In Defense of Scary Reads, a guest post by Mark Fearing
What can you handle on your scare-o-meter?
This question became a hot topic in my house when my daughter was in 3rd and 4th grade. She loved horror films. She loved scary books and stories. My daughter grasped very early on that the ‘monsters’ in the books and movies weren’t ‘really real’. When my wife expressed concern that our daughter and I were watching a scary movie, my daughter said, “Mom. Those aren’t REAL monsters. They’re just special effects.”
But many of her friends did not have that understanding.
My daughter’s sleepover friends would usually give-in, out of curiosity or peer-pressure. No matter how many warnings, they’d sneak something scary. And after the guest child went home, a day later we’d get the call.
“Our daughter hasn’t been able to sleep! What did they watch?”
Obviously, we all have different levels of comfort on our scare-o-meters.
As a child I was obsessed with horror too. And I had bad dreams. And worked out rather elaborate plans on how to escape the big three: Frankenstein, the werewolf and Dracula.
As often as I covered my eyes and saw fearsome ghouls in shadows after watching a scary movie – I always wanted to watch another. I remember reading Stephen King in middle school (yeah, I was that kid) scared to turn the page – and not being able to put the book down.
Welcome to the paradox that is horror.
As we age, we realize that the myth making and storytelling in horror is based on deeply held emotions. Real fears, and the very real issues that humanity faces. The questions about ethics, morality, cruelty, and compassion that enlighten the best philosophical treatise are present in the horror genre. What they reveal is: the monsters are us.
But it’s more palatable to observe this as a distant third party. I’ve read many biographies and dramas and seen plenty of documentaries that contain far more horror than any Goosebumps book or ‘monster’ movie. I remember reading In Cold Blood the first time. Truman Capote’s book left me deeply shaken on many levels. It’s considered the original true-crime book. But as Richard Brook’s film makes even more apparent, it shares DNA with the horror genre. It’s disturbing and reveals the confusing matrix of human emotions, beliefs and actions that lead to real horrors. It’s horror without the lab grown monster. Without the comfort that comes from ‘just special effects’ creatures.
It’s not an exaggeration to say the current world of nearly instantaneous, around the clock media coverage can be more frightening than any horror book or monster movie ever created. And these ‘news’ events are devoid of meaning beyond the event. They live in a world of perpetual confusion, contradictory ‘truths’ and by necessity a lack of meaningful context.
At least with fiction I can adjust my events to reveal a cause-and-effect that goes beyond the happenstance of headlines.
The myths and stories at the heart of humanity are filled with dire situations, unsavory characters, and difficult choices. The best horror stories reveal more than a monster. They ignite a fascination with how the world works. They inspire us to imagine how our choices affect others. They ask us, to ask ourselves – what kind of person do I want to be? This is not fluff. This is not just ‘kids’ stuff’.
So, what was my plan for a middle grade, graphic novel horror series that can live up to everything I’ve just enumerated above?
First, I want the Frights from Feral books to be fun! I want them to be unapologetically escapist. I’m not going for nightmares. I’m hoping for smiles, laughs, and perhaps a bit more concern when going into a dank, natural stone basement. I want a reader to think about themselves and wonder what they would do in these situations. And why.
With the second book, Last Exit to Feral, I want to hint at the idea that our emotions and perceptions CAN make us monsters. Our attitudes can attract ‘bad’ actors. The way we live our life matters. What we believe and act on – can have affects beyond our knowing. I want these books to trigger a reader’s imagination when they turn the page. Part of this depends on the tone of the work and the style of my illustrations. The stories could be rendered differently, more realistically, and be much more frightening and disconcerting. This would fall under the issue of tone in film making.
A graphic novel is a combination of words and visuals (obviously) but what many reviews miss is HOW those particulars work together to create a greater whole. I want the Frights from Feral books to be a delightful invitation to being scared. I don’t just want pictures with huge word balloons. It should be more than an illustrated novel. It must resonate as a complete whole. Or at least that’s what I aim for.
I still read a lot of horror. And watch plenty of scary movies. The opportunity to experience this ‘artificial’ fear prepares me to face the fears of real life with more confidence. But maybe, I just like being scared when I know I can’t be harmed.
The imaginative and fantastical landscapes that horror germinates in are great fun. And when done right they are: scary, exciting, revealing, unnerving, unexpected, funny, dramatic…you know, like life.
Meet the author
Mark has illustrated many books including: Great, Now We’ve got Barbarians, The Three Little Aliens and The Big Bad Robot and How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans. He’s written and illustrated a few including: Giant Pants, Castle Gesundheit, The Great Thanksgiving Escape and Welcome to Feral.
He lives in Oregon. He likes chocolate chip cookies hot from the oven.
Mark is on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mark_fearing/
You can see more of Mark’s work at: www.markfearing.com
About Last Exit to Feral
Can two girls get to the bottom of their small town’s secrets, or will they become another ghost story? Find out in the second entry of this freakily fun graphic novel series!
Feral is littered with secrets, mysteries, and unexplained disappearances. The town has always been weird… and most residents just accept that.
But intrepid young investigators Freya and Monica are sure that Feral is getting weirder. Kids are disappearing more and more, signs of the supernatural are surfacing in new places, and the lights went on in the abandoned Messner Mansion. Even though they know they shouldn’t, the girls can’t resist the temptation to find out what’s inside.
The adventures from Welcome to Feral continue as they descend into the deep, dark passages hidden below the haunted town. If they aren’t careful, they might become the town’s next unsolved mystery!
With vibrant art, clever humor, and plenty of thrills, animator Mark Fearing conjures a fearsome saga out of small-town terrors.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/05/2023
Series: Frights from Feral
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network