“Kids love monsters… and are more drawn to the dark and strange than perhaps we adults are comfortable with!” Hellbound Media talk Mandy The Monster Hunter and The Legend of The Spindly Man.
Although they made their names with books like Shock Value and Slaughterhouse Farm, Hellbound Media’s real star is a monster hunter called Mandy who helps save kids from the beasts under their bed. With their latest and best series, The Legend of The Spindly Man coming to a close very soon, we caught up with co-creator Mark Adams to find out the secret to a great scary monster and why he and co-creator Matt Warner chose to make Mandy The Monster Hunter into an all ages adventure.
Mandy is quite a different title, compared to your more adult horror titles like Shock Value, what made inspired you to make an all ages monster book? And was it important for it to be an all ages book?
Mark Adams: It’s an interesting one, actually. We’ve always wanted to explore the full range of the horror genre. It’s far less specific than some people assume. There’s slashers, of course, which most people think of, and then gore films and zombies and the like. But then there’s also films like ‘The Others’, or ‘Blair Witch Project’, and Hallowe’en favourites like ‘Hocus Pocus’. An early release “Gabriel Cushing: A Fright at the Opera” was heavily influenced by Hammer Horror, and classic British horror. So from the start we wanted a range, though we never set out to make Mandy an all-ages book to begin with.
The nature of her world, protecting kids from creatures under the bed, meant the content of the first few short stories, and the original one-shot “Mandy and the Monster” wasn’t that extreme, more of a dark fairy tale. And younger readers seemed drawn to it, and people commented on how they liked the premise and tone. For myself, growing hiding from ‘Doctor Who’ was my own gateway into horror as I got older, and it seemed a great opportunity to have a book that could introduce these sorts of ideas and stories to a wider age range. Kids do love monsters after all, and are more drawn to the dark and strange than perhaps we adults are comfortable with!
Do you ever have problems selling Mandy to younger readers who then browse your other work?!
MA: We do try to separate titles on our tables at events, to keep things clear. We try to use art, or less extreme books as a form of buffer, and it seems to have worked thus far. Plus we hope maybe some will return to see the other books when they’re a little older!
We love the central premise that Mandy is contacted by kids sending her pictures of their monsters, can you tell us where the idea for that came from? It feels like a really rich veign for story telling?
MA: This was a concept Matt came up with, which didn’t appear in the very first short comic that introduced Mandy. Once her world began to evolve and new stories were being written, it needed a unique angle, to help it stand out. So Mandy was originally created for a short story “The Monster Under the Bed” where the twist was that the “monster” was actually someone coming to help the young child in the story. The idea then developed into Mandy being an urban legend for children – so when they lose a tooth they leave it for the Tooth Fairy, they write a letter to Santa, and when they have a monster they draw it and send it to Mandy. That it’s a drawing fits in with the themes of childhood, imagination and creativity. And also means children who can’t yet write can still call on Mandy.
We’ve started to play with the concept, such as how the newspapers featuring an image all make their way to her. It opens up all-sorts of possibilities, and means Mandy can be drawn into a variety of narratives and situations, without needing too much convoluted set-up. We can focus on the stories being told, and explore the lore of the world.
You’ve worked with a number of artists on the various different Mandy series so far, was that a conscious choice to change artist according to the style of story you wanted to tell? Or has it been a happy accident as a result of an artist not being able to commit to you long term?
MA: It initially came out of “The Mandy Book of Monsters” really. Once we’d saw what a success “Mandy and the Monster” was we had to think about how to follow it up. One notion was to immediately expand the world of Mandy and really set-up the variety of tone, and story possibilities. To do this, we decided on an anthology of short stories. Anna Susanne, the original artist, has a very unique style, that was instrumental in brining Mandy to life, but tonally we wanted to explore other ideas. A fantasy artist drawing Mandy versus a dragon. A more light hearted, almost Disney-style sweet story, right next to some of our darkest yet.
All the artists in “The Mandy Book of Monsters” were people we knew, or wanted to work with, and it just gave us the opportunity to try something new and different. Afterwards Anna was very busy with her studies, and a full length graphic novel was not then possible. Having established multiple artists early on, we very quickly decided that we’d continue to hire artists entirely based on the storyline, and what atmosphere, tone and style we felt would suit stories on an individual basis. So in many ways, it was a bit of of both of the scenarios you mentioned!
Your latest artist Lyndon White seems to be a perfect fit for your latest Spindly Man storyline, how did you get him involved on the project and what does his work bring to the world of Mandy?
MA: We asked him! Lyndon has been amazing. We first came across his work in Blue Fox Comics’ Hexes anthology series, and were immediately take with his surreal, haunting style. When we wrote ‘Spindly Man’ we knew we wanted to have an almost dreamlike quality to some of the images, and a real sense of atmosphere, texture, like the Spindly Man could emerge from the page at any time. We discussed it a lot actually, but Lyndon was always our first choice, and we just had to get up the courage to approach him. Fortunately he agreed!
His art has really blown us away, and brought the whole world of the story to life. He can do the whimsical and cute in something like the Sock Monster, and then instantly contrast it with the dark and disturbing, but the art never conflicts, it feels part of the same world. Every time we think he’d reached a new high, he brought a new page that blew us away all over again.
The Spindly Man is an amazing creation and it reminds us of everything from Pennywise the Clown and the Babbadook to the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – so what is the secret to a great monster or scary villain?
MA: I don’t think there’s any one secret, but there are several tricks and key points that can be played with. A great one is to take something identifiable, or normal, and then twist it ever so slightly. Just enough so as to make it feel off somehow, feel wrong. The examples you used all very much work on that principle too, and the Spindly Man, like one of his inspirations Slenderman, is based on an ordinary figure, just twisted into the extraordinary. There’s also the sense of the uncanny in something human but not quite. A clowns painted visage, a dolls artificial face, or the total lack of normal features as with the Spindly Man. There’s also distended mouths and black, empty eyes. Things that should reassure us, made unsettling and frightening.
Aside from the visual, it’s very much about what they do and evoke too. The Spindly Man’s name partly invoke the notion of spiders, which are a common fear, and they reoccur through the story. His abducts children, which is perhaps the ultimate fear for children. I think the terror can often come from our own negotiated disbelief. That old house at the end of the lane? That boarded up building? The dark tunnel under the bridge? We know nothing really live there, monsters aren’t real… but what if? What if just THIS once… it was real? We try to be rational, but there’s always that little whisper, at the back of our neck, questioning. Are we really safe?
How many issue of Spindly Man are there planned and what will you be working on after that? More Mandy or something more gruesome?
MA: Issue three has just been released and there is just one more to go! Mandy has done all she can to work out where the Spindly Man has come from, and now we’ll have to see if she can utilise this to find a way to stop it. But how do you stop something that’s created from fear and belief in a viral story? Well, we do have more Mandy planned, but whether it’s set before her encounter with the Spindly Man or not, that would be telling! We’re always working though. We have a new “Shock Value” anthology planned for 2019, and the sequel to our hugely popular “Slaughterhouse Farm”. Coming up is a comic prequel to Hellbound Media’s first film production, “Clownface”, which will be drawn by previous-Mandy-artist Atlantisvampir. There’s plenty more to come, and we’ll strive to continue living up to our tagline’s promised features: Horror. Monsters. Imagination.
You can purchase issue #1-2 of Mandy The Monster Hunter from www.hellboundmedia.co.uk/comic-books and follow them on twitter @hellboundmedia. Issue #3 is currently being sent out to Kickstarter backers and so keep on eye out for issue #4 coming to a crowdfunding platform near you very soon.