Artus Scheiner: Is It in the Blood?

We were living in Germany, and my dad got a slim box in the mail. The kind that usually indicated a book. He said we were going to look at something very special once we got home. Me and my sister sat at the dining room table with Mom and Dad while our younger sister and brother played; they were too young to understand the importance of this book. My dad flipped through the pages very carefully with amazement. We had a family coat of arms, and there was text going into the symbology, though there wasn’t too much actual writing in the book. There were lions on the crest, which represented courage. But even at twelve, I knew that. I didn’t need a book to point it out. I really didn’t feel a connection to the book on the Scheiners. It seemed vague and not quite right. This was pre-Internet, and I think my grandmother may have ordered this for my dad.

So I forgot all about that Scheiner book with its coat of arms with lions that looked like a cartoon, not real at all. How could anybody carve that onto a shield? Instead my interests were more taken by visits to the Landstuhl Post newsstand and the few racks that were stacked with real comics. I’d also read the cartoons in the daily Stars and Stripes that my dad brought home from Ramstein every day, but what me and my sister really enjoyed were long-form comics. It started with juvenile Archies, which were few and far between because my family couldn’t really afford these extras.

But one day we discovered a treasure trove of comics in the dumpster outside of our building. They had been thrown out by the Covingtons who lived above us. A couple of teenagers in the family were the source of the comics, and I figured Mrs. Covington must have stumbled on them and made her kids get rid of them. She was super-religious and had been spotted in the woods outside our housing complex cutting switches from the trees to beat her kids with.

For sure, Alan Moore’s and Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing would be against her religion. I remember being terrified while reading the eco-horror title when a boy’s parents release the Monkey King after playing with a ouija board. With both excitement and dread, I watched that black-and-white monkey as it started feeding on the blood of children. I didn’t know comics could do that, and it was transcendent for me. We’ve always been artists in our family, and with horror comics paving the way, along with a deep love of Grimm’s fairy tales, some seriously demented and wonderful creatures sprung up. We’d always had a taste for the dark, the gothic, and that was reflected in my family’s artwork.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto work by Artus Scheiner, a bohemian artist from Prague, who specialized in cartoons and illustrations made in gauche, my paint medium of choice in college because of the bright colors. I clicked a link that Guillermo del Toro put up on his Twitter account and was stunned to find artwork that looked so similar to what me and the rest of my family produced.

I tried to find more information on him, and the things I uncovered gave me shivers down my back because of the similarities I found. Artus started off as a financial clerk in Prague, but he had an interest in drawing and art from a young age. After he started having success publishing his illustrations in important magazines of the time, like Lustige Blätter, he quit and worked full-time as an artist. He participated in the café culture of Prague, where intellectuals, artists, and writers gathered, and frequented Café Arco, which was visited by other famous luminaries such as Franz Kafka and Max Brod. There he met Milena Jesenska who he asked to work as a model for some of his fairy-tale illustrations. She didn’t mind modeling nude, but she was kind of grossed out by his studio.

Artus and his older brother Josef Scheiner, who was a politician, were part of an association called Sokol, which believed in gymnastic training and cultural development for its members. Josef loved puppet theater and would stage productions for children and guests in his study from 1895 to 1907. The puppet theater was a family affair with puppets being created partly by the brothers’ mother and some by Josef’s wife, Karla Scheinerová. Artus helped by creating scenery and backgrounds for the stage. And Josef would write the scripts, some based on old fairy tales. This reminds me of work my sister has done designing marionettes and selling them on her Etsy shop. Teen Vogue contacted her once, and she lent the magazine one of her puppets as a prop for a photo shoot.

Artus is identified as an artist of the Secessionist movement, which puzzled me. But reading more about it, I found it was part of a reaction to classical art of the time, and there were many bases for the movement: Prague, Berlin, Munich, and Vienna. I knew it as art from the Weimar Republic, and some of the artists associated with this movement are Otto Dix, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and George Grosz—only some of my favorite artists. While staying in Berlin, those were the artists I sought out at smaller galleries and museums, skipping all the classical art.

One of my favorite images by Artus is an illustration for the story “The Wooden Baby” from Tales from Bohemia. For the longest time, I thought it was a picture of a giant frog wolfing down a person, but no, it’s a wooden baby with a voracious appetite who keeps eating everybody he encounters while singing rhymes: “I’ve gobbled and gobbled/All that I can;/A jugful of milk/And food from the pan./A whole loaf of bread/And, all this is true—/My mum and my dad/And a dairymaid, too!/I’ve eaten a peasant/And all of his hay,/Pigs, swineherd and shepherd/And sheep, in a day./But as I’m still hungry…/I’ll eat you, if I may!”

The similarities between that and some of my stories are eerie, and now as I work on my kids’ book The Rats of New York with illustrations done by my sister, looking at her artwork and one by Artus for the book The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, they almost appear as if they came from the same studio. In my eyes, at least.

