Horror fiction icon R.L. Stine makes his comic book writing debut this week with Man-Thing #1. Working with artist German Peralta, Stine has revitalized the character of Man-Thing, making him a sardonic, sarcastic, self-aware swamp monster on a mission - in Hollywood, no less.
But jumping into comic books wasn’t a huge leap for Stine – the writer says his lifelong love of comic books began with E.C. horror titles and Mad Magazine, and that he once even harbored aspirations to be a cartoonist.
Newsarama spoke to Stine about Man-Thing, including the difference between prose and comic books, his history with the character, and why horror and humor matter in equal measure.
This article also contains new pages from Man-Thing #2.
Nrama: R.L., your writing has often been comic book adjacent – you’ve even included superhero-type elements in Goosebumps books - but Man-Thing is your first actual comic book work. What made Man-Thing the right opportunity to finally get into writing comic books?
R.L. Stine: They called me! [laughs] That’s it. No one had ever asked me to do a comic book before.
And I’ve always been a comic book fan, especially when I was a kid. I don’t read a lot now, not really, but I was a comic book freak when I was a kid. So this is really full circle for me. When I was in fourth grade, about nine years old, I started doing these little comic books, drawing the characters and passing them around in school.
Everyone told me “You can’t draw at all! This sucks!” and they were right, I couldn’t draw at all. But that’s really what I started out wanting to do, but I had no talent at all so I knew I had to be a writer. So this is kind of coming full circle for me
Nrama: There’s an old comic book saying that inside every failed artist is a great writer.
Stine: I failed right from the beginning! [laughs]
Nrama: Did you have any history with Man-Thing before taking on this title?
Stine: No, not really, but I have an affinity for swamp monsters! I did a Goosebumps book last year called “Here Comes the Shaggedy” that was a swamp monster story. It’s just very basic horror. It’s a frightening atmosphere, the whole environment. All these living things in the swamp, and it’s dark, and it’s wet - and then you have this beast, this caricature that is mostly not human. It’s very basic horror, I guess that’s why I’m drawn to it.
Nrama: The tone of Man-Thing #1 feels like a throwback to the days of Stan Lee and E.C. Horror comics. Knowing that you loved comics as a kid, and even had aspirations to draw them, what are the comic books that really struck you as a developing reader?
Stine: I’m old! When I was kid, those E.C. Comics were around. I’m ten years old and here’s Tales From the Crypt, and The Vault of Horror, and The Witch’s Cauldron. All those great E.C. books that were just terrifying, with this fabulous art. Those guys all went on to do Mad comics and Mad Magazine. And I was drawn to them because they were gruesome, horrible comics, but they always had a funny twist ending.
And the Crypt Keeper was always funny, he was always making puns. So I think it was this combination of humor and horror, that I think was just an enormous influence on me.
Nrama: Despite that more classic tone, there are some really deep, modern metatextual elements to Man-Thing #1. Is that something you saw in the character before taking this job?
Stine: No. You know, I don’t know. To me, I’m focused on the plot, I’m trying to be funny, I don’t think about things like that. I’m just a plot-driven guy, really. And then I thought I’d get it off to a funny start and show how Man-Thing is different by setting it in a studio in Burbank. He’s trying for a film career, but tests badly – he’s too ugly, he’s too scary for kids. So they kick him out - they don’t even fly him home – and I thought that was funny.
Nrama: You’re working with artist German Peralta.
Stine: Yes! He’s wonderful.
Nrama: Has writing for an artist changed your style at all?
Stine: No, not really. When I write a Goosebumps book, and I start a scene in the basement, you’ve gotta figure out what the basement looks like. The water’s leaking, the furnace comes on, there are spiderwebs. So even though I can’t draw, I’m thinking visually all the time while writing. It wasn’t really a very different process for me – in fact, it might have been a little easier. I didn’t have to write a description, I knew the artist could create that for me. I just concentrated on the story and the dialog.
Nrama: What’s your favorite thing German’s drawn for Man-Thing so far?
Stine: I love the scene where Ted Sallis’s car goes down into the water, and he’s down there, and he becomes Man-Thing, and rises up as Man-Thing. That’s my favorite thing from Man-Thing #1.
Nrama: There are also back-up stories in each issue of Man-Thing. What can you tell us about those?
Stine: That’s going back to my childhood, that goes back to Tales From the Crypt, those old fashioned horror comics. I collect those, I have a lot of those. So I thought maybe people would expect a horror story from me in the back of the book, so I’m doing these five short horror things.
Nrama: Are there any other Marvel characters you want to bring in, or cameos you’d like to do?
Stine: No, I haven’t done that yet. I’m writing the fifth one now, but it’s hard for a relative outsider, because I don’t really know the Marvel Universe that well. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to Man-Thing, is that he’s mostly on his own so I didn’t have to worry about that. I’m kind of afraid if I really got into it, I wouldn’t know enough to be able to write stuff because the universe has so much history. So I picked Man-Thing because he’s in the swamp, he’s gone. So I haven’t used any Marvel characters.
I made up a few characters. There’s a character coming up - I don’t want to spoil everything - when Man-Thing goes back to the swamp, his old self drags himself back to the swamp, he finds it in chaos. There are strange animals that don’t belong there, and giant pythons, and everything is out of order. So he goes to see this character, an ancient character, named Oldfather, who controls the order of the swamp. And he finds that Oldfather has been kidnapped, and that chaos will spread all over the world until he brings Oldfather back. That’s what his mission will be.
Nrama: So now that you’ve taken the plunge into comic books, can we expect more comic book work for you in the future?
Stine: I don’t know. If people like it, if they enjoy it. I had a lot of fun doing it. It was like a whole new process for me.
You know, this is a big Goosebumps year for me. This is the 25th anniversary of Goosebumps. Can you believe that?
Nrama: That makes me feel old!
Stine: [laughs] How do you think I feel? 25 years of this stuff! So I’m doing a lot of Goosebumps stuff. I’m doing a new Goosebumps series, running around like a fool. But yeah, I would hope to do more comic books. It’s been fun.
Nrama: What do you want to say to readers of Man-Thing?
Stine: I hope they enjoy the new version of him. I made him sarcastic. He has a sense of humor, he comments on things more. I tried to come up with a really good story. I always care about twists and surprises, so I hope people enjoy that.