Monkeys Fighting Robots spoke with writer/artist Nick Roche about his upcoming comic SCARENTHOOD, an “Irish-set suburban folk horror” that’s as much about the fear of failing your kids as it is demon hunting.
The series is by Roche, colorist Chris O’Halloran, and letterer Shawn Lee. The logo design is by Wayne Daly, and David Mariotte is the editor. SCARENTHOOD #1 hits stores October 28th from IDW Publishing.
About the series:
TO-DO LIST: Drop kids at preschool/ Grab coffee with other parents/ Go ghost-hunting in woods/ Fight demonic entity/ Collect kids/ Naptime.
With their kids away on a field trip, a group of parents disturbs an ancient evil buried beneath the old Church Hall, unearthing a decades-old mystery about a missing child, and inviting something… hungry into their lives. Suddenly, their mornings go from playdates and peanut allergies, to a battle for the souls of one broken family-and one child in particular.
What scares you the most: fighting demons, or letting your kids down?
Monkeys Fighting Robots: First off, SCARENTHOOD is just too good of a title to not ask about. Where did that come from?
Nick Roche: It took AGES to come up with it! And I wasn’t even trying at that stage; the early pitch was called something completely different – Chris and I still have files saved with that title. And people thought it was fine. But I could see no one was sold on it, and to be honest, neither was I. I don’t even want to share it, because I’d be worried it would taint the name SCARENTHOOD with its mediocrity. I might use it as a subtitle for a SCARENTHOOD story at some point. But the specifics of the title are lost to me, it just sort of sifted into my brain as I worked on something else, and I’m SO glad it did. Because it was one of those passive bits of creativity that happens TO you, it feels like someone else came up with it. (But they didn’t, RIGHT? Legally, that’s important to state.)
MFR: I get the sense that SCARENTHOOD comes from a very personal place — what was your thought process in coming up with the story?
NR: Eight years ago, there’s no way I could have cooked this up. But seven years ago, I became a dad and found myself emotionally, morally, and occasionally financially responsible for a little girl. Once she got to pre-school age, I found myself having to white-knuckle my way through chat with the other parents at the school gates. As a comic creator, you get used to the isolation of your own hovel, so I was very much out of my depth forging chatty bonds with complete strangers. It made me feel like I was the one starting school and navigating new social circles. A lot of us were self-employed or stay-at-home parents, and we realised that the discipline of returning to the home was solely down to us — nothing was stopping us from doing what we wanted or going wherever we liked. Of course, that mainly just meant for coffee, though I’m convinced some of the mums and dads were hooking up on the side. Rather than caffeine or canoodling, my mind leapt to ghost-hunting, and I imagined a world where the parents of pre-schoolers fight the forces of evil in the local woods while their kids are in class. And that’s pretty much SCARENTHOOD.
MFR: You have four very distinct parents at the center of this mystery. What can you tell us about them and how you developed their personalities?
NR: Cormac’s the lead — he and his daughter Scooper are new to the area (with a ton of emotional baggage), and both are having trouble fitting in. The other parents know each other from the school run already: Jen’s husband is wealthy but works away from home a lot. She’s lonely, with itchy feet and a yearning for pre-parenting excitement. Sinead likes to rile the others and crack jokes at their expense, all while observing matters as they unfold. And Flynno is an older parent who had a kid late in life after his other children had grown up. He’s an inveterate bullshitter who tries to explore the truth in the world via outlandish conspiracies, including one about a prominent Irish rock singer. He’s at the heart of the story, due to an event that befell his family over forty years ago.
I tried to select personalities and character types that complement and conflict nicely with each other. One of them is partly me, there’s a little of two of my best friends in some others, and one is loosely based on a former in-law that I no longer have to interact with. I’ll let readers guess which is which.
MFR: Horror is one of the hardest genres to get “right” in any medium, but I feel like comics are especially difficult since you can’t utilize music or other shortcuts — you have to rely purely on your skills as a storyteller. Do you have any preferred storytelling moves or techniques that you use to scare your audience?
NR: It’s an odd one; I’m 100% not a ‘Horror Guy’. We were pretty sheltered as kids, and just weren’t allowed near anything stronger than a PG cert movie. So by the time I was legally allowed to watch horror stuff, my curiosity had died down, and I never really dived into it. And yet… as soon as I got the chance to write my first comic (Transformers Spotlight: Kup), I basically wrote ‘I Am Legend, With Robots’. Just full-on horror featuring psychological breakdowns and creepy nocturnal Zombots. Then with the Wreckers series I followed that up with, I leaned into mechanised body horror, with the odd giant spider. And now I’m writing about parental anxieties and adult isolation… via ancient demonic entities and haunted Catholic effigies. It’s still a surprise to me.
