They say truth is stranger, and scarier, than fiction, and Stephanie Phillips’ latest limited series, Butcher of Paris, is about to prove that fact. Phillips, writer of The Devil Within, and Descendent, is no stranger to history, horror, and mystery. But with Butcher of Paris, she delves into true crime territory that hits a little close to home.
Set in Nazi-occupied France, the Butcher of Paris follows a detective desperately trying to solve gruesome murders committed by Marcel Petiot. Though history and true crimes buffs will know how Petiot’s story ended, there are still many mysteries surrounding the crimes he committed, some of which Butcher of Paris will try to unearth.
We spoke to Stephanie Phillips about the process of writing Butcher of Paris, what drew her to the story, and what she’s working on next.
When I learned about Petiot, I knew the story needed to be told. You can read details about the case online, but there is something I think we miss when we are simply reading facts about Petiot. This is a story about a serial killer hunting in a city occupied by Nazis—one of the darkest periods in French history (really, world history writ large). This case is about so much more than a serial killer, and I think that’s why it stood out to me. I just kept coming back to it.
How much will you be delving into Petiot’s past in the remainder of the Butcher of Paris?
Plenty! Petiot’s past is fascinating and features very heavily in the book.
Butcher of Paris is a combination of murder, history, and horror. You’ve explored some of these genres in Descendent and The Devil Within. What was it like melding them together for this series?
It’s really “home” for me as a writer. Historical fiction is absolutely my wheelhouse. The odd thing about the horror in Butcher of Paris is that I didn’t make it up. The Nazis, the serial killer, a city under occupied rule … the horrors in this story are completely real. In all honesty, I think that’s what makes it even more horrific. I don’t think I could have invented monsters so gruesome.
Could you give us some insight into your research process for this series?
Before ever starting on a script I spent about eight months doing nothing but researching the time period and the case. I really love the research process and even spent some time researching my own family from the time period. I am Jewish and most of my family was in Holland during WWII. The amount of time I spent researching both Petiot and my own family made the project feel very personal. Despite this case’s notoriety in French history, there are still a lot of unknowns. Diving into records and accounts of the case allowed me to play detective and try to fill in some of those unknowns as best I could.
In this first issue, we don’t quite get an inkling about the kind of gore this series is going to feature. How bad is it going to get?
The focus of the story really isn’t on the gore. Dean can draw a great severed arm, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think there’s ever anything worse than our brains can imagine. I also really don’t want there to be any mistake that we are glorifying or celebrating the acts of a monster like Petiot. What Petiot did to his victims is historical record, but our team is more interested in a story about the city and its victims (both victims of war and Petiot). I think these aspects are something you can’t always find outright in records and reports.
Are you planning to delve into other aspects of the World Wars in upcoming books?
Absolutely. WWII is a huge focus of the project. I really wanted to tell a story about the tensions of war and occupation, and about a city once known as “The City of Light” going dark. Petiot happens to be in this city and in this story, but this is a story about victims and a struggling city.
What are you working on alongside Butcher of Paris? And when can we see it?
I am currently working on a historical story about female pirates called A Man Among Ye coming from Top Cow/Image comics in 2020 with artist Craig Cermak. I also have 4 other unannounced creator-owned projects that will arrive in 2020, along with a host of other projects I can’t talk about. Grrrr … secrets! 2020 will be a busy and awesome year for comics!