I am actively trying to acquire some of Artus’s work now through a Czech auction house called Sypka, but so far I haven’t been lucky with any of my bids. I think I need to make a visit to Prague the next time a lot is selling. I want to see one of these artworks in person and really study it.

A Bloody Julius Caesar Stirs Up a Hornet’s Nest

I took my Girls Write Now mentee Laura to go see Julius Caesar last Friday at Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park. We had been planning it for a while and postponed to later in the week so we had nicer weather. I’m glad I charged and packed my computer because we really wanted to tape our exit interview we had planned now that she’s graduating and going on to college in the fall. I had come up with ten questions for Laura, and she ad-libbed questions for me. I was surprised that it lasted longer than an hour, but we had some meaty questions, like “What do you think is going to happen politically in the next five years?” and “What’s going to happen to art in the current political climate?” We were both optimistic about the future and had no idea how portentous our questions and ideas were.

We took turns going to the restroom while the other saved our spot in line, and then right before they started handing out tickets, I went to the snack bar area and got us two hot dogs. The line started moving, and after the first glut of tickets was gone, Laura and I were at the head of the line with just one woman in front of us. A man came by and handed the woman his extra ticket after his friend was a no show, so then Laura and I were at the head of the line. The second round of tickets came by, and the Shakespeare in the Park employee sorted them into singles and pairs and gave us our tickets. We were so surprised to find ourselves in the front row almost center stage—the best tickets in the house. Laura was exuberant, hopping up and down. “I’ve never been in the front row anywhere!”


The play was tremendous. Whenever I read Julius Caesar while editing our Grade 10 textbooks at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, I enjoyed it, but when I saw it performed at BAM (the first time I’d ever seen it live), I didn’t really like it. Might have been the nosebleed seats we had—the absolute last row in the theater. This Julius Caesar, though, was fabulous. When we sat down, I saw people miling about onstage, looking at scaffolding, like what we have in New York when buildings are undergoing construction. Some had programs in their hands, and they were putting Post-it notes on the scaffolding, similar to what happened in Union Square station after Trump was elected and everybody was so upset. There was a wall that became an entire passageway, where everybody started writing Post-it notes about how upset they were about the election and it became a thing.


I thought the people were actual audience members, so I told Laura, “Go on up there, hon, and write something. Put your wish down.” Laura said, “No, I don’t think I should,” and usually she’s so bold. Thank God she didn’t. They were frigging actors, and later, they played the part of the disgruntled public.

It was a clever staging. It’s set in modern times, and Caesar is portrayed as a Trumpian character; Calpurnia as Melania, with an Eastern European accent; and Marc Antony was portrayed as a woman with a “Go USA!” attitude, leggings, and an Aw, shucks! Midwestern accent. I’m guessing she’s supposed to correlate to Mike Pence. It worked really well and was riveting for the first three acts, but the play kind of lost momentum in the last two acts. I still loved it. How they handled the crowd scenes was brilliant and unexpected, and Laura and I craned our heads, trying to catch the rabble-rousers who sprang up in the audience. It felt so interactive, like the demonstrations going on now during this presidency. Some people walked out—about four that I could see—and I remember thinking it was because of the controversial staging decisions or maybe because of the chairs. They are pretty uncomfortable. Then I saw the headlines the next day.


We still don’t have an answer in this play about what is going to happen to us, much like in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, but it gives us plenty to think about. We just have to be aware and flexible, roll with the punches, and never give up hope. I think of that old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” I do. I most definitely do. And I’m grateful for Shakespeare in the Park.

Cindy Sherman’s Horror Imagery Helps Her Confront Fears

Cindy Sherman grew up in Long Island, New York, the youngest of five children. She always felt that she had to do something to be noticed since her siblings were so much older and established compared to her. Sherman thinks that’s what led to her dressing up. “There are pictures of me dressed up as an old lady,” she says. “I was more interested in being different from other little girls who would dress up as princesses or fairies or a pretty witch. I would be the ugly old witch or the monster.”



This continued in her adult life, too. Sherman lived in New York working as a secretary at Artists Space and would sometimes arrive to work dressed as a nurse or Jackie Kennedy. “I’d be home, fooling around with makeup and a costume, maybe picked up at a thrift store, and suddenly I’d look at my watch and go: Oh, wow, I have to get to work. Well, okay, I’ll just go like this,” says Sherman.


Her first successful photographs, called Untitled Film Stills, involved Sherman using herself as a model dressed up and posing as screen stars in noirish scenes. This work caused artist Andy Warhol to say, “She’s good enough to be a real actress.”


In the late 1980s, Sherman started doing more disturbing photographs of vomit, synthetic pimples, and sex dolls. “Initially, I started that work as a reaction to feeling a little nervous that I was getting successful,” says Sherman. “Do people really like my work, or is it that they’re told to like it as the flavor of the month? So I decided to make these pieces. ‘Well, here you go, collectors. If you want to buy this picture of vomit, I dare you to buy it.’ In a way, it was successful. Those are some of my favorite pieces.”



