By now, you’ve likely heard of BOOM! Studios’ “Something Is Killing the Children.” The new horror series from writer James Tynion IV, artist Werther Dell’Edera, colorist Miquel Muerto, and editor Eric Harburn has been so successful pre-debut, that it’s already been upgraded from a five-issue miniseries to a full-blown ongoing.
I got a chance to talk with Tynion and Harburn the day after “Something” was upgraded to an ongoing, which might explain the good mood they were in for our discussion. We chatted about the reason Tynion IV decided to put so much of himself into the series, the ever-evolving nature of the now-expanded story, and the emotional cliffhanger that ends today’s first issue.
Thanks, James and Eric, for doing this interview with us. I read the issue and loved it, and my wife stole it from me and she also loved it.
James Tynion IV: I’m so happy to hear that.
Eric Harburn: (laughs) Thank you.
So the first couple questions I have might be more specifically for James, but Eric, feel free to speak into them if you have an answer for them.
I’m looking at the James in this issue, who has your name, has dark hair, he’s wearing glasses and what’s essentially a Batman t-shirt, and he lives in Wisconsin.
You see where I’m going with this, right? I’m curious how much of that character is and isn’t you, and why this story in particular was the right place for you to put this sort of self-insert character into it.
JT: It’s really funny. When I started writing the book, I had this idea for this cold open that shows this game of Truth or Dare that goes horribly awry. And to get into the pacing and the sense of character I wanted, I just put myself and my friends that I used to have sleepovers with, I just put us all in the book.
In my head, it was like, “These will be filler names.” Because sometimes, when you’re writing a creator-owned book, some of the characters come fully formed, and some of them form themselves as you move along. So there was this character that was James in the script, and honestly, it was a decision I hadn’t made in other books before – but by doing that, it opened this story up. It made me really feel for this tiny version of myself, and it made me really frightened for him.
Even writing issue two, I thought I was still going to change the name of the main character. But at a certain point, it just felt like, “Oh, I’ve gone too far. This character is now a tiny version of myself.” And I just needed to lean in and let that happen.
It’s not something that I want people to read too much into, in terms of this story being any more auto-biographical than it seems. But the sort of person that this young character, James, is is the same sort of person I was. The deep fear and anxiety that he experiences is an echo of the person I was and, in a lot of ways, the person I still am.
So honestly, it was just a shortcut for emotional honesty that then became the main road. I’m honestly very excited to see where it all leads, because it was not part of my original intent for the book.
Do you find yourself more hesitant at all to throw this character into these terrifying situations where he might come to harm, as a result of him echoing yourself? Or is it actually more exciting?
JT: I’m definitely not shying away from putting him in harm’s way.
Yeah, that’s pretty clear from the first issue.
JT: (laughs) That definitely might speak to something in myself, or even myself at that age. I don’t think any of us, in seventh or eighth grade, really had a strong sense of who we were or were particularly happy with who we were.
I’m mostly interested to see what kind of demons I’m going to dig out as a part of this story by having made this move and having made it a bit more emotionally honest. I don’t want to flinch away from digging into the darkest feelings there. And I’m excited to see where that path leads me.Continued below
So I know you grew up in Milwaukee, WI. I grew up about an hour away from you, southwest of Milwaukee –
JT: Wait, what town?
Elkhorn, WI. It’s like right on top of Lake Geneva.
JT: Oh, yeah. Okay.
So with that shared Sconnie experience, I was curious if there are real places that helped shape Archer’s Peak. I know it’s supposed to be located “somewhere in the northwoods of Wisconsin” generically, but I was wondering if there are any real places you’re drawing from that maybe you visited as a kid or later on.
JT: Well a lot of it is combining a lot of different elements from a lot of different places. I had friends who either had a house on the lake in the northwoods, or their grandparents had a house on the lake that we would go up to as kids, and we would pass through these smaller towns.
Also, when I was in college, I went to college at Sarah Lawrence just outside of New York City. But pretty much every chance I got I went home, and all my friends had gone to UW-Madison. Any time I was home in Milwaukee, I would make the 90 minute drive out to Madison, and we would use Madison as the launching point for weekend trips.
There was this book, Weird Wisconsin –
Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. [Editor’s Note: Elkhorn has a pretty sweet entry in that book.]
JT: Yeah, it has all these strange stories about all these small towns throughout the state. And we would do these weekend trips during the summers to go see all these strange corners of Wisconsin. It really endeared the whole state to me. I can’t pretend that I’m a small-town Wisconsin kid; I grew up in Fox Point, which is a suburb just north of Milwaukee. But those weekend trips gave me a real love of the entire state.
“The Woods” (Tynion IV’s first series with BOOM!) took place in the fictional town of Bay Point, WI, which is sort of a mixture of Bayview and Fox Point. Bay Point was definitely meant to be a Milwaukee suburb, and this is definitely meant to be a smaller town, off in the deep forest in the north. That’s sort of what I was trying to draw on there.
I have to say, I was kind of hoping on that page turn where you guys reveal the monster, for it to just straight-up be a hodag from Rhinelander. But what Werther and Miquel created was much more terrifying, actually.
So for both of you, it was just announced yesterday [at the time of this interview] that you’ve been upgraded to an ongoing series. So first, congrats on that.
