Written by Neil Greenaway
Craig "Pepper" DeLuca and his husband Bill DeLuca are not only the driving force behind Peppercopia Publishing, LLC - they are also the creators behind the company's current comic title, Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi. With Bill writing the story and Pepper handling the art duties, the pair debuted the series at the 2017 Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo (or DINK!). One year later (at DINK! 2018) they had a new issue, Side Stories of Camp Lake Kikipapi. I sat down with the couple to see what we could expect from the new issue, where it fit with the main series, and what the future holds for the Lake Kikipapi campers.
Neil Greenaway: I am sitting here with Bill & Pepper DeLuca - the creators behind the Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi series. Can I have you start us out by giving me the elevator pitch for the series?
Pepper: So, take 90’s realness of Salute Your Shorts and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, mash them together with a little bit of side humor like you find in Gravity Falls or Dead Like Me.
NG: Ok. That’s a very nice elevator pitch. Now you guys already have issue 1 out and here at DINK! 2018 you are releasing the Side Stories. What’s going on in that?
Pepper: Yes. So, the Side Stories kind of briefly touch on 2 moments in the Campfire Stories of Lake Kikipapi that were interrupted in the main story. They both involve screaming. It is basically bringing up some things centered around trauma, and we kind of explain that trauma in the Side Stories. Since Bill is the writer maybe he should kind of explain that and talk a little bit more about it.
Bill DeLuca: I think the best way to explain it is that these are the stories that will literally lead you into the 2nd chapter. So, we’ll cover some things that happened in chapter one, give you some backing there, and then introduce some things to help you read into the next part.
NG: Will this be a model going forward? Would the releases see a main issue and then a side story issue?
Pepper: Yes, since I am working on chapter 2 right here at the table. Once this is done we have another 16-page side story that Bill has to start writing in about 2 months - because he has to take some breaks and some time between each one to figure out how he’s going to write it.
Bill: It’s a process. I kind of outline it to figure out what I want.
Pepper: But it’s going to be fun, I have already talked to him about it. It’s introducing three new characters, all of whom are important and integral to the main storyline that he has in his head.
NG: Looking through the book, one of the most distinctive images is Ant Gal. How did you guys come to her? What is she to the story?
Bill: Well it was actually born out of us exercising and going hiking. In Colorado, when the earth finally thaws out, the ants come out - really lethargic and in a pile. And he would occasionally step on these piles, and I would say, "Don’t step on the ants!" And he kept doing it. So, I was like "You watch, there’s going to be some demonic soul that is imprisoned in these ants and you’re going to let it out." Then we just kept talking and talking about it, and it kind of evolved into this story. We decided to make a commitment to it and put it out there. That’s where Ant Gal comes from. Now, staying with the campfire story theme - that is just one story. Our next story is going to be about a zombie theme. It’s going to be different characters and everything, but still all based around the camp.
NG: Because this is based around the idea of a summer camp, is the cast going to rotate? Will there be new kids occasionally?
Bill: We have a whole set of characters and we actually roll dice to figure out who is going to be in the next one.
Pepper: We have 10 campers that we rotate that are non-town characters. Granted, there’s more than 20 kids at the camp, so we just focus on 20. Making this kind of simple for ourselves but not too simple. So, Archie from the first comic - he basically did the screaming in the middle of it, he’s back in the story. He’s doing the campfire stories again, giving it a 2nd chance. We have - and I am not mispronouncing this - this is actually a character based off of someone I knew when I was a kid, his nickname was Cooter. So this character's name is Cooter. It’s a southern thing. If you know what I’m talking about you’ll understand. Then we have some new characters which I cannot for the life of me remember off the top of my head... We have Nigella, we have Ramona, and Melody.
Bill: Is Suzie in this one?
Pepper: Suzie is not in this one. I am also having fun drawing Dick Pover, which is the assistant camp director - who also happens to be a person classified with dwarfism. Classified little person if you want to be more PC. But I get to draw him as a child and as an adult, and that’s what is going to be fun for the story. He is actually IN the horror story that we are going to be talking about in the camp.
NG: Cool. Now when you guys do this, is it a collaborative process - with the two of you working together? Or is it more like Bill goes to write and then Pepper draws?
Bill: It kind of starts as a collaborative process. We agree on what story we want to do, we have a rough idea of what the story is and then it drops into what I do. I outline it and then I show him the outline. If he likes it, and we agree that we both like what’s going on, then I go ahead and completely detail it out into a script.
NG: And how long is it taking you guys to do a whole issue? From your scripting (Bill) to your finished art (Pepper)?
Pepper: The first one took us about a year if I’m being honest. It was about six months of talking about everything, and then it took another six months to get everything complete. For the second issue, he completed everything in time for me to draw it but I also had two other things on my plate, so I had to push back the release from DINK. I’m really super bummed about it but I do have the first 3 pages penciled so I am showing those to people that come by the table. It’s been nice once I realized I didn’t need to draw everything for this event. I’m just going to try to - in the next two months - get everything done as fast as I can.
NG: So then would you be looking at like Denver Comic Con as a release?
Pepper: I would but we are not tabling at Denver Comic Con.
NG: You’re local and indie so why would they have you. (laughs)
Pepper: I know. Sometimes I wonder if we are too indie but then I realize I come to events like DINK! and nope, these are my people. These are the people I like being around and these are the people I like catering to and talking to.
NG: You had said that you will probably go into more Side Stories as you go along. If this series goes to a collected edition, would the side stories be integrated into the main series? Or would they be a separate volume?
Pepper: So, it’s meant to be read as a chapter of the Campfire Stories followed by a book of the Side Stories and then you read the next chapter. If we went ahead and published it in a collected volume, it would probably be 10 books together in one perfect bound anthology type deal.
Bill: The way it’s written, you don’t need to read the Side Stories. The Campfire Stories comics can stand by themselves, but sometimes you’ll see characters just appear and they are already being talked about and are known. It’s not going to take away from anything, but if you have already read the Side Stories then you are going to have that inside knowledge.
NG: It is good to have an outlet for the side character's stories. Some authors feel the need to shove everyone’s backstory into every issue, but occasionally it is ok for people to just show up.
Pepper: Yeah and it’s good for that respect. You are in a small camp. It’s not like this huge sprawling 200-300 kid camp with several counselors. Lake Kikipapi is more like a few camp counselors, four adults and about 40 some odd children. So, it’s like you have to pick and choose your battles on which stories can be told. It is still a lot of fun, and we get to do 2 different types of comics.
NG: Using a summer camp as a setting, there are a lot of different genres that could be utilized. With the campfire story setting you always have an undercurrent of horror - but the camp setting offers so much more, like romantic experimentation or a first kiss. Are those stories that could find their way in?
Bill: I think that there’s room for it. In what we have currently planned there will be three main stories - three chapters. Then we have one prequel, which will cover the topic of someone we introduce and want a backstory on. Then there’s going to be a story about the town which is right next to the camp, which is also mysterious in its own way. And in there you might find other genres, specifically in the prequel or in the town story. Then we will also have one long format story to kind of endcap it. So, at the very end of this, we will have a full set: we’ll have those three stories, the two caps, the long format and all the in between stories. That will be one set.
NG: That will be a heck of a book!
Bill: Well, it won’t be one book. It will be like a set you can buy.
Pepper: Or just one large graphic novel.
Bill: Gosh I don’t want to think about what that would look like.
NG: A monster of a book.
Pepper: Encyclopedia Kikipapi. We kind of have a different genre with Ant Gal. We show the nervousness of the possibility of first love but if you read the outcome of that, it wasn’t really love it was revenge.
Bill: We do have an eventual story about familials that end up in relationships and spawn other characters that are in here.
Pepper: After this chapter is actually where that takes place. We have a little girl named Olive and she is connected to the camp in a very significant way. Then we have in the Side Stories a character who is affectionately called Little Duck by his grandfather - who is the chieftain of a fictitious native American tribe that is part of the town. Oh, by the way the town is called Twin Ferns. So, there is a place similar that sells pie and has coffee-
Bill: On the topic of other kinds of subjects, in the Side Stories is the interaction of the Penderwalls - so that in and of itself is not a horror but it does cover other themes that are going on.
Pepper: Let’s just put it this way: if you had to reference it Twin Ferns is like Twin Peaks. We know this we are not being abashed or shy about it. The Penderwalls are semi based off the attitude people had towards the Horns. So, they’re the most hated people in the town.
Bill: They own half the town, and half the town hates them.
Pepper: Yeah, they own half the town. We kind of modeled it, instead of having the two children of the Horn family - it’s actually four children. There are two daughters, two sons – well you don’t know if one son is a girl or a boy so I don’t know yet. His name is Estes and he goes by him, his and he, so...
NG: That hasn’t been defined yet?
Pepper: It hasn’t really been defined and it will be explained later on. I don’t want to give away too much.
NG: Or else the writer is going to harm you later.
Pepper: Yeah, I know the writer is going to harm me later. But you have Pudge, who is also going to be introduced with Olive and Little Duck as well - because he is actually integral to those two and they become friends.
NG: Moving forward, is this a series you see a defined endcap on? Or is this something you could keep doing forever?
Pepper: Well summer has to end at some point.
NG: Sure, but the town has to keep running during the winter.
Bill: Yeah, we have actually talked about that. We’ve really planned out this whole world and all the characters in it. We have a nuclear ending, which just ends it - and we have an ending that finishes the story, but the next generation could take it on and your imagination could just imagine. It keeps going. So, we haven’t decided if we want to nuclear "kill it all" at the end or let the imagination go instead.
Pepper: I think that the consensus is that the nuclear will only be pulled out if we really feel like we need to stop. I think that is pretty much how we have decided that.
Bill: But right now, the only commitment is to the set that we have talked about - to see if there is a real audience for it and how they engage with it. If they really like it we will do another one, and another one - until we reach one of those two conclusions.
Pepper: There are other stories that Bill has thought of that he wants to try and do as well.
NG: Would those be in this universe or in a separate series?
Pepper: In this universe.
Bill: That’s kind of where the long format story comes in. I do want to do something longer and more engaging. When you’re writing for a comic, you’re really trying to fit a really short and intense arc into so many pages. So, I would really like to do something a little more involved. We have committed to doing at least one manga, where it’s just more involved and more detailed than the rest of the arc is.
Pepper: Let me clarify, he meant graphic novel.
Bill: Graphic novel, sure.
NG: I was just about to ask would you alter your style to look Japanese?
Bill: That was just my ignorance of the vocabulary.
Pepper: I already have a lot people who are like, "So you draw anime, like old anime?" It drives me crazy! My influences are 1920’s cartoons, Tex Avery, the Looney Tunes, Peyo (who is the creator of the Smurfs). There’s a lot of American artists where you can see the foundations of anime and manga.
NG: I think that honestly wraps up the questions I had but there is one more in closing for you. If the people reading want to see more, if they want to find you online, where would they look?
Pepper: You can go to LakeKikipapi.com and we sell the first chapter of Campfire Stories which is Ant Gal. That’s up on the website and soon we are going to have the Side Stories up. We are also going to start putting the artbooks that I created up there as well. Fairly soon, so you can support us and help us grow.
NG: Awesome. Thank you guys both for your time.