CREATING CAMP REDBLOOD PART I: A CAMP WITH PERSONALITY
In the ten or so years since I first conceived Camp Redblood, the camp itself has gradually taken shape through various media. The first Redblood story I wrote was a screenplay titled Something’s Out There. I wrote it to be a low-budget, stand-alone movie, something we see far too little of in this age of endless franchise-building. Genre movies in the twenty-first century only serve to set up sequels and spin-offs, rarely telling a complete, self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. Think about it, we’re nearly three movies into the rebooted Star Trek franchise and the crew of the Enterprise has yet to begin the legendary five-year journey that made up so much of the original series. The last two Spider-Man movies have done nothing but set up characters and plots that have gone nowhere. Camp Redblood began as a challenge I set for myself, to write the proverbial stand-alone summer camp horror movie.
Yeah, I failed at it completely.
The problem turned out to be the old camp herself. The one summer camp that looms over all others in popular culture is Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th films. One of the big problems I have with those films is how anonymous Crystal Lake is. This isn’t entirely the fault of its creators. After all, no two Friday movies were actually shot at the same location, leaving little room for visual continuity, much less a feigned history. When audiences first laid eyes on it in 1980, Crystal Lake had no significant fictional history aside from being the place where physically disabled camper Jason Voorhees drowned. Beyond that, Crystal Lake is fairly anonymous as far as summer camps go. No camp mottos, traditions, or even notable campers aside from Jason. In fact, very few campers are actually seen in the series until the sixth film. One could argue that Crystal Lake’s anonymity is what makes it scary. There’s a reason why The Overlook Hotel is designed and lit as naturalistically as possible in Kubrick’s The Shining—it looks like a real hotel, not some shadow-draped Victorian nightmare. The Overlook had personality though. Crystal Lake has none.
So when it came time to write what I’d envisioned as the definitive summer camp horror film (which, trust me, it wasn’t), I really wanted it to be a memorable place, complete with its own history, secrets, traditions, and peculiarities. Alas, one of the frustrations of screenwriting is that you have to convey as much as you can on the page with as little writing possible. It’s a constant battle to keep the page count south of 120 if you want anyone to actually read it, and those 120 pages go fast. This meant that all the flowery, intricate description of my dream camp was the first thing to go on the chopping block.
A few years went by and I did very little with the script (a potentially fortuitous turn of events, as that script essentially represented the last Camp Redblood story, one I still hope to tell at some point). Meanwhile, the grand old summer camp I had created for the supposedly stand-alone movie that I never made was still standing, very much alone, empty, and unused somewhere in my head. It was just waiting to be reopened and occupied.
It was around this time that I began to come into my own as an artist specializing in the inconvenient medium known as Microsoft Paint. Somewhere along the line it dawned on me that if I could produce a respectable-looking comic book created entirely in that program I would probably be the first to ever do so, and could conceivably get some publicity out of of it. This meant I could finally visualize, with neither financial nor creative restraint, the summer camp I had left to rot. Unfortunately, I slowly realized that it would take me roughly as much time to draw a comic book in Microsoft Paint as it would to actually go out and build a goddamn summer camp with my bare hands. In fairness, I’ve refined my craft in Paint to the point where I probably could produce a regular comic—that is, if I didn’t have to go work a day job for 40 hours a week. So the comic book option was out. My time was not wasted, however. This period yielded some strong designs, ones that would aid greatly in the writing of this first Camp Redblood novel.
The older I get the more interested I am in iconography. I want to know what magic makes a certain aesthetic choice not only memorable and lasting, but definitive. It’s obnoxious and counterproductive to say you want to make something iconic of your own, something classic, but I think it’s important to aim at least for something that does not become obsolete in the space of a few years or a decade. This was the mindset with which I approached the design of Redblood.
The Camp Redblood that exists on the page was designed and built by a small group of World War II veterans fresh from their service in the war. The prevailing image of this generation, the “Greatest Generation” (a designation I’ve never heard anyone from that generation self-apply), is one of mythically capable, practical men and women. It’s also a very romantic generation (in addition to being romanticized), and I thought that should come through in the designs.
At the point of time in which this story takes place, however, Redblood and its reputation are in a state of decline. Though well-maintained under the supervision of its grizzled founder and camp director, Dr. Cheevers, the joint isn’t what it used to be. That state of decline hopefully supplies the camp with some of the much-needed personality I found lacking in Crystal Lake and all the other cinematic and literary summer camps. Whether or not I’ve succeeded will be up to the reader.