. Now we had five titles all together—and many of them had variant covers, metal covers, naughty covers- and we do some of the books offset and some POD, so we use different printers, so some of the books take longer to finish, there were printing delays, paper shortages, etc. But I do most of the shipping myself. I have a little help here and there, but I’m off to the post office at least a few times a week.
CBY: What do you look for differently in a story, depending on your role with it?
FF: When I write, I like to have fun, but also let the artist have his way with it, so I’m not too heavy-handed on the art. I recently worked with Edu Menna on a 5-issue mini-series called BLAKE DIXXON: WARLORD OF THE APOCALYPSE. It’s a love letter to Mad Max and '80s post-apoc films, but I’ve added the paranormal. So think Mad Max if there were zombies and vampires. It’s truly a fun ride.
CBY: Something I found extremely interesting on your resume is your work as a storyboard artist. With credits including: Lovecraft Country, Fantasy Island, Solar Opposites, Dreamwork’s 3Below, Bob’s Burgers, Insidious 4, Lego: Guardians of the Galaxy, Despicable Me 2, Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out, The Super Hero Squad Show, Marvel Heroes 4D, and Lego Hero Factory. Frank’s comic book credits include: Heavy Metal Magazine, Bob’s Burgers, Warlash, DTOX, Zombie Terrors and Chicken Soup For Satan. Could you tell us a little about your experience with that side of the industry?
FF: Storyboarding for film and TV is fun- I get to at least keep my storytelling skills up—the format is different, but you can have a good time and be able to pay the bills. Once you get out to Hollywood you can start sending your portfolios around and once you start getting work it’s fairly easy to network. It seems to be easier to get work in animation as the studios accept portfolios on a regular basis—in film-there’s no real place to send a portfolio- you just have to start to get to know directors, UPMs, showrunners and art dept. coordinators, then your name gets thrown around. Lovecraft Country was fun, as I got to storyboard a lot of creatures and VFX shots.
CBY: Is there a favorite project that you worked on?
FF: Lovecraft Country was an incredibly challenging show—but it was rewarding in the end to see all the work you did on screen. But all in all- I really enjoy working on my own projects—my own comics—that’s the most fun and the most reward. Creating your own worlds. I’m trying to find the time to finish The Vampire Verses and Hex of the Wicked Witch next—both projects I started in the 90s and never finished.
CBY: How would you compare storyboarding and comic book art?
FF: The format is different, that’s the main thing- but I like trying to compose in the landscape/film format the most. And, with storyboards you can draw loosely—you don’t need a final finished ink drawing like you do in comics—so you can get more done. Comics is painstakingly slow, roughs, pencils, inks, color, letters—I mean—it’s not a fast way to work. I’m trying to find a quicker style—one with not as much detail.
CBY: On your webpage www.frankforte.com, you showcase your paintings. One of the most striking things about your style is the combination of classic cartoons and disturbing horror. It’s fascinating how natural you make that merging seem. “Wolf Porn and the Apocalypse” is one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve seen in a long time. What is the creative process of diving into these surreal, vintage, cartoon, horror scenes?
FF: Yeah—when I came out to LA, I wanted to be part of the Lowbrow/Pop Surrealism art scene—I had grown up reading Juxtapoz so I knew the art galleries like la Luz De Jesus and Copro gallery were all out here. I started submitting my work and got into a group show at la Luz De Jesus called Laluzapalooza in 2014, I think it was. That led to a few smaller group shows and other galleries having interest. For the paintings, I try to do a lot of sketches and have some type of a flow between 10-15 paintings, so each art show has a theme, then I get to work and try and finish as many as I can without interruption. I look at old cartoons, rubber hose animation, cartoon model sheets and other old stuff for inspiration.
CBY: Asylum Press has been publishing for over 20 years. You’re listing 20 printed titles and 7 webcomics on asylumpress.com. Is there a title that holds a special place in your heart?
FF: Vampire Verses was my first title that went big in 1995. I really want to finish the tale as it’s set as a 12-issue miniseries. I loved being able to put out Steve Mannion’s Fearless Dawn as I’ve always loved Steve’s work and felt it needed a wider audience. We are putting out some new Fearless Dawn comics, the newest one is Fearless Dawn: Shorts #1 (one-shot), a collection of 5 new tales that Steve’s been working on and never saw print, plus some Pin-up books and Helga’s Story. Working with Robert Rhine (Girls and Corpses) on his Satan Books was really fun, and doing the convention scene with Robert was a blast. He knows how to have a good time on the road.
CBY: Vampire Macabre is a collection of three short vampire stories with wildly different settings and tones. Who are your vampire heroes? What are your “vampire rules”?
