R.L. Stine talks writing Marvel's Man-Thing: 'It's not just scary'
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For 25 years, R.L. Stine has written his still-popular Goosebumps series.
Now, he’s trying something a little different with Marvel’s Man-Thing, the prolific Fear Street author’s first ever comic book.
“Man-Thing was a very brilliant scientist who created a serum to build the perfect warrior, and decided that he didn’t want the army to get their hands on it, so he ends up injecting it into himself to keep anyone else from having it,” explains Stine of the character he’s writing. “Unfortunately, he has a terrible car accident and it mixes with water and turns him into this hideous pile of mulch. [So] he’s this beast who is mostly animal.”
But that won’t be the only thing readers of the first five issues will encounter. Stine has also written short “Chamber of Chills” stories that will featured at the back of each issue.
With Stine’s first ever comic coming out today, EW caught up with the author to find out what his experience is like, and what readers can expect.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you a big comic book reader?
R.L. STINE: When I was a kid, I was a comic book freak. Everyone always says, “What books did you read when you were a kid?” I say, “None!” I loved comic books. This whole thing is like coming full circle for me, because when I was nine, in fourth grade, I started doing little comic books. I had this character, “Super Stooge,” who was the world’s dumbest superhero. He would fly headfirst into brick buildings. And I drew these little things and would bring them to school and pass them around. And everyone said, “You can’t draw. You suck!” And they were right, I couldn’t draw. I had no talent. So I had to write. Anyway, here I am, writing a comic book.
What were some of the comics you used to read back then?
Well, when I was a kid there were EC horror comics, “Tales From the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror” and “The Witch’s Cauldron.” I just loved them. They were gruesome, horrible, bloody comics. And the art was amazing. All those guys went on to do MAD comics, and then MAD magazine. These comics were a big influence on me because they were very scary and very dark. And they always had funny twist endings. Always. I do that in my books.
Is that what inspired you to do these “Chamber of Chills” short stories at the end of each issue?
We started out talking about what we should do. I’ve never done a comic book before. This is my first one ever. And I said, “Maybe I should just do a straight horror comic, just like the old EC comics and just do two or three horror stories.” And then I thought, “Gee, I have this opportunity. It might be more fun to use one of their characters and see what I could do with one of them.” So Marvel sent me a list of characters they weren’t using and said, “Pick one you’d like.” So I picked the ugliest character they ever had. He’s a hideous swamp monster, and I’ve always loved Swamp Monsters. I actually did a Goosebumps last year called, “Here Comes the Shaggedy” and it was about a swamp monster. So that’s the one I picked.
Is that why it spoke to you? It sounded like something you’d write?
[Laughs] It just sounded like good basic horror. You’re in the swamp! I’ve never actually seen the swamp, but it’s basic horror. In the old books, this creature couldn’t even talk. I made him talk so he could be sarcastic and I could make it funnier. I always like to make things funnier.
Considering he’s not a traditional superhero like Iron Man or Thor, how did you approach coming up with a story for him?
I started out with him seeing all these other characters at Marvel and they all have movies. So that’s why it starts out in Burbank and he’s at the studio and they say, “I’m sorry. You’re too ugly. You scare the kids. We’re using everyone else, but we can’t use you in the movie.” And then they even refuse to fly him home. It’s kind of a disgrace. [Laughs] I thought it was funny.
Did you use your recent experience with the Goosebumps movie to do that?
No. Not really. You know, I’ve written so much, I took this as a whole separate project. Everything I have is the same balance. It’s not just scary, it’s also funny. It’s always that balance. The comic has the same thing as the movie. They captured it in the movie.
What will Man-Thing be going up against in the series?
He has to go back to the swamp, and there’s horrible chaos in the swamp. Everything is out of order. Giant snakes are all over the place, and the wrong animals are in the swamp. So he goes to find a character called Old Father, who controls the swamp. He keeps order and keeps chaos away. And Man-Thing goes to Old Father’s tavern, [but] he’s been kidnapped, and the doorway to the nexus of all realities is open. So there could be chaos in the whole world. And Man-Thing thinks, “Why me? Why do I have to go rescue him?” But he has to go into the nexus, where reality keeps changing, and find Old Father and try to rescue him. And that’s basically the through-story.
How was it working with German Peralta?
Comics are weird to me. The whole process is strange. [But] he’s wonderful. I love the art and what he did. But I just didn’t understand. I would write a script, and send it to him. And he does pencil sketches, and I see these. They say, “How are these?” You say, “Well, they look nice.” And then he sends in real sketches, and then he does pencils, and then he does inks, and then they color it. Meanwhile, there are no words on it! For me, that’s very bizarre. I’m looking at this thing, it keeps coming back to me and back to me. They put the words on at the very end, which I’m sure all comic book people are used to. But for me, it was a little strange way to work. [But] it was fun to do something different.
Did you have to do any research about Man-Thing’s backstory so you could draw on it possibly?
I’ve never done research in my life. [Laughs] I always make everything up. Someone one wanted me to be on a panel talking about researching books. I said, “I can’t be on it. I’ve never done it.”
Considering you were a big comic book fan was there anything, in particular, you wanted to do when writing your first comic?
No… I just write a plot. I plan everything. I plan every Goosebumps book. I do an outline. And I plan everything out first. But I’m all plot-driven. But I never have anything I want to say. Goosebumps books have no messages. The only message is, “Run away!” They have no morals. They’re all for entertainment. This comic book is the same way. It’s to get kids reading. I just wanted it to be fun and very fast and I wanted to make it funny. I wanted to change the character a bit.
What are you reading right now?
I read mostly mysteries and thrillers. I have a friend, a wonderful Irish writer, Sebastian Barry. He just won the Costa Book Award in England for his new novel called Days Gone By. It’s an amazing book. I just finished that.
Do you think you’d write more comics after this?
Well, they have to ask me. [Laughs] I’ll be waiting by the phone. We’ll see. I would love to. You know, I’m horrible at writing descriptions. That’s why my books are mostly dialogue. So that works really well for me with comic books. Because the artist does all the scene setting. The writer doesn’t have to do that. And so it’s just a matter of really good, tight dialogue and finding out a good story that people will like and putting in some twists. That was fun for me.
Marvel’s Man-Thing #1 is currently available for purchase online and in comic book stores. You can read the first few pages below: