Young adult horror writer R.L. Stine turns to darker, more mature stories in the Frankenstein-esque Stuff of Nightmares
R.L. Stine partners with comic artist A.L. Kaplan for a new horror series at BOOM! Studios called Stuff of Nightmares
Comics are in R.L. Stine’s (monster) blood. The best-selling author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series frequently cites old EC Comics as a huge influence on his horror works, and has several times contributed to the medium himself. Those comics have been in the same category of the majority of his literary work, that is, horror for younger readers…
Stuff of Nightmares #1, the first in a series from BOOM! Studios, hit shelves September 21. The mature-reader horror comic tells the story of the Cameron brothers, two mad-scientist types with a dream of creating life, à la Frankenstein. To celebrate its release, Popverse chatted about the comic with its creator, during which we discussed the events of the issue, his own horror history (that almost wasn’t!), and the potential future in store for Stuff of Nightmares. A quick warning: we do touch on specific plot elements, so stop reading now if you want to keep the surprise for yourself.
In other words, ‘Reader Beware, You’re in For a.. Few Minor Spoilers.’
Popverse: Ok Bob, I loved Stuff of Nightmares right from the jump, when you introduced the horror host of the series, the Nightmare Keeper. Can you talk about creating that character?
R.L. Stine: That character did not come out the way I pictured at all. What's interesting about comic books, you know, you have something in your head and then, the artist, they do their thing and it's different. And it's like, oh, wait a minute, I didn't picture that. I pictured a regular guy. And then, you know, things turn out better.
Wait, so you pictured him as, like, a guy in a suit?
Yeah, pretty much. With a little, you know, face mask. The thing is, I'm not that visual a person. I never pretend to be an art director for books or things. I would say it's kind of that's kind of the fun part. You see everything change.Here is a preview of Stuff of Nightmares #1.
In that case, what do your scripts look like, usually?
They look like a movie script. Sort of. They're very similar to a TV script or something. Yeah, I don't do that much art direction.
That's really interesting, because there are some really grisly scenes in Stuff of Nightmares #1. Not to spoil too much, but two characters die in a brutal, gory way. Do you get terribly descriptive of moments like that? Do you write in the blood and guts?
Well, I don't know. I think for that scene it says, ‘the mutants get out of their cage and they devour the two.’ That's pretty much my description. So they devour and there's a lot of slicing and chewing and chopping and, you know, and I'll put in maybe some sound effects in the script. But that's it.
It’s an incredibly visceral scene. It's gut-wrenching.
Oh, it’s terrible.
Is that the biggest difference between writing for a mature audience and writing for a younger audience? That level of graphic violence?
Yeah, but also, adults have more references. 10 year olds who read Goosebumps; they have no references. They were born in 2012; they don't have any memories before that. You have to be very careful not to refer to a lot of people and not to refer to a lot of things that would happen in, you know, 2009.
Is that why this story is so rooted in Frankenstein? Because adults ‘get it’ a little bit more?
Well, the comic started out as my version of Frankenstein, yeah. And then it went its own way.
I got The Island of Dr. Moreau mixed in with it. There are no mutant creatures in Frankenstein.
Oh yeah, absolutely. The mutant character Frankie really feels like a Moreau creation.
Yeah. His creators weren't real successful with him. He didn't get a very good brain.
Which you’ll hear more about later on. He's a very good character, Frankie.
Does he view the Cameron brothers in the same way that Frankenstein's monster views Frankenstein?
Yeah. There's some scene later where he says, ‘I a monster.’ ‘Brothers made me monster.’
Brothers? Oh that’s cool. Because usually it's like a father and son dynamic. It’s also interesting because you know from issue one that the Cameron brothers don’t exactly see eye-to-eye the purpose of their creations.
Yeah, one brother's just desperate for fame and to let the world know what they achieved. It maybe started out as serious scientific research and really trying to change science, but then it turned into cold-blooded ambition. He wants the world to know how great he is. And of course, things don't work out at all.
I can imagine.
It's going to get very ugly later on.
I’m excited. Let’s talk about A.L. Caplan's art for this book. What's going through your head as you're getting these pages back?
I’m just always surprised. I grew up with horror comics, you know, Tales From The Crypt and the others. And they're so straight. Everything is just panel, panel, panel, panel. But [Caplan] mixes the perspective and slashes things across the page, and everything's tilted this angle and that. Then you say, ‘what's going on here?’ So it's all, all great. You know, it's beyond me. It's all surprising and shocking.
Yeah, definitely. In the absolute best way, some of those shots are nauseating.
Thank you. My very first horror novel, Blind Date, came out in 1989. It was reviewed in Publishers Weekly and they said it was, ‘stomach churning.’ I didn't know if that was a compliment or not.
You can take it as a compliment, at least.
Well, of course.
You mentioned Tales from the Crypt, which clearly influenced Stuff of Nightmares. Specifically, the Nightmare Keeper is a horror host who narrates the story, just like the Crypt Keeper. What drew you to that framing device?
When I was a kid, when I was eight or nine, I just loved those comics. What drew me to it, you know, was the amazing art, but also the comics all had funny twist endings. They weren't just scary; they were all hilarious! I think that really appealed to me. It’s not a secret: I never planned to be scary. I always was funny in my whole ambition.
You’re kidding. Really?
Yeah! I did a humor magazine for 10 years called Bananas. I've written hundreds of joke books for kids. It wasn't even my idea to be scary. That's the embarrassing part. It was another editor's idea, asking me to do a scary book.
So yeah, it was the humor of [Tales from the Crypt]. And the fact that I think horror is funny! I don't get scared. Horror makes me laugh.
That's going to blow some people’s minds. Well, wrapping up here, how many issues is the Camerons’ story? The first arc of Stuff of Nightmares?
Four issues, great. But it seems to me like The Nightmare Keeper has plenty of other stories to tell.
I don't know. We'll see.
Do you have another story planned?
I think. I want to do a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ type story. That would be a great follow-up.
Oh my gosh, absolutely. I hope we get to see that. So let's say let's say Stuff of Nightmares goes for 10 years -
Well, first, I have to go for ten years. [Laughs] That's the problem.
I think that'll happen. Will all the Stuff of Nightmares stories follow that pattern? Be inspired by classic monster tales?
I would like to do it that way, yeah. I'd like to start with something, you know, some old horror thing like that and move on; do my own version of it.
Very exciting. I can’t wait to see what those versions are.
In the mood for more scares? Make sure you've watched all our recommended best horror movies of all time.