Horror comics are back in a big way. Well, let me correct myself. They never left. But while the indie labels kept the spirit and genre alive, not as many of the public's eyes took notice. Enter DC Comics. Yes, that DC Comics. When not pumping out some of the most iconic stories of our lifetimes, DC recently launched a horror imprint entitled DC Horror. Hot off the heels of their first successful title The Conjuring (telling stories in the cinematic universe we all know and love), DC Horror is ready to unleash their latest chilling tale unto the world. Soul Plumber exists at the barren intersection of The Exorcist and The Righteous Gemstones, and follows seminary student Edgar Wiggins as he recreates a machine said to deliver souls away from Satan. Is this his true calling? Or is something more sinister afoot?
And who better to bring us this monstrous creation than the minds behind the beloved podcast: The Last Podcast on the Left (Marcus Parks, Henry Zebrowski, and Ben Kissel). The trio are known for deep diving on serial killers, UFOs, and all sorts of things that can make your skin crawl. They're invading the world of comic books next, with the release of Soul Plumber set to come out October 5th.
Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski were gracious enough to sit down with FANGORIA and let me pick their brains for a bit:
So right off the bat, I'm just going to hit you guys with the heavy questions. Horror comics appear to be on the rise in recent years, was there an appeal to you personally for telling Soul Plumber's story in the medium of comics?
Henry Zebrowski: You know, it is incredible that we even got the opportunity to do this comic book because we have been pitching things for years that have never sold a single thing ever except to ourselves. And this kind of came about because DC approached us and asked us if we wanted to write a comic book. And to be honest, this was a thing that Marcus has always wanted to do. I, honestly, not that I didn't really think about writing a comic book, but when I was a little boy I had written on one of those things, "what do you want to do when you grow up?", my mom found it, and it says I wanted to write comic books. And I was like you as a little boy, I used to write and draw comics. So it kind of just fell into our laps. Then we were like: we get to do whatever the hell we want? And they're like, "yeah, it's comics so you can do whatever you want. There's no budget, you don't have to worry about 'how does it get made'". You just write it on a piece of paper, and then if the artist is good enough. John McCrae is good enough.
Marcus Parks: He's fantastic. And it's great, like the timing is just amazing for us because, you know, I am a lifelong comic book fan, but I haven't really had a store near me where I can go every week and get floppies in a long time. Right around the time we were offered this series, a comic book store in my neighborhood called Action City Comics opened up, and I started going there. I found that right now, comic books are in kind of a horror comic renaissance. There are so many. There's Department of Truth, there's Ice Cream Man, there's Ed Piskor's Red Room which is just like the goriest comic book I think I've ever read. Even in the superhero realm, you've got Immortal Hulk, where they took the Hulk back to its roots which is basically a horror comic book. And it was so cool to discover that, once we arrived in that world. We are not used to arriving and the world already being there.
Henry: Horror as a whole is having a moment. Horror is stronger than it's ever been, it's because it also seems to be the last bastion for independent thought in all media. It's the last place where it's not just remakes, and I mean a lot of sequels but that's just horror. What are ya gonna do? It's really rich right now.
Marcus: Yeah, and the ideas that these comic books like Ice Cream Man and Department of Truth and Red Room are playing around with are very interesting. It's very thought-provoking stuff. So I'm not gonna say that we're thought-provoking, we're just doing a fun horror comic. We're telling the story that we want to tell.
Henry: We can make you throw up. Yeah, honestly, that's kind of what I'm sure of.
Marcus: We're hoping you know to add to that. To add to that kind of renaissance going on right now in horror comics.
I love that answer because I'm a self-proclaimed DC and horror comic fan. I think horror fans in particular, are in for a huge surprise when they get their hands on your first issue with the gross-out nature of it and some of the surprises that I didn't expect. So I've got to ask: What was the biggest inspiration behind Soul Plumber?
Henry: Well thankfully, with The Last Podcast on the Left, we have a history of information to draw on because when we approach the horror space like this, especially with a comic book, we're like "we want to do something that adds a part of me." And one thing that Last Podcast has, thankfully, is we have all this research. So we directly took seeds of information from shit we've covered on the show and tried to work its way in. We're trying to add some esoterica to the world of DC Horror.
Marcus: As far as influences go, we definitely took cinematic influences and our biggest was that we wanted it to feel like a Frank Henenlotter movie.
Henry: Yeah, we Basket Case this whole thing, Basket Case and Brain Damage. Aylmer is my patron saint.
Marcus: Yeah, I'm a gigantic Basket Case fan, and it's also inspired a lot by the Vertigo Comics of the '90s. You know that there's inspiration from Preacher. Garth Ennis is a big inspiration on this. The Invisibles are also a big inspiration. We've also taken stuff from Swamp Thing, and a little bit from Sandman. Old school DC Horror, all of these books that have horror elements in them.
