If it’s one thing the world needs, it’s a more open embrace of the queer, whether in the sense of sexuality or in the sense of bizarre. Luckily, producers, performers, and legendary drag icons The Boulet Brothers do it all in Heavy Metal #311, dubbed the Halloween Takeover.
Filled with stories written by some of the most fabulously ghoulish talents in the business — such as Haunting of Bly Manor director Axelle Carolyn, comic writer Steve Orlando, the Boulet Brothers themselves, and many other fearsome queens — the issue, out now, is notable high point for ghastly glamour and timely scares.
“I’d already kicked off Starward at Heavy Metal, and had been friends with Drac and Swan for a while when that started,” Steve Orlando explains. “We’d been trying to find a way to work together since we met, and the project took on many forms over the years. But once I had landed at Heavy Metal for a story of my own and seen the broad canvas they offered to tell subversive, provocative stories, I knew I’d found the home for my first collaboration with the Boulets. Heavy Metal is a sci-fi institution, and knowing Drac and Swan’s tenets of drag, horror, filth, and glamor, the merging of the brands for Halloween just made perfect sense. These are two brands that have gone about creativity in similar ways: be provocative, be bold, answer to know one. So, I knew bringing them together would be lightning in a bottle.”
The Boulet Brothers echoed Orlando’s statement in the issue’s feature interview, conducted by none other than George C. Romero. “I’ve been a fan of [Heavy Metal Magazine] since the 1980s,” said Drac, “when I would see it in comic stores growing up. The covers were always so iconic and some of them have actually inspired drag looks of ours.”
With the obvious connection established between the world of horror drag and Heavy Metal, it was time for the team to get to work in setting the stage for big names in drag and other creators who would feature in the issue. Between Orlando and the Brothers, it all came down to a case of who you know.
“Once we knew the Halloween Takeover issue was going to become a reality, we both pressed our contacts for creators that both knew the iconic legacy of Heavy Metal, and also had that specific Halloween charisma,” says Orlando. “With that in mind, we pulled together this all-star cast of creatives from across the drag, filmmaking, comics and pro wrestling worlds.”
Brothers Dracmorda and Swanthula Boulet act as hosts in the spooky takeover issue (a la Warren Publishing’s horror hosts for the vintage anthologies Creepy and Eerie, or Elvira, Mistress of the Night), guiding readers into perverse and haunted worlds from the minds of RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Katya Zamolodchikova, Yyvie Oddly, and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000; professional wrestler Danhausen, Steve Foxe (Party & Prey; Cheater Code) and artist Isaac Goodhart (Catwoman); and American Horror Story director Axelle Carolyn. And for the creators who spoke with Polygon, this melding of minds with a love of horror and drag in common was something of a match made in heaven (or hell).
“I’ve known the Boulet Brothers for years and I think they’re great. We even went out and had pie one time,” Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 tells Polygon. “When they asked me to be a part of this project with Heavy Metal, I said heck yes, that sounds fun. I used to draw comics a lot as a child. It was my way of telling long sweeping narrative stories that was way more fun than writing. I used to really get to know my characters and honestly, I still know a lot of them today. I think comics are beautiful, thrilling, and sexy, and they make reading fun.”
Alaska’s story revolves around Honor, a sex worker in 1985 who finds herself as the host for an otherworldly and gruesomely deadly parasite that promises to help her extract revenge on the many men who have hurt her or taken advantage of her profession. While Honor is happy at first to harness her newfound power and feel truly in control of her body and fate, there comes a point — of course — where she must question whether she is truly in control of herself, or just driven by another outside invader. With art and lettering from Przemyslaw Klosin, the story is as wonderfully vile as it is timely, and twice as beautiful.
“No matter what I do, or what story I tell, there’s always a strong woman at the center of it,” Alaska says, “and making her a sex worker was a no brainer because hookers have the best clothes and shoes. She gets swept up in revenge and getting even with people who have done her wrong. But then it gets to a point where the revenge is eating her up, so she has to conquer it. I hope [readers] think it’s cool and pretty. I do. And I hope it makes them hire sex workers and treat them very nicely.”
Alaska’s contribution isn’t alone in blurring lines between horror, glamour, and filth with startling effect; each story in the special issue mixes the camp of drag with some truly grotesque scares. According to Orlando, the relationships built between the team at Heavy Metal and the fabulously warped minds of the creative guests are truly what gave the stories a blended mix of subversive storytelling.
