Comics aren’t all bright colors, superheroes and wearing your underwear on the outside of your tights. Sometimes, there are no happy endings, no maidens to save and no villains to vanquish – sometimes they are deeply disturbing, discomforting and made purely to make your squirm in your seat. Horror comics, some might call them – and there are few better recent examples than Grin, the infamous offering from New Zealand artist Eddie Monotone.
Fresh from his booth at the Armageddon Expo, Eddie has taken the time to talk to us about his experiences as an artist, his history, and his views on what good comics look like. He even gives us a sneak peek at what might be coming for horror comic fans in the near future. Put down that latest issue, turn off the lights and prepare to feel wonderfully uncomfortable with our resident creeper, Mr. Monotone.
Jack: Hi Eddie, and welcome to The Nerd Stash! I think anyone who has read Grin is keen to get an idea of the person behind such a creepy piece of work (no offense), so let’s jump right into it. What got you started in comic books?
Eddie: I’ve been drawing since before I can remember. I’ve seen the terrible children’s pictures that my parents have saved. At a very early age I was given Tin-Tin, and at a slightly older age, I was given 90’s Marvel comics. In between those two influences, that’s what gave me the bug.
There was other stuff, I absorbed as much as I could get access to, but those are the two that stuck, and those are the two that I think have had an impact on what I like about comics.
Some of it is osmosis. You just – things you like inevitably go in your brain and come out through your hand when you’re working – and not a lot of it is intentional. In my own work, I’m very keen on clarity, and cleanliness. The 90’s stuff less than Tin Tin, I think is a visual influence … There’s definitely an animation influence. Taking away every detail except exactly what tells the story visually.
Jack: Did you have any particular influences beyond those?
Eddie: As a child, I was very much a fan of the DC animation. Much more so than the actual comics. Some I’ve come to later as an adult, and I’ve seen the joy in them … There’s story-telling stuff that Marvel does that DC doesn’t – or if they have, I haven’t seen it, or grabbed me in the same way.
I love the rich world-building of Marvel – when they get it right.
I think the Marvel cinematic universe has done a good job of making it feel like a world. You watch the Daredevil TV show, which is worlds away from The Avengers in tone, in lighting and everything. But there’s just enough callback to the fact that New York got wrecked a few months ago … this happened in the same world. People are dealing with the fallout from that. And the comics do that more. It feels like Spiderman and Daredevil live in the same city. And that’s really nice.
Jack: What do you think makes a great comic? That’s probably the toughest question I could ask you. You could probably write a whole essay on that…
Eddie: Oh people have, people do theses on it! I think there’s two sides of it. I think the first is a general story-telling thing that applies in comics and novels and movies and everything of ‘Can you get your point across?’ Can you say whatever it is you’re trying to say with this piece? And can you entertain people while you do it like a comic should? Just like a good movie should.
I think specifically for comics – a good comic is one that makes the most of the medium. There are things that comics lend themselves to much better than others. It’s kind of a mongrel medium, you can do the big action adventure stuff that movies do quite well, you can also do the introspective, washy, middle-aged white man stuff that novels do quite well.
I think comics also lend themselves quite well to an ambiguity that neither of those mediums quite get. The fact that it’s visually there, you’re showing people what’s there. Like a movie, but it’s not real – you’re showing them what you’re drawing. It sits between the unreliable narrator you can have in a novel and the spectacle you can have in a movie. Comics is a nice compromise between the two.
Jack: And you think a great comic grips that and uses it?
Eddie: I think a great comic is a story that couldn’t really be told in a different medium. If it could have been a movie, then it could’ve been anything. But really great comics don’t translate that well, and their creators don’t get rich because they never get the movie rights. Because they’ve written something that is so visually a comic.
Jack: Let’s talk about Grin, which made me feel wonderfully uncomfortable while I read it. What made you decide to make that? Is it completely different from your other work?
Eddie: It is in the sense that that’s the first real horror comic that I’ve done. I’ve been a fan of horror for all my life. I have quite specific tastes within it. I think lots of horror and lots of horror comics (especially mainstream ones); they’re action stories with gore. They’re not horror stories if that makes sense. So part of what I tried to do with Grin was to tell a story that made me uncomfortable writing it, with the intention of making people uncomfortable while reading it. But without falling back on ‘wow that’s uh, a really graphic decapitation’.
There is a little bit of gross violence in Grin, but it’s not the focus. The focus is the discomfort rather than the viscera.
Jack: And it’s such a short comic, but we could talk a lot about it.
Eddie: That goes back to what I was saying about being direct with your story-telling. You could tell that story in 100 pages, but I managed to do it in 16. And I don’t think it suffers for the lack of the 84.
Jack: Exactly. You also recently attended the Armageddon Expo in New Zealand to promote Grin. Could you tell us more about that experience?
Eddie: It was really good, Armageddon is an interesting one because it’s not specifically a comic convention the way that Emerald City is. It’s a pop culture expo, so you have comics, but you also have a huge movie following, sci-fi following, fantasy following and a lot of gaming stuff. And so the audience is a weird mix of people who walk past your booth and you can’t tear them away. They are here to buy everything there is because they love New Zealand comics. Or they don’t give the remotest of shits. And you’ll never convince them. Which is interesting, but it’s kinda nice because the people who come to you are the people who care and the people who are there for something else, that’s fine. They’re there for something else.
The people I talked to were very genuinely into the stuff that we are talking about now, and that’s nice because it wasn’t a case of having to sell to people. It was a case of just talking with other interested parties – people who’ve already bought in. It was a really awesome experience.
Jack: Did you get a lot of attention there?
Eddie: I sold some comics, I made some friends, I had someone come up to me on the second day and say they bought my comic yesterday and it was gross and horrible, and do I have any others like it? Which was supremely flattering.
Jack: And are you planning to make more horror comics?
Eddie: Yes, I have a couple of things in the works. I have really enjoyed doing [Grin] and I’ve had quite a bit of response from people who say ‘ew yuck’ and give me a thumbs up for it. It’s a genre I’d like to do a lot more of.
Jack: Anything you can let us in on what you’re planning?
Eddie: A few people have asked if there’ll be a sequel to Grin and at this stage, there won’t be. But that tone and that discomfort is something I’d like to explore with different scenarios and different characters.
Jack: I’m looking forward to it! And just to summarize your entire life’s work, I suppose, if somebody wanted to get into your comics, where would you recommend they start?
Eddie: I think Grin is the place to start because it’s short, it’s self-contained, and it’s a horror story about how teenagers can be supremely uncomfortable with their bodies. I think that’s something that’s relatable in the most horrible way. So that’s a good place to start if you’re into horror.
But there’s a range of stuff on my site. I probably suffer from it career-wise – I can’t pick a thing and do it. Once I’ve finished this project, I’ll do something utterly different. My site has action-adventure comics, it has comedy comics, it has horror now. I’m always trying to do something new so I think the best thing to do would be to go to the list of comics on my site, see if anything catches your eye.
These are the things I like, and I want to make more of them for the world.
Jack: Brilliant, I think that’s a great note to end on. Thanks very much for your time Eddie.
Eddie: You too!
If you’re interested in checking out Eddie Monotone’s work including Grin, check out his site here. Are you looking forward to more horror entries from this budding Kiwi artist? Let us know in the comments below, and remember to stay tuned to The Nerd Stash for more upcoming comic book news!