Even after decades of producing films in Hollywood and working on demanding projects by John Cassavetes, Michael Mann, and her husband John Carpenter, Sandy King Carpenter faced one of her biggest career challenges when trying to break into the comic book space.
“Nobody wanted us in the comic world,” King Carpenter said. “This was ten years ago and they were pretty hostile to what they thought were celebrity comics and vanity comics. The comic companies themselves thought that we were all just stupid.”
Despite initial pushback, King Carpenter recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Storm King Comics, which has been publishing horror-themed material for all ages. In starting the business, King Carpenter became the first woman founder of a comic publishing house.
Prior to the comic business, King Carpenter was a fixture in film production, including credits as script supervisor on Cassavetes’ 1976 film “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” Mann’s 1981 classic “Thief,” and John Hughes’ 1984 hit “Sixteen Candles.” She also has many producer credits, including on a run of her husband’s most-loved films, like 1988’s “They Live” and 1994’s “In the Mouth of Madness.”
The Storm King Comics enterprise began as an improvised idea during a television pitch meeting.
“We had a TV series project called ‘Asylum’ with Thomas Ian Griffith and John and I —this was pre-’Breaking Bad’ days — and we kept being told it was ‘too dark,’” King Carpenter says. “We were in the middle of one of those meetings at a major studio, and it’s going on and on. It was set in Los Angeles because of the Santa Ana winds and how it looks like the city’s on fire, which half the time it is. They were saying, ‘Can’t it be set in a little town in and everything’s really peaceful?’ And I said, ‘No, the city is really a character. The location is a character and I say it can’t be shot in North Carolina because you want to go nonunion. That’s not the deal.’”
Not wanting to compromise her artistic vision, King Carpenter improvised in the meeting.
“This development person said, ‘Well, it’s not like it’s a graphic novel we’re matching to or anything,’ and I said, ‘Actually, it is. It is a graphic novel, because we always put together all these visual presentations. This is the comic book that everybody is always trying to get John to put his name on.’ So we walk out of the meeting in the hallway, and everyone’s going, ‘What was that about? We’re doing a graphic novel?’ I come home and John says, ‘How’d it go?’ I went, ‘We’re doing a comic.’ He says, ‘What do we know about that?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely nothing, but we’ll learn.’”
Early on, King Carpenter sensed that, because she was new to this industry and had a famous name attached, initial meetings in the comic world were not in her best interest.
“They thought they could say, ‘Well, we need $50,000 to do an ashcan one shot [a printing produced for trademark only, without the intent to distribute], so go ask Universal for the money and then we’ll do this,’” she said. “I wound up saying to one of the companies, ‘Is this because I’m a girl, or because I’m from movies? Either way, I didn’t just fall off that turnip truck.’ It was one of those things where you just went, ‘How about fuck you?’”
After several more of these meetings, King Carpenter decided to set off on her own and launched Storm King Comics in 2012.
“That’s where I said, “How hard can this be?’ And then I spent two years finding out how hard it could be,” she said. “Getting the whole comic put together and realizing I didn’t know how to deliver it. There were a lot of that kind of thing, but we spent two years learning the art and the business of putting together comics. It’s like people that say, ‘I can do a movie, I’ve watched lots of them.’ No matter how many comics you’ve read, you still have to learn the other medium.”
After the launch of “Asylum,” the company has expanded with more titles for different fan groups: The annual “Tales for a HalloweeNight” series is a spooky season anthology, “John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction” takes a fantastical bent, and in 2019 the “Storm Kids” line was launched, with stories for kids and teens alike.
In 2023, the publishing house will launch titles like “Fetch,” a kids’ series that incorporates Greek mythology; a new imprint, Storm King’s Dark & Twisted, which focuses on real-life horror; and sci-fi from talent like Dennis Calero.
The Carpenters have been collaborating professionally ever since she was a script supervisor on his 1984 film “Starman,” and they later married in 1990. How have they been able to balance their work and professional lives after all of these years?
“It’s about having a sense of humor, and I’m not competitive,” she said. “I don’t want to be him. We have a a really good relationship in that we don’t fight for power. I don’t feel a tear between my personal life and my professional life because we’re grooving it together.”
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