In a sub off a beach in 1962, there lives a weird mutant by the name of Grue. With Orphan Annie eyes and an exposed brain, Grue dines on teenagers, with little reason to complain. But into his world, there comes something quite queer – pages from plays, by some guy named “Shakespeare.”And so our boy Grue starts to long for dry land, and finds who throws the bottles with this language quite grand. He finds they’re from a lady of the name Giulietta, who longs for the day when she’ll receive a love letter. But Grue’s chowing down has caused quite a fuss, and if he doesn’t move quickly, his love will be bust. Though his talking-crab friends warn that he should flee, Grue will fight for his girl – with all the wrath of the sea.
With iambic pentameter and old-fashioned thrills, Tor Books’ Dear Creature’s full of love and laugher, and creatures with gills. Jonathan Case, Grue’s creator and father-to-be, talked to us about monsters, and weird things in the sea. And bad poetry. Obviously.
Newsarama: Jonathan, I remember picking up a few issues of this at SPX a couple years back when you were self-publishing it as Sea Freak. How's it feel to have the whole book done?
Jonathan Case: It feels great! It was a labor of love- still the largest project I've done so far (the original pages are physically huge by modern comics standards).
Nrama: How did the deal with Tor come about?Case: That was good timing. In early 2010, I'd just finished the book, and Tor came to Periscope Studio (the comics co-working space I'm part of in Portland) to see if we had projects to pitch. It just happened mine was done, so I had my agent submit it.
Steven Padnick, an editor over there, loved it. It fulfilled my dream to publish with someone who could get my work into the regular book market as well as the comics markets. I'm very grateful.
Nrama: How did you initially come up with Grue and his crew?
Case: Grue comes straight from a play I wrote and performed (on the beach) in college. I built an ocean-proof monster suit and waited out in the sea while the audience gathered, hiding behind a bit player in a floaty inner-tube.
After scene one, he gave me the cue, I dove under, and he started thrashing around and screaming out on the water, drawing the audience's attention. Then I made my big entrance from the waves. The rest of the play doesn't bear much resemblance to the book, but it was written in iambic pentameter... and the girl does fall for the monster. Everything else evolved.
Nrama: What's the biggest challenge in writing in iambic pentameter?Case: I had to write efficiently, which is a good thing. Every word counts when you're trying to keep the energy up.
Nrama: How'd you come up with the little crabs that make up Grue's runnin' crew?
Case: The crabs came about in response to having a main character who speaks entirely in iambic pentameter. I needed a way to let off steam when things threatened to get too flowery. The crabs gave me a way to poke fun at myself, and let me do exposition in an entertaining way.
I wanted to tell the story squarely from the monster's perspective, and because he's alone a lot of the time, the crabs were a way of avoiding monologues. Those work in Shakespeare when you see them on stage, but not so well when you just read them.
Nrama: ...um, so why is Grue's brain outside his skull? Does that hurt? Or should I repeat to myself, "It's just a book, I should really just relax?"Case: Hah! Yeah... Ask the people who made This Island Earth. That's where his exposed brains come from.
He's a sensitive guy!
Nrama: What are some of your favorite films of the heyday of monster and/or beach movies?
Case: I love Bride of Frankenstein, and obviously Creature from the Black Lagoon. Also stuff from that era like Vertigo, La Strada, and Wild Strawberries. It sounds weird, but those were even bigger influences than the monster movies.
I like drawing out the romantic themes in those old monster movies though... Imagining the emotional life of the monster in the way those art house flicks might.
Nrama: What's the strangest thing you've ever encountered in the sea?
Case: Good question! I dunno, there's a lot of weirdness out there... When I lived on a sailboat with my folks, we crossed the Sea of Cortez at night. The water was so still, and the sky so clear that the stars reflected in the water. Like sailing through space!There's this thing that happens in the ocean with microscopic, phosphorescent organisms- when they're disturbed, they glow with blue-green light. There were dolphins swimming alongside the boat that night, and they left behind trails of light as we glided through the stars together. Strange and beautiful!
Nrama: What's next for you?
Case: This summer, Sarah (my wife) and I went on a trip around the southwest US to gather location reference and research for another original graphic novel. It's still early in development, but it's going to be fun.
I have several projects in the works with Dark Horse, to follow up on our success with the Green River Killer graphic novel. I’m starting artwork on those Dark Horse gigs, plus continuing work on my own book. With a baby on the way for our family, it's going to be a busy year.
Get to know Giulietta and her Dear Creature Grue in the new graphic novel from Tor Books. For more information, visit www. Jonathancase.net.