With a lineup that includes both established comics creators and winners of the 2020 Mad Cave Talent Search, Grimm Tales from the Cave is shaping up to be a must-read anthology.
The Beat leapt at the chance to ask several of the creators all about their horrific contributions over email. Find out what Cullen Bunn, Andrea Mutti, Mark London, and Rowan MacColl have to say about which fair tales are the scariest, what horror inspires them, and what went into their contributions to this terrifying anthology!
AVERY KAPLAN: How did you come to be involved with Grimm Tales from the Cave?
CULLEN BUNN: The team at Mad Cave and I had been talking about a number of projects, and this anthology came up in the conversation. I love the idea of using fairy tales as a springboard for horror stories, and I love that so many new creators are involved in the book, so when they asked if I’d like to write one of the stories, I simply couldn’t resist!
ANDREA MUTTI: I knew MAD CAVE’s work and loved it, through a friend I contacted Chris Fernandez and it was love at first email!
MARK LONDON: I was busy with other projects but that didn’t stop our publisher, Chris Fernandez, from telling me, “you need to be in this.” And with other amazing creators like Cullen Bunn, Andrea Mutti, Stephanie Phillips, and Rowan MacColl attached to the project, I just couldn’t say no. And I am glad I did.
ROWAN MacCOLL: I’ve worked for Mad Cave Studios before, drawing the art for graphic novel Nightmare in Savannah. Chris Sanchez thought I would be good for this project as well, which I’m very grateful for.
KAPLAN: What is the scariest fairy tale?
BUNN: Let’s face it, they’re all pretty terrifying when you really think about it! Hansel and Gretel always scared me as a kid. I mean, it has abandoned children, flesh-eating witches, the use of human remains to trick enemies, and the cooking of human flesh. It’s a pretty dark story, especially when you’re young.
MUTTI: Oh, we could talk about this for hours! As a child I was chilled by Thumbelina, the poor child abandoned by his parents who finds his way back with breadcrumbs in a scary forest… terrifying! But the one we’re going to tell with Cullen will be scary and dramatic!
LONDON: There are a few I could choose from, but if I had to pick one, Little Red Riding Hood takes the cake. I mean, if you start dissecting that story, we have some very dark and disturbing things happening. And this was intended for kids! I still have nightmares about that wolf dressing up as my granny!
MacCOLL: I would chose The Juniper Tree, where a stepmother hates her stepson so much that she murders him, makes her daughter think she killed him, and then cooks the body into a black pudding. It’s a story that really stuck with me as a kid.
KAPLAN: Do you have a particular horror story that has been especially influential for you?
BUNN: I feel like every story I read and love… and many of the stories I read and hate… hold some influence for me. I draw bits and pieces from everything. Every book, every story, every article, every news report, every conversation, and I file it away. There’s no telling when and how that information will surface again! Of course, some stories, like the work of Joe Lansdale and Robert E. Howard and Bentley Little and Thomas Ligotti probably hold more sway than others. At least, they hold a place of honor in my mind. Lately, I’ve been re-reading the Borderlands anthologies, and those books are full of inspiration!
MUTTI: Maybe I’ll be trite… but Blair Witch really scared me. All that imagined stuff, nothing really visible… my brain shattered… I was looking over my shoulder the next few days! haha!
LONDON: For me, hands down it has to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s dark, it’s emotional. It’s about love, about failure, just how I like my horror… complicated. On the other hand, The Exorcist did a number on me when I was a kid and that movie still gives me chills every time I watch it.
MacCOLL: Emily Carrol’s work is a big influence, especially her book Through the Woods. Prose wise, I would cite The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Absolutely love that book and is one that I think about a lot.
“Soldiers of Fortune” by Cullen Bunn, Andrea Mutti, and Justin Birch
KAPLAN: What goes into a perfect twist? When writing, does the twist come first? Do you intentionally attempt to subvert reader expectations?
BUNN: If I can play with reader expectations, then I’m going to do it! Sometimes, it’s the expectation of the twist that can be subverted. I try to imagine what the readers will expect from the story they’re going to read. And then I try to figure out how to twist that into something completely different!
MUTTI: For me the demon of demons is Tim Curry in Legend… no one like him, never again so wonderful, mete scary….
KAPLAN: Does your writing approach differ when writing a short comic as opposed to a multi-issue arc?
BUNN: To some degree, I suppose it does. The biggest difference, of course, is that I’m working with only a few pages, so the pacing has to be a little different. With “Soldiers of Fortune,” the story itself takes place over seven years. If I had a multi-issue run, the pacing and style of the story would be much different. As it stands, I needed to figure out a way to move the tale through time and keep it as compelling as possible. It was a bit of a challenge, but I think it resulted in a more interesting take on the tale!
KAPLAN: Was there any aspect of the script that posed a specific challenge for the art?
MUTTI: Well, I wanted to give the characters a solid three-dimensionality, something that could really hook the reader…. I didn’t want them to be the typical good-looking, super cool…something to interface with…..like to say…it could happen to me…I hope I succeeded!
“Pay the Piper” by Mark London, Luisa Russo, Roman Stevens, and Justin Birch
KAPLAN: Where did the inspiration for this version of the Pied Piper story come from? Was Sir Percival there from the start, or a later addition?
LONDON: Sir Percival wasn’t in the original tale of the Pied Piper. I added that bit because I wanted to show how the Piper can be perceived differently by people. In the original tale, we only get to see the Piper as this person who was wronged so he takes revenge for it. For my vision I wanted to give the character another layer I suppose.
KAPLAN: Does a horror story have to have a sad ending, or can horror have a happy ending?
LONDON: That’s a great question. I think so, but it all depends on how you want to interpret the story. I could say, movies like Alien and Halloween have a happy ending. Sure, a lot of people die but in the end, we see victory in some form.
“Hello, My Name Is…” by Nadia Shammas, Rowan MacColl, and Micah Myers
KAPLAN: This story is set in one of the most horrifying settings possible: a cubicle’d office! Did you have a particular location (or life experience) in mind that inspired your design?
MacCOLL: Haha, I’ve never really worked in a cubicle office. Too scared of social contact to ever really work an office job. For research, I looked up the sets for shows like The Office. I was aiming for less of the reality of cubicle office and more of feel of a yawning abyss of a place, where it feels like work will never ever end.
KAPLAN: Without giving too much away, two of the characters have some very… demonic characteristics! What was the process of designing them like?
MacCOLL: All three of the characters ended up representing three different eras of office culture. Rania was dressed in sleek modern clothing, with a hint of overdress and desperation to look good for an interview.
Grimm Tales from the Cave will be available at your local comic shop on October 27th, 2021.