‘Miskatonic High’ Writer Mike Shea Talks The Rewards And Perils Of Making The Lovecraft/Teen Mashup Comic
by Koom Kankesan
Miskatonic High is a supernatural comic book that mashes Lovecraftian horror with teen drama. Long successful on Kickstarter, the project is now making its way to comic book stores. Comicon.com asks author Mike Shea to talk about his collaboration with artist Ryan Mendoza and other things related to their comic. The interview is followed by a four page preview.
Miskatonic High, Mike Shea and Ryan Mendoza‘s popular Kickstarter-backed project is making its way to comic stores at the end of the month. A mash up between the world of H. P. Lovecraft and the kinds of teen dramas that typified The WB, the series embraces the gore and darkness inherent in the Lovecraft mythos while staying rooted in the various personal dramas and foibles consuming its troubled teens. I’ve been following the series through two arcs now (it is currently on a pause before beginning its third), the issues of which are going to be released (starting from number one) by Advent Comics through local comic shops. I caught up with Shea to gather his thoughts about the project.
Koom Kankesan For Comicon.com: Tell us a bit about Miskatonic High and which aspects engage you the most.
Mike Shea: Miskatonic High is a tongue-in-cheek horror comedy series about teens who take on Lovecraftian monsters and their small-town high school … they’re just not sure which is worse. It’s basically Archie versus Cthulhu. I’m a co-creator on the title and I write and do the lettering. The nice thing about working on such a small-press indie is that I have to wear a lot of hats. So, one day I’ll be writing a script. The next I’ll be lettering an issue. The next I’ll be running the crowdfunding campaign, or sending files to the printer, or shipping comics to readers. It really keeps me grounded on how to make a comic from inspiration and writing all the way through getting them in the hands of readers.
Comicon.com: Mashing up teen drama with the world of Lovecraft might be an unintuitive combo. How did that come about?
Shea: Ryan Mendoza, the artist and other co-creator on the book, and I had been doing fanfiction on a teen superhero team before this. We loved what we were doing but felt disappointed that we couldn’t make or distribute the books. So we decided to do our own creation. Ryan loves Lovecraftian horror and I like teenage drama, so we were playing with those ideas. Ryan mentioned wanting to do a book about a weird school, like Hogwarts, but with Lovecraft mythos, which I jumped on quickly, with the idea that it would be a mismatch of students, all with their own dark, secret pasts. When Ryan described it as The Breakfast Club from Hell, we both felt like we had something that could be a lot of fun to make. It’s fun to play with the established Lovecraft mythos because there’s a built-in audience and also a plethora of ideas to play off of. And when we started, we agreed to not include any politics in the book. Just have it be a fun book people can enjoy for 20 minutes or so, which led me to adding a lot more humor to it.
Comicon.com: I think you told me that you weren’t a Lovecraft fan to start off with. What have you learned about your relationship with Lovecraft as a result of doing this book?
Shea: Right. I had read some Lovecraft, mainly to understand Alan Moore‘s Providence, but was hardly a fan. But as we started working on the series, what I found was that I love Lovecraft’s ideas more than his writing or plots or his terrible beliefs about race. For example, in The Lurking Fear, Lovecraft wrote about a family that devolved into underground-dwelling creatures who were no longer human. It’s not a great story, as the serialization of it killed the pacing. But I wondered what would it be like if you were in that family and knew that was your future and you’d be incapable of stopping it? It’s body horror in a way that feels relevant to degenerative diseases families face all the time, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. But it’s also fun to be terrified by these underground things that are threatening to eat people. That’s what we shoot for, fun horror that has a bit more going on.
One of the ideas I like best is that Lovecraft’s view of the universe, with all its outer gods and alien old ones, is not very moralistic. There’s no heaven and hell. There’s no good or evil. The monsters and aliens in Lovecraft’s mythos are like dinosaurs or black holes. They operate based on their own natures and people are powerless to stop them, but that doesn’t make them evil. That sense of being in the sway of these very powerful forces, with no way to control your destiny, felt a lot like the high school teen experience, but maybe with bullies and hormones and the bus schedule. So, I liked that connection and can see humor and pathos in it.
Comicon.com: I understand you’ve ever met Ryan in person. Can you tell us a bit about what it’s like to work with someone who lives so far away — the good, the bad, and the hairy?
Shea: Ryan lives in the Philippines and we have never met. We had never spoken with each other until just recently. We do most things by email. I thank my lucky stars to be teamed up with Ryan. Not only is he a talented and an amazingly quick artist, but he’s invested in the characters and the plot of the book. He’s a true partner. So we discuss ideas and where we’re going. He’s even pitched some plots that I then write the scripts for. God help me when he realizes he doesn’t need me at all!
There are weird things, like the time difference, where I’ll write him an email just before going to bed that he’ll get as he’s starting his day. But there are great things. When we were starting to put together ideas for the series, we included a Filipino character, the pink-haired Ren, who has become one of the most popular. When we were doing that, Ryan suggested we should also include some Filipino mythology, such as the vampiric aswang, which has become one of the most popular monsters we’ve done, too.
The funniest bit is that we set our school in Lovecraft’s New England. As the book progresses, the seasons change, and eventually turn into winter. It being New England, I write snow into the scripts a lot. But Ryan has never seen snow. So he has to draw based on references he finds online. I find that part hilarious. But when I wrote about a jungle in the Philippines, it’s him who has to give me the references. So it works both ways.
Comicon.com: You’ve been very successful on Kickstarter with Miskatonic High. What has your relationship with fans been like through that platform? One must assume it’s different than being traditionally published and doing the con circuit, etc. What factors do you attribute to the success of your crowdfunding campaigns?
Shea: We’ve been so lucky to be embraced by the backers on Kickstarter. We put together a few issues before we started crowdfunding, but were on the brink of stopping doing color because we were running low on money when we launched our first Kickstarter. I expected maybe 100 backers and maybe $1,000, and we quadrupled that. Since then, we’ve gotten more people to jump on and our funding keeps going up. We just did the campaign for our second collection and raised more than $34,000 for it (which mostly went to the printers and the Postal Service, but still). I tell people that this has stopped being just Ryan and my comic and has become the backers’ comic because they’re the ones really driving it now.
The backers are terrific. They’ll let you know if they like things or if they don’t. They give us a lot of ideas for what to do in the comic and what to include with the comic. One backer suggested doing little acrylic figurines. We started doing those and the backers have been snapping them up.
I’m not completely sure what to attribute our success to. I don’t think it’s any one thing. I think we have a fun concept that grabs a certain breed of Lovecraft fan right off. The art looks great, people seem to like the stories and the humor, and the products look professionally made. We run on a strict every-other-month schedule, like a professional comic. We also do standalone stories for the most part, so a reader doesn’t feel like they’re only reading one chapter of a book and then having to wait two months for the next. We keep our prices as low as we can and our goals low, so backers can feel reassured that they’ll always receive their rewards. I think it’s basically just following through on the promises we make. Sadly, that isn’t the case with every campaign or creator.
Comicon.com: You’ve completed two arcs of Miskatonic High. What can we expect for the third?
Shea: For the third arc or season, we’re splitting the teens up and forcing them to face the monsters alone or in small groups. Ren has to go to her mother’s village in the Philippines to find her missing mother and confront the aswang. Matt, our hockey-playing jock, is confronting some of his family’s dark legacy in the town. Anton, our forgotten ghost, may have found a way to return to life, but at what cost? It’s a chance for us to see the teens wrestle with their own demons without any help. Oh, and for Lovecraft fans, Herbert West shows up for some reanimator fun!
Miskatonic High is due out in shops on March 30th.