This Halloween will see all manner of tricks unleashed upon unsuspecting folk, but one guaranteed treat will be the return of the popular “Costume Quest” video game to comics in the form of “Invasion of the Candy Snatchers.” Written and drawn by Zac Gorman, best known for his webcomic “Magical Game Time” this second story from Oni Press sees the monsters of Repugia — Grubbins, Trowbogs, Crestwailers and more — head into the human world on the search for candy and adventure.
It’s a madcap crossworld caper, set on Halloween and featuring a feast of fearsome fiends — and some decidedly more friendly faces, to be sure. To find out more about what readers can expect from the all-ages book, CBR News spoke with Gorman about his new holiday bash.
CBR News: What’s the basic premise of your story? What will readers find when they first turn the page?
Zac Gorman: The book is about a group of friends — who happen to be monsters — navigating our human Halloween while on a quest for candy. It takes place somewhere in between the other games in the “Costume Quest” series, but it’s really a standalone story.
The first “Costume Quest” was all about a group of humans who visit Repugia. This time round, though, it’s the Grubbins heading to our world. What made you want to turn the tables and focus on them, this time round?
Partly, I just prefer drawing monsters. I also wanted to present something that was totally new and didn’t rely on a prior knowledge of the games. I think it’s also my way of pointing out that the stereotypical “bad guys” can be seen as empathetic characters, too. Some monsters just want to have fun and hang out with their friends.
The book is a celebration of all things Halloween — are you a Halloween fan, yourself? Do you throw yourself into it each year?
Unfortunately, I really don’t anymore. It was always my favorite holiday growing up.
There’s something telling about Halloween being a kid’s favorite holiday. If you ask a group of 100 kids what their favorite holiday is, probably 90 or so of them are going to say Christmas, because of the presents obviously, but then there’s going to be about 5 to 10 kids who say Halloween, and those are the kind of kids that I know that I’m immediately going to get along with. They are the kind of kids who probably love comics and fantasy books and playing make believe. I guess this book is sorta for that type of kid. Most of my stuff is.
How does Halloween in Repugia differ to our Halloween?
They actually don’t really have Halloween there, technically. Klem is excited about his first human Halloween experience, so he’s clearly familiar with the holiday despite never having celebrated it himself. If you wanted to read too much into how Klem knows about Halloween, I’d wager that there were stories passed around Repugia, especially to the children, about how Halloween in the human world works. Something like war stories told to the children by the returning Repugians who came home following the events of “Costume Quest 1.”
The main characters for this story are Klem, Sellie and Brolo, who are all Grubbins living in Repugia, the monster world where the first book took place. How would you describe the three?
Technically, Klem is a Grubbin, Sellie is a Crestwailer, and Brolo is a Trowbog, though they are all Repugians. Honestly — and I’ve never considered this until now — they follow the classic Three Stooges model pretty well. You have the scheming leader, the frustrated second banana, and the lovable oaf. Klem is a bit of a schemer, and the de facto leader who’s not really that good at leading. He’s inconsiderate but not cruel, just a bit selfish and romantic.
Sellie is sorta the reluctant confidant. She has a little bit of a sad sack vibe and goes along with Klem’s schemes despite being probably the smartest one of the group. We learn a little later in the book why she might be so easily swayed by Klem’s flights of fancy.
Brolo is the lovable oaf, through and through. He’s uncomplicated, has a good heart and tends to follow his gut (in more ways than one) which often leads him into trouble.
How did you develop their designs? They have to be a little monster-y, but friendly and likable at the same time, right?
The main characters are all variations on the three principle types of monsters that you encounter in “Costume Quest.” I had to alter the designs quite a bit to make them more specific to each character and to fit with my illustrations, but the original material was pretty easy to work with. The series has so much charm already, it really didn’t need much.
There’s a really strong anti-bullying message in the book, with the subject coming up several times over the course of the story. Was this something close to you, as a creator? Was it important to you that you touch on such a strong subject?