These darker photos prompted producer Christine Vachon to ask Sherman if she would ever consider directing a horror film. At first Sherman wasn’t interested because her boyfriend had such a horrible time with the sci-fi flop Johnny Mnemonic, but eventually she was swayed. “The money people wanted to do a series of horror films for an art-house crowd, so they were willing to be experimental,” says Sherman.

This led to Sherman developing the story and then directing Office Killer about a copy editor Dorine (played by Carol Kane) who gets murderous when layoffs happen at the magazine  she works for. Now a cult classic, the movie got terrible reviews when it first came out. “The good thing about horror films…is that nobody expects them to be any good,” says Sherman.



Other work in the late 1990s after she divorced her husband of sixteen years involved a series of mutilated dolls, which Sherman is particularly proud of. “I was so happy when I was making those pieces. Taking knives to Barbie dolls!”



Sherman finds herself so attracted to horror because it’s a way for her to confront her deepest, darkest fears. “My biggest fear is a horrible, horrible death, and I think this fascination with the grotesque and with horror is a way to prepare yourself physically if, god forbid, you have to experience something like that,” she says.


But along with horror she always sees humor, as in her horror comedy Office Killer, and she tries to portray this in her work. “I see humor in almost everything, in even the grotesque things, because I don’t want people to believe in them as if they were a documentary that really does show true horror. I want them to be artificial, so you can laugh or giggle at them, as I do when I watch horror movies,” says Sherman.



The photographer’s studio is littered with odd things. Photographs of amputees, circus performers, wigs, costumes, and a vintage notecard she found in an old junk shop in the late 1990s. She estimates it’s about a century old and has it pinned up in the studio—it reads: “Fair Deceiver: I did not know until last night that you had a glass eye. Woman you have deceived me and our engagement is off! If I had married you, perhaps I would have found out that you had a cork leg, wore a wig and chewed your gum with false teeth — Anyway, I don’t think you could boil water without burning it. I want a girl that can do several things besides rubbing lip rouge on my cheek. Chase around girlie and get another guy.”



It provides Sherman with a lot of material to think about. “It is just so sad,” she said. “That this person would say what he’s saying, but also that someone kept it all those years. The poor woman.”


Except for her one foray in directing, Sherman always works alone. “Briefly in the ’80s I tried using friends and family and even hired an assistant to pose, and I felt like I just had to entertain them, be conscious of “Do you need coffee now? Are you tired? Do you want a break?” And they’d be kind of giggly because they were being made up to look funny. I push myself but I don’t push other people, or if I do, I’m apologizing because we’re going too late or whatever. Even having an assistant around, I’d feel self-conscious at times, like I’d better look busy now, rather than just spacing out, looking at images online or in magazines, or whatever I might do.”





V. C. Andrews Made ‘Fairy-Tale Horror’ with ‘Flowers in the Attic’

V. C. Andrews’s books have become cult classics, but when they first came out, her publisher wasn’t sure how to classify them so they were labeled horror and actually outsold Stephen King’s work at the time. Andrews was born Cleo Virginia Andrews in Portsmouth, Virginia, and lived there most of her life—much of it while ill and confined to bed and a wheelchair.


Andrews fell down a flight of stairs when she was in high school, and after she had surgery, she began to suffer from arthritis that fused her spine. She was only able to complete high school with the help of private tutors and then worked as an artist, drawing portraits of apple-cheeked girls and still lifes of flowers that are quite at odds with the dark portraits later used to illustrate her series. She lived alone with her mother Lillian until she died of cancer at sixty-three.


Her editor, Ann Patty, bought the ninety-eight-page manuscript of Flowers in the Attic in 1978, though it needed a lot of editorial guidance. Before she offered to buy the book for a $7,500 advance, one publishing insider said the manuscript had been rejected more than twenty-four times by various editors. Patty told a marketing director who complained about Andrews’s stilted dialogue, “It’s her style—it may be awful, but it is a style, and it will be read as original.”



Patty had already gone through two revisions with Andrews (the first one causing the manuscript to increase to six hundred pages), and in her second editorial letter, she said, “I’ve frequently noted where you start sentences with adverbs or reverse the natural order of a sentence. It’s good to do this sometimes, but you do it too much, and it often makes for rather awkward reading.”


Andrews was influenced by fairy tales when she was young. “I loved the fairy tales. But there is an element of horror in fairy tales, so that when I would go through the woods, I was always looking for something—a witch, an ogre, something scary—and it was never there, and that was a little bit disappointing. I didn’t want a real horror, liked a rapist or a murderer, but I wanted a fairy-tale horror,” she said.


Youth is an obsession in Andrews’s books and it appears to have been a topic that was always on her mind. After an unflattering article ran in People magazine, where she said her age was inflated and photographs portrayed her as an ancient recluse, Andrews rarely gave interviews. “The first interview I ever had was with People magazine,” said Andrews. “And they told me, quite frankly, that they come to get dirt. They ask all of your friends and everybody they can find, ‘Tell us the dirt about V. C. Andrews.’ And when they don’t find any, they make up things. For instance, I wouldn’t tell her my age. So she went around and found somebody who told them I was older then I was. I said, ‘You must have found an enemy.’ And the reporter said, ‘What are you trying to hide?’”


