Sunday, April 3, 2016

James Chambers Interview: 
The Return of Carl Kolchak 

Conducted and Formatted by Anthony Servante


Without knowing it, I've known James Chambers for years. I read Comic Book Collector Magazine in its prime, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Shadow House, all involving his talent and direction. So, imagine my surprise to learn that he is attached to the new KOLCHAK, The Night Stalker: The Poe Cases series. I immediately sought him out for an interview, and he graciously accepted. And one surprise followed another as I learned that there's a lot more stories coming from the mind of Chambers. Well, now it's your turn to acquaint yourself with this long-time storyteller. I welcome James Chambers to the Servante of Darkness Blog. 

The Interview

Servante: Can we start with the beginnings of your career as a writer leading up to the Kolchak books?

Chambers: I’ve been at this writing and editing thing for a long time. My first paid writing gigs included columns, reviews, and feature articles about the comic book industry for Comic Book Collector Magazine, which later became known as COMBO Magazine. In the 90s, comic book speculation peaked, and magazines about the industry came and went frequently. COMBO lasted several years. I’d done a brief stint there as an editor before moving on to a production job at another magazine, but I wrote for COMBO for its entire run, covering Golden Age and Silver Age comics as well as reviews of new comics. I think I may have appeared in nearly every issue. I also did feature interviews with comics creators, including Dan Brereton, Howard Chaykin, Rob Liefeld, and staff of the original incarnation of Valiant Comics.

I grew up reading comics, and they inspired my love of reading and publishing. As I got older, I branched out to other types of books and genres. I read a ton of classic science fiction thanks to my Dad's collection of sf paperbacks, which introduced me to Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick, Herbert, Niven, Pohl, Sturgeon, and Tolkein. My Mom’s love of the classic Universal horror movies sparked my interest in horror, which led me to King’s Night Shift and Skeleton Crew and Barker’s Books of Blood, which along with Bradbury’s various collections fully formed my love of the short story. Comics’ episodic nature appealed to me in that vein, and my next big writing gig came following a jump deeper into the comic book industry.

In the mid-90s I joined Tekno*Comix, where I found myself editing the monthly books Isaac Asimov’s I*Bots, Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe, and Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, as well as a graphic novel adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, a pair of illustrated prose anthologies (one based on I*Bots, the other on an Anne McCaffrey creation) published by HarperPrism, and a few other things. Around the middle of Primortals run, the opportunity to collaborate with Leonard Nimoy on a two-part origin story arose, and I wrote Primortals: Origins. I’d spent a lot of time talking with Mr. Nimoy about his ideas for the series and the characters, and I continued for four more issues after Origins before handing the series over to the supremely talented Doug Wheeler, who took it in a darker direction.

Sadly Tekno only lasted a few years. When that house of cards began tumbling, another editor there, Christopher Mills, and I launched an independent horror comic, Shadow House. Set up like the classic Strange Tales model, each issue featured two ongoing series, “The Revenant,” which I wrote, and “Nightmark,” which Chris wrote. We put everything into that comic, collaborating with amazingly talented artists—Dan Brereton, Pat Broderick, John Estes, Fred Harper, and Kirk Van Wormer—but the book proved slow to catch on with readers and ran only five issues.

Around the time Shadow House ended, I turned my attention to short stories. I needed a break from comics so I wrote some short horror and science fiction pieces and found homes for many of them rather quickly in various anthologies and magazines. That became my primary focus, and since about 2002, I’ve published somewhere around 80 or more short stories and novellas and three collections of short fiction. Some of my stories have appeared in anthologies that have also featured authors such as Stephen King, David Morrell, Harlan Ellison, and Denny O’Neill, and it’s been genuinely surreal seeing my work alongside stories by writers whose work fueled my love of reading and writing.

I wrote more comics along the way, a short-lived web comic, Tabula Rasa, and then in 2015, Moonstone Books contacted me about writing Kolchak, The Night Stalker. I’d first pitched Moonstone for Kolchak some years earlier, and in the meantime, I’d written for several of their pulp anthologies, featuring The Avenger, The Domino Lady, The Green Hornet, and The Spider. The chance to write Kolchak reignited my love of writing comics. The blending of Kolchak with Edgar Allan Poe tapped into my love of horror. Since Shadow House ended in 1998, I can honestly say writing Kolchak, The Night Stalker: The Poe Cases is the most fun I’ve had writing comics this century.


Servante: What are the books and genres you started with?