JT: Thank you so much.
EH: Yeah, thank you.
Speaking into that, how does that upgrade into a longer story change both the story you’re trying to tell, James, and also the editing process for you, Eric? Because this was originally set as a five-issue miniseries, and now you can tell this story for as long as you want to tell it and as long as it sells well, basically.
JT: It’s weird. In terms of talking about long-term plans and “Something Is Killing the Children,” it’s a story that’s evolved so many times in its production that this felt like the next natural step.
When I started writing the first issue, my original intent was that every issue was going to be a one-shot of Erica arriving in these different towns and fighting a monster and then going to the next town. But as I started writing the first scene of the first issue, I actually texted Eric with “This isn’t a one-shot. This is a full arc, and it’s all going to take place in Archer’s Peak.” And then I had a similar thing happen when I was writing the end of issue two, and I sort of realized that I knew how to wrap the story up in the next three issues, but it felt like a bigger story.
And so to be able to linger in all the small characters that I’m building and the smaller moments and the horror and the dread that you need to build and really live in, I sort of realized that this story is this bigger monster. At that point, we didn’t know whether or not we were going to be given the opportunity to make it longer, but in the back of my mind I thought, maybe we’ll do a sequel or something or leave it on a cliffhanger. I was already thinking in those terms.Continued below
But now that we have the opportunity to expand it, I think the story can be what it was always trying to be. Which is a long-form horror novel, told in comic book issues. This is me trying to do, y’know, my Stephen King novel as a comic book. I have an ending that I’m working toward, and there’s a shape to the whole larger monster, so to speak. But this is the type of story that “Something Is Killing the Children” was always meant to be, and I think now we’re really going to be able to live in the town of Archer’s Peak and live in the horror of Archer’s Peak. And I think that that’s going to really give the story life.
EH: And editorially speaking, this is kind of an embarrassment of riches situation. I’m super proud of where we would have landed after five issues; I think James and the team had built a really tight five-issue story like he was saying, that we could have come back to later. But now, with less restraints and less restrictions as far as how long we can spend in this world, it really frees things up.
For me and Gwen Waller, the assistant editor on the book, it’s really just a matter of making sure that we get out in front of the train and are laying the tracks for James and Werther and Miquel to do their best work. Like James said, we have the page real estate now to spend the time necessary to really let this dread boil up and let each moment have its full piece.
Which I think is the reason that the first issue has resonated with so many people, actually. We don’t rush things. It’s not a slow book; it’s a deliberate book. And now we’ll get to continue maintaining that deliberate feel, thanks to the support that the book has gotten so far.
So I have a couple follow-up questions that are sort of connected to that answer. The first is, talking about the deliberate pacing in the book, there’s a choice to put the actual reveal of this monster that’s hunting children in Archer’s Peak about three-quarters of the way through the book, rather than use it as an end-of-issue cliffhanger. And the cliffhanger for the first issue ends up being this small, emotional beat, which is a question that James asks Erica. And it is a question that I think everyone reading the issue will want the answer to, and will come back for.
My question is, how emblematic of the book overall is that choice? Where the big action piece arrives about three-quarters of the way through, and what you end the book with is this emotional piece?
JT: I mean, I think that’s a great question. And it definitely speaks to the book’s priorities. The characters are our priority. And it’s also emblematic, frankly, of the change that this series went through as it was developing.
When I started writing that issue, I didn’t have that last page in mind. What James asks Erica at the end of the first issue changed the entire nature of the story. I felt the power in that question, because it’s the beginning of something. So I sort of followed my instincts, that that was the right place to bring the issue to an end.
The impact that the horror James has seen has on his character is really what drives this story forward, more than the horror itself, the actual physical aspect of the horror. Like ending on the monster, it could’ve been a cool reveal, but I’m more interested in what is James actually going to do with that? Here he has an opportunity to move forward. And that’s what’s going to drive the story from there.
My second follow-up to the ongoing question is, Erica’s on the cover of this first issue, but we spend most of our time with James. For both of you, whose story do you see this as?
JT: That’s a good question, and it’s one we’ve talked about a lot.
I would say, more than anything, James is very much at the heart of this story. I think James is more of the main character than Erica. Erica is this mysterious figure who comes to town, and she drives a lot of the action of the book. But there’s also a lot of mystery to her. I have answers to all of those mysteries, but not all of those answers are going to be given to James as a character.Continued below
But James is the one who has experienced the horror and who wants the horror dealt with. And he’s going to do everything in his power to deal with that horror. The mystery of who Erica is will now be unveiled over the full course of the series, but her story … her story’s a driving element. But part of the goal when I was coming up with this is, I had a lot of the classic early ’90s Vertigo books in mind, where we saw characters like Morpheus in “Sandman” and John Constantine in “Hellblazer” and even in the Alan Moore “Swamp Thing” actually, the core, iconic character was there as almost a witness.
Erica’s arrived in this town as a witness to their horror and the solution to their problems, but she’s not a solution that they’re going to understand or even want. And that creates the conflict of the book, and that’s how she drives the narrative. But in terms of the actual character side of things, I would say James is sort of the main character of the series.
Thanks again to James and Eric for taking the time to chat with us. You can find the first issue of “Something Is Killing the Children” in comic stores and online today.