Andrews was so angry about the interview and pictures printed that she wrote her relative: “How dare you say those photographs in People’s magazine are good? They were awful! I don’t look like that old woman peeking out of the window! I hated the photo of me in the chair! I refuse to allow pictures of me sitting in that thing—but they sneaked in one, and I couldn’t tell when the photographer was shooting the entire time she was here—about six hours. We were taken out to lunch in a nice French restaurant, then back home, and all the time I was interviewed. Taped too. Dolly Landon wrote thirty pages and it was edited down to that short amount you read—thank goodness. From now on I am demanding editorial and pictorial control or NO interview! I showed the magazine to my photographer friend and he said the one in the window had been airbrushed to make my face shadowy and spooky—all to sensationalize the type of books I write. No wonder movie stars hate journalists! I’m with them all the way! They snoop, pry, question, when my life is none of their damn business!”


Andrews said a lot of people assumed her work was autobiographical—that she was a victim of incest and had been locked away by relatives who wanted her unseen, as happens in her famous Dollanganger series. “They see me as an abused child who has really suffered. They feel sorry for me, terribly sorry that I have gone though this awful abuse and was then locked away. A lot of them say, ‘Don’t be ashamed that you are in love with your brother.’ All of these kinds of things,” said Andrews.



Instead, Andrews said her family was very nurturing and supporting. “A lot of people think I was tortured, but my parents didn’t do anything. They didn’t beat me. They didn’t whip me. They didn’t lock me away. I didn’t even go hungry. And I had a lot of pretty clothes,” she said.


Her editor says that the Dollanganger and Casteel series, which make up the authentic V. C. Andrews canon, along with stand-alone My Sweet Audrina (numerous other series are written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman hired by the Andrews estate), are both based on true stories. Andrews heard them when she was in the hospital for surgery. It was “some doctor there,” says Patty. “So I’d guess that some aspects of it were true—at least the aspect of kids being hidden away. Whether the twins were real, the sex, the time frame, probably not. I think it was just the concept of kids hidden in the attic so the mother could inherit a fortune. The idea for the Heaven series is also based on a true story and how that all came about—I will write about that in the memoir I’m writing about my relationship with Virginia and her books.”






V.C. Andrews: A Critical Companion by E. D. Huntley

Artist Fiona Staples Blends Horror with Sci-Fi Fantasy

Fiona Staples is a Canadian artist who’s drawn for Trick ’r Treat, 2000 AD, and the wildly popular Saga series. She’s been making art since she was a kid, but where most quit, she kept on going. “I think all kids like to draw and I just kept doing it; I never stopped. When I got to high school, I decided I’d like to go to art college and somehow make a living out of it,” says Staples.


Archie comics were the first comics that Staples began reading, she remembers. “They were…pretty much the only ones I had access to as a child. You really have to go out of your way to get into superhero comics or anything like that, and you can only really buy them at specialty comic shops, which is not the case with Archie, obviously; it sold at every grocery store and gas station,” she says.

While in college at the Alberta College of Art and Design, Staples was influenced by American, Japanese, and European comics. “I was really into Heavy Metal for a while,” she says. “Stuff like Heavy Metal made me realize painted comics were a thing—that comics didn’t have to look a certain way or be a particular style. That was a huge revelation.”

Staples started drawing her first comic series during her last year of college. “We had this sort of portfolio building class where we would put together whatever we wanted to do, so I started working on this comic. I worked with this writer, Andrew Foley, from Edmonton. We met on a message board for local creators and he sent me the script for Done to Death. It was five issues and the first issue was out by the time I graduated. That summer, in fact,” says Staples.

From her work with Foley, Staples landed her job on the horror graphic novel Trick ’r Treat, which also coincided with the last time she did work by hand. “Trick ’r Treat was the last thing that I did drawn in pen and ink, but colored digitally. The next series was Hawksmoor, which was on a really, really tight schedule. I had to turn around a fully colored issue in four weeks for six issues, so I thought there’s no way I can do this unless I go digital,” says Staples.


Of the comic genres Staples has worked with, she’s found herself drawn to horror. “I really enjoy doing horror stuff actually. A lot. I don’t have any particular affinity for superheroes. It’s not something I’m really interested in doing,” she says.

Staples finds the superhero genre to be limiting and wants to bring diversity to comics, something she and Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan have especially concentrated on in their series. “All the corners of the comics world except mainstream superhero books have pretty much agreed that diversity is a positive thing. I think the important thing to do now is create women-friendly books, and that will lead to more female creators in the next generation,” she says.

Though Saga is “not horror, unfortunately,” Staples has injected some elements of the genre into the series. “I’ll always leap at the chance to draw a weird monster. I loved doing horror work, so it’s always cool when Saga takes a turn for the creep—although I don’t think our ghost girl Izabel is scaring anybody,” says Staples.