It’s not really something that I ever specifically considered when I was writing the book. Although, admittedly I had a run in with some older kids who stole my candy once when I was trick-or-treating, so I guess there was probably a little revenge fantasy in drawing that punk teen getting smacked upside the head.
You make a lot of comparisons between ‘our’ world and ‘their’ world in the book, finding a lot of shared ground between the humans and the Grubbins. How much of that was deliberate, by your design — and how much of it just grew organically as you started working out the story?
It was pretty organic. Really, I just wanted to imagine what it’d be like to be an outsider experiencing Halloween for the first time. I actually wish I’d had more time to really revel in that feeling. In my dream draft of the book, I’d have probably spent another 10-15 pages of just having Klem and Sellie wonder around the neighborhood trick-or-treating.
This is one of the longest stories you’ve worked on as a creator — you’re best known perhaps for your webcomic “Magical Game Time.” Where do you start with a story like this? Do you like to start with characters, or with the narrative first?
This is definitely the longest book that I’ve done by a wide margin. I started with drawing the characters. I have a pretty hard time placing a character into a story until I know what they look like. To me that’s the essence of finding a character’s voice. Once I can see them, writing their dialogue and wrapping a plot around it comes much easier.
Do you storyboard in advance, so you can see the whole story at once and work out the bits you want to develop or change around?
By the time this project came across my desk, I had about two months to finish it if we wanted to hit a Halloween release window, which was especially important for this book. Not just to have it out in time for the holiday, which is obviously important, but also to coincide with the launch of “Costume Quest 2.” So, really I kinda just jumped right in to laying out pages.
In an ideal situation, I think I would have liked to have done more passes of layouts and composition but I also think the deadline was my friend in a lot of ways. It forced me to get over my fears and hesitation and just dive into the work.
How did you get involved with the “Costume Quest” comics? You were a fan of the game before Oni Press approached you, right?
I was a fan of the game. Actually, that’s probably how I came to work on the book. I’d done a single page comic on “Magical Game Time” inspired by the original game, and I think the people at Double Fine had seen it, so when it came time to work on a tie-in project for the series I was at the top of their list. I’ve already mentioned the tight deadline but when Double Fine initially approached me about the project they were thinking, maybe we could do a short comic or something, just something small to do some promotion for “Costume Quest 2.” And I came back with, “Hey, why not do a whole book?” And it kinda just went from there.
What was it about the original game which most appeals to you? What do you think has made it such a success?
What they do at Double Fine, I think what sets everything that they do apart from other game companies, is that every last detail of their games are made with love. And I don’t mean the love of a craftsman for their trade — which is a quality you can see in many other games — but I mean a warm, nurturing kind of love. They’re sort of like the Pixar of games.
And that is so abundant in “Costume Quest.” “Costume Quest” is nostalgic, but not in a cloying way; it’s nostalgic in a way that feels authentic and still somehow modern. Because ultimately, and that touches on the other great thing about Double Fine, and it’s extremely true about “Costume Quest” in particular, is that they manage to make games that are for both kids and adults. That’s a thing that almost nobody manages to get right.
How have you found working with them for the book? Have they let you have a lot of freedom with the story you wanted to tell?
It’s going to sound like I’m doing an ad for Double Fine at a certain point, but I can’t say enough good things about working with them. Double Fine, and I should add Oni Press, were both extremely hands-off and were open to letting me tell the story that I wanted to tell in the way that I wanted to tell it. I think that’s why they’re both so successful at what they do — they trust the people around them.
Has this given you a taste for longer-form storytelling, now? Have you got the bug to start making more book-sized stories?
Absolutely. While I was working on it, I couldn’t help thinking up new books that I wanted to launch into immediately. Well, it’s been a few months and nothing is done yet but I have a number of projects that are starting to materialize. Some that I might be ready to announce around the time the book launches, even. I have a handful of stories that I’m working on, but I’m also giving myself a little more time to linger on the early development stuff this time around. It’s just so much fun.
“Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers” will be released by Oni Press this October.
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