On Friday afternoon Marjorie Liu got together with Abrams Book Editor Charlotte Greenbaum to talk about the first volume in her new graphic novel series The Night Eaters, which comes out on Tuesday. The elevator pitch for the series is a definite head turner: “This is a book about what happens when an immigrant Chinese mother decides she’s going to teach her children a lesson inside a haunted house.”
(There were literally gasps in the audience at this description.)
During the pandemic Liu had been watching a lot of horror movies and also spending a lot of time on Zillow—“that was really pointless.” And she had this random thought: “What would happen if my grandmothers—paternal and maternal—and my aunts ran into a ghost? If they went into a haunted house, what would happen?” The idea delighted her, but for a reason that’s pretty unexpected. “It would be really bad, but not for them. They wouldn’t have a problem.”
Greenbaum remembers getting the script for volume one of Night Eaters late on a Friday evening while she was alone in a big old house. “I read the whole thing and I immediately had a panic attack,” she recalls. “I immediately called my sister in California. It spooked me really badly.”
Photos of old houses that Liu had gotten from her hours of Zillowing did nothing to ease the terror. (Greenbaum and Liu showed a few of these photos. Bathroom Tile has never seemed so absolutely frightening.)
Maybe the most curious hook about the writer and editor’s tease for the book was Liu’s discussion of the ending. “One of my favorite movies is a New Zealand horror film called Housebound. It’s really funny, and when the movie ended I felt uplifted. There were lots of scary moments, but I felt good about life! I wanted to do the same thing.” Greenbaum confirmed that the ending was part of what excited her about doing the book “was that at the end you don’t feel just empty and horrified.” She pitched it to her bosses, she said, as “Get Out meets Crazy Rich Asians.”
Liu is no stranger to writing about difficult things, but she sees Night Eaters as a big step. “I’ve always found it difficult to write about real life,” she says. “I find it too raw.” Fantasy and the supernatural have provided her way of approaching hard topics safely. “I could estrange myself using the fantastic and talk about what it was like to be mixed race, my grandmother’s life or life in general.”
Night Eaters is her first book set in our world. “They’re going to be elements of the fantastic, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to writing about real life concerning issues that I’ve faced or dealt with. When I finished the book I was like, ‘Wow, I had a moment of growth!’”
Liu’s artist and co-creator on the book is her now frequent artistic collaborator Sana Takeda. I ask forgiveness for having taken this long to mention her, as during the panel she was talked about immediately, passionately and frequently; “There aren’t enough words in the universe to describe what Sana does and how she does it,” Liu said.
Early in the panel Liu told the story of how the two first came to work together. Takeda had been hired to do a couple fill in pages on X-23, and Liu was struck by the unique stillness in Takeda’s work. “She captures silence really well,” Liu says. “That seems like a strange thing to say, because every panel is technically silent, it is a frozen moment. But when I looked her X-23 sitting still, the expression on her face, I could feel the silence, the emptiness and the loneliness wrapped around her.” When X-23 needed a new regular artist Liu requested Takeda. The two have worked together repeatedly since, most especially on their multi-Eisner award winning book Monstress.
Speaking of Takeda’s work on Night Eaters, Greenbaum says “it glows off the page.” Lui agrees: “Her art has charisma. We think about people being charismatic, but her work is charismatic. I know I’m biased but I’m going to say it, That’s someone I want to know.”
In Q&A Liu was asked about how her approach to writing trauma. “When I write characters that have been through very terrible things, I feel like they’re almost packed in silence and I’m trying to open them up, because you can’t heal if you’re closed off,” she says. And the process of healing involves both progress and relapse, she notes. “I think about that when I write these characters. I try to be very kind to their wounds.”
The panel ended on one final question that absolutely shut the room down. What is it about houses that just naturally scares us?, someone asked Liu. “Houses are where families live,” she responded. “And families are the original site of horror.”
Insert my Edvard Munch Scream emoji here.
The Night Eaters vol. 1, She Eats the Night, is on sale at the Abrams Booth (#3219) during NYCC, and goes on sale to the public Tuesday.
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