Action Lab is a publisher on the rise and Shawn Gabborin is at the forefront of that. Having previously written comics like Fracture and Snowed In, Gabborin now writes Puppet Master. Based on the highly successful film series of the same name, Gabborin’s take on Puppet Master has redefined the franchise and the mythology in only five issues so far, continuing to offer new surprises for old and new fans alike.
We caught up with the writer to talk to him about the comic, his love for the franchise and where the series is headed.
Wicked Horror: How would you sum up the comic for anyone who may not be familiar with the films?
Shawn Gabborin: Well, it follows a group of… Well, it’s easy enough to say it follows a group of killer puppets and their exploits, but I don’t think that quite does justice to where things are going with it.
WH: It’s a little more complicated now.
Shawn Gabborin: Yeah!
WH: You’ve mentioned before that the current “Rebirth” arc was what you used to pitch the series. What was the general response from Charlie Band and Full Moon when you pitched that idea?
Shawn Gabborin: Oh, they were excited about it. They really liked the fact that it was something different. It wasn’t your usual Puppet Master story and it wasn’t technically your usual horror story, I guess, that you’d expect to see in movies. I wouldn’t say it’s new because it’s hard to come up with something completely new, but it’s new to the franchise. It’s new to their whole set of what they’ve been doing.
WH: Oh, completely. So, you’re getting to write dialogue for most of these characters for the very first time. How difficult is it to balance out those complex backstories and get a feel for how they interact with each other as human beings while staying true to the personalities they displayed in the films?
Shawn Gabborin: You know, it’s not as hard as I expected it would be. Because the first one came out in ’89, I started watching horror movies in ’86, so I’ve been on the Puppet Master movies since they started and me and my friends, we’d rent them… every weekend, we’d go to the video store and rent as many Full Moon movies as we could. Usually, if we only had a couple bucks it would be the Puppet Master movies that we would choose. So I grew up on the movies, I watched constantly, so I already had a pretty good feel for how the different characters would interact. And the new ones, the ones that we’re giving backstories too, that’s coming from our own take on the characters. So that’s the easy ones to work in I guess.WH: Which is a nice segue, because I want to talk about Torch in particular. This is a character that fans have been wondering about for a very long time. So how did you approach that with that in mind, considering that it’s probably the most asked question among the hardcore fandom, being “Who is he and where did he come from?”
Shawn Gabborin: For me, I was always one of those people asking “Who is he?” so when I got the go ahead to tell this story, I thought, well they’re all going to wind up in human bodies so I need to know who each of them is, and I rewatched some of the movies and different parts with Torch in it. And it just hit me, who I think he should be. Who it makes sense, to me, for him to be. I don’t want to give it away just yet. It’ll be out in… issue seven, I think, the name gets dropped fully, and the reveal as to who he is. But if you, sort of conspiracy theory-wise I guess, if you go back and watch Part 2, once you see who I say he is, everything he does in Part 2 makes sense. The people he goes after and why he goes after them, the things he does, it all comes together. And whenever I sent the script to Full Moon, they gave a big thumbs up. I don’t know if they’re ever going to go with it in the movies if they ever explain it, but as far as the comics are concerned it’s been approved, so this is who he is.
WH: Last time around, back in ’89 or ’90 when they did the first comic book series, that actually influenced the plot for Puppet Master III. Do you think there’s any possibility of something like that happening for where the comics are right now?
Shawn Gabborin: I certainly wouldn’t be against it. There’s been no official talks about it. There were talks in passing when we were first making the deal, so there’s stuff in place if they decide to go that route but part of why I’m sticking to continuing the present day timeline is because they’re focused on the World War II stuff. And I’m not that big on the history side of things anyway, so I know I’d do little things that would be wrong.
WH: And it’s clear if you look at the general consensus from fans, they’ve really been wondering what’s happened since the last movie we had set in the present.
Shawn Gabborin: Right, right.
WH: What’s the overall response been like from the hardcore fan base?
Shawn Gabborin: Overall, it’s been really good. People really seem to be digging what we’re doing. They’re having a lot of fun with it, they like seeing the kills, which was something I was really excited to do. Because there are so many great opportunities and there’s so much you can’t do on a film budget without resorting to CGI. But we can do them on a comic page and it doesn’t look bad. It’s not like crap CG where they look fake. Obviously it’s fake, it’s a comic book, but everything looks the same. But they’re digging the kills, they’re really into the whole idea of “Rebirth.” That’s gotten a lot of positive response so far. And it makes me happy. This is a franchise I grew up on, that I love. So having people like what I’m doing, having fellow fans like what I’m doing, is really cool.