As far as her top characters for the Saga series, she says, “Lying Cat is a favorite!” She’s learned a lot while drawing the series and is happy with the artwork and characters she designed early on. “There’s nobody I’d change, because accepting weird decisions you made on the fly years ago is part of doing an ongoing series. You just live with it! My favorite moments are whenever we see the surface of a new planet for the first time, or a new character is introduced with a splash page.”


When buying comics for herself, Staples goes after what pleases her visually. “If I don’t enjoy the artwork, I can’t enjoy the book,” she says. “Sometimes the story can be enough for me to get into, but usually I buy what looks good. What can I learn or steal from them?”

Looking at others’ work has helped Staples develop as an artist, and she does not limit herself to just comics. She’s also influenced by painters, classic illustrators, and especially animators. “You have to look at everything else that’s out there. That’s how you improve your taste, how you see what’s good. You study it and then go back and give your own work a very hard look to see where it is and where it needs to be. It’s something I try to do constantly,” says Staples.

Staples’s work process varies somewhat day to day, but she tries to be consistent when working freelance. “I try to stick to a schedule, but it doesn’t come easily. I usually double my workload as a deadline looms. Probably like most people, I would imagine,” she says.

She’s found that to be the hardest part of working as a freelance artist. When asked what is her biggest obstacle in regards to work, Staples says, “Fighting procrastination or anxiety at your own work and sticking to a schedule, which can be hard to do when you’re home alone all day with no one really monitoring you. Yeah, that’s the hardest thing to get right, but I think I’m there now or at least close enough to where I can do an almost monthly book on time.”


The success of Saga staggered Staples since she considered it an odd story unlikely to get much of a following. “I’m really, really grateful to our readers who decided to show it to their friends or give it to their mom or their girlfriend or husband because I’m pretty sure that’s how we got our readership—through word of mouth and people lending their books out. It’s been really amazing to see. I never thought a book this weird would reach this many people and I’m kind of continually surprised,” she says.

Though Saga is not ending anytime soon, Staples would like to dabble in more projects that focus on horror. “I think it would be cool to do something in the Hellboy world some day. I love that sort of folklore-based horror stuff,” says Staples.



Lauren Beukes Springs from Serial Murderers to Horror Comics

Lauren Beukes was born in South Africa and says, “I’m a South African writer who is incredibly lucky to get paid to make up stories all day. It wasn’t always like this. Over the last fifteen years, I’ve been a journalist, a TV scriptwriter, a documentary maker, and a mom to a small and amazing daughter—and had to find time to writer novels in between.”


Beukes’s big break came with her YA horror novel The Shining Girls published in 2013, which went on to win several awards. The book is now in development with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Ways with plans to adapt it into a TV series.

The Shining Girls began as a tweet when Beukes was avoiding her work. She says, “This is a little embarrassing. I was messing around on Twitter instead of writing (as you do) and threw out the idea in the middle of a random conversation. I immediately deleted the tweet because I was like, Yes! That must be my next book! Quickly! Before someone else thinks of it! But I think that’s often the way of interesting ideas—they come around when you’ve let your subconscious off the leash to romp in the grass.”

Taking a cue from police procedurals, Beukes created a large “murder wall” in order to track the movements of her time-traveling serial killer character in The Shining Girls. “It’s full of crazy pictures, three different timelines, murder dates…It’s been completely insane trying to keep track of all of this.”


Though the novel took a fantastic amount of research, Beukes says, “I wanted to use time travel as a way of exploring how much has changed (or depressingly stayed the same) over the course of the twentieth century, especially for women, and subvert the serial killer genre by keeping the focus much more on the victims and examining what real violence is and what it does to us. The killer has a type, but it’s not a physical thing—he goes for women with fire in their guts, who kick back against the conventions of their time.”

For her follow-up horror novel Broken Monsters, set in Detroit, Beukes stayed in the serial killer genre, but she decided to root the story in the present, using lots of pop culture and social media references. Beukes interviewed teenagers in Detroit about how they used social media and found that “your social media identity is something that is very carefully curated. And it’s not necessarily real life, the real-life Detroit teenagers that I interviewed, we talked about the idea of Shakespeare and all the world’s a stage, and I was like, ‘Well, what’s the stage? Is the stage social media or is it your real life?’ And they were like ‘No, no, social media is the stage where you present this idea of yourself. And real life is what happens in the wings.’ And that’s the rehearsal. That was very interesting, that these kids were living their lives so absolutely on social media.”


Being a stickler for details, Beukes went to the Detroit police station, hoping to find an old precinct with character. What she found instead was something shiny and new and felt it necessary to represent modern Detroit accurately. “I went to visit Detroit Homicide with a box of doughnuts and it’s a brand swanky new building,” says Beukes. “Everyone has computers, they have their own gym with TVs and this sort of thing. I was like, Are you kidding? It looks like a fucking Dilbert cartoon! And I’m like, ‘No, no I don’t want this!’…I could have said, ‘Oh, we’re in the police station and it’s so fucked up and there’s stains on the floor and there’s this creepy interrogation room and there’s broken glass…,’ but that’s not the reality and I did feel a moral responsibility not to misrepresent Detroit like that.”

