Last year, R.L. Stine received a call from a Marvel Comics editor who was incredulous that the author of “A Shocker on Shock Street” and “Monster Blood III” had never written comics and wondering, would he like to? The beloved author accepted the challenge, and now the fruits of his labor, "Man-Thing" #1 has arrived.
The lead story by Stine and artist German Peralta is a playful reintroduction for the character very much in the self-referential Steve Gerber mode. In it, the typically silent Man-Thing uses his voice to question his place in the world, as well as the whereabouts of his box office receipts. The issue also features a more classic, spine-tingling backup by Stine and Dan Johnson, a chance for Stine to engage in the twist endings that have become a lifelong signature.
“I just like swamp monsters,” said Stine, who admits to having no more than a passing knowledge of Marvel and its heroes. “I just think it’s good, basic horror. The swamp is just a creepy place. Then you add this hideous beast, this horrible heap. It’s a tremendous setting for horror.”
R.L. Stine is best known for “Goosebumps,” a prolific line of middle grade horror novels in continuous publication for the past 25 years. He often wears black, because that’s what the bus-loads of school children flocking to his signings expect of a master of the macabre.
“People expect horror writers to live lives of horror,” laments Stine. “Right? But take Wes Craven. Another quiet Ohio guy.”
The self-proclaimed Marvel novice latched on to an outsider with a struggle close to his heart. A monster’s assertion or reclamation of their humanity is a central thread for Stine, whether it’s a child protagonist coping with invisibility or lycanthropy, or doomed Ted Sallis’ quest to shed the moss and morass of Man-Thing.
Stine, 73, first encountered the comics medium through back issues at his childhood barber shop, the only place he could get away with reading titles like “Tales from the Crypt” or “The Vault of Horror.” He was not yet 12 when psychiatrist Frederic Wertham and a full US Congressional inquiry commenced their investigation on the comics industry, particularly the brand of lurid horror titles Stine favored. He recalls one ill-fated effort to bring a pair of such comics home from the local druggist’s. Two dimes bought two comics off the rack in the early 50s, but that didn’t account for the toll levied by Mrs. Anne Stine of Bexley, Ohio.
“My mother stopped me at the door,” Stine recalled. “She said, ‘Well, you can’t have these. You can’t bring these in the house. That’s trash. You can’t have those.’
Undeterred, young Stine made a routine of having his hair cut every Saturday, independent of his mother. He got his fix for gruesome ghouls and juicy twist endings for the price of a weekly trim.
“I had less hair as a kid than I do now, because I loved them so much.”
EC Horror’s signature brand of shocking, tongue-in-fang suspense was a major influence on Stine, who tried his hand at both prose and comics creation at a young age, though he never thought much of his own drawing abilities. He ultimately abandoned doodling his invented character “Super Stooge” in favor of pursuing comedy writing as “Jovial” Bob Stine. He edited and produced much of the content for “Bananas,” a children’s humor magazine published by Scholastic for nearly ten years in the '70s and '80s. Eventually, an editor encouraged him to try his hand at horror.
“It wasn’t even my idea to be scary,” Stine exclaimed. “I was having lunch with an editor at Scholastic and she needed a horror book. She even gave me the title" ‘Blind Date.’ It came out, and it was a number one best seller.” The following year, he wrote another teen horror novel called ‘Twisted.’ Again, a success. Forget this funny stuff, said Stine. For the past 30 years, he’s carved out a niche as a premiere purveyor of horror writing for middle grade and teen readers.
“Kids like being scared. I enjoy scaring kids. It’s a good job.”
Stine has taken to the often surprising process of collaborative comics creation, delighted to pester German Peralta for larger, more savage alligators in the backgrounds. And he has a plan, too.
“Here’s what happens,” he says. “Man-Thing is pulled back into the swamps after struggling so hard to get out. He finds horrible disruption. Chaos. Strange animals. Something has happened to destroy the order. There’s this character, the Oldfather, this ancient, responsible for keeping order in the swamp. Now he’s been kidnapped, and it’s up to Man-Thing to find him.”
Serious business. But there’ll be fun along the way. Bob Stine can’t help but make it funny. It’s who he is.