The story of independent comic company Eibon Press is a unique and slightly convoluted one, according to co-founder and writer Stephen Romano. Founded in 2016 and now known in horror circles as the place for graphically bloody adaptations and expansions of classic cult films housed in astonishingly deluxe editions, the roots of the press were seeded when Romano met his eventual partner, Shawn Lewis, attending conventions in the '90s. Lewis was there with his company at the time, Rotten Cotton, and Romano was just coming off a stint producing audio comics for Image titles like Shadowhawk and The Maxx.
“The comic book industry bit the big one in the early '90s,” recalled Romano when we spoke by phone. “You had to have movies like X-Men and Spider-Man come along at the end of the '90s, beginning of the 2000s to suddenly make comic books cool again. For that whole decade, people were really struggling and the comic shops only stayed afloat because they did other things like role-playing games and figures and stuff like that.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the industry were all looking for day jobs, says Romano, but when he met Shawn Lewis, the writer had self-published his first novel, Resurrection Express, and the two were immediately impressed with what the other was doing.
“He was very impressed with what I had done,” Romano explains. “I was very impressed with what he was doing, which was just getting out there on the street and promoting underground stuff however he could.”
Lewis had connected with Bob Murawski and Sage Stallone at Grindhouse Releasing and was distributing their laserdisc of Cannibal Ferox—Romano describes him as “a real mover and behind-the-scenes shaker” who knew everybody on the convention circuit, and would introduce Romano to likes of Tom Savini.
Thanks to Lewis' connections, the pair would, in 1998, partner up with Grindhouse to create a black-and-white graphic novel adaptation of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond when the film was re-released in theaters through Quentin Tarantino's short-lived Rolling Thunder Pictures, which was then followed up by a less-successful adaptation of another Fulci gorefest, Zombie. Due to issues with the production and printing of the book, the pair set things aside on that front for quite a few years while Romano went off to work with filmmakers like Don Coscarelli, while Lewis would make the notorious cult film, Black Devil Doll.
“Shawn wanted to follow up with something more serious–like a real horror movie,” Romano continues. “So he got me to write this thing for him called Bottomfeeder, based on this story he told me on the phone which was—get this—it was Humanoids from the Deep meets Bad Lieutenant. For a guy like me, that just sings to me.”
Related: 11 Books for Fans of H.P. Lovecraft
Romano then took Lewis' ideas, which he had come up with alongside Glenn “Diablo” McNeil of NetherWorld VideoZine (credited on the cover of Eibon comics as Joseph Melendez Jr.), wrote the script in in 2010, and Lewis went off to try to get the money to make the movie.
“That never happened because the script I wrote is really impolite,” laughs Romano. “It wants to be its own thing and doesn't care what you think and certainly didn't care what the money men thought, either—which proved difficult with financiers, of course.”
Several years later, Lewis came to Romano with the idea of turning it into a comic, instead. Romano responded quite enthusiastically, at first just being hired to write the script.
“I just turned it over to him and said, 'Okay, make it into a comic,'” Romano says. “Then I got hit by a truck and my whole life changed.”
In 2014, Romano was struck while walking on a sidewalk in Austin, Texas' North Lamar neighborhood. As he recalled in a July 2016 Austin Chronicle article, “I was lying bleeding on the sidewalk for five hours. They had to do surgery on me right there to even get me in the ambulance.”
Lewis called Romano in the hospital, having no idea that he had been run over by a truck, asking the writer to edit the Bottomfeeder comic, which Romano agreed to do for no money because, as he states, “I knew somehow that project would save my life.”
After a year of editing and working on the comic, Lewis suggested to Romano that the pair resurrect their Fulci comics and make a company out of it.
Related: Tales of the Weird
“So he went off and, like Shawn does, he slashed through the Gordian knot of the rights issues of those comics,” enthuses Romano. “He went and licensed all the stuff officially so suddenly, we had not just Zombie but we had The Beyond again, and we had Gates of Hell/City of the Living Dead. We had New York Ripper, William Lustig's Maniac: we had all these different licenses and it was this exciting little empire waiting to happen.”