Growing up in South Africa, Beukes witnessed the horrors of apartheid and that has made it into her work. “There are a lot of social issues that leak through my novels. It comes from having grown up under a terrible repressive racist regime and ten years as a journalist, getting backstage in the world,” she says.

Beukes says her dark, morbid ideas come from a strange place in her mind. “There’s this crazy insane hoarder room in the back of my mind, all kinds of weird stuff I’ve kept back,” she says. “Actually, it’s more like a mad science experiment, with all sorts of horrible mutations.”

Now Beukes is hard at work penning an original horror comic with writer Dale Halvorsen (aka Joey Hi-Fi) called Survivors’ Club, which is being published by Vertigo. It’s based on children from the 1980s who have lived through scenarios from various horror movies, such as surviving a killer doll, being possessed by a poltergeist, etc.

Beukes felt this story would do better as a comic with big visuals rather than with prose. “The concept is very visual. Comics just felt right, although it is much harder juggling a large cast in a comic book. It’s like a horror super team, all with their own dark secrets and terrifying backstories and little reason to trust each other, so we’re dealing with the over-arcing mystery, the immediate mystery, and all their backstories,” says Beukes.


Her horror novels have taken place in the United States with American characters, but in Survivors’ Club, Beukes introduces a South African character, Chenzira. “She grew up under the extreme oppressive racism of the apartheid government and her mom, a freedom fighter, was killed in police custody. As a kid, playing video games at the local arcade in Soweto became her escape from the monstrous society around her, but then the game she played opened a doorway to allow real monsters through,” says Beukes. “A running theme in my work is how we’re haunted by the past, how those monsters come back to bite you, and Chenzira is very aware of that because of her personal and political and supernatural experiences. It’s made her keenly focused and driven to confront her demons head-on, which is why she called the other survivors together.”



The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Kaori Yuki Finds Her Voice in Horror Manga

Kaori Yuki is a pen name used by the horror manga writer and artist who says Kaori is part of her real name. Yuki began thinking about creating manga in elementary school because she liked to draw. She started publishing in the Japanese manga magazine Hana to Yume in 1987 and rarely appears in public, saying she likes to live like a hermit, though she has traveled to places like London and Germany to do historical research for her series.


Yuki seems to be working constantly; her Twitter feed is updated almost daily with drawings from her works in progress. She’s worked on many shorts and series, including Devil Inside, Angel Sanctuary, Earl Cain, Godchild, Boys Next Door, Blood Hound, Ludwig Revolution, Fairy Cube, Grand Guignol Orchestra, Demon from Afar, and Alice in Murderland.


Yuki can’t envision her life without drawing and writing manga. She doesn’t have to go search for motivation; it just exists inside her. She says, “It’s not even a question of motivation—it’s obvious: I am a mangaka, so I draw manga. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg…I do not see what I could do other than mangaka. It’s not even imaginable for me…I don’t have anything if you take away manga.”


Most of Yuki’s influences come from the Western canon. She’s drawn to Grimm’s fairy tales, stories from the Bible, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass rather than Japanese stories. Yuki explains that for her, “it’s simply because that is what is foreign and is not understood intrinsically.” The Western influences for Japanese are “more exotic and mysterious,” she says. “That’s the allure of Western culture for me but also for many Japanese. What they say in fairy tales or the history of France and elsewhere, it seems really mysterious to us.”


As a woman, Yuki found it hard at first to make it in the manga world until she found what she truly liked working on and then a readership followed. “It’s true that when I started, I did not manage to sell my manga well. One of my colleagues—an older mangaka—made ​​the following reflection: ‘Frankly, with this type of stories and designs, you’ll never sell.’” This shocked Yuki at the time, so she tried her hand at more traditional stories. “I tried to get into romantic comedy, and I proposed several stories in magazines, but it did not work,” she says.


She had her breakthrough when a magazine asked her to do a series. “The first chapter had not really been appreciated, the second a little more, and from the third, we finally got better reader response,” she says. “It turns out that this miniseries was rather dark in the genre, scary, and my editor at the time said, ‘It’s that kind that you should do.’”


Much of Yuki’s work is historical, and she likes to get the details right, but there are added complications when she is trying to accurately represent a time period visually. “I try to find books myself, and I also ask my publisher to collect data on the time, on who had a particular culture,” she says. “What is complicated is when there is not a lot of accurate data on the time visually. Even if there are drawings, all this was arranged to the taste of the time and does not necessarily reflect reality, so I had to put my own ideas in finally.”