Chambers: I’ve almost always written genre fiction. The first story I remember writing as a kid involved my Shogun Warriors toys. Later pieces imitated stuff I read in horror comics and possibly made the adults in my life wonder just where I was headed with all this writing stuff. My first professional comic scripts were science fiction stories, Primortals, and I moved on to horror next. When I put my concentration on prose fiction, I wrote a lot of horror because it felt most natural for me but I never lost my interest in science fiction, fantasy, crime, and other genres. I’ve been very fortunate to have connected with a variety of editors, such as Danielle Ackley-McPhail, John French, Kevin L. Donihe, and Michael Bailey, who like my work and have given me chances to write in many genres. My most recent horror stories appeared in Chiral Mad 2, Reel Dark, and Shadows Over Main Street, my last science fiction piece appeared in Qualia Nous, the latest tale in my Machinations Sundry steampunk series will be published in Gaslight and Grimm this spring, my favorite piece of fantasy writing, “Meet the Tuskersons,” was published in Kevin L. Donihe’s Walrus Tales, and my crime stories have shown up in Bad Cop, No Donut and To Hell in a Fast Car. I’ve written pulp for Moonstone, military science fiction for Mike McPhail’s Defending the Future anthology series, and other types of stories too.

by James Chambers

My first short story collection, written in collaboration with illustrator Jason Whitley, The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales was a blend of horror and supernatural adventure. Resurrection House collected many of my previously published horror tales and some new ones. I also wrote a collection of four, interconnected Lovecraftian novellas, The Engines of Sacrifice, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and a very thoughtful review from The Lovecraft eZine.

One of my favorite pieces is an urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos, which follows a “fallen” faerie, who was the greatest musician in the Enchanted Lands but gets kicked out for playing forbidden music. He winds up in New York City around 1980, playing on the punk and indie scene to rebuild his magic by performing for live audiences. I did a lot of research for that story to capture the time period and the music scene in the city back then. A good portion of my research, though, consisted of listening to music from that era for hours on end—and at very high volume!

All of these books are listed on my website,, and my Amazon author page: I also have a selection of stories and excerpts available here:

Servante: Who have been your biggest influences early on with your writing?

Chambers: I never know how to answer this question. I read on a broad spectrum, just as likely to dip into Jim Thompson as Stephen King, or Philip K. Dick, or Joyce Carol Oates, or George R.R. Martin, or Haruki Murakami, or Maxine Hong Kingston, or Chuck Palahniuk, or David Schow, or James Baldwin, or Shirley Jackson, or Christa Faust or on and on… and then there’s my non-fiction reading, which ranges far and wide, and I feel it all influences me. Books are psychic nutrients. We are what we read, though as writers we have to try to be more than that so we bring something original into the world. Over the years, readers and fellow writers have told me that they see shades of Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman in my approaches to horror and fantasy, and I did read Barker’s short fiction extensively early on and followed Gaiman’s Sandman closely, so it’s probably safe to name them as influences. And Bradbury, of course. “There Will Come Soft Rains” was the first time I truly loved a written thing.

Joyce Carol Oates

George R.R. Martin

Neil Gaiman

Servante: Which TV shows, besides Kolchak, got you started on the path to writing Horror?

Chambers: Television, other than the first adaptation of Salem’s Lot and reruns of horror movies, did little to influence my interest in horror. In the 80s and early 90s good horror television shows were rarer than an honest politician. We had Twilight Zone and Outer Limits reruns, which I sought voraciously, the inconsistent Tales from the Darkside, the weird Friday the 13th—The Series (the one with the antique shop and Robey!), and the sadly short-lived She-Wolf of London. The stuff entertained me, but it didn’t challenge me. Horror movies and, even more so, horror books and comics did, and they started me along this dark, literary road.

Servante: Tell us about your first memory of watching Kolchak?

Chambers: I heard a lot about Kolchak from my Mom, who liked the movies and the show when they first aired. I was too young to see them then. The end of the 20th century brought dark days for access to dead programs. No Netflix. Sitcom reruns ruling the airwaves. Inconvenient VHS tapes with one or two episodes of a show per cassette. We are so spoiled today by the availability of so much of our historical media and entertainment that I think people have forgotten the mystique of shows and movies we knew only by reputation and a few stills in a magazine or reference book. But I digress. The first time I got to sit down and watch Kolchak was when the Sci-Fi Channel put the show back on the air. Sadly, the first episode I watched was not one of the better ones, and it didn’t hook me right away. Then I got around to the movies, which are fantastic, with teleplays by Richard Matheson, and then to the better episodes and wondered why we couldn’t have a horror show that good on the air anymore. Not long after came The X-Files and Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, and these days horror is the hottest thing on television. Carl Kolchak was ahead of his time. Maybe he should’ve fought more zombies.

Servante: Can you tell us a bit about what plans you have with your take of Kolchak?

Chambers: The concept for Kolchak, The Night Stalker: The Poe Cases is that Carl encounters a series of mysterious, macabre, and supernatural occurrences all linked in some way to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. While researching material for the script, my biggest concern was to keep it true to both the character of Carl Kolchak and the imagination of Poe. A beautiful thing occurred when I realized how alike in voice Kolchak is to Poe. Both flow from wry cynicism to morbid observation to laments for the human condition to indignity at injustices, and the story really came together on that nexus. In current continuity, Kolchak is based in L.A., but I felt strongly that these stories needed to take place in Baltimore, where Poe is buried. I created a situation that brought Carl out from L.A. for the duration, researched a ton of real locations and buildings in Baltimore, drove my artists crazy with reference photos, and carefully wove as many notions and details from Poe as I could into the whole thing. The result, in my opinion, is surprisingly contemporary horror story for one based on stories written more than 150 years ago and starring a character from the 70s. Although each chapter of the graphic novel focuses on a primary Poe story, his work in general is woven into the fabric of the tale, and people who really know their Poe will enjoy hunting for Easter eggs.

