By Kelly Kanayama
You’re probably familiar with the work of Russ Braun, whether or not you realize it. He’s worked on comics like Fables, Swamp Thing, Batman, JLA, and the recently-adapted-for-TV The Boys, to name just a few. Braun also spent seven years as an animator for Disney, helping to provide visuals for such movies as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Tarzan, and more. Then there are his Frankenstein Fridays, where every Friday he posts a drawing of Frankenstein’s monster on social media.
At this year’s New York Comic Con, Russ Braun graciously joined me for a chat about the origins of Frankenstein Fridays, the appeal of sympathetic monsters, the darker side of Halloween breakfast cereal, and what it means to show off your Frankenstein.
Kelly Kanayama: For those who don’t know, what is Frankenstein Friday?
Russ Braun: There actually is an official Frankenstein Friday. It’s a real holiday — the Friday before Halloween. But I’ve been doing every year for about four years now; on Friday I draw Frankenstein for Facebook, and I call it, as a joke, Frankenstein Friday.
I just put up a drawing of Boris Karloff that I had done and said, “Frankenstein Friday! What? That’s not a thing?” Because, you know, Throwback Thursday, and I was new to social media — that was my big joke. And people were like, “It should be a thing! Do that every Friday!” And so as a joke I kept doing it. And now it’s less of a joke than a sentence; I’m cursed to do this every Friday.
The Friday before Halloween, though, I open it up to everybody and say, “Show me your Frankensteins.” Obviously it’s Frankenstein’s Monster, we know that — you can draw Dr. Frankenstein if you want to, but we just say Frankenstein because it’s simpler than saying “Frankenstein’s Monster” all the time. So people have written songs; we’ve had edible Frankensteins, cookies; whatever they find on the street, you know, found art; paintings, sculptures, drawings, mostly. So it’s been a lot of fun. Just something people can enjoy and be inspired to create art for.
Kanayama: Why Boris Karloff on that day? And what is it about Frankenstein that stands out for you?
Braun: Frankenstein is a sympathetic monster, and I like sympathetic monsters. I gravitate towards Frankenstein, Swamp Thing. Those characters have an appeal for me. And I’m obviously a fan, but I was never a super-fan of Frankenstein; like I said, it started out as a joke, and I was drawing randomly and thought, “I’ve never drawn Frankenstein,” other than the Bernie Wrightson version, which was a big influence on me as an artist. When I saw the Bernie Wrightson Frankenstein, it nearly destroyed me for a year, thinking I had to draw like that. For a whole summer everything was like an engraving. But the Boris Karloff version is such a brilliant performance, so out of its time. It’s like an anachronism. And even the makeup, in that day and age, in the early 1930s, being so modern today. So that’s why, I guess.
Kanayama: What is it about the sympathetic monster that you find engaging?
Braun: Maybe I’m one? I don’t know. But no, it’s the outsider, the other. I think everybody in comics has had that kind of feeling of being on the outside. And seeing that — well, especially with Frankenstein — he was kept on the outside and eventually went on a rampage. I think when you’re having a bad day, you feel like, “Let them get all pitchforks and torches on me and see how that goes!” I’m just drawn to those kinds of characters, the sadly romantic monsters.
Kanayama: Do you think that’s what draws other people to Frankenstein as well, and why Frankenstein Friday has blown up?
Braun: I think it’s more about inspiration. It gives them a reason to do some art. A lot of people, they have regular day jobs and they do art, but they need a reason to get down to it. So I challenge them in a way: show me your Frankenstein, once a year. Now we’ve done a Facebook group and people can do it all the time. In fact, I try to say, “At least do it on Friday, and at least make it Frankenstein” — I mean, it’s called Frankenstein Friday, but on, say, a Wednesday, someone puts up a picture of a werewolf… I did do Werewolf Wednesday for a little while but it was too much. I had to choose one or the other.
Kanayama: Is there a particular Frankenstein that’s your favorite to draw?
Braun: I do like the Boris Karloff Frankenstein, but I’ve become very happy drawing Frankenberry. I have a whole monster serial story, but right when I was about to start pitching it, Mark Russell put Frankenberry in one of his stories at Ahoy Comics. I was actually going to pitch it to Ahoy! So I have to wait for that to maybe die down. Of course, it wouldn’t be through any proper channels at General Mills, and my story’s a little bit darker than they’d probably like for their cereals; my Count Chocula is an aging vampire who needs to sweeten up people’s blood with chocolate syrup before he drinks it to renew himself.
Kanayama: That’s amazing! Is that the secret plan behind his cereal, to feed it to people so he can drink their blood?
Braun: Yeah, then he has a room full of people with intravenous chocolate syrup going into them that he goes into and feeds from now and then.
Kanayama: I think that would help, in a way. You’d get a lot of adults to buy Count Chocula.
Braun: But [General Mills] don’t want to know about that, I’m sure… In fact, he’s not even called Chocula; he’s just called The Count. Frankenