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Ermahgerd! 'Goosebumps' author R.L. Stine talks series origin and that infamous meme at NYCC
We got to moderate a panel with the horror legend himself!
New York Comic Con found itself in for quite a scare Saturday afternoon when Goosebumps legend R.L. Stine sat down for a panel celebrating 30 years of the spine-tingling franchise. During the event, the author admitted he originally had no interest in writing horror books for 7 to 11-year-olds, as he feared it would "mess up" his popular Fear Street series. Much like the Barking Ghost, however, his editors at Scholastic continued to hound him until he finally relented.
"I said, ‘Alright, if I can think of a good name for the series, we can try two or three,’" he remembered. "I went home and was trying to think of a good name for the book series and this is true: I was reading TV Guide magazine and in those days, they have used to have the TV listings in the middle of the book. I was going through the magazine and there was a little ad at the bottom of the page and it said, ‘It’s Goosebumps Week on Channel 11.’ I just stared at that ad and said, ‘That’s perfect, we’ll call it Channel 11.'"
The room, which was absolutely packed, erupted into raucous laughter, to which Stine (who started his writing career in the world of comedy with the magazine, Bananas) responded: "Don’t laugh at that, that’s a horrible joke! But that’s really where the name ‘Goosebumps’ came from and I said, ‘Ok, we’ll try 2 or 3,’ and now it’s 30 years later."
Goosebumps kicked off in the summer of 1992 with the publication of Welcome to Dead House, which tells the story of a family that moves to a town populated by members of the undead. "I've always thought that book was too scary for the series," Stine said. "I didn't really know what I was doing yet and I didn't have the combination of humor and scares. I just didn't know ... I think I caught on by the second book [Stay Out of the Basement]."
Unlike the vast majority of authors who come up with the general idea for a plot first, Stine works in reverse. "I have to have the title first," he explained. "I think of a title and the title will lead me to the story. That's how I start every book. I was walking my dog in Riverside Park and these words popped into my head: 'Say Cheese and Die!' I was like, 'That's a great title, what could it be...? Maybe these kids find an old camera and maybe the camera takes photos of bad things that happen in the future.' That's how I do almost every book." Over the years, the only title he never got to turn into an actual book was Morons from Mars. "[My editor] said, 'You can't do that, you'll offend the morons!'"
One of his all-time favorite titles among the series is The Haunted Mask, which Stine described as his "best Halloween book." The concept of a malevolent mask that permanently sticks to a person's face and slowly turns them evil was based on a humorous anecdote involving the writer's son, Matthew. "He was a little guy and it was Halloween time. He was down on the floor in the living room and he tried this green rubber Frankenstein mask. He pulled it down over his head and he couldn't get it off. I'm watching him from the doorway and thought, 'What a great idea for a story.' I should have helped him! I didn't win the 'Good Parent Award' that day."
The idea for Monster Blood (a sinister subversion of the novelty slime we love to play with as kids) most likely came from Stine's tenure as the main writer on Eureka's Castle for Nickelodeon. "Of course, I had slime on my mind," he said, referring to the network's love affair with green goo in the 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s.
When we brought up the all-important topic of the famous "Ermahgerd" meme, Stine replied: "I hated it. Then I got to like. It's funny." According to the man himself, the first person to bring the viral internet phenomenon to his attention was Diary of a Wimpy Kid creator, Jeff Kinney. "I was at a book convention with him and Jeff Kinney came running over and said, 'Bob, look at this! What do you think?' I don't know why he was so anxious to show it to me. And I hated it immediately. But it's funny."
Even after all these year, the man behind the horror juggernaut continues to remain in awe of how devoted fans are to the Goosebumps brand. "I did a book signing here [at the Javits Center] yesterday and a woman came up to the table. She had flown 27 hours to be here from Kuwait. I just haven't really gotten over that. It's unbelievable." His old comedy chops then resurfaced again: "I wouldn't come from Kuwait to see me."
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Looking for something horrific to watch in the meantime? Peacock has lots of horror movies to keep you suitably scared including The Amityville Haunting, The Changeling, Firestarter, and several Saw movies.