What’s your definition of all-ages comics? Often these books are mistakenly synonymous with kids' comics. Yet, there is a big difference between a book filed with drawings to catch the minimal attention spans kids have left and a book young children can read while not having themes or ideas diluted just to pander. Recently, Space Goat Productions, a company known more for doing licensed products based on franchises like Evil Dead and Dark Souls, have published a collection of one of the most entertaining all-ages comics of 2015. Monster Elementary Volume 1 is a sharp collection of stories based in a world where child monsters must adjust to a new school which they’re outnumbered by regular humans. In order to find out what makes Monster Elementary special, we talked with writer and co-creator Nicholas Doan.
Comics Beat: For those who haven’t heard of Monster Elementary before, what’s the sales pitch?
Nicholas Doan: When the FBI closes Desmodus (vampire), Lukos (werewolf), Francesca (Frankenstein monster), Rags (mummy) and Gilda’s (lagoon monster) monsters-only school, they are forced by their parents to attend a public school to continue their education. Now they must try to fool their classmates and faculty all while navigating the horrors of growing up!
It’s an all-ages, comedy/adventure graphic novel that addresses what it’s like to not feel like you fit in. Everybody has felt like they didn’t belong at some point in their life and and reacts differently to those circumstances. These characters represent that variety and I want readers to identify with them. Do you take Desmodus’ approach – not wanting to fit in and actively trying not to? Are you a Lukos – easily could fit in but is loyal to his longtime friends? Do you take Francesca’s approach and try so hard you upset the people you’re trying to impress? Are you a Rags’ – try on a bunch of different personalities and see which one people like better? Or are you like Gilda – you couldn’t care less what others think about you?
Hopefully, when readers identify with the characters and themes, they’ll know that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to not fit in. Everyone has a place where they belong and it’s all about finding where, and most likely who, that might be.
CB: What were some of the inspirations behind creating Monster Elementary?
ND: My deep love for Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang has made it so there’s always a little bit of Charles Schulz in the comedies I write. "Invader Zim" was a huge influence for my interpretation for what all-ages comedy and adventure stories could be. And Tiny Titans was hugely inspiring. I loved that the book brought fun back to comics at a time where comic books were heading down a dark path. It inspired me to want to contribute to the creation of fun and light hearted comics that kids and adults could read together.
CB: There’s a cute cast of characters that plays on my own particular love of classic monsters. What traits did this group need to embody that you needed for these particular stories and how did you pick who would fall under what?
ND: The only story I had in mind before I created the characters was their origin story where we see their last day at the monsters-only school and the morning of their first day at public school. And I knew that I wanted the central conflict for these characters to be about feeling like they don’t belong. Once that was decided, I needed to craft the characters personalities first. If I created fully formed, distinct characters before I wrote another story, the stories would come organically and be much more compelling. As such, each character’s unique view of the world drives their stories.
When deciding which monsters to include, I thought about what each monster archetype meant to me and how that would manifest itself into human-like traits. Lukos has a juice box obsession because I believe werewolves are a metaphor for alcoholism. You feel like you’re not in control of yourself and when the night comes, you turn into someone else and wake up the next morning in a ditch somewhere after doing horrible things for which you have no memory. Rags, the mummy, has an identity complex. He doesn’t know who he is under his wrappings and this causes him great anxiety. This seemed appropriate for a monster that has never seen his own face. When the overarching theme is about finding acceptance, who better to be the living embodiment of that desire than our Frankenstein monster, Francesca?
CB: This series is called Monster Elementary and it’s where the story begins. Then it shifts to adapting to a new school that wasn’t Monster Elementary. Will there be a story that tells readers why the first Monster Elementary was raided?
ND: It’s possible. I’m always daydreaming about what happened and where all the rest of those monster students are going to school now. But for the purposes of the monsters’ origin story, I didn’t want to over explain what happened. I want the reader to see the situation from the kids’ point of view. They don’t know why this all happened, they don’t understand, but they do have to deal with the ramifications. What happened at their old school is not as important as how they deal with it. And although their old school was literally called “Monster Elementary,” the name is a metaphor. The old school represents a place that accepts them, a place where they belong. Any place they can recreate that feeling is Monster Elementary. This comic is all about their journey to finding that feeling.
CB: What I’ve noticed good all-ages stories have in common is they don’t dumb down the gravity of adult themes to pander to kids. Monster Elementary follows a lot of this by tackling issues of identity and prejudice. The story of Rags' parents particularly does this a little on the nose but insightfully. Could you tell me a little bit about how you came up with that "Why Am I Different?" story?
ND: Once it was decided that Rags was adopted, which would beautifully feed into his identity issues, I knew we had to tell the story of Rags’ finding out. We had an opportunity to do a story about a conversation many kids have with their parents and I felt we could bring some real levity to what is normally a very serious conversation. And of course, Rags trying to find out who he is and where he belongs fits in with the book’s theme perfectly. I didn’t set out to make it on the nose. I just tried to look at the situation with the same innocent, naive eyes that I had when I was that age. I also received some great advice from a parent who said that they would handle the situation with as much honesty as they felt their child could handle. The combination of honesty and naiveté make for great, heartfelt comedy.
CB: After finishing volume one, I’m glad to see you’ll be bringing more of these stories to print soon. What can readers expect in the next volume?
ND: Now that we’ve established these characters and the world they live in, I’m expanding their horizons with new human experiences to try out and travels by jeep, helicopter, and spaceship! We’ll see Desmodus come face to face with Santa Claus for the first time and completely miss the point of Christmas. Rags becomes the football team’s water boy and finds himself at odds with Lukos when he has to guard the team’s juice cooler. Desmodus’ desire to be rid of their human school reaches a new pinnacle when he takes the gang to a ghost town in search of a new monsters-only school. And in the title story, “The Egyptian Curse!,” Rags leads the whole gang on an epic and emotional adventure to Egypt to get some answers about who he is and where he came from! (This story made my Editor cry every time she read it!)
If you’ve been looking for a book to get kids away from the screen and reading, give Monster Elementary a look. But be warned, you’ll probably end up becoming just as big a fan as your child. Ask for Monster Elementary Vol. 1 at your local comic book shop or find them online at MonsterElementary.com.