In addition to the rights issues, Lewis' function in the whole startup process was to provide a distribution mechanism and promote everything, ensuring the books got into the right hands. At first, the pair were going to subcontract it all through other publishers, but when they took a look at the way comic books are normally distributed, they decided it was best to just go around all that and do a product that had never been seen before: these really super-deluxe collectors' comics.
Related: 8 Twisted Post-Apocalyptic Movies
“Over the past five years, we've gotten pretty good at it,” acknowledges Romano. “I've worked with with some of the best artists out there. Our main guy, his name is Pat Carbajal. He's from Argentina. He's just one of the most amazing comic book artists I've ever worked with and he's incredible to work with. We have another guy named Puis Calzada, who is doing our series, Wasteland 1989.”
Wasteland 1989 happened because people kept asking Eibon if they would do Enzo Castellari's 1983 film, Escape from the Bronx as a movie adaptation because, as Romano quips, “Everybody—well, not everybody—but a lot of people love those little Escape from New York/Road Warrior ripoffs.”
As he says, you need to have a sense of humor about it, but they're so much fun that, rather than go license the film, they just decided to make their own knockoff. Given that Castellari also did two further films in that vein, The New Barbarians and 1990: The Bronx Warriors—to say nothing of the other Italian takes out there like Exterminators of the Year 3000 and 2019: After The Fall Of New York—it's safe to say that Eibon Press is in good company.
That particular title is interesting, because it brings us back around to where we started, with Romano working on audio comic books, and Wasteland 1989 has a full audio comic book serialized with each issue. Every other issue has a CD that adapts the various chapters in the series in full, complete with original scores from composers like Ryan Franks and Dave Neabore, bass player and chief songwriter of the hardcore punk/hip-hop band Dog Eat Dog.
The compact discs are just the tip of the iceberg for what you'll find inside the company's patented Eibon Sleeve, designed from a template created by Romano and custom-manufactured for Eibon. In addition to CDs, the company has included trading cards, bookmarks, 5-inch vinyl records, flexi singles, stickers, posters, and more to supplement the artwork and expansive storylines continuing the plot of these cult films.
Related: Top 10 Fake Horror Movie Scores
“We divided every issue into three categories,” explains Romano. “One is the standard version that has the sleeve and maybe a trading card, and then there's the signature version that, of course, comes signed and has a little more stuff in it, and then we have the psycho fan versions where you get an alternate cover, which is usually pretty stunning and there's only 100 of them manufactured.”
That's pretty stunning in and of itself, really. While small-press run chapbooks of poetry are one thing, as Romano says, “Nobody does this: nobody puts out a comic book at 100 units only. That's crazy.”
Speaking of crazy, when I was on the phone with Romano, he was in the process of working on something for the upcoming third issue of Wasteland 1989: a 100-plus page script book that shows the reader the entire process of making the book, from the pencil pages and the original sketches, all the way through to the final versions with director's commentary in the form of notes all through it by Romano.
“Wasteland is especially special because it also has an accompanying soundtrack, so there's all sorts of things I get to talk about,” Romano explains. “It's determined by the ebb and flow of each project. House by the Cemetery, we were a little more subtle with the extras, but we eventually, on the last issue of that, we did a special psycho fan thing where we took all three issues and presented it as a black-and-white collection in a special digest that you could only get in that psycho fan package.”
The craziness of each package tends to evolve with each book, all determined by Romano and Lewis getting together and going, “Okay, what are we gonna do this time,” the writer says as we wrap up.
“Sometimes, we just come up with some crazy idea and we just go and do it,” Romano says. When I ask how the pair do this with just a few people, he has a ready response.
“How indeed, how indeed,” concludes Romano. “My response is what Frank Zappa's response always was to people when they would say that to him. He would say, 'Well, I'm only prolific compared to all of these idiots who just sit around and don't do anything.'”