When Yuki sits down to draw and write, she has certain materials she likes to use, and she’s not a big fan of color. She likes Pilot’s art ink because it “dries fast.” For color, she prefers Canson paper with color ink, and uses pen and mechanical pencils for the main lines. Yuki says, “For the drawings, I try to draw it from different angles, but it doesn’t work all the time. I also pay attention to design and layout, but it looks really bad when it’s done. To tell you the truth, there aren’t much colors that I like. I really suck at this.”


Yuki’s titles feature a lot of strong women characters, who are often seductive and evil. Yuki says she’s drawn to many different types of women. “I love female characters who are strong, and perhaps even more than the male characters. Their strength lies in the fact that nothing is holding them. For me, there are really many kinds of female characters that seem attractive. There may be a sexy woman, charming and with a big chest; the little girl who needs to be protected but has a big mouth; the girl full of energy that looks like a tomboy…”


Yuki tackles a lot of dark themes in her work, such as incest, which she believes is easier to get away with in a manga, where the characters are obviously not real. She thinks, “It’s okay if it’s a film or a manga. They should wear a condom—I’m joking.” But because the subject isn’t approached a lot, Yuki says, “It doesn’t happen, so I wanted to write it.”


Sometimes her work has become so twisted and controversial that magazines have censored it or asked her to change the story. Yuki says, “The themes of murder or incest, they are not problems for magazines, as they are among the favorite themes of the readers of shoujo manga.” It’s when she’s visually portraying murder and sex where she’s run into trouble by pushing it too far. “If I start to draw a particularly horrible murder scene, sometimes they ask me to change a little,” she says. “This can especially be a problem: how to show things. The sexy scenes, I’ve always wondered what is the limit in shoujo manga. I do not draw too much to avoid the problems, but it really is a question I ask myself: How far can we go in the description of a sex scene?”


To get ideas, Yuki likes to immerse herself in music and the world around her. She says, “I put on my Walkman and go for a walk. Depending on the song, sometimes I am crying as I walk so I don’t notice the people or a cat in front of me. I get surprised when I almost crash into them. I’ll probably get run over by a car one day.”


The music she listens to comes from her high school days and includes Culture Club, Animotion, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Billy Joel, Kate Bush, John Howard, Peter Gabriel, the Cure, David Bowie, and the Pet Shop Boys. “The musicians that made me during high school,” she says.


She’s also influenced by many Western movies, as well. When asked to list them, she mentions a lot of teen classics, as well as horror films. “The Legend of Billy Jean, Picnic at the Hanging Rock, Sid and Nancy, The Dead Zone, Paperhouse, Pretty in Pink, The Hidden, Heathers, Phenomenon, Salome, Gothic, Torch Song Trilogy, Fright Night, Lost Boys, Aliens…There’s more, but I’ll stop here.”



Halloween Coloring Contest

My very talented sister and fellow Horrorfeminista, Kristine Scheiner, is drafting her latest color book, The Occult ABCs, and we’ve decided to hold a coloring contest during our hands-down favorite month, October.

Enter the Occult ABCs coloring contest and win big!

Step 1: Download the coloring page E is for Exorcism: Occult ABCs_E

Occult ABCs_E

Step 2: Color to your heart’s content—go gross, go pretty, go CRAZY!!!

Step 3: Tag your page on Instagram with #occultabcs @horrorfeminista for a chance to win. Entries must be posted by October 31, 2015, midnight EST. If you don’t have an Instagram account, you can scan your coloring page and send it as a jpeg or pdf file to

The winners will be announced November 5, 2015.

And here are some of the awesome prizes that you can win:

First place—An Occult ABCs T-shirt, a Horrorfeminista T-shirt, plus a tote bag of swag

Second place—An Occult ABCs T-shirt and a tote bag

Third place—An Occult ABCs T-shirt

10 Runners-Up—Occult ABCs pin

If you want to donate to Kristine to help her with publication costs for The Occult ABCs, hit this clicky link:

This first entry comes all the way from Edolo, Italy. Very good coloring is happening there.


Look What I Got in the Mail Today!

This crawled into my mailbox today from littlest K, another Horrorfeminista.

Cockroach Letter 1We sent her some swag for her birthday.

IMG_0739And unbeknownst to us, she had a surprise coming our way—our cockroaches ended up crossing in the mail. This is the other side of her paper roach with legs that stick up and eyeballs.

Cockroach Letter 2Its wings and body open up into a letter.

Cockroach Letter 3Now I need to figure out how to display it. It’s a 3-D piece of art, and I want to be able to see its legs, wings, and eyeballs, and open it up to read the letter once in a while. The fridge doesn’t seem like the right place to put it. Any ideas?

Measuring My Life in Donna Tartt Novels

I remember when Donna Tartt’s first novel came out while I was in college, The Secret History. My professor for my Henry James and Virginia Woolf class, a fusty, old man who in some ways did resemble the classics professor of the story, said, “I’m getting The Secret History in my Easter basket.” I had a lot of respect for this professor, and if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.


