“I like comics that are exploratory but still fun and story driven” Mike Garley talks Late Fees, Samurai Slasher and 80s video stores

‘The world’s first ‘slash of life’ comic’ – that’s the best way we could think to describe Samurai Slasher: Late Fees, the new book from The Kill Screen’s Mike Garley and Knock Off Wars’ Lukasz Kowalczuk. A mix of personal and poignant story-telling, head-chopping Samurai action and 80s video shop nostalgia all rendered in Lukasz’s crazy technicolour style. Ahead of a launch event at Orbital Comic on September 8th we caught up with Mike to find out more about this truly unique collaboration!

Your new book Late Fees has a really experimental feel to it compared to previous Samurai Slasher stories, what was the inspiration behind it and how does it fit into the main Samurai Slasher series?

Mike Garley: I don’t really consider Late Fees as a Samurai Slasher book – the Slasher is just a metaphor for 80s horror and could just as easily be replaced with Freddy or Jason. I used the Slasher as he’s my character, and because this is a really personal story it just kind of made sense. I think the fact that this is billed as a Samurai Slasher book has the advantage of being slightly disarming for the reader – especially if they’re expecting a normal Samurai Slasher book and end up with this…

By using 80s horror films as a template for the character, do you think you are able to be a bit more experimental with the types of story you tell as the films often go off in weird and crazy directions after the first couple in the series?

MG: I think I can be experimental, but if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll be doing something like Late Fees for quite a while. I like comics that are exploratory but still fun and story driven. I’m a lot happier working with stories that have a more mainstream feel to them. I wrote Late Fees because I wanted to, and I’m an independent creator so I can pretty much do what I want…

Samurai Slasher part three ends that story and as such is a lot more character/story driven then the rest of them have been. I’ll probably do a couple of one-shots though because there’s some really stupid ideas that I think are too fun to be forgotten, as well as a few horror clichés that people are continuously asking for.

It has quite a personal feel to it, is it based on personal experience? Did you intend it to be such a personal tale?

MG: Yes, it’s based on a personal story – it’s obviously a lot ‘neater’ then the real life events, and features a hell of a lot more death (and Samurai) but it’s definitely grounded in realism. I really struggled to finish the story because I was so close to it I couldn’t tell if it actually worked. Luckily I had a few good friends who had a look through and assured me it wasn’t a mess.

Did you always feels like the character could work in different ways like this? Or did you almost retrofit it to work the story you wanted to tell? 

MG: I think the great things about existing characters is that people already have thoughts and feelings about them, which gives you the opportunity to explore these feelings in a different way. In a weird way they’re like zombies – people know what to expect if you say there’s zombies, which means you can focus on how people react to them instead of wasting time in explaining what a zombie is. People who have read the Samurai Slasher or who have watched any horror will get the character, which means that we can focus on the relationships within the story instead. Late Fees is a character story that’s hidden in plain sight. I wanted to create something that would benefit from multiple read throughs, and Lukasz was instrumental for incorporating visual clues throughout the story.

How did you and Lukasz team up? Did you write the story with him in mind? And how much direction did you give him or did you just let him loose?

I’ve been a fan of Lukasz for a while – I even got him to do a pin up for The Kill Screen a couple of years ago – and I’ve been looking for an excuse to work with him for a while. When I decided that I wanted to write Late Fees I thought his art could really push the story to the next level. I approached him about it and when he said he liked the sound of it I wrote it. I much prefer writing with an artist in mind, as I like to have a rough idea of how it would look and feel when people are reading it. If this story was with a more …traditional artist it would probably be a little more introverted, compared to the more psychedelic approach that Lukasz took with the book. Lukasz took my script and just ran with it, bringing a lot of his own personal experiences to the story. With it being such a personal story I expected to have a LOT of notes (I normally do anyway) but I think most of my comments were just me praising the choices he made.

We love the Shockbusters rules and the general 80s vibe to it – what would be your 80s video store favourites that you would recommend for Samurai Slasher fans?

MG: The obvious stuff like Friday the 13th, House, Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, The Thing, American Werewolf, The Running Man, Halloween 3 (yep, seriously)

Did you have a favourite video store that you used get movies from as a kid (which inspired the Shockbusters page) and do you miss that hands on experience of renting a movie, or do you prefer the simplicity of Netflix/digital?

MG: I had two. The one in the story that I used to go to with my dad, and a Blockbusters that was round the corner from my mum’s house. I loved the video store experience and really miss it – there was something magical about walking around the store and looking at hundreds of different videos (especially given how crazy the box art was back there). I think that’s a whole experience that we miss now as we have our viewing experience curated by computer algorithms. Don’t get me wrong we get loads of incredible stuff now – I just worry that it’s to the detriment of the weirder stuff that people would pick up. I’m worried that this generation won’t have any cult classics…

How’s Slasher 3 coming along? When will be seeing that and we can look forward to in it?

MG: Part three is just a month or so away! It’s looking really good and I’m excited to finish that story. The book is different to the first two but I think people are going to really enjoy it. This is the first time I’ve written a ‘trilogy’ like this so it’s been a lot of fun, with each book needing something different. I’m hoping that the book will be ready to Kickstart at the beginning of October…

Are you going to look to try this kind of story again or is it just a one off experiment? Do you think it would work with any of your other characters? Or does it depend on the story? (I suppose you do this to an extent with The Kill Screen?)

MG: Maybe. I’d love to get to play with more licensed properties, but this time I’d like the creative freedom to try and do something new and exciting with them. I think audiences are far more sophisticated and open to more meta/experimental storytelling. I probably won’t do it again on any of my comics as I don’t have a story that I want to tell with any of them (although that might change), and they already allow me to tell layered stories in their current formats anyway.

Mike and Lukasz will be launching the book at Orbital Comics on Friday 8th September between 4.00 and 7.00. There will be a limited number of 666 copies and after that the remaining copies will be available on Mike’s Big Cartel Store.