Servante: How did you get the reins to the Kolchak book series?

Chambers: I pitched ideas to Moonstone some years ago. They went in a different direction at the time, but we kept in touch, and I wound up writing various pulp stories for their anthologies. At the same time, my good friend Christopher Mills, who did Shadow House with me, took on Kolchak, writing “The Night Stalker of the Living Dead” storyline, which is available in trade paperback and well worth reading. Chris truly captures Carl’s voice in his scripts. Another close friend, CJ Henderson, became the regular Kolchak writer penning numerous comics, stories, and novels. CJ and I often cross-pollinated with editors and projects. His vote of confidence in me helped Moonstone bring me in on the pulp anthologies. Those went well, and they asked me to write a Kolchak short story, “The Lost Boy,” which was published recently in Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, a new anthology. My editor liked the story, and CJ continued putting good words in for me over there. Sadly, in July of 2014, CJ passed away, and my editor, Joe Gentile, felt he would’ve liked it if I picked up writing Kolchak. I put a new pitch together and Joe approved it. So I’m trying to live up to a lot with this book to honor Jeff Rice, who created Kolchak, and Edgar Allan Poe, and CJ too.

Servante: Can we look forward to your books becoming movies or becoming part of a new Kolchak TV series?

Chambers: I honestly don’t know. If there are any plans to revive Kolchak on the silver screen or the small screen I know nothing about them, other than the long-rumored Johnny Depp film. I know the rights to Kolchak are somewhat complicated. Is it possible something in my Kolchak graphic novel might show up in some future incarnation? Well, anything’s possible, but it seems unlikely. But then who would’ve thought Carl Kolchak would be more popular today (thanks Netflix!) than he has been in decades, and that I’d have such a great opportunity to write him.

Johnny Depp the New Kolchak?

Servante: What actor would you choose to play your version of Kolchak and why?

Chambers: Since you didn’t specify a living actor, I must say Darren McGavin. He is Carl Kolchak. He breathed such wonderful life into the character and is imprinted in my mind as Carl. But to choose a living actor is tough so I’m going to go with the very first one who springs to mind: Bruce Willis. Willis would capture both the hardboiled reporter that Kolchak was in Jeff Rice’s books and Matheson’s teleplay, but he can also do comedy and would nail that off-beat Kolchak charm that makes the character so memorable.

Bruce Willis as Kolchak?

Servante: What else do you have on your plate besides the Kolchak books?

Chambers: I’m writing a lot of short fiction, a new novella, and working on two novels. I also have a few comic book projects in the works. Not much I can talk about in detail right now, except for a steampunk story, “In Wolf’s Clothing,” which will appear in Gaslight and Grimm, an anthology of steampunk retellings of fairy tales, coming this spring from eSpec Books.

Servante: Can you share with us where we can purchase the Kolchak books and how we can stay in contact with you with news about all your new books? 

Chambers: Your best bet for getting a copy of Kolchak, the Night Stalker: The Poe Cases is your local comic book shop or ordering direct from Moonstone Books ( I suspect this book may have been under-ordered by comics retailers so I recommend asking your local comics shop to set one aside for you. You can also follow developments on the book and see lots of preview art at our Facebook page ( or at my website ( And it should be available on Comixology at some point too for those who prefer digital.

Servante: What are some of your favorite Kolchak TV episodes? 

Chambers: I absolutely love the first two television movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. With teleplays by Richard Matheson, these are serious horror movies, tightly plotted, and wonderfully executed. They hold up very well today. From the regular television series, my top three favorites are the following:

“The Zombie” (episode two), which strikes a creepy tone that doesn’t let up and puts Kolchak in a genuinely harrowing situation to resolve the threat. It also plays by the rules of old school, Voodoo zombies, which gives the episode extra depth.

“The Horror in the Heights” (episode eleven), in which a rakshasha, an Indian demon that can appear in the form of its victims most trusted friends, terrorizes a Jewish neighborhood. A brilliant bit of characterization occurs when the demon reveals who Kolchak most trusts.

“Legacy of Terror” (episode seventeen) brought Aztec mythology to Chicago. This one has its weak points, but it’s unflinching about the brutality of human sacrifice, includes an eerie Aztec mummy, and cleverly finds a substitute for Aztec, stepped pyramids in a local sports arena. Plus Eric Estrada (of CHiPs fame!) guest stars.

Erik Estrada visits Kolchak

Servante: Thanks again to James for visiting the Servante of Darkness Blog today.

Chambers: Thanks so much for having me and giving me the opportunity to talk about Kolchak!

Servante: Hope to have him visit again as his Kolchak books start reaching the hands of new and returning fans. 

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