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‘This is my horror novel’: James Tynion IV talks ‘Something is Killing the Children’

It’s time to find out why everyone is talking about Something is Killing the Children.

Even before it hit the shelves, James Tynion IV’s Something is Killing the Children had the comics community in a near-frenzy of anticipation awaiting the launch day of his latest creator-owned venture into the twisted world of horror comics.

Just a glimpse of the cover and you feel it: fear, horror, and the promise of violence. Something is Killing the Children evokes a lot of emotions, and not just the horrible kind. There’s a magnetism that seeps into your mind and pulls up the fond nostalgia of youth, until it’s not so fond anymore. We all had monsters that terrorized us as children, and one of the greatest questions we all faced was were they real or imaginary?

I sat down with Tynion at New York Comic Con this past weekend to discuss his latest book and his fears.

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AiPT!: First off, congratulations on Something is Killing the Children becoming an ongoing series. That’s got to feel really good!

James Tynion IV: It does. It’s always weird and scary bringing a creator-owned work out into the market. It’s really scary. You take a piece of yourself, try to shape it into something you like, and cross your fingers that other people are going to latch onto it. 

So the fact that not only was there all this interest in the series before it launched, but also that it continued after the launch, and they just announced this weekend that the first issue is into its fifth printing now. The second issue is already in its second printing and I’m just really excited that people seem to be responding to the comic.

AiPT!: Within our community we’re all always on Twitter looking at what people are talking about and something that stuck out to me was I can’t remember ever seeing so many creators collectively expressing so much excitement for a book as they did for your book.

JT: [laughs] That was a really cool thing. I’ve been working in comics for eight years now and for as big and unwieldy as comics is, it’s still a small community. You get to know all sorts of people through conventions and form connections. So when I had the first issue it was something I was really proud of and I wanted to send it out to folks. But I’ve done that before when I’ve launched series in the past and you always get a handful of “Oh yeah! I’m super excited for you.” But this time people really responded to it and that was my first hint that this was hitting a nerve. It’s an incredible feeling.

AiPT!: My first reaction on finishing the first issue was to get pissed. I had to wait for more! So I thought the biggest compliment I could pay you is that I was really frustrated over having to wait for more issues.

JT: [laughs] I appreciate that. 

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AiPT!: Big horror fan here and I immediately got a few strong vibes when reading this story, Pet Semetary and Buffy the Vampire Slayer being the biggest two. What horror stories actually did influence you?

JT: I think you can see Stephen King in the DNA of it really strongly. But honestly really strongly the other DNA that I think is a big part of it is horror comics. And I mean that in a very specific way, books like Hack/Slash and things like that. Stories that bring in iconic comic book characters. Erica Slaughter is a larger-than-life character. She’s a monster hunter. She has a very defined look that is basically a costume and she’s this extraordinary character entering the ordinary world and that was a big part of the idea behind it. I wanted to take a character from a more almost balls to the walls, late ‘90s slash comic, and then drop them into a very grounded indie comic of today. I wanted that kind of discordance. That is so built into the DNA of this thing. My friend Steve Orlando told me that when he read it it reads like Hack/Slash meets Twin Peaks.

AiPT!: That is one heck of a compliment. 

JT: Yeah. I was very happy about that. 

AiPT!: That more or less answers another one of my questions — Where did Erica Slaughter come from and what can you tell us about her?

JT: The other thing with her though, she arrived in my head pretty full formed. Just the idea of this small blonde woman with hair covering one of her eyes and her temple that has a horrifying scar right on the side of her head. Dead sunken eyes that make her look like she’s been awake for days and days, and this haggard look that’s both standoffish and unassuming. This figure that arrives on a bus into town and she knows what she’s there to do, and then she does it and then she leaves. And she does this over, and over, and over again. It’s worn her down but this is her job. She’s there to fight the monsters and she’s going to fight the monsters. 

Part of the story is seeing the town react to her and seeing the characters who are living in the town being visited by someone who is beyond their experience. They’re up against something they don’t fully understand and she understands it more. She also understands that you don’t want to understand this. Sometimes horror isn’t something you want to look in the face and look in the heart of. Sometimes it’s best if you don’t know. It’s best if you just let it go. 