A few days later, with a fresh paycheck deposited in my bank account, I found a signed copy at Prairie Lights Books and ate it up in a matter of days. Tartt’s novel was a world I understood, where a plain nobody wants to be a somebody and reinvents himself after a big move. That had been the story of my young life at that point, and one I saw often on my college campus, with virginal freshmen coming in off the farm and transforming themselves into wild party animals within a semester. And then the frozen winter landscape where the protagonist of The Secret History can never quite get warm—oh, that was Iowa, all right, where my glasses sometimes stuck to my face when I trucked home from the newspaper in subzero weather. Of course, I didn’t have a murder to contend with or Dionysian rituals taking place at a family manor in the countryside, but it was fun to imagine that I might.

About a decade later, I was launched in my career and Tartt’s second novel came out, The Little Friend. This is four moves after my time in Iowa City, and now I was in New York, where my Midwest roots were sometimes viewed as exotic. I went to see Tartt on her book tour at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, and the space was absolutely packed with people. She read from the first chapter and sang (a part of the story), then took a few questions from the audience. This is standard procedure at a reading, but Tartt’s one of my literary heroes so it all took on so much significance for me. The line was long to get my book signed, and I shifted uncomfortably, wondering what I was going to say. I had to say something. I stood for probably an hour, got my yellow Post-it where the bookstore clerk properly spelled my name and marked the title page for Tartt to sign. And then I was there at the head of the line and it was my turn.


I’m one of those creepy fans who can barely get a word out I’m so starstruck, and I think it makes authors uncomfortable. I can hear everybody ahead of me telling what sounds like their life story, and then I get up there, all silent like a serial killer. I can remember Neil Gaiman offering me a cookie during a signing, trying to be nice and make conversation, and I could only shake my head. No words would come out of my mouth. Well, I got up there with Donna Tartt, watched her sign my book, and finally, finally, I got some words out—a first for me: “Until next time.” Then I was off with my signed book tucked under my arm. Immediately, I started scolding myself: Doofus, could you have said anything stupider?


Now it’s eleven years later and Tartt’s third book has come out, The Goldfinch; I’ve been living in New York for almost a third of my life, and I feel pretty confident that I’ll never leave the city. It feeds me. I went to see Tartt read from The Goldfinch at one of her two New York stops (the one that didn’t require money up front). I hadn’t read a word of the new novel. I knew that it revolved around a stolen painting, The Goldfinch by Fabritius, but not much else, and when Tartt took the stage, she said that there were three settings to the book—the Netherlands, New York, and Las Vegas. She first saw the Goldfinch painting when she was in the Netherlands, and by a strange coincidence, it happens to be in New York right now at the Frick. I thought for sure this was a sign and waited until I had read the book all the way through before I went to view the painting.


On the surface, The Goldfinch seems like a deceptively simple story, yet it captures truths about life that I struggle to understand today. A boy, Theo, grows up in New York, living with his difficult father (until he abandons the family) and artistic mother. One day he loses her in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the city’s beacons, and by chance, he exchanges words with a mortally wounded older man who admires the Goldfinch painting and encourages Theo to take it. He does and, after his mother’s death, arranges to stay with his friend’s Park Avenue family when none of his own kin is too eager to claim him. Eventually Theo’s father does come to get him and relocates the boy to Las Vegas at a McMansion so far outside the city limits that they can’t get garbage service.

Theo’s father supposedly has his drinking problem under control and has taken up with a bartender girlfriend. He contributes to the family with his gambling profits, consulting his Scorpio almanac when he needs help. Theo meets Boris, a worldly kid about his age, whose similarities to the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist are too big to be ignored. He becomes Theo’s lifelong friend whether he wants it or not, introducing him to boozing and drugs. Later, Theo returns to New York and becomes part of a family through the old man who originally convinced him to take the Goldfinch painting.

As Theo matures, he starts thinking about the purpose of art in life through his meditations on the Goldfinch painting, and this particular novel of Tartt’s comes at a time when I’m having such existential ramblings myself: “To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole; but ever since the painting had vanished from under me I’d felt drowned and extinguished by vastness—not just the predictable vastness of time, and space, but the impassable distances between people even when they were within arm’s reach of each other, and with a swell of vertigo I thought of all the places I’d been and all the places I hadn’t, a world lost and vast and unknowable, dingy maze of cities and alleyways, far-drifting ash and hostile immensities, connections missed, things lost and never found, and my painting swept away on that powerful current and drifting out there somewhere: a tiny fragment of spirit, faint spark bobbing on a dark sea.”

That Fabritius’s painting The Goldfinch is now part of an exhibit showing at the Frick seemed no accident. The Frick is an art collection and museum housed in a really opulent mansion that belonged to one of New York’s richest families. It may not be Park Avenue, but it’s only two streets over, and the parallels between these rich rooms and the decadent setting that Theo finds himself in after his mother’s death pleased me. Getting to view the painting in an atmosphere similar to Theo’s living situation lifted the artwork and story to another dimension, like a grown-up version of a pop-up book or living within a real-life version of the novel.


The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius