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R.L. Stine digs into his scariest Just Beyond story and an 'amazing' year of adaptations
The legendary children's horror author on his comics work and what still scares children.
R.L. Stine is a legendary author with decades of genre stories aimed at children under his belt, through dozens of novels under the Goosebumps banner, the Fear Street series, and more. But two years ago, the biggest name in spooky stories for young readers decided to try his hand at something new: Bringing that same genre flair to graphic novels.
In 2019, Stine partnered with BOOM! Studios to launch Just Beyond, a four-volume series of graphic novels that began with The Scare School and wrapped up last month with Monstrosity. Speaking to SYFY WIRE from his office last week, Stine explained his approach in crafting the series, and the audience he was aiming for.
"I think Just Beyond goes a little further in the scare department, since it's visual, and I also think more visually when I write them than Goosebumps," Stine said. "But it's the same age group. I write them for the same 7-to -12 age group really, maybe a little older for Just Beyond, but they're basically long Goosebumps stories."
In the latest of these long Goosebumps stories, Monstrosity, two siblings with dreams of Hollywood stardom begin to explore the old horror movie studio their father just purchased, only to find much more than dusty old sets lurking within. It seems the movie monsters that used to drive the output of Monstrosity Studios are still around in some form, and they're coming back to life in rather unlikely ways.
"It's the best one, I think," Stine said of Monstrosity, "The best one of the four, [because of] all the atmosphere and the history, and it's much darker. We have different artists for this one and different colorists, and it's a much darker color scheme, which is scarier."
And Stine knows scary, particularly when talking about younger readers, thanks to his incredible output of more than 100 titles across various Goosebumps series and dozens more in the Fear Street series, not to mention Mostly Ghostly, The Nightmare Room, and more. It's a staggering bibliography, enough that even Stine admits he has to take what other writers might consider a somewhat unorthodox approach to crafting stories now.
"Everything with me starts with the title," Stine said. "I think I'm backwards for most authors. Most authors have an idea and then they write for a while and then later they think of a title, but I have to start with the title. In fact, people always ask...your most-asked question is where do you get your ideas? Every author gets that and I actually don't try to think of ideas anymore. I just think of titles, that's it. And the title will lead me to the idea, because I've done every story a human can do, right? I've done everything. So Monstrosity actually was called Monstrosity Studios and they cut the studios off, which was smart, I think."
When Just Beyond was announced back in 2019, it was marketed as a four-volume series, and with Monstrosity now on bookstore shelves, the four volumes are complete. Still, that doesn't mean Stine is done with comics writing. He teased he'll have more collaborations to announced with BOOM! Studios in the near future. It also certainly doesn't mean he's done writing scary stories for kids, even if he's had to evolve his approach a little bit in the 21st century.
"[Kids still have the] same essential fears," Stine said. "The fears never change, right? I mean, I think Goosebumps could have been written in the fifties when I was a kid. By the way, next year's the 30th anniversary of Goosebumps. You believe that? But [kids are] still afraid of the dark, afraid of being in a strange place, afraid of being lost, that doesn't change. Kids don't change. It's the technology that's changed. I would say cell phones have ruined every mystery plot, right? You're in a cabin, five teenagers in a cabin. Someone's a murderer. They're killing one by one. Now you pick up the phone, call for help, the book's over. It's done. First thing I have to do in any mystery is to get rid of the cell phones, get them out of there. To me, that's the only thing that's changed."
Even if this is your first time hearing about Just Beyond as a comics series, you may already recognize the name because, as of a month ago, it's also a Disney+ streaming series helmed by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter writer Seth-Grahame Smith. The series arrived just months after another successful Stine adaptation, Netflix's Fear Street trilogy, which drew rabid fans over a three-weekend premiere last summer. Even for Stine, who's no stranger to adaptations of his work, it's been what he dubbed an "amazing" year of fresh attention on his creations.
"How lucky am I? Lucky, right? To hang around this long? Some of us don't know when to quit, I guess. [laughs] No, but it's been an amazing year and it's good," he said. "I realized when the Goosebumps movies came out few years ago that we had these two audience streams, that I had these two different generations. I had the original 10-year-olds from the '90s who are now parents, and then I had their kids too, and they brought both to the films. And that's why the Goosebumps movies were so popular because we had the adults and [now] we have their kids. Wonderful thing. I just feel very lucky."
Just Beyond: Monstrosity is in stores now. Just Beyond is now streaming on Disney+.