FF: Vampire Macabre #1 is an anthology of 3 vampire tales. They introduce a bunch of new characters that will be appearing in future issues of Vampire Macabre as well as their own series. Nosferazixx debuts in the issue, and she’s kind of a modern-day Nosferatu. She has a group of vampires under her, but she’s trying to make it in the real world. It has a bit of humor, but also disturbing horror. Zephira is a vampire in a post-apoc world that’s connected to a comic called BLAKE DIXXON: WARLORD OF THE APOCALYPSE. We’ll be expanding on these characters in future issues. Vampire rules can be tricky. There [are] so many. I think with different stories/worlds, you can have different rules. I like the classic "vampires hate crosses" thing. And holy water can hurt them. I think it’s fun to experiment with the Anne Rice rules, where crosses don’t work.
CBY: One of your titles that I really enjoyed was Vampire Verses. I think I told you this earlier, but I was standing when I opened it and I paced back and forth until I was finished, just lost in the pages. The whole time I was reading it though, and I say this affectionately, I had this “Vampire the Masquerade” vibe. Are you familiar with that?
FF: I’ve heard of it but haven’t read it. Glad you liked Vampire Verses, it’s a story I’m planning on finishing.
CBY: One of your titles that I found absolutely fascinating was Vampires No.1, which is a collection of pre-code vintage vampire comics from the 1950s. What was the process of creating this?
FF: Steve “Karswell” Banes brought it to me. He does the blog The Horrors of it All and worked with IDW with Craig Yoe on the Haunted Horror book, plus some other pre-code horror collections. These were stories that IDW was going to publish, but they decided to go in another direction. We have a 2nd and 3rd issue planned.
CBY: We’ve spent quite a bit of time on the topic of vampires. Included in the Horror Box though, is EEEK! & Zombie Terrors. Amazingly, Zombie Terrors showcases a far range of what a zombie is. What makes a good zombie to you?
FF: Zombie Terrors is a book where I try and let authors have their way with the Zombie tale. There are so many possibilities, and I don’t think zombies have been played out. I like zombies to be mindless—I’m not really into the intelligent zombie. And brains!! They must eat BRAINS!!!!!
CBY: Can a vampire become a zombie?
FF: Ha! Good question. I think yes, it’s possible—they’d keep their fangs—but want to suck brains instead of veins!!
CBY: Can a zombie become a vampire?
FF: I would think not. As if a vampire bit a zombie? What would happen?? Maybe if there was a strange comet that came to the earth and the virus infected the zombie population with an alien parasite and made them crave blood!! Haha! That could work!!
CBY: Stepping away from horror a little bit, you have the title Warlash, which is more in the superhero vein with a fashionable '90s grit. What makes a great hero?
FF: A great hero has to fight for the little guy. He gives up his life to fight for justice and right the wrongs. I think he also has to be going up against a wave of corruption, where law enforcement doesn’t work anymore.
CBY: What is next for Asylum Press? And what is next for Frank Forte?
FF: We have a Fearless Dawn: Shorts #1 coming out. I’m working on Billy Boy: The Ghastly Nightmare and of course Beyond Doomsday: Illustrated Tales of the Apocalypse. This is my next collection and my next Kickstarter. Beyond Doomsday: Illustrated Tales of the Apocalypse is a science fiction anthology that features twisted tales of post-Armageddon terror. Bringing together a collection of artistic talent that spans the globe, this dystopian tome of comic book narratives takes you to the darkest regions of our future. Many of these stories were featured in Heavy Metal Magazine. Other tales are brand-new to this volume. Featuring an amazing cover by U.K. artist Ryan Brown (Heavy Metal, Marvel, IDW). Stories written by Frank Forte (Heavy Metal, Lovecraft Country, Asylum of Horrors).
Highlighted stories featured: "The Transaction" by Sylvester Song, takes us on a dirty deal gone bad in the darkest regions of space. Features a previously unpublished Steve Mannion (Fearless Dawn) story entitled "Burner". "Battlefield X" brings us on the front lines of a bio-chemical war. "Mutation" by J.C. Wong, delivers a tale of post-nuke mutations and sexual deviancy which can only have disastrous results. "Beacon from Scorpius 4" illustrated by Edu Menna, brings you to the edge of space where a lone astronaut responds to a distress signal -- could it be his doom? "Sex Tales from Cyborg-9" takes us to a planet where a group of aliens are exchanging bizarre sex stories, until a secret is revealed. "Swamp Girl" features a crazed girl that can't seem to get enough of her swamp beast lover. "Pondering in the Apocalypse" is about a lone survivor of a nuclear war who ponders humanity and the future of the earth. Other tales include "Incident on Alpha Proxima" and "Short Circuit."