By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
One of the best horror comics from 2015 is Puppet Master published by Action Lab Comics. A few years later, the series abruptly ended, and Curtain Call released to tie up loose ends. Written by Shawn Gabborin and drawn by Michela Da Sacco, the tale continues down the path had the movies been able to continue prior to the Axis trilogy. This new saga fits in an odd place, in between the present day’s terror (the original film) to the past after Toulin shot himself, and giving Danny Coogan the title role in Axis of Evil.
During the 2018 San Diego Comic Convention, Full Moon Features announced the release of Dollman Kills the Full Moon Universe and I have to wonder if that means a reboot is coming? Gabborin is writing for this company’s new label, Full Moon Comix, and is authoring this very first title! His narrative style is very faithful to recreating the camp which I enjoy from this production house and I will be looking forward to seeing this diminutive figure take on Blade! I wrote a detailed news and review for Drunk in a Graveyard, which can be read here.
The Puppet Master 2018 movie releasing Aug 17th certainly suggests a huge reset is happening. New up-and-coming filmmakers are taking the charge. A bigger question will be in whether the origins are going to change too. The comics set the tale in the present day to avoid cinematic continuity conflicts and one beautiful detail Gabborin sets up is in how the souls transferred to the puppets; they retain the spirits of the person they once were.
To examine these comic book’s story arcs, I had the opportunity to chat with Gabborin when the comic book series was ongoing. This interview was originally printed on Nerd Titan and sadly the site has not regenerated. This interview is reprinted to preserve what was instead of searching the Wayback Machine.
ES: First off, I have to thank you for a wonderful Halloween issue. I enjoy reading these seasonal delights. Will there be more?
SG: Thanks! The Halloween one-shot gave me an excuse to tell a classic sorority house horror story, so that was a lot of fun! That issue won the Horror News Network’s “Best One-Shot” award for 2015, which is awesome. The other award we won from them was “Best Kill” for the opening kill in Puppet Master issue 4.
I like the idea of doing more one-shots, but it’s a matter of practicality. Our deal is for a set number of issues, so the more one-shots I do, the fewer monthly issues I can do. That makes it hard to pull the trigger on one-shots.
ES: That said, you revealed that Sutekh, the film’s primary antagonist from Puppet Master 4 & 5, is defeated but when considering how the magic works, couldn’t he have simply transferred his essence into that to a “clone” body, and he’s Anapa? The witch Adon passed her essence to a doll, so I wonder why the dark god cannot do the same.
SG: In Puppet Master 5, Sutekh transfers his essence & power into a Totem Puppet and sends that to earth to kill the main cast of Puppets. So when they defeat, Sutekh, it is by destroying the Totem that contains his essence. I’m sure you could argue that he was able to do another jump out of the Totem, but letting the Puppets have that victory only for it to lead to a bigger threat (in the form of Anapa) worked better for me as a storyteller.
ES: Issue #7 sets up plenty of new directions to get explored later and I have to ask if 30 issues will be enough to tell it all? As previously mentioned in our past correspondence, there is the opportunity to renew and I’m sure plenty of readers will hope there will be more. How many of the remaining issues do you have mapped out for stories to tell?
SG: I have the full series mapped out, for sure! I’ve known where the series ends from the time I first pitched the concept to Full Moon. When it comes to writing, I like to plan ahead. If I don’t know where I’m going, it’s easy to get lost… and then have to take shortcuts to get back on the right path. I don’t like that.
So yes, I know where things are going and should be fine to wrap everything up (if it needs wrapped up) at the end of the 30 issues. I’m hopeful to get to do more, I have ideas to carry beyond the 30 issues, so we’ll see.
ES: Based on sales reports and awards, how do you feel about the reception this series has received?
SG: Reception has been good! The fans are really digging the comic, which is great! I’m a life-long fan myself, so to see people enjoying what I’m doing with a world we all love, it’s really cool.
ES: With the final chapter to the Axis storyline finally being made, will that be an influence on what you are penning?
SG: I’ll have to wait until after I see the movie, but probably not. I think that our two worlds (film and comics) split from each other at the point I started the comics. So for me, everything revealed in the first 10 movies is canon. But if they do something in part 11 that contradicts something I established in the comics world (such as the identity of Torch), there’s no need to change my side of things to match.
That’s not to say if they do something that I CAN work into my stories I wouldn’t do it. It all remains to be seen.
ES: With two compilations now available for newcomers to read, can readers jump in with volume 2, “Rebirth” to get at the new stories?
