Hail to the King, baby! If you haven't been reading Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Bloodsuckers, well, your life has been a lot less awesome...
Written by Joshua Jabcuga (The Mummy: The Rise and Fall of Xango's Ax), with art by Tadd Galusha (Godzilla: Rage Across Time), Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood Suckers is an IDW mini-series based off of Joe R. Lansdale's prequel novel. The story centers around Elvis (who never actually died), and a group of agents who take care of supernatural problems, as they are tasked with bringing down a horde of alien vampires from another dimension. (Some of you may remember the Don Coscarelli film, Bubba Ho-Tep, which is based off one of Lansdale's short stories, and stars the legendary Bruce Campbell.)
I sat down to discuss the comic series with writer Joshua Jabcuga.
KHC: What does the tone of the comic resemble more closely, the film adaptation of Bubba-Ho-Tep, or the book series by Joe R. Lansdale (or both)?
JJ: I'd like to say the tone of the comic book series matches Joe R. Lansdale's prequel novel the closest (Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers), since it's a direct adaptation of that. It was one of my goals when writing the scripts certainly. The film adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep was based on one of Lansdale's short stories, from Don Coscarelli's script. Of course, Coscarelli also directed the hell out of that script, and Bruce Campbell gave one of the most incredible performances you'll ever see, whether you're talking genre films, mainstream, indies, whatever. Bruce Campbell contributed to the overall tone of the Bubba Ho-Tep movie, in my opinion, so he can't be left out of the conversation.
Probably the only thing we share in common with the film adaptation is the tight deadline. And of course, the Lansdale factor, which is why any of this exists in the first place, in any shape or form. Without Lansdale, there's no Bubba. Period. End of story. Literally.
KHC: How important was it for you to mix quirky humor with gallons of blood? Was that difficult?
JJ: It was extremely important and at times challenging, because I really wanted to do Lansdale's story justice, and if I'm being honest, I wanted to make him proud of my work.
You're flexing different muscles as a writer when you're doing an adaptation. Try as one might, you just can't fit everything from the novel into the comic. Plus there are certain judgement calls you have to make. You ask yourself, "OK, well, since we can't fit everything in here, what parts do we omit?" Or I may do a composite of certain scenes that were present in the novel, because we only have so much room. Also, as we all know comic books and prose novels are two different animals. What may work in a novel might not translate to a comic, and vice versa. At the very least you work to keep the spirit and tone from the novel intact.
Lansdale is one of the few writers who can actually get me to laugh out loud when I'm reading his work. And his work in the horror genre, while he doesn't do as much horror as he used to do, is up there with the giants of our era, writers on my personal Mt. Rushmore, such as David J. Schow, Stephen King, and Jack Ketchum. Looking at those names, no one mixes the humor and the horror quite like Lansdale. Have you read Lansdale's The Drive-In? It's one of the most twisted, effed up, funniest things. There were points where I laughed and I thought, "This is really dark material--is there something wrong with me that I find it...comical?" And it gave me nightmares too! It's truly a masterpiece, and a staggering accomplishment. I dare anyone to read that and not walk away thinking Lansdale is brilliant. My point is, the "quirky humor with the gallons of blood" as you described it, is Lansdale's trademark recipe. Tadd and I are doing our best to follow the ingredients in that recipe, because it's all there in the original source material, that being the novel. Except...it's a bit more complicated than baking some Betty Crocker cupcakes out of a box.
KHC: What drew you to Bubba-Ho-Tep? How did you get involved?
JJ: Being a writer, I was drawn to "Bubba Ho-Tep" because of Joe Lansdale. But I'm not going to be a book snob or whatever and assume everyone who has seen Bubba Ho-Tep is familiar with Joe R. Lansdale...if they're not, hopefully after they watch the movie they say, "Hey, that was really different--I wonder who thought up something like that? What else has that guy done? Maybe I should check it out." The answer is: he's done a lot of amazing things, and yes, you should check it out. I've never been let down by a Lansdale book, and I'm not alone.
