I grew up the latchkey kid of a single mom with a rental card to any video store within a 30-minute bike ride of my house. I held the keys to movie heaven in my velcro wallet. Video stores are where I learned about movies, taught myself how spot a good one from a bad one by the box art, figured out what directors were, and that you could follow them from movie to movie. One of the first directors I ever knew by name was John Carpenter. His name meant murderous possessed cars, killer fog, aliens in Antarctica. John Carpenter meant Halloween, a movie whose theme song scared me so badly as a kid I didn’t finally watch it until I was almost out of high school.
I didn’t even know Escape From New York was a Carpenter film until I stumbled across it on the Action-Adventure wall. There was his name. There was a decapitated Statue of Liberty. That was all I really needed to know to invest $2 in this instead of eight games of Contra at the arcade. This was John Carpenter, it had to be great.
I wasn’t disappointed, but I was confused. This wasn’t an action film the way Schwarzenegger films were action films — there was no one-liner with each murder, no glory in any of it. It wasn’t a horror film like I defined them, full of monsters or ghosts or slashers. It was scary on a different, weirder level. It was about what happened after the end of the world. The horror was that after the worst had happened, we’d still have to keep living.
The end of the world seemed pretty real if you grew up in the ’80s. Nuclear war between the US and the USSR was a horror story kids I knew told themselves could happen any day. It invaded our everything. Escape From New York wasn’t exactly about the day after, but it was about what happened when society collapsed on itself, it was about people as monsters, cities as monsters, everything we believed in turned into our worst nightmares. Pretty heady stuff for a kid who still shopped in the Boys section at Sears.
Escape From New York was my gateway into loving the post-apocalypse, running right toward it. That there was still a bad dude wandering in the aftermath, facing impossible odds with a sneer and a grunt, and coming out alive and sticking his thumb in the president’s eye. By then I’d also learned that the President was The Man and The Man wasn’t to be trusted. There was no The Man after civilization collapsed, there was just everyone, and everyone could potentially be their own Snake Plissken. They teach you as a kid that you could be whatever you wanted — lone warrior of the apocalypse sounded pretty great to me.
Since then I’ve theoretically grown up and the end of the world kind of terrifies me now. How would I get wi-fi? Where do you score coffee in a scavenger economy? I’ll probably have to have roommates, won’t I? My tastes in fictional wastelands bend toward the kind John Carpenter and Nick Castle came up with in their vision of 1997 America, a society that’s broken but still hobbling on. Escape From New York doesn’t freak me out in that way it used to as a kid. Now it’s as much a comedy as it is an action film as it is a Western, a section I usually walked right past in the video store. Snake Plissken has become an icon as recognizable as an Alien Xenomorph or a Terminator. And now, somehow, BOOM! Studios is letting me write him, pick up his threads from the end of the film and tell the story of what happens next.
These days, I’m hip-deep in this mythology that helped warp me at an early age. Only now I get to shape the collapse of society. I get to decide who has the nukes and how they use them. I get to stack impossible odds against a world full of people just trying to get by and I get to maneuver the lone wanderer of the apocalypse, Snake Plissken, into one messed-up situation after another. If New York is abandoned to killers and psychotics, the rest of the country has to be even more terrifying. And I get to schedule the itinerary, navigate the travelogue. I finally get to shape the apocalypse.
When you get into making comics, there are dream gigs you have in mind and there are things that you never imagine you’d ever be involved in. And then there’s Escape From New York. Never in my idlest day job fantasies did I ever think I’d be writing Snake’s snarled dialogue or seeing my weirdest, vague ideas turned into “hell yes” reality by artist Diego Baretto or that I’d be allowed to play in the sandbox of one of my heroes.
The post-apocalypse still freaks me out, but these days it’s in a “I-can’t-quite-be-sure-any-of-this-is-happening” kind of way.
Christopher Sebela is a comics writer who lives in Portland, Oregon. He writes creator-owned books like Dead Letters at BOOM! Studios and two-time Eisner-nominee High Crimes at MonkeyBrain Comics, as well as having worked on Aliens Vs. Predator and Ghost for Dark Horse Comics, and Captain Marvel and Fantastic Four for Marvel Comics.