Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Q&A with Mark Fearing





Mark Fearing is the creator of the new middle grade graphic novel Last Exit to Feral. It's a sequel to his middle grade graphic novel Welcome to Feral. He lives in Oregon.


Q: This is the second in your Frights from Feral series--did you know from the start that you’d be creating more than one book about the town of Feral and your characters?


A: Feral is a town that needs two books to understand! I always knew there were two books, but only by working with my editor did we develop the rather unique multi-story format for the first book with a second book that has a full length first person adventure. That was a surprise to me as it developed from ideas and early drafts.


Q: What inspired the plot of Last Exit to Feral?


A: I love the horror genre, no matter if it’s aimed at young readers or adults. And part of great horror is having stories that resonate on multiple levels. Last Exit to Feral gave me an opportunity to examine the origins and reasons behind the strange events in the town.


If you think of adult horror you think of Stephen King. And you realize in reading King that many of the “horrors” he writes about are not supernatural monsters or creatures, but the horror that comes from human desires and behavior.


For me the origin of the weird stuff in Feral is directly tied to aspects of human behavior having unexpected consequences. Okay, that sounds way too serious for a book with witches, a Franken-farmer and ghosts! So I have to add part of the plot comes from imaging something weird and funky and making it as fun as I can!


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations--or both simultaneously?


A: I almost always lead with text. I write stories with the images in my mind. Sometimes the rough sketches and doodles I do as I wrote will add to the story or propose story beats I didn’t expect, say, by making a character look a certain way that may imply something structural in the plot. But I like hammering out the story, the dialogue and revising from there.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Thrills and chills aplenty but low voltage enough to keep the nightmares at bay.” What do you think of that description, and what do you think is a good balance in middle grade fiction between creepy and terrifying?


A: Complicated question and if I was in-person I’d talk about this for a half hour. My art style is an important mitigator in the kind of story I can tell. You could take the same story, the same script, and render it in a much more serious, dark way and the mood of the book would be very different.


If you think about what an animated show like The Simpsons can get away with, they actually have some very dark pathos, very mature plots, but the style keeps it palatable in a much broader way.  


I am not interested in creating the most frightening and upsetting horror story I can in these books. I want to investigate the “fun” part of horror. That is the imaginative portion. The elements that make you go, “What would happen if a slide was an entry point into an alternative world?” That’s fun AND scary. It’s all about the tone of the writing and art working together.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have several picture books I’m working on and some new horror projects.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I grew up on a farm along the St. Croix river and those short, dark autumnal days were filled with hide-n-seek games at dusk in cornfields and around old barns where the bats came out every night to feast on the plentiful mosquitos. Towering elm trees swayed in the wind creating creepy shadows in the moonlight and strange animal sounds echoed across the fields. Local stories of haunted houses, of people seeing ghosts in some of the deteriorating structures that dotted the landscape.


I want to capture the smell of the rain soaked ground on Halloween. The beauty of a large forest that feels just a bit like you are the first person ever to walk the ground there. No matter the season there was a sense of mystery that pervaded my youth. I wanted to capture the fun of being scared (Yes, it can be fun!) and the sense of mystery that sparks your imagination to the events and places around you. I hope I accomplished some of that.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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