Henry: It was The Andreasson Affair. It was this story of a woman that was abducted, and her entire frame of reference was that she was very deeply Christian. So when she was abducted, the entire scenario took on this whole Christian storyline, but it wasn't HER Christianity. It was like early Christianity. She saw imagery from before the modern versions of the church. All these types of things that she would not have been exposed to, but somehow in this kind of dreamscape she's been plugged into this collective unconscious of Christian thought. I love that idea, also playing with the idea where people think aliens or demons are angels. Because people see whatever they want to see.
So reflecting on Soul Plumber, I know we talked a lot about how horrific all the imagery is. But the book has downright laugh-out-loud funny moments. I found myself cracking up at some of the dialogue and action that takes place.
Henry: Oh, thank god. Honestly, that's what we're trying to do. We want it to be as funny as possible. I think it gets funnier as it goes, as you see the characters develop because issue one obviously is more than that. I always keep saying episodes and shit because I'm a TV man. So I view it as a pilot, where you're just setting up all of these elements. We're now in issue three that we just wrote. We're really getting to play with character, which I really think is fun to watch develop.
How do you guys find that balance between horror and humor? Obviously, you're fans of both genres and have experience working in both.
Marcus: This is something that we've been doing for a while now. We've been working on this balance for ten years. That's what The Last Podcast on the Left has always been. This balance of horror and humor. Like how do we do a three-episode series on Albert Fish, who committed some of the most horrific murders in human history? How do we also make that funny? So we've always had to balance horror and humor. That's the other thing too, horror and comedy are the two genres that are so the most closely linked because they have the exact same
Henry: As many physical reactions as we get from both. I am an indulgent person, right? I'm not what one would call a "subtle artist", so in my mind, you just keep piling both of those piles as high as you can get them. Every single time it's like: "Alright, that's funny. Now we have to gross them out". "Alright, that's gross. Now we gotta make it funny". Then you just pile them higher and higher, and then you mix it all together like some stinky blood-filled cold Cold Stone Creamery ice cream.
Marcus: We both like to push it and see how gross we can possibly make it. I've always wanted to do something like this where I could just make it as gross as humanly possible, but also keep the horror and suspense in there. This isn't necessarily a suspense comic, but it's definitely horror, and there are some greats like The Nice House on The Lake, which is a fantastic horror comic out right now that plays with suspense really well.
Henry: But you've got to be a really good writer for that, and we're not there yet. So that's why a lot more exploding nipples and stuff like that. That's really our wheelhouse.
Marcus: We're splatter guys, you know? One of my favorite horror movies is Cannibal Holocaust. I love splat- I LOVE splatter horror. I love exploitation horror and grindhouse shit. This is definitely the stuff in the horror realm that I'm really glad we can bring to the forefront of this comic book.
I think it's super important that you guys said there's a focus on splatter rather than outright horror. I feel like a lot of horror comics today try to get TOO esoteric and try to actually terrify. It's nice to see a title come along where it's just over the top in your face. It's funny, it's gross, it's wild. I think Soul Plumber checks all those boxes.
Marcus: It's only going to get worse from here.
Henry: It really is.
Marcus: The first issue is by FAR the tamest one.
Before we part ways, were there any other horror comics you guys read growing up? Any title in particular where you had that lightbulb moment of "ah, this is a medium I want to explore"?
Marcus: The very first comic I ever read when I was five years old was Swamp Thing #32. Which as you know, that's part of Alan Moore's horror run. The reason I bought it is because I opened it up like, "Oh, these little cute Pogo characters. This is so great, this could be really fun". The actual issue itself is horrifying. It's about these little aliens that come down and land on earth, and then one of them gets eaten by a crocodile. They think that this is going to be their new planet where they can settle. Their old planet was destroyed by evil monkeys and they discovered the evil monkeys have also taken over earth. Then a crocodile comes after each one of them, and they have to leave. It's a very disturbing comic book. That just painted so much of the rest of my life and the rest of my influences.
Henry: You know what I realized had been a big influence on me with creating some of these characters, that actually didn't really occur to me until I was thinking about it the other day: my obsession with Savage Dragon. I was obsessed with that comic book and loved it. I realized I took a lot of inspiration from Savage Dragon. There's something about that sense of humor in that book that I just loved. I mean, those were kind of my worlds as a little kid. I always liked all the scary-looking things like Spawn and all of that shit. But I don't even know if you can call Spawn a horror comic.
Marcus: HELL YEAH! Spawn has a lot of horror. Spawn is pretty much a horror comic. Yeah, it's goofy as fuck but it's still horror.
Henry: That's how I like my horror.
Marcus: When I was a kid in that realm, I was and still am a huge fan of The Maxx and the idea of interdimensional shifting. Sam Keith played with it a lot and the idea of the nature of perception. That was definitely a big influence,
Henry: The Maxx is great.
Love it. Congratulations on the book. I can't wait to see how Soul Plumber plays out.
Marcus: Thank you so much.
Henry: I wonder how it's gonna' end. I'm not even certain. It's gonna' be fun.
Soul Plumber #1 from DC Horror hits comic bookshelves October 5th, 2021. That's today. Go grab your copy!