Renowned artist and best-selling author BROM talks about his new, spine tingling holiday horror novel Krampus the Yule Lord, available now. Grab an elf, a demon or a rogue Santa and get ready for a twisted new take on the happiest season of all.
BROM graciously took the time to answer some questions about Christmas, superstitions and werewolves hiding in the backyard. Signing schedule and excerpt below interview.
Where did the inspiration for your new book, Krampus, come from?
A few years back I discovered an abundance of vintage Christmas cards portraying Krampus cheerfully carrying bawling children to Hell in a barrel and spanking the bottoms of buxom women with fiendish delight. I had to know more. I soon found out that Krampus had a long colorful history dating all the way back to early Pagan times.
What type of research did you do while preparing to write Krampus?
I started with the current mythologies, worked back to the root of Yule traditions in winter solstice celebrations.
Any surprising discoveries?
It was interesting to find out that Krampus and Santa Claus essentially evolved out of the same origins, that there are a variety of Santa/Krampus characters that vary significantly from country to country.
Did you have any concerns about taking on an iconic and mostly beloved character like Santa Claus and also challenging certain ideals about Christmas?
That was the very thing that made the idea so intriguing to me, taking our idea of modern Santa and playing with his true history, showing that the Santa we know and love has a long and sorted past.
Did writing this book change or alter your sensibilities about Christmas and holidays?
Most certainly. Like most people, my concepts were fairly traditional about the Christmas holidays. I was surprised to see how vast and varied the differences are between cultures. How many of our current traditions spring from ancient winter solstice and Yuletide rituals.
Is there a message behind Krampus, and if so, what is it?
There is most certainly a message: all you little boys and girls out there – you had better be good or Krampus will put you in a sack and throw you in a lake.
What did writing Krampus teach you about yourself as a writer?
With each successive novel, it becomes more apparent that I love to take myths and legends, especially those surrounding children and bringing them to life in the most gritty, visceral way possible. To humanize the players, their motives, desires, feelings. To show what these mythical characters might really be like once the lyrical prose is peeled away.
Krampus could also be seen as a study of the relationship between good and evil but also the complications of defining what is good and what is evil. Did writing Krampus give you any insights into the true nature of good versus evil?
I think this is a theme I explore in my books. As a writer, I’m very interested in a characters motivation. The character can’t just be a one-dimensional bad guy that loves to make bad things happen, there has to be a reason for them to do the things they do. The further you go down that path of reasoning why they are doing the things they do, you end up being more and more sympathetic, even if they are the bad guy in the story. In my previous novel, The Child Thief, it was similar, people wrote how it wasn’t good versus bad, it was so much gray area between characters, and I think that’s a byproduct of trying to make the characters motivations realistic.
In Krampus, you bring mythological characters into a contemporary setting, what challenges did this present? What are your thoughts on genre blending in works of fiction?
It made things easier as I didn’t have to build the world and I could focus more on how an ancient deity would fit in. It was the challenges such a creature would encounter that made the story so much fun to write. As far as genre blending, I feel most genres have been over mined, so combining genres can help create a fresh take on old ideas.
There is also a theme throughout The Child Thief, The Plucker, and Krampus of the perils of forgetting the origins of myth, and forgetting what we’ve held dear to us in the past. Is this theme something you were aware of?
I think it’s in my personality. I consider myself a very superstitious person. I tend to believe in all the superstitions. We once lived in a town in Wisconsin where there was supposedly this werewolf and whenever I took the garbage out, I just knew that guy was there. I do feel people can get too wrapped up in the mythologies they were raised in, and tend to lose the ability to look beyond that. When you start looking at these myths and legends, they all spill into each other and come from similar origins. Possibly, it’s that philosophy combined with my superstitious nature that comes through in these novels.
You also illustrated the book, did the pictures come first or the story?
Usually there’s a visual in my mind of the main character, something I would like to bring to life. So I often start with a few exploratory sketches to help me understand who the character is. From there I dig into story until I have a solid outline, then, back and forth between sketches and prose, fleshing out the characters and locations.
Which character was clearest in your mind and which took the longest to come through?
Krampus and Santa were easy. I know I wanted to play on their Norse roots. It’s the human characters that are more challenging.
When you’re creating art for a story, do you find the art doesn’t match the writing? If so, do you adjust the art or the story?
I adjust both. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with two creative disciplines is that they feed each other. What I discover in one contributes to the other.
