Marjorie Liu unpicks the mysteries behind The Night Eaters: She Eats The Night
The writer of Monstress talks about her new graphic novel series, its roots, and collaborating with Sana Takeda
The Night Eaters: She Eats The Night isn’t the book that you think that it is, in the best way imaginable.
The first book of a trilogy from Abrams ComicArts, She Eats The Night comes from the multiple award-winning creative team of Image Comics’ Monstress, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. But while that high fantasy series has bewitched readers in its slow, deliberate unfolding of a narrative rooted in both the kaiju and steampunk genres, She Eats The Night — and the entire Night Eaters trilogy — is something else entirely: more contemporary, more filled with ideas from horror and family dramas, and perhaps most surprisingly, far more funny.
It’s a story about two Chinese American twins, Milly and Billy, whose business is failing along with their personal lives, with both having to additionally deal with a visit from their parents, Ipo and Keon. Ipo believes that she has the solution to all of their problems: cleaning up the house next door, which has been abandoned since a murder took place there years earlier… but there’s more awaiting them in that house than just some mopping and scrubbing.
With The Night Eaters: She Eats The Night hitting stores October 11, Popverse caught up with Marjorie Liu to ask her about the book’s origins, its inspirations, and just how timely the book still feels with COVID commentary years after it was originally written.
Popverse: I’m trying to think of a way of saying that I was delighted by how silly The Night Eaters is that fully emphasizes how much of a compliment I mean that as; it’s a surprisingly funny, out-of-left-field book, and I really loved it. I think I went in expecting something more in keeping with Monstress, with a more serious attitude that was more respectful to its genre roots, but… it’s glorious. I raced through it and was immediately sad the sequel wasn’t ready for me at the end. All of this is a preamble to my first question, which is simply: where did this book even come from?
Marjorie Liu: That is super kind of you, Graeme, and much appreciated.
As for where the book came from… there’s no simple answer. It was truly the product of a very specific moment in my life. I wrote it in the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and the reason I could write it was because I was very, very fortunate — I hadn’t lost anyone. I was trying to stay busy, mentally and otherwise, as best I could: growing vegetables, watching too many horror movies, imagining moves to different cities… little band-aids for the generalized anxiety that I was feeling because of all the unknowns at the time.
And one day I thought about my grandmothers, white and Chinese, and all the women in my family and what they’d do to a ghost, or a demon, or anything stupid enough to enter their houses uninvited — and I laughed, and started writing. I wrote like I used to when I was a kid, from the seat of my pants, and even though I made strategic, thematic interventions, the book mostly took care of itself. I felt like the characters spoke through me, loudly, insistently, and I finished The Night Eaters in an insane blitz of creativity — me, just typing madly, locked onto my couch. I think the indent of my body is still in the cushions.
The book is a series of sleight-of-hand tricks, unfolding and revealed in such a way that it feels thrilling and utterly earned by the reader. How did you approach writing a book that keeps its many secrets close to its chest, figuring out just when to turn the next card over?
Families who have secrets never just reveal them. And if you’re lucky enough to sense that something is 'off', or if a silence around a certain topic becomes noticeable, those secrets still have to be teased, pried, and torn out — and even then, you know you’re not getting the full story. And maybe never will.
That really guided my hand as I worked, as did thinking about how a woman like Ipo would go about telling a hard truth. Not with words, but with actions. Small, loaded actions that build, and reveal, and eventually upend the world of her children.
It feels especially lazy to compare this book to Everything, Everywhere, All at Once — oh, look, two Asian family stories with fantastic elements! — but the two share a glee in addressing interpersonal family dynamics through genre trappings that aren’t entirely played either straight nor respectfully
Ultimately, there’s nothing respectful about families. And by that I mean, families are always in each other’s business, whether it involves relationships, children, careers, politics, education, weight, aging, fashion— nothing is sacred in a family, anything and everything is fair game. Boundaries? Bah!
And that’s just the baseline. Throw immigrant processes and non-Western culture into the mix, and it’s really on. And you can either treat that with grave seriousness and look for a good therapist — or laugh your ass off at how absurd family can be, and then look for a good therapist.
Monstress explores family with grave seriousness. But, like, apocalyptic seriousness. The Night Eaters can’t be bothered. The story has respect for the family, but also knows that family can be totally, irrationally, ridiculous.
