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Interview: Ermahgerd! ‘Goosebumps’ Comics!

Slappy

Goosebumps CoverThis year marks the 25th anniversary of R.L. Stine’s first Goosebumps book, and the series seems to be aging gracefully, with plenty of spinoffs, a movie, and a graphic novel adaptation. Now there are more comics, as IDW announced a new Goosebumps series at Comic-Con International in San Diego last July. The comics will feature original stories by different creators, and they will run in multi-issue arcs that will be collected into trades. The first story is a three-issue miniseries by writer Jeremy Lambert and artist Chris Fenoglio, and it includes several elements that will be familiar to longtime Goosebumps fans: The setting is Horrorland, and Slappy the Dummy is a featured character.

We had the opportunity to interview Lambert and Fenoglio about their plans for the series—and to get an advance look at some of the art.

Did you read the Goosebumps books as a child? If so, how did you feel about them then—and how do they look to you now?

Chris Fenoglio: Totally! I was a little older when they started getting popular, so they were slightly behind my reading level (I was reading R.L. Stine’s other series, Fear Street a lot though). Still, I read a lot of the Goosebumps books—I was a voracious reader as a kid, so I would read anything I could get my grubby little mitts on.

Jeremy Lambert: I did! I was that weird kid in the corner with a stack of Goosebumps books and pulpy fantasy paperbacks. I absolutely loved them! I had some pretty bad nightmares and sleeping problems when I was younger, and they felt like a way to deal with them. I guess my thinking was: if this R.L. Stine fella has this scary stuff in his head too, then I’m not alone. They allowed me to appreciate scary stories. Now horror and fantasy are my favorite genres, and they play very well together. I still love the books, and the covers bring back some pretty vivid memories of late nights and flashlight-reading for me. 

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One of the challenges of Goosebumps is that the original books were stand-alone stories—there are no consistent characters or even a single world. What qualities did you feel were essential when creating your own Goosebumps story?

Fenoglio: Making good, relatable characters that readers can identify with. It’s really easy to do with Jeremy’s writing—he gives the characters a TON of life already, so drawing them is really easy and fun.

Lambert: I totally agree with Chris, here! The relatable characters is what made the books accessible to a lot of young readers, and what made the scares work. Every book begins with a relatable situation, and that’s why Ginny and Mia are staying at Grandma’s for the summer. We’ve all been away from the place we call home and the people we call friends for weeks or months… and as an eight or twelve year old, even a week can seem like a lifetime! Sometimes you’re on your own to escape the boredom, and sometimes it can get you in real trouble. A balance of horror and comedy was also really important. All the original books seemed to have a good blend of both, and I’ve always considered that a staple in a Goosebumps story. Lastly, I’d say having a world where scares can come from anywhere. Horrorland made that pretty easy!
 
Were there things from the original series that you deliberately left out?
 
Fenoglio: I love easter eggs… so I try to cram in as many nods to the original series as I can.

Lambert: Not deliberately! If I could, I’d somehow have an easter egg for every Goosebumps book in a three issue story, but apparently that’s TOO much? (Artists, amiright?! Look, if he’s gonna lay all the blame on me, I gotta fire back with somethin’!)

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How did you create your own story—did you start with any particular idea or elements?

Lambert: Honestly, it started with drawing from my own childhood. Ginny and Mia are very similar to me and my brother, as well as two of my best friends, who were sisters. I started with that dynamic and that relationship because it just made perfect sense to have two very different kids thrown into this kind of situation, and of course they can’t escape each other either, they’re sisters. I had severe asthma as a kid and read all the time, so does Ginny. My brother was the star of the soccer team and was always good with hands-on stuff, but he was always getting injured, and there’s Mia. I like starting with the characters because once you have them, the story starts to unfold in thinking about how they would act and react. Also, Slappy! Because you always, ALWAYS need a good villain. Who’s better than that dummy, eh? (Whoops, do you think he heard me call him dummy?!)
 
Fenoglio: I read Jeremy’s script and said, “I can draw that!” My only idea was giving Irk long monkey arms. So remember that anything in the series you don’t like was Jeremy’s idea.

Creating horror stories for children seems like it would be particularly challenging. How do you balance the scary with the reassuring?

Lambert: I think horror stories are some of the most pure forms of storytelling. I read every fairy tale I could get my hands on when I was younger, and I would consider most of them horror stories, absolutely. (You wanna talk about horror stories for children, holy macaroni! Some of those really scary Grimm fairy tales are stuck in my brain forever!) Fear and love are the two most powerful and guiding emotions, so it’s natural for a story to have both. Both sisters are afraid of different things, but it’s a love for each other or other characters that might help them to cope with that fear, and gives them a chance at overcoming it. I think children have a high threshold for scares, more than adults think. The world is scary! It’s not built for children, it’s built for adults. Kids are scared every day, there’s a thousand things to learn and a thousand more you don’t even know about. The fear of the unknown is in its biggest, baddest form! In terms of art, Chris’s work is wonderful for this kind of story, because he has wonderful characters in a cartoony style that help to make them relatable and really bring them to life, but he’s also drawing some really scary stuff along with that! It’s a great balance from him as an artist that really makes the story!
 
Fenoglio: My drawing style is pretty cartoony, and I think it helps keep things from being too terrifying. But hopefully the visuals help sell the horror a little bit… but not too much. I don’t want to scar any kids for life… yet.

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Do you remember being scared by a comic, movie, or book as a kid? What did you take away from that, and how does it inform your work on the Goosebumps series?

Lambert: I certainly do, I was scared of everything! For a while, it was too much, but then I really started getting into scary books and movies. Goosebumps. Stephen King. John Carpenter. Even The Land Before Time had some really scary moments that got to me! (Sharptoooooth!) I guess it comes back to that odd sense of reassurance that other folks have this scary stuff in their head all the time and maybe this is how they deal with it. When you experience horror in stories, it’s giving you ways to prepare, I think. It’s letting you put on some new armor to help you out there in the world. All those stories have informed me as a writer, so they’re all at play in Goosebumps, I hope!

Fenoglio: To this day I check for monsters under my bed… Everything scares me.
 
ErmagherdGoosebumps is fondly remembered by many—it even has its own internet meme, Ermagherd. How do you feel about being part of the Goosebumps legacy? What would you say to fans of the originals?

Lambert: Ermagerd! Ha, oh I’m ecstatic! I was floored when they told me I was going to tell a Goosebumps story, I can’t think of a more “childhood dream = fulfilled” situation. I’m so grateful to them for letting me and Chris tell a story with our editor Sarah Gaydos leading the way. The books were really important to me, and I guess I’d say that, from one big fan to another, I hope you love this book! Maybe hide it under the bed if it gets too scary. And if there’s anything you DON’T like… it’s totally Chris’ fault. 

Fenoglio: I’ve loved R.L. Stine books for a very, very long time. It’s nothing short of an honor to be working on this—and not just working on it, but drawing the premier story for the series!!! I mean, ERMAGHERD for realsies!!! I just really hope fans like what we’ve done here and enjoy our little story. And I really hope the fans remember that anything they don’t like was TOTALLY Jeremy’s idea…

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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