What was the editing process like for Krampus?
Part of my joy of writing is the exciting learning curve. With every book, I feel I learn so much. Reading reviews and getting feedback is helpful. Writing is like music, just because you hear something in your head that is not necessarily, what other people hear. It can be frustrating because you feel you are communicating a certain emotion and series of events and people are getting a very different picture. I love working with an editor and having somebody give me feedback. To me, this helps clarify where I am communicating and where I am not. As for my process, every writer works differently, but for me I really like to map the story and figure out where I’m starting, where I’m trying to go, and most of the middle points. Once I have the basic structure in place, and then hopefully let the process happen, which is where many of the best ideas to take place.
The flickering at the very beginning represents Jesse’s sanity and his nerves. It is such a cinematic and psychological detail, did you have an intended cinematic scope while writing Krampus?
Having been an artist for so many years, I tend to see things in pictures and try to transcribe those pictures onto the pages. I didn’t have traditional writing training in college and tend to learn story from watching movies, so a certain cinematic quality does creep into the stories because of that.
Three writers or poets that have influenced your writing:
Stephen King, Anne Rice, Mark Twain.
Do you find writing in the first person easier than third person?
I would love to try story in the first person, but I’m intimidated to do a whole novel, I’d love to try a short story. I’m not as confident as I should be with writing, I feel like I’m taking timid steps into it, so third person feels safer, but I would love to do one in first person.
What is the trait you most admire in Krampus? Jesse? Santa?
Krampus – his stubborn romanticism,
Jesse -Maybe I relate to his being trapped by his muse, how his art torments him, yet is his greatest joy.
Santa – his sense of misguided duty.
How do you feed your inspiration and keep your creative muse happy?
I am cursed and blessed in that my muse is a ravenous creature. I feel I will never have time in this lifetime or the next to bring all my ideas to life.
What does being brave mean to you?
Staying honest and true to your commitments.
What are your plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond?
I am currently putting together a retrospective art book of my life’s work. This will be available June 2013.
Where can my readers find you and your work online?
BROM/Krampus Signing Schedule:
Dark Delicacies Friday 7PM November 2, Burbank, CA
Long Beach Comic Con Saturday Nov. 3rd, only. Will be signing at booth #107 (Mysterious Galaxy Booth)
Mysterious Galaxy Sunday Nov 4th, 2:30 pm, Redondo Beach, CA
University Bookstore Wednesday, Nov 7th, 7pm, Seattle, WA
Powell’s Beaverton Store Cedar Hills Crossing. Friday, Nov 16th 7pm, Portland, OR
An excerpt from the afterword
In Search of Krampus
Several years ago my wife (who is infinitely hipper than I), turned me on to a devil that prances about at Christmas whipping naughty children with a birch branch. I was immediately smitten. “Stuffs them into a sack and beats them bloody, you say? Tosses the really bad ones into the river? Takes some home to devour? Please…tell me more!”
My endearment for the horned beast only deepened as I discovered the abundance of vintage greeting cards portraying him cheerfully carrying bawling children to Hell in a barrel and spanking the bottoms of buxom women with fiendish delight. What was not to love? I soon discovered that this holiday gem had a long and colorful history, that there are winter festivals in many Alpine villages called Krampusnacht where participants don wonderfully wicked handcrafted Krampus costumes, roam the streets rattling chains and bells chasing random victims with sticks and switches.
These runs, called Krampuslaufen, are fueled (not surprisingly) by alcohol; schnapps being the customary offering to the Krampus. I noted Krampus was often portrayed in the company of Saint Nicholas, the tall thin saint adorn in his bishop vestments, looking stern and carrying his ornate ceremonial staff.
There was a lot not right here, at least by my North American perceptions of Christmas and Santa Claus traditions. I had a litany of questions, but foremost in my mind was…hey, what does Santa Claus think of this guy? What exactly is their relationship? Call me crazy, but to me it seems a bit ingenuous for Santa to have an evil imp brutalizing and kidnapping children while he’s handing out gifts and shouting ho, ho, ho. I wondered who came first? Whose idea it was to work together? Were they doing the good cop, bad cop thing, y’know, kinda like God and the Devil? Is Krampus Santa’s slave? Were they pals, or mortal enemies?
Which leads to the question most every school age boy would ask—who would win in a fight? And it was these questions, especially that last one, that inevitably led to the writing of this novel.