Bruce Campbell has an army of fans, and deservedly so. I remember when I was much younger, before the Bubba Ho-Tep movie was even a thing, standing in line to meet him. It's Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead, c'mon, right?! And Don Coscarelli, I mean, the Phanstasm films, especially the first one, is a landmark film, for many reasons. He's a true maverick. It's safe to say all three of them are mavericks, and Lansdale, Campbell, and Coscarelli are three very significant reasons for anyone to be drawn to the Bubba Ho-Tep movie. But for me, yeah, it was Lansdale, since I'd read his short story before it was turned into a movie. That was the draw for me. The movie was icing on the cake.
For me, being an avid reader of Joe R. Lansdale paid off in more than one way. I read and collect all of his books, and I buy the collector's versions if I can afford them or if they don't sell out right away. I'm on an email list for one of the companies that produces higher end and limited editions of Lansdale's books. One morning I received an email from the company teasing that Lansdale was working on a Bubba Ho-Tep prequel, and they were taking preorders for the novel. The first thing I did was preorder the book. The second thing I did was forward the email to my editor at the time, Chris Ryall, who was in charge at IDW Comics. I said, "Chris, I'm sure this would make for a really cool comic book." Chris agreed. Long story short, within three days or so, Chris Ryall and IDW had worked out a deal with Lansdale's agent, and I was sent a copy of the advanced manuscript and told to get to work on the comic book adaptation. It's one of those "too good to be true" scenarios, but that's what went down.
KHC: When writing Elvis, how much influence does actor Bruce Campbell have on the character based off of his portrayal? If not Bruce, where do you find your influence from while writing about the King?
JJ: Bruce Campbell's portrayal had zero influence for several reasons. First off, no writer or artist can bring to a page what Bruce Campbell brought to the screen. No one can do Bruce Campbell's Elvis the way Bruce Campbell does Elvis.
Plus, the version of Elvis in Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is slightly younger than the version Bruce portrays in the Bubba Ho-Tep movie. Personally speaking, the comic is one of those instances where the vast majority of the dialogue came right from Joe Lansdale's novel (although I believe a good portion of Lansdale's dialogue was worked into the film adaptation, which just goes to show you how much everyone respects Lansdale as a writer--no one really wants to change a word if they don't have to). Bubba is Joe Lansdale's take on Elvis, so all of my influence writing the character was plucked right out of the novel.
As a matter of fact, I hadn't seen the movie in a long time. There was a Collector's Edition released on Blu Ray and I'd received it as a holiday gift several years ago, and I hadn't gotten around to revisiting it or all the supplements on that edition. Then when Chris Ryall and IDW gave me the greenlight to work on the comic book adaptation, I purposely steered clear of watching the movie because I wanted this to be as faithful to Lansdale's prequel novel as possible.
KHC: Who is your favorite character to write NOT named Elvis and why?
JJ: They're all fun when you're writing them, and if they're not, you're either not finding a way to connect with the character in some way, or you are writing the character and the story for the wrong reasons. If you count Elvis, this is my third iconic character or franchise property I've worked on. I did a comic book miniseries prequel to the Scarface movie, I did a comic book tie-in to The Mummy movies (the ones that starred Brendan Fraser), and now Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers.
KHC: What was it like working with Lansdale on this? How much involvement does he have?
JJ: Like many projects, something may pop up out of the blue once or twice that you have no control over whatsoever, or it's something completely out of your hands, despite the best intentions of everyone involved. I'd take up your entire day if I tried to list all the things I've learned from Lansdale during the course of this project, and what it's been like working with him, but I will tell you it's been a complete honor for me to have this experience. It's like if you play the guitar and get to jam a bit with Hendrix, or maybe more apropos, you study martial arts and someone offers you the chance to train for a few sessions with Bruce Lee. For me, that's what it's been like, except when I went into the project, I considered Lansdale a hero and put him on a pedestal. Here we are about to release issue three of Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers, which is basically the midway point of the story, and I have even more respect for him as a writer and as a human being than the day I started. I'd like to say he's become a friend. Either way, it's been a massive privilege for me. If you told me any of this 15 or 20 years ago, I wouldn't have believed you about any of it.
