Slayer lyrics have always read like graphic novels – violent, bloody, belligerent, menacing – and their cover art regularly depicts ensanguined hellish infernos. So the only thing surprising about the thrash-metal group's foray into comic books, which they're announcing today, is that it's taken them so long to make one.
The band and its label, Nuclear Blast, has teamed with comics publisher Dark Horse (Sin City, Hellboy) for a three-part title, the first of which, Slayer: Repentless, Vol. 1, will come out later this year. The plot takes inspiration from the revenge-themed videos they've made for "Repentless" and "You Against You," both of which share a story arc devised by director BJ McDonnell (Hatchet III). "I think of the songs I write as stories," Slayer's Kerry King tells Rolling Stone. "And if nothing else, they are certainly visual. BJ managed to string it all together so it made sense."
The comics, however, are written by Jon Schnepp – a former Metalocalypse director who has penned comics based on that series – and interior art by Guiu Vilanova (Twilight Zone, Conan the Avenger). The debut issue sports two covers that premiere here: a standard cover by Glenn Fabry (Hellblazer, Preacher) with the videos' blood-spattered eyepatch guy and a variant by Eric Powell (The Goon, Hillbilly) depicting a skeleton pierced with stakes.
King has been mostly hands-off with the project, other than approving concepts. "My philosophy as far as anybody working on anything regarding Slayer, be it the album cover art or video concepts, is to let the people who do that for a living do it," he says. "That's how we started working with [cover artist] Larry Carroll for Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss. We gave him song titles, lyrics, just things to put ideas in his head."
When it came to looking over the proposed cover art, the guitarist had few changes. "I changed the logo on the skeleton cover because it had a traditional logo and I said we needed a scratchy one," he says. "It looks awesome."
"I'm busting my ass on these because I want to honor the legacy," Schnepp says. "It can't be corny or jokey. It has to be harsh, violent and very gritty."
The storymaster has been working on the script without input from McDonnell but he appreciates the arc the video director concocted. Schnepp, who's currently writing the dialogue for the comics, says the plot is more expansive than the videos but just as gory. "It's a road journey – like a road movie of horror – and it goes across many states," he says. "It isn't a mystical or supernatural story. It's a straight-up human story of terror, like brother against brother, people feeding off hatred, the stupidity and horror of humanity.
"It's really strange writing this comic, since I came up with the storyline three-and-a-half months ago, and then the news items that are tearing up our country right now share the same spotlight as to what I'm writing about," he continues. "It's definitely a lot of sensitive subjects that need to be explored and addressed. What's the best way to explore those? With the chaos of metal."
Schnepp hopes to incorporate Slayer into the plot, though he would not specify how. Their most apparent influence, however, is in inspiring the feel of the story. The script writer says reading Slayer's lyrics helped him find the "very dark tone" he needs for the comic.
King, though, has never been much of a comics fan. "I've got a handful from when I was super young and then a handful from the early Nineties when I got back into collecting sports stuff, but certainly not a ton of them," he says. "I love comic-book movies, be it X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, since those are always killer."
"To be at Comic-Con with Slayer and doing Slayer's comic book is kind of a dream come true for a nerd like me." – Writer Jon Schnepp
Ultimately, King is most into horror movies when it comes to entertainment. But, he says, "good horror movies are few and far these days. It's like the genre's already done everything and nobody can come up with original ideas." What horror movies has he liked lately? "None." King laughs.
One thing King and Schnepp are both excited for is Comic-Con, where Slayer will be signing posters and playing a show at the San Diego House of Blues. "The set list will be a little different from what we did on our last U.S. run," King says. "We've been playing three off our new album and definitely historic stuff all the way back to the first record."
"I'm just excited," Schnepp says. "For me, it's the best of both worlds. I've been a metalhead my whole life, and I've always been a comic nerd. To be at Comic-Con with Slayer and doing Slayer's comic book is kind of a dream come true for a nerd like me."