You’ll see as the series moves forward that there are some characters that stand in her way because she’s the strangest figure in the town right now. They’re trying to solve what is killing all these kids and she’s the one that seems like the most obvious candidate just because she’s the stranger that’s just arrived. She needs to say to these people, I can’t tell you what’s happening because you won’t understand it and you won’t be able to see these things or handle it. But if you just let me do my work, it will end and you’ll never see me again.

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AiPT!: The first character we’re introduced to is James, a glasses wearing Batman fan from Wisconsin who likes to tell scary stories. It goes without saying that all creator-owned series are personal, but what was behind your decision to place your younger self in this story? 

JT: It started with lazy writing [laughs]. I’m just going to be up front. 

AiPT!: [laughs] Best answer I’ve gotten from an interview this weekend. 

JT: [laughs] I’m being honest though. When I was trying to find the character at the heart of this, you do shorthand. So sometimes I’ll throw in names just to have one, and sometimes it will be because this character is kind of like my friend. I just start typing and my friend does this and that, and by the time it’s ready to go I’ll change the name. 

So I knew that this kid, this opening sequence of truth of dare, was just like what my friends and I had, and I was tapping right into it and the main character was James. And the other thing is when I started writing the first issue I had designed the whole arc to be a series of one-shots. We were only going to visit Archer’s Peak, Wisconsin in that first issue and then she was going to get on the bus and go to the next town. But then honestly it was just writing a character that was so bald-faced mean and putting him in this scenario, and then I started slowing the story down and I texted my editor saying “Okay this isn’t a one-shot story, this is a five issue story.” Half-way through writing the third issue I knew this was bigger than a five issue story, honestly the way I keep seeing it, this is my horror novel. 

I have a long form story that I’m telling that I’m starting to realize is long form as I’m telling it. It’s a really cool weird feeling to be kind of dictated the story, by the story. It’s a hard comic to talk about sometimes; like, I made choices months ago but then as I’m writing it I realize those choices are wrong and I throw them out. So the story keeps changing as I’m telling and I have a shape for it. I’m heading in a direction, I have a plan. But it’s one of those things that I can’t tell you the plan will stick, because things keep changing. I feel like I’m zeroing in now that I’m about five issues in, but it’s a more personal comic than I ever intended it to be.

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AiPT!: The first thing that gets asked of James is, “What’s the most scared you’ve ever been?” Was that your fear and does it have a place in this story?

JT: It does in an abstract way. James experiences an extraordinarily traumatic event that I can’t liken to anything that’s happened to me in my life and I don’t want to trivialize real things by saying, oh these other moments are like it. A lot of what they’re facing, the monsters, are kind of the abstract horror of the world. I think that kids do perceive that abstract horror as something more concrete that hurts them. The abstract horror of society hurts kids in ways we don’t understand. Kids see it much more clearly, something more concentrated and something more directly to fear. They understand that it hurts them even though they don’t understand what’s hurting them. As you get older it still hurts you, but you perceive it less because you know that society’s broken for this, that, and the other reason. You no longer see as clearly that there’s just this bad thing out there that could hurt or kill you. 

AiPT!: What’re you ingesting for horror content these days? 

JT: Oh boy. They released the manga adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness and only the first of two volumes is out right now and it’s just so good. Tanabe is adapting all the classic Lovecraft and I honestly think it is the purest adaptation of classic Lovecraft. Most adaptations of Lovecraft are actually taken out of its setting, which is this strange detached academia of the gilded age. The idea of the people in the universities have no morals and they’re trying to uncover secrets about things you shouldn’t uncover secrets of. It’s made me re-appreciate that. Lovecraft introduced a bunch of incredible ideas into the horror genre, but I don’t think he’s necessarily one of the best writers because his prose is really boring to read often. This adaptation captures the dread of that in a purer way than I think the original story does. 

Something is Killing the Children #2 will be released October 16, 2019 by BOOM! Studios.

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