These women do not clown around.
With colorful coifs, revealing attire and, in one instance, a whole heap of crazy, four female circus performers are mistaken for contract killers and then decide on a change of career paths in Clown Fatale, debuting Wednesday from Dark Horse Comics.
Writer Victor Gischler’s four-issue miniseries is a violent, sexy parody of grindhouse exploitative cinema and paean to B-movie action-crime flicks that’s soaked in homage and humor — and buckets of blood.
“When you’re watching a Tarantino movie, in a way you’re watching a movie that’s about other movies. I wanted to take that vibe and let it all evolve,” says Gischler, who’s working with the art team of Maurizio Rosenzweig and Moreno Dinisio.
“The audience of this book might be me, I don’t know. That could be it. But I’m pretty pleased about it.”
Clown Fatale revolves around a main cast of four rodeo clowns. The leader Chloe is a Broadway wannabe who hit the skids and ended up one social rung down from the guy cleaning up elephant dung. Candy is a former hooker, Tina fell in with the circus after escaping an abusive lover, and Aya is an Asian nutjob who strings nooses on teddy bears yet has certain talents applicable to the quartet’s newest gig.
A pompadoured rockabilly sort named Wayne watches them dispatch a group of pesky kids after a performance and figures they’re the hit squad he’s supposed to contact. They think he’s just a run-of-the-mill pervert until he mentions the $50,000 he’s willing to put up if they kill a local drug dealer.
Their life quickly gets messy as they embark on a new moneymaking scheme, which is bound to irk the actual hitmen wanting to get paid for their services.
One of Gischler’s inspirations from the start for Clown Fatale was an old trailer for the 1965 Russ Meyer cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! the writer watched on YouTube.
“I just remember thinking, ‘What a ridiculous, exploitative, over-the-top thing,'” Gischler says. “Russ Meyer knew what he was doing — it wasn’t like he was trying to make From Here to Eternity and messed up. He embraced what he was doing, and it seemed so fun to me.”
And comics seemed like the best medium to create such a project for the novelist because, as Gischler puts it, “you can just do anything.”
Gischler remembers a conversation years ago he had about how rodeo clowns are pretty much rock bottom, even past regular clowns: “Somehow there’s this unspoken hierarchy of who is the scum of the earth, but then really who’s even below them?”
This worked into an idea he had about identity and if you’re this person who puts on makeup and becomes a clown, what if they can’t take off the makeup? If they’re stuck with who they are, can they ever decide to be someone else.
It worked thematically and visually for a series, according to Gischler, and the clown motif provided a nice tension.
“You don’t usually think of clowns as attractive,” he says. “You think of them maybe as creepy, so you have these very beautiful women but they’re also clowns so, well, am I attracted or creeped out or a little of both? I wanted that conflict and struggle.”
While Clown Fatale is mostly centered on Chloe, Aya became one of Gischler’s favorites and “provides this out-of-left-field weirdness that I really like,” says the writer, who also pens Dark Horse’s Kiss Me, Satan and Dynamite’s Noir (debuting Wednesday).
There is the ongoing question of who Aya is and where did she come from, “but she has wants and desires and wishes, too. They’re just expressed a little more strangely.”
All four characters act as influences for themselves, Gischler adds. “They sort of tell me how to write them.”
In an upcoming issue, they get a taste of money and have a “very unfortunately real reaction” to it — a scene that harks to Gischler grad-school days when he and his fellow English students would get some cash, “and there were 100 responsible things we could do with that. It’s like, ‘Let’s go get some drinks and some pizza.’ ”
There is a similar wild freedom he enjoys with Clown Fatale, and Gischler, who watches a lot of golf on TV, likens it to a caddy handing a club to a player and telling him, “Don’t leave any of that club in the bag.”
“When I start a project, I don’t want to have to hold back or save anything,” he says.
In the case of Clown Fatale, that means none of his protagonists are guaranteed to live to the next issue.
“I really don’t want people to feel safe with these characters. I want them to get emotionally invested and then get worried,” Gischler says.
“These characters are here to get the most out of them in the best way I think I can with no tomorrow. That puts all those characters out on the ledge, and some of them will get back and maybe some of them won’t.”