Edited by Kraken Press founder George C. Cotronis, Aghast: A Journal of the Darkly Fantastic, is an upcoming bi-annual, illustrated journal of dark fantasy and horror short fiction, featuring original prose by Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner and Gemma Files. Lavishly illustrated with dark art, Aghast is shaping up to be one of the most exciting horror anthologies of 2014, which should come as no surprise coming from the publishers of Richard Thomas's Staring Into The Abyss.
A Kickstarter campaign for Aghast closes on the 29th April 2014 and is currently 120% funded. Starburst spoke to George C. Cotronis about the inception of the magazine, why he feels so passionately about horror and how John Milton figures into the equation.
Starburst: Tell us a little about yourself.
George Cotronis: I grew up in Greece and moved to Sweden later. I travel a lot. I’ve been a freelance illustrator for the past ten years. I started up Kraken Press a while back and we have four books out. I also edited my first anthology for Kraken. I like horror.
Where did your love of horror come from and who are the creators that inspire you?
I read a lot as a kid and pretty early I started getting into horror. I was going through a couple of Goosebumps books a day and that was costing a lot of money, so I started reading Stephen King novels to get my horror fix. I was about nine years old and I haven’t stopped since.
I think watching horror movies at a young age warped me. I remember watching Nightmare on Elm Street when I was four or five years old and having nightmares about it for weeks. I liked it though. I stayed up late in hopes of catching them.
Stephen King is still probably my favourite author, just by virtue of reading all of his books and enjoying most of them. I know it’s cool to knock King these days, because he has a huge output and some of his books have been less than good, but there’s no one out there that has written the books he has. The Long Walk, The Shining, The Stand, many of his short stories blow other writers out of the water.
Other than that, I like Graham Joyce, Caitlin Kiernan, Tom Piccirilli, Laird Barron, Thomas Liggotti, Joe Lansdale, Gemma Files, etc.
I feel I should also mention Guillermo del Toro. Devil’s Backbone is probably my favourite ghost story.
Where did the idea for Aghast come from?
Just like most things I end up creating, Aghast came about because I wanted to make something cool without breaking the bank. Small press publishers often don’t have the budget to hire artists and layout designers. I can do both. All I needed was an editor and I can usually trade my services for theirs. I still had to pay the writers though. Doing everything in house sure helps keep costs down though.
Short stories remain one my favourite forms of literature, so I decided to put out a magazine that would allow me to showcase new talent along more experienced authors. I made it bi-annual because I still needed time to work for Kraken Press and do my own writing. I was wanting to use Kickstarter for something for years, and this was a pretty good opportunity.
I sent out a few emails to writers I thought would be a good fit and I managed to get enough of them to commit to fill a first issue, with a couple of slots left open for the slush pile. I made a few cover illustrations to showcase the kind of art Aghast would feature and I set up the Kickstarter campaign page.
It’s been cool watching people pledge to the project, you can spend all day checking the campaign page. Also stressful, but hey, it’s almost over now, less than eight days left.
What about the name particularly - why Aghast?
For the longest time I thought the quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost was “Aghast the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is” but of course it’s “Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is.” Anyway, the word stuck and I liked the way it looks and sounds, so it felt like a good choice. If you add an exclamation mark at the end it almost sounds like a 1930s-era pulp magazine.
Not a bad name for a horror mag.
Which authors do you have lined up for the first issue?
I've only accepted two other stories. They’ve both been made available to our backers, so you can read them right now if you pledge to our Kickstarter. The first one is a tale involving John Dees' angel occultism by Esther Saxey. The second, I think gives a pretty good idea of what kind of venue Aghast is, so I'm looking forward to the response to that one. It's called Sticks and Bone and it's by Leo Norman. Kind of a folkloric story about loss.
The slated authors I think make up a great line-up. I don’t know what kind of stories they’ll end up writing, but I’m not worried. I love their work.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. He’s the author of many novels including Assassin’s Code, Flesh & Bone, Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin. I think it’ll be cool to see what he comes up with for a market like Aghast.
Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections in the horror and urban fantasy genres. The Nekropolis novels are my favourite of his, I think he does dark fantasy really well.
Award-winning horror author Gemma Files is best-known for her Weird Western Hexslinger series (A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones, all from ChiZine Publications). Gemma is probably the author that most embodies the kind of stories I’m looking to publish.
Jeff Strand is the four-time Bram Stoker-Award nominated author of such novels as Pressure, Dweller, Wolf Hunt, A Bad Day for Voodoo. I really liked Fangboy and I think Aghast could use some humour.
What have you learned running the Kickstarter campaign? Would you ever do it again?
Kickstarter campaigns are hard work. You should do 99% of the prep beforehand. Even though I had a ton of stuff ready (previews, content, mock ups), I could have prepared better. A lot of blogs will be happy to plug your campaign if you can give them a short essay or opinion piece, but writing twenty of those in a month can kill you. You should also have set up those guest posts beforehand so that you can space them out over the course of the campaign.
I’d probably do one again, if I had a project that I thought would benefit from it. I probably wouldn’t do it for a run of the mill anthology or something like that. Now I’m wondering how a first novel would do on Kickstarter. Terribly, most likely, but might be a good experiment.
The Aghast Kickstarter campaign ends on April 29th and can be found here.