KHC: How has artist Tadd Galusha helped influence the series?
JJ: The simplest way to put it is this: Just as I can't imagine any other actor besides Bruce Campbell playing Elvis in the Bubba Ho-Tep movie, I can't imagine the comic book series without Tadd Galusha's contributions. As the series rolls on, and we're getting more and more of the art work back and finalized with coloring, there are just so many amazing touches that have Tadd's fingerprints on them. I've read Lansdale's novel many times, inside and out, to pound out my scripts, so I'm familiar with the book. Since I wrote the adaptation, I have the unique perspective of knowing precisely what's in the scripts, and then when I see the art, or even better, when I am able to sit down with the physical copy of the finished comic book for a particular issue, I can see all these tiny details or subtle flourishes that Tadd brought to the table himself.
I have tremendous respect for any artist I work with, and I'm fortunate to have collaborated with some really talented, skilled professionals in the past. It blows my mind to see what the artists can do after I hand in a script. Comic book artists are storytellers too, they just use different tools than the ones I use as a writer. I think what has impressed me the most about Tadd's influence on the project is his contribution to the overall storytelling aspects. Tadd's not just making the visuals look cool or sexy or comical or creepy or whatever that particular scene might call for--hell, it may call for all of those things in a single panel for this project--but Tadd's making some very calculated, very savvy choices with regard to the characters, the action, the pacing, and yes, to go full circle with your interview, the tone of the series.
Some of my scripts have been really dense, because I want to get as much of the novel in there. I've joked with Tadd, almost apologetically, like, "Here you go, man, please don't kill me, but I'm gonna need you to stuff 50 pounds into this five pound sack...again." And Tadd has been incredible, absolutely incredible.
So when I first started working on the Bubba project back in April of last year, I was like, "Man, if I'm lucky, I'll learn this from Lansdale, and I'll learn that from Lansdale, and maybe even this too from Lansdale." Lansdale always, always makes time for me, and I guarantee he's sick of me by this point, but he knows I only want what's best for the project.
And as much as I've learned directly or indirectly about the craft of storytelling from Lansdale, I can sit here right now and tell you I picked up an equal amount from Tadd Galusha. That alone should tell you the kind of influence Tadd has had on the Bubba series. And I think Tadd and I have a special chemistry as a writer-artist combo. Tadd knows I'm a bit neurotic about the whole process and there are days when I'm blowing up his inbox about something really minor, like, off the top of my head, I don't know, a silly review about the comic I read online, but I think he knows it's just me being me and probably ignores the emails or laughs them off. At the end of the day, we trust each other and we have tremendous respect for one another. Plus I think the results speak for themselves. People really seem to be into the comic book and getting behind the series, spreading the word to their friends or fellow patrons they might see at the comic shop. I've heard of some readers buying multiple copies just to give them away to their buddies because they wanted to let them in on the secret, so to speak. That's so cool for us to see or hear about. That's better than any online review.
KHC: What can we expect from the series moving forward? Can you tell us about about any future prequels/sequels in the works?
JJ: I can tell you that Bubba and the rest of his team have their work cut out for them in the immediate future. Issue three is really fast paced and Tadd is able to really let loose here. By the time this miniseries wraps up, readers will have closure, and they can take this as another chapter in the secret history of Elvis' life, with the movie being another completely separate chapter. Yes, trust me, it'll all make sense once you get to the end of issue five.
No, I can't tell you about any future installments beyond my five-issue run with the adaptation. You'd have to ask Joe Lansdale where he's taking his characters next, but if you've been reading the comic books, or if you've read the novel, you know there are plenty of places and directions to take ol' Bubba...
Issues #1 and #2 of Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Bloodsuckers are out now, with issue #3 set to release September 12th! Don't wait, pick up the first couple of issues now and experience the King in all of his vampire-ass kicking glory!
By Matt Konopka