Milly and Billy are a couple of fascinating protagonists, not least of all because they’re almost fighting the narrative thrust of the book for at least half of it. There’s a sense that, if they’d known they were in a book, at least Milly would have complained at the reader for keeping going. By contrast, Ipo is so grouchy and non-communicative that she’s compelling but she shares a particularly strong strain of stubbornness with her kids. Was that intentional, that they’re so effectively mirrors of each other, albeit slightly distorted? Did you know that was going to be the case going in?
I laughed when I read that — it’s so true about Milly. She’s very much like her mother, which is the problem. Both of them are stubborn, grouchy, not that affectionate— and Milly would totally murder anyone who points that out. And yet, she still craves approval from her mother, whereas Billy has given up. A friend of mine said it best after she read the sequel script — Milly actually wants to be a good daughter, and then gets paralyzed and angry when she can’t live up to the expectations. Whereas Billy assumes that anything he does will be criticized and so he’s stopped conforming.
But to your first point: I think, in general, people are resistant to change. And I think children, grown children, are even more resistant when their parents insist on change. The twins are absolutely fighting the narrative, because they’re comfortable with the way things are, even if they’re not entirely satisfied. They’ve done everything “right” — gone to college, opened a business — but it’s still not enough for their mother. And Milly, in particular, is angry about that. She doesn’t understand why her mother can’t be content with what they’ve accomplished. What Milly lacks, however, is the full context of her mother’s life, and how that skews Ipo’s view of her children. Ipo believes that the twins do not appreciate the world around them, even a little — that they’re content with living in a velvet coffin. And she knows that’s her fault, that she created this situation, and now she wants to fix it.
Ipo waited a little too long, though — that’s the problem.
This might be an odd question, but the references to COVID and masks makes the book feel so contemporary it’s almost shocking; was there a worry as you were working on it that, somehow, it might feel dated by the time it was released? For that matter, how depressing it is that it still just feels timely?
It’s totally depressing! We had a global pandemic that affected everyone on the planet. Millions died. Everyone was impacted, even if marginally. Whatever your political beliefs are, that’s an objective truth. And I understand all the many reasons for not addressing that in a book or film — but we can’t actually sweep those years under the rug. Maybe they’ll fade in memory, and that’s natural — but there’s always some danger in a deliberate act of forgetting. We can’t fully understand something, or heal from it, if we pretend it didn’t happen.
So, no, I’m not worried about it feeling dated — no more dated than someone writing a story set during WWII or the French Revolution. And besides, the book isn’t about the pandemic — it’s just playing out in the background, much like in real life as we’ve gotten back to living our lives again.
Sana’s artwork is a joy here, and brings in influences that I’m not sure I’ve really seen from her before; there’s a broadness in some of her character acting in particular that feels wonderfully new. You’ve been working together for a long time and won awards for your collaborations; are you both at the stage where you feel supremely confident in handing her any challenge, knowing that she’ll rise to the occasion?
Absolutely. As you pointed out, Sana’s doing something new here, very fresh and energetic. But in fact she’s done something new with every project we’ve worked on — whether it’s X-23 or Monstress. She’s a creatively hungry person who is always pushing herself, and I admire that so much about her. She’s never content to just settle on the old. She reads a script, and then thinks of ways to give it a unique visual voice that fits the world and theme. It’s incredible working with someone who cares that much, and it's such an honor, too.
One brief last question: we end She Eats The Night in a very different place than where we started, but it’s clear that we don’t have all the answers just yet. What can you tease about what lies ahead in the rest of the trilogy?
The second book is called Her Little Reapers! And what I can say about the sequel...is that not everyone experiences a life-changing event, and then actually changes their lives. What I mentioned before about people being resistant to change still holds true, and that’s the family’s big hurdle moving forward — a pandora’s box was opened, but no one really thought about what the consequences would be.
And, for Monstress fans, Vol 7 was just released — and when the next arc begins in January, Maika finds herself even more transformed than before, in ways that I think might surprise readers (the characters will definitely be shocked).
If The Night Eaters’ exploration of Asian families leaves you wanting more stories in the same vein, perhaps it’s time to check out Made in Korea; Popverse talked to writer Jeremy Holt about the project earlier this year.