WH: And there are little moments I noticed in the art where, while they’re doing things you can’t do in the films anymore, they look like the way David Allen animated them in the early films.
Shawn Gabborin: Right, yeah. I know Michela’s been doing a lot of research on the films, referencing a lot. She goes back to make sure she got things right. She’s doing an amazing job with that.
Shawn Gabborin: Well, we licensed it out for 30 issues. At this point, I know how those 30 issues are going to end. That’s how I work when I write, I need to know where I’m ending. So I have some wiggle room between the two points, I know the general story arcs I want to hit, but I know where the 30 issues are ending.
WH: And if it came down to continuing it at that point would it just be a matter of success or if you felt that you personally had another place to take it?
Shawn Gabborin: Little bit of both. Because if I have nowhere left to take it myself—which, I do have places I could go beyond the ending I perceive for it—but there’s a lot of people in our camp who would be interested in writing a few issues. But since I brought it in and pitched it, from the onset I’ve had these 30 issues mapped out. So there have been some people that I would like to see have a chance to write it that I’ve said “no” to because I’ve already eaten up all the issues we have to work with.
WH: Is there anything you can maybe tease about upcoming issues without giving too much away?
Shawn Gabborin: Well, the fun thing with the comic books is that it gets solicited so far in advance that some people might already know what’s coming up, say five issues from now. For the next story arc, we’re going to revisit what happens with Camille after Puppet Master II. But it’s taking place now, so there’s been that stretch of time where she’s been doing something for the past fifteen years and we’re going to catch up on what’s been going on there.
WH: And you have the Halloween Special coming out in September?
Shawn Gabborin: Yes. Late September or early October, I believe. It’s a nice little self-contained story. It’s sort of a throwback to the Sorority House Massacre kind of movies. Just having some fun with it. For people who know the movies, it takes place right before the first film. So, Neil Gallagher has found the puppets but doesn’t quite know what to do with them yet. This is him getting familiarized with the puppets, is how that story goes. And it answers another unanswered question about a particular puppet who’s in the first movie for a few minutes and is never seen again. So that’s another thing we address in the Halloween one-shot. It’s kind of fun because I get to go back and answer the questions that I have been asking, myself.
Shawn Gabborin: That was a fun one. I needed a puppet for her to use that wasn’t one of the main puppets. So I’m looking through the scenes of his workshop there and I see this Dracula puppet and I said, “We’re going to use that.” That was a fun segment to write. There’s just so many cool visuals in there that were just throwaway, but for mining it for something like this, there’s so much to play with… who is your favorite puppet?
WH: Cliché, but it’s always been Blade… Blade and Leech Woman.
Shawn Gabborin: Oh, nice, yeah. I was always a Blade until maybe five years ago and then Pinhead took over. I think a large part of that is you could take Pinhead and sit him on a shelf and he’s kind of unassuming. You see Blade and Tunneler and Torch, they look kind of creepy. Pinhead, he’s got a little creep to him, but Pinhead, he could mix in. He could blend in with normal puppets or normal dolls sitting on a shelf.
WH: Yeah, Pinhead, Jester, they can blend in. I get that.
Shawn Gabborin: And I like when he’s chasing the White Witch down the hall in the first movie and he starts shadow boxing. That’s just funny.
WH: As a human character, Pinhead’s actually my favorite.
Shawn Gabborin: He’s got some fun stuff in the next one, issue six. He’s got some fun stuff there.
WH: The human designs are all so interesting because they look the way they probably would look, as people. Pinhead looks like Pinhead. Blade doesn’t look like Hess in Part III, but he looks like Blade as a human being.
Shawn Gabborin: Right. That’s something we wanted to do because not everybody who’s reading the book is familiar with the movies. That’s been something that’s been really interesting to hear from people is that they discovered it through the comics. I’ve had a couple people come up to me at shows and tell me that, and that’s great. That was all Michela, she got to go crazy with the designs and she did a great job. I threw in little things like general age range. Issue five had Toulon shave the beard back down. He has a to have a bit of a beard when he gets the new body because he’s going to go back to his classic look.
WH: Well, thanks again. I really like what you’re doing with it and I can’t wait for the next stuff to drop.