Peter Simeti is a comic book powerhouse. President and publisher of Alterna Comics since its inception in 2007, Simeti also writes, draws, inks, colors, and letters many of the indie publisher’s top titles—and the guy hasn’t even hit 30 yet! We got a chance to snag Simeti away from the drawing board for a bit to discuss “The Chair,” an upcoming film adaptation of his grisly 2006 psych-horror graphic novel of the same name. “The Chair” is a disturbing tale about Richard Sullivan, an innocent man battling to evade execution on death row in a mysterious prison run by the demented and fiendish Warden who viciously murders his prisoners. Yeah, it’s brutal. Currently in pre-production with indie horror-meister Chad Ferrin at the helm, you can donate to the project now on Kickstarter. Amidst all this craziness, Simeti was kind enough to sit down (in the chair) and let us pick his brains (with a scalpel).
EOTU: So, first off, I’ve got to say that we loved “The Chair.” Really grim, really heavy stuff. It works perfectly as a psychological horror comic. However, it has a fine cinematic quality to it as well. Was that the idea from the beginning? What made you want to make this into a film?
Simeti: Thank you! Glad to hear you enjoyed the book. It definitely is a heavy, serious story… so I’m glad you were able to make your way through it [laughs]. I think when you write comics, since you have to think in terms of camera angles for panels, you need to set up shots, etc. they end up having a cinematic quality to them anyway. As far as what made us want to adapt the book for film, that was a long process going years back when we first received interest in about 2009 or so. Up until 2013 though, we didn’t have a screenplay. At one point, we were thinking of doing a mini-series, maybe 5 to 10 episodes, something like that, but that idea fizzled out. All in all though, I’m glad we are where we are today. I love the cast we’ve got on board and I can’t imagine another group of people being involved.
EOTU: How did Chad Ferrin get attached to the project?
Simeti: I actually reached out to Chad on Facebook [laughs]. I really enjoyed his psychological horror film, “Someone’s Knocking at the Door”, and figured I’d reach out to introduce the project. The funny part is, I’d say that’s the case as well for 90% of the cast and crew actually. Between Facebook and Twitter, it’s really helped to bridge the gap. I even managed to reach out to a couple other actors that, while their schedule’s didn’t work out for this film, really liked the script and were just great about it. It’s been an amazing experience.
EOTU: That’s terrific. The teaser is wonderfully creepy and minimalist. How does it feel to see a great character actor like Bill Oberst Jr. playing the role of ‘The Warden’?
Simeti: Ah man, Bill just knocks it out of the park every time. Great, great actor. I think the night that Erin Kohut (screenwriter) and I received the teaser, we must’ve watched it about 20 times. Just seeing all the nuances he brought and the ridiculously creepy tone of the whole thing, it was great. What makes it even crazier is the fact that Bill is a freaking awesome guy, super super nice, really helpful, the whole thing. So to know that he could bring such a nutjob to life [laughs], it’s a testament to his acting ability.
EOTU: What made you decide to make the film live action vs. animation? Was there ever a flirtation with the idea of making an animated adaptation?
Simeti: Nah, I never wanted to go the animation route. I think animation is great and can do any genre, any story – but “The Chair” is pinned in reality and has just a few sets, so for live action, it really works. Especially with the right actors involved (which I definitely believe we have) it should provide a nice vibe that’ll just suck you right in.
EOTU: Definitely. How did Kevin Christensen come about as the penciler for the comic?
Simeti: I was calling for pencilers on DigitalWebbing.com’s talent search, back in 2006 or so. The original post might even still be on there [laughs]. He had a nice sketchy style that I wanted for the book. I basically wanted someone that drew similar to how I draw, but was a better sequential artist than I am, because I am a craaaappy sequential artist. Mostly because I have no patience for visual story-telling. If I drew a book, the whole thing would be splash pages [laughs]! Kevin did a great job on it, it was his first book too!
EOTU: Wow, that’s impressive. The script and art worked really comfortably together. You guys had a great synergy going.
Simeti: It was a fun time, over the course of a year or so I believe, making the book. I had scripts written up with panel descriptions and Kevin did a great job interpreting the script. His sketchy pencils made it easy to translate the gritty roughness I wanted the book to have. It’s a hard thing, trying to make a book look “gritty” but not “unfinished”. I think we did a great job on getting that across.
EOTU: That’s got to be a slippery slope. You guys pulled it off though. The art fits the story perfectly.I know that you inked and gray toned the whole comic, as well as designed and colored the cover. What was that process like? What was the collaboration like between you and Kevin?
Simeti: Being an artist as well, I had pretty detailed scripts with character descriptions, panel descriptions, etc. Kevin definitely had some input here and there and for the most part, I hardly ever squashed any differences that came from his work and from what I wrote. We had as much fun as two first-timers in their early 20’s could have making a comic about a death row inmate… [laughs]
EOTU: The comic was very nightmarish. At times, there were eerie, almost “Twilight Zone”-like vibes. However, there was also a level of brutality evident in the comic unknown to shows like that. What were some of your inspirations for “The Chair”?
Simeti: Glad you picked up on that! That’s a great comparison actually. There’s definitely some influence there from those stories. I think I’d be lying if I said that Batman comics weren’t a big influence. The whole prison sort of mirrors Arkham Asylum in a strange way, with its various psychotic rogues. But for the most part, that’s where the similarities end.
EOTU: There are a few different levels of horror in “The Chair,” including plenty of societal horrors. Was this an important aspect when you were creating the book?
Simeti: Yeah, I’d say so. I think it helped to add some depth to the story and the characters. There’s themes touched upon in the book that resonate with many people, myself included. Whether it’s mental health, familial relationships, child abuse, the criminal justice system, corruption in government, just a whole bunch of aspects. So, because of all these elements, it really helps to add to the story so it’s more than just a simple “wrongly accused” kind of prison story.
EOTU: What is the most important aspect of the comic that you’d like to see alive in the film?
Simeti: I’d absolutely love to see a lot of the flashback build-ups that we’ve added in the film. Some of the stuff is touched upon in the graphic novel, but Erin did a great job of fleshing it out, building on it, and in some cases, adding entire scenes that just really helped to round out characters and fill a couple plot holes that are in the book.
EOTU: Last question: what are some of your favorite horror films?
Simeti: I like all kinds of horror, but 70’s and 80’s horror seems to be my favorite. I’ll pretty much watch anything from that time period. I’m not really a huge fan of the torture porn gore stuff (The CHAIR could easily be that kind of film, but it won’t) but I do like some modern horror: The Collector, Insidious, American Horror Story, Cabin in the Woods, You’re Next, Mama – even stuff that has some horror overtones to it like Pan’s Labyrinth – I tend to gravitate towards that kind of stuff.
There you have it, folks. Check out the new trailer for “The Chair,” which just dropped this weekend.
Stop by and donate to the film’s Kickstarter for your chance to take home some cool, disturbing (and possibly blood-soaked) memorabilia. And make sure to keep up with all things Simeti on his Twitter!