SG: I think so. Each volume builds off of the previous, and there are some definite things that reading the previous volume will help you understand, but each of the first 3 volumes is fairly accessible.
ES: One detail I appreciated in this story-arc is in how the puppets chose the humans to occupy in their reincarnation into mortal form. They very closely resembled their puppet bodies. What was the motive behind that?
SG: It was two-fold. First, to make it easier for the reader to associate the human form with the puppet they are familiar with. If you can’t follow who’s who, then things get unnecessarily confusing really quick! Secondly, most of these souls have been living in these Puppets since the 1930s/40s, so there has to be a sense of self-identification with the puppet body after that amount of time. And of course that all worked due to the amazing job Michela Da Sacco did with designing the human forms!
ES: In the narrative, you’ve shown how conscious they were when in the wooden form. They had their full senses even though they were not able to fully communicate. They way they touch and feel each other says it all. All of that is beautifully communicated in Michela De Sacco’s art. In what is not said, am I correct to assume they speak to each other telepathically?
SG: I would say so, yes. Maybe not to the point of having full on conversations, but at least able to read each other well enough to know what’s going on. Similar to hanging out with a friend you’ve known since you were children, sometimes a glance is all you need to let them know exactly what you’re thinking.
ES: As full mortals, Andre and crew showed a bit of killer’s remorse, but when in the dolls, those feelings were muted. In what the witch Adon offered, aside from an alibi to those clients, not everyone she did the soul transfer onto were serial killers. It makes me wonder what’s special about those dolls to enable people to simply kill without a moment’s thought. What’s your take on that?
SG: I think a large part of it is simply being IN the doll rather that then something to do with the doll itself. Look at how people act on the internet when they type nasty comment because they are safe behind their keyboard and not face-to-face with the person. Being inside the doll or puppet gives the person that same level of anonymity and separation from the act while letting them fully participate in the murder.
ES: Could it be that any sense of humanity is a mortal construct instead of a solid product that can not demonstrate feelings?
SG: See, that’s the kind of level people normally don’t think about when they think Puppet Master… but that’s where I’m trying to play. There is so much more to this than just “killer puppets” to the story. The Puppets (for the most part) don’t like killing. They are heavily influenced by their Master. But you figure in 60 plus years of people forcing you to kill, it sort of becomes ingrained in you whether you like it or not. Almost an auto-response or muscle memory. It’s what is expected of you, so that’s your “go to” action.
That’s why we get some remorse from them when they become human again, because (much like those jumping into Adon’s Puppets to commit murder) they finally have some separation from that part of their lives. They get to view everything from the outside now, and some of them don’t like what they see.
ES: When Toulin realizes both he and his friends’ fate are tied with the puppets, is there any possibility any of them might become flesh again? In what I read from issue seven, they need to be anti-heroes and have to resume their ‘natural’ form. Is that your intention?
SG: There’s a chance to return to flesh again, sure. I wouldn’t say to rule anything out! But yes, for now, they are forced back into their old habits. Let’s face it, as much as we all would love to see the Puppets have a happy ending, can we really expect them to have one?
ES: In the four-issue story-arc, “The Wooden Boy,” which is now all out, we see the puppets start to serve a new master in the child Anthony. The cover is very beautiful in the sense he wears a mask, and I can not help but be reminded of the video game, Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Can you please explain the origins to that cover.
SG: That cover is all Antoino Ontiveros! I think it’s important that the new Puppet Master be good with his hands, so I wanted a mask that reflected that. While all of the other children’s masks are fairly basic, Anthony makes this elaborate lion mask. My only direction on his mask was to “make it look like it took skill to do and to maybe make it 3D while most others are flat”… the rest (the idea of it being a lion, the look itself, etc.) is all Antonio.
ES: In the tasks that we see finished in this group of issues, can you please tell readers what the significance of the Ankh is that Six-Shooter stole?
SG: The Winged Ankh of Freedom and the Was Scepter of Dominion. Opposing items, to be sure. I wonder what would happen if they were brought together under the right circumstances…
ES: In the seven tasks Anapa requires the puppets to accomplish for their freedom, could that be a nod to the 12 Labours of Hercules? Should that be the case, that’s one classic way to end off a series, but I guess only time will tell and we shall see, eh?
SG: It certainly is an old trope to have the heroes embark on a series of tasks laid on them, but it wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular. But the reasoning behind the seven tasks… the result of completing them… that’s where the fun begins!