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?
Nicholas: Also keep an eye on Monster Elementary‘s Facebook page and Twitter feed for news on our upcoming Kickstarter campaign to fund the third book in the series!
Enjoy these wonderful glimpses at the diverse array of art and stories in volumes 1 and 2 of Monster Elementary.
Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.