Growing up can be tough and it can be even tougher when you’re a monster-kid stuck in the human world. That’s the central idea of Monster Elementary, an adorable, all-ages horror comedy comic created by Nicholas Doan and Caanan Grall. We’re usually a bit on the darker side here on Haunted MTL, but many of us fell in love with horror through kid-friendly concepts to introduce us to our future favorite monsters, and Monster Elementary is doing just that for a whole new generation.
Monster Elementary is a fun, witty, comedy/adventure comic for children of all ages featuring five monster children based on classic monster movie archetypes. These five monster kids are forced to attend a human public school after their monsters-only private school is raided by the FBI. To their surprise, they’re not allowed to eat any of the other students. The monsters’ adventures and experiences hiding their identities and growing up are the focal point of the book.
We met writer Nicholas Doan at WonderCon 2019 in Anaheim and asked to talk to him about Monster Elementary. We also have some previews of the comics, so be sure to read to the end!
So, Nicholas, what influences you as a writer?
Nicholas: I’m mostly influenced by the things that I enjoyed as a kid. That mostly means the cartoons and comic books of the 80’s. Superman comic books especially. The writers that have had the most profound effect on me are Charles Schulz, William Goldman and Mark Waid. I think if you look for it, you can really see Schulz’ influence on Monster Elementary.
You have a very diverse writing background, such as being part of the Dramatists Guild and having been a winner of the DC/Zuda webcomic program; does the diversity of writing experience have any surprising benefits to you when writing Monster Elementary?
Nicholas: There are definitely benefits. Writing for Theatre and writing a webcomic for DC are two experiences that heavily affected who I am as a writer. Writing for theatre is very limiting. There are no car crashes or elaborate set pieces, Theatre forces you to focus on character and dialogue. As a Playwright, I found that I wanted all of my dialogue to be interesting and not just informative. When I was writing Pray For Death for DC Comics’ web imprint, Zuda, I learned a lot about how tell a story in a serialized comic book format. Most importantly, how to write 4 page chunks of a story that feel like a satisfying read in themselves, but still add to the greater story. I learned a lot about plotting a comic story as well. Zuda really was a crash course in what works in comics and since it was part of an online community, you always got immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
You work on Monster Elementary with your wife, Gwendolyn, but do you both particularly love horror? Or is it more of a situation with one of you being a horror fan?
Nicholas: We both love Halloween! I think Monster Elementary really celebrates the spirit of Halloween just as much as it celebrates classic horror. While I love horror films and media, my wife does not enjoy being frightened. That’s why Monster Elementary is great for her and people like her. Over the years, Halloween has become more and more of an adult holiday, but we need to remember that it is a day for kids to engage in some of the spookier elements and for everyone to have fun. I like that Monster Elementary can serve as an introduction to horror for kids or a safe haven for adults that don’t want to be terrified. I also like making Halloween part of my everyday life.
What is your favorite horror story?
Nicholas: I think the Frankenstein story is one of the most poignant, powerful and rife for reinvention in all of horror. That being said, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners is my favorite movie and I think Stephen King’s IT is one of the best horror movies ever. And I can’t wait to see the sequel!
What type of monster would you be if you found yourself in your comic?
Nicholas: I would be the Mad Scientist reinventing all of these monsters for another generation to be entertained by them.
How hard is it to work within horror themes but still maintain something tonally for a general audience?
Nicholas: It’s really easy for me. I love classic horror. The horror classics are my own personal cannon for the series and the classics never really got too scary. At least not in terms of what a modern audience expects. And at the root of it all, I just want to have fun and help others to have fun with me. This is why I will keep doing Monster Elementary for as long as possible.
How do you go about choosing an artist for a Monster Elementary story?
Nicholas: I seek out artists that have their own unique style. Comics should showcase art. I never want to use a house style, I want every artist I work with to put their own unique stamp on my characters.
Do you have any upcoming events or news you’d like to share?
Nicholas: I’ll be at Phoenix Fan Fusion from May 23-26. Then I’ll be doing as singing at Astro Zombies comic shop in Albuquerque May 29. That’ll be followed up by Denver Comic-Con May 31- June 2. We then hit San Diego Comic-Con July 17-21 and wrap up at Midsummer Scream in Long Beach August 3-4.
Anything else you want us to keep an eye out for?
Enjoy these wonderful glimpses at the diverse array of art and stories in volumes 1 and 2 of Monster Elementary.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)