“Heavy Metal has such amazing connections throughout not just comics but the science fiction and horror sphere in general, and the same can be said for the Boulets. So like everything in the Halloween Takeover, this was a mashup of maniacal talents, this time behind the scenes,” he says. “So what you have with these incredible art teams is a melding of contacts and relationships built up over both the Boulets’ and Heavy Metal’s time in power. With both being so well established, and meeting on the page for the first time, it wasn’t a question of finding folks to join in. If anything, it was a question of finding space for them all!”
Director of The Haunting of Bly Manor, horror journalist, and first-time comic writer Axelle Carolyn was also ready to weigh in on her contributions to the Halloween Takeover, which harken back to the traditional stories of love and death within the horror genre. Much like Candyman, Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, and the Bloody Mary myth, Carolyn’s story invites an unsuspecting twist to a harmless mirror game. Drawing on the fear of the unknown and the unsettling nature of early “party games,” Carolyn goes on to describe her inspirations for such a classic but newly revived concept.
“The inspiration came from those awesome, spooky vintage Halloween cards from the early 20th century, and the games that they depict. It’s an idea that’s been floating in my head in one shape or another for years; originally, I came up with it for an anthology movie I produced, Tales of Halloween, but I ended up directing something else. It was great to have the chance to finally see it come to life,” Carolyn says. “As for mirrors … I’ve always found them terrifying, especially at night. Something about seeing someone else reflected in your place, or revealing something about you that you weren’t aware of. Eek!”
Reflection comes up plenty among all the stories throughout the collection, in many ways. Queer concepts are built into the book from the first page, and offer a fun (and comfortable) take on the idea of self-identity for readers. But they also echo the anarchism at the heart of both drag and horror as genres. Both are equally rooted in the concept of transgression from the “norm,” the blending of the two becomes something seamless. Both stand as a rejection of the societal status quo, and also link to a form of rebellion that rejects the need to ask for permission from others in order to simply exist. When it comes to reflecting bucking expectations, queer rebellion and horror essentialism prove to be at the very core of the Halloween Takeover.
“Horror is at its best when it pushes boundaries, makes you playfully uncomfortable, and gives you something gorgeous to look at. The same, I believe, is true of drag,” Carolyn offers. “So those two art forms seem very complementary, and I’m so glad the Boulet Brothers have brought that killer combination to a wide audience!”
“I think Drag is kind of terrifying,” adds Alaska. “I used to be scared of Drag queens. And a lot of people still are, even though Drag is now this kind of family friendly commodity. Drag is this idea of commercial beauty taken to an absurd extreme. And that can be scary.”
According to Orlando, “Much like horror, drag is storytelling in a loud, big, provocative mode that demands attention and will not allow itself to be ignored. And it’s rooted in the same subversion of societal expectations as, of course, queerness, but horror as well. I think that’s why you often see crossover between the mediums in the form of horror queens like the Boulets. Drag demands a reaction, horror demands a reaction, and both force you to leave your expectations in the dust.”
With Heavy Metal’s penchant for pushing the envelope and creating a new kind of conversation — and the nightmarishly beautiful concepts of some of modern drag’s most highly crowned — it’s undeniable that audiences of all backgrounds will find big laughs and even bigger thrills in this buxom Halloween treat.
“We’re going to deliver all the exciting gonzo storytelling you expect from Heavy Metal, with that added bit of drag, horror, filth, and glamor,” promises Orlando. “We of course want the scares and surprises, but I also hope they see connections between the genres they didn’t expect. This really is the creative match of our afterlives, between the Boulets and Heavy Metal. So hopefully fans of either come in, have a wild ride, and come out as fans of both the Boulets and Heavy Metal! Because across mediums, print to television, they’re both delivering content that takes you right to the edge of your expectations and dares you to step over that line. I want everyone, no matter why they get this issue, to be unsettled, aghast, and overjoyed, in that order.”
Courtesy of Heavy Metal Magazine, you can check out the first five pages of the Heavy Metal Halloween Takeover issue’s feature interview, between George C. Romero and Dracmorda and Swanthula Boulet below.
For the full Boulet Brothers experience, check out Heavy Metal #311.