I like to employ multiple panels per page in the instances of high tension. A quick-paced rhythm of intensifying close-ups on a character as something starts to dawn on them, or intercutting panels of something terrible with the object of its ire. Repeated panels are good too, with a gradual change across them as the situation becomes more tense. Oh, and loads of black. Tons of the stuff. Jesus, so much of it.
MFR: How does being both writer and artist make it easier to tell a horror story, and how does it make it more difficult?
NR: For instances like the above where I’m playing with very specific panel layouts, it really helps that the writing and art are coming from the one person, because they’re coming from the one place; the script was written via thumbnails, so I’m able to structure the story around the best visual way to share that information. Any drawbacks are mainly of the normal ones I feel with making comics, which is the voice in my head that’s asking, “Are you SURE you’re doing this right?” That can be a little stronger when it’s horror, because as I say, I’m not very well steeped in the genre, and I may think that someone whose parents loved them enough to let them watch all of Driller Killer would probably do a better job than me.
MFR: Chris O’Halloran’s colors are seriously next-level on this book — he can shift the tone from “everything’s fine” to “shit just got real” on a dime. How involved is Chris in the development and storytelling process?
NR: Well, you can see for yourself just how much he’s bringing. He’s utterly in control of the tone of each scene. If there’s anything lacking in the line-art, atmosphere-wise, he finds a way to wrest control of the moment and make the reader realise, “Right, THIS is how we’re gonna make you feel.” He just gets better and better too — the pages he’s handing in for the final issue are THICK with atmosphere. And he’s perfect at capturing the feel of the location too. It was so important to have an Irish colourist to share the visual shorthand when it comes to the environments, but he’s exceeding that. There’s a scene set in a particular location in urban Dublin, and you can smell the fossil fuels from it. I say this to everyone: I can’t BELIEVE I’m getting to work with him. He’s amazing.
MFR: Horror is a very intimate genre, especially in a small-town folk horror like SCARENTHOOD. How do you approach a story like this as a writer/artist compared to something bigger and more action-driven like TRANSFORMERS?
NR: I think with the Transformers stories I wrote, I was starting to explore the concept of family dynamics, and a look at what a parental relationship would mean between a robot that turns into a helicopter AND an armoured car, and one that turns into a giant spider. After I hoovered up every Eisner going with those, I tried to bring that focus to humans. Plus, I’d worked in lots of horror beats into my TF work, so apart from a few explosions and character switching between humanoid and fighter jet mode, there are fewer differences between my own Transformers work and SCARENTHOOD than you may think.
Though SCARENTHOOD is drawn in a cartoony style, its settings are taken from real life, so there are times when I feel like going detail crazy on some mech backgrounds that come from my imagination, rather than take a reference shot of how exactly the folds sit on a three-quarter-length jacket. But then, when I’m drawing hundreds of robots, SCARENTHOOD is exactly the sort of thing I wish I was drawing…
MFR: In your mind, what is the perfect horror story of any medium?
NR: I’m a big fan of MR James’ short stories, and he’s one of the biggest influences on SCARENTHOOD. So it’s either “Oh, Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad” (including the great Jonathan Millar adaptation from 1968) or Ghostwatch, a one-off BBC Hallowe’en hoax-umentary special from 1992 featuring a suburban family terrorised by a sinister presence that viewers (including myself) believed was real at the time.
MFR: Who are your horror inspirations, the writers and filmmakers who made you want to make SCARENTHOOD?
NR: There’s so many gaps in my knowledge of horror, I’m starting to feel like a real tourist here… It’s hard to go wrong with any MR James stuff, and the BBC adapted a ton of them back in the 1970s, all shot on videotape. These adaptations all have a hauntological feel of their own, and even though their period pieces, that sense of creepy nostalgia is something I want to tap into with SCARENTHOOD. I’m a big fan of an animated short called The Sandman from 1991 which has a deliciously gruesome sting in its tale. (And kids in danger; always good to lean on that trope!) And an odd one, but for kids in Ireland, every St Patrick’s Day meant a showing of Darby O’ Gill and The Little People, whose depiction of The Banshee and a headless coachman to deliver you to the afterlife absolutely shat me up. Basically, it’s Disney and The BBC’s fault.
Big shout-out to From Hell, also. That caused me to sleep with the light on when I first read it. In my mid-twenties.
MFR: And finally, we’re all going through some tough times right now — what are your go-to comfort comics?
NR: Current stuff I’ve been enjoying are [Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora’s] Once And Future, and John Allison’s web series, Destroy History and Steeple. A highlight of lockdown was devouring Simon Furman and Geoff Senior’s Dragons Claws in one go, and writing that has made me want to do it again. I’ve mainly been reading the reprint of The Pan Book Of Horror, a 60-year old anthology with VERY outdated attitudes and verbiage, but has a good hit-rate for nasty little scares. Hmm. Maybe I am becoming a Horror Guy…
Thanks again to Nick Roche for taking the time to chat with us! SCARENTHOOD #1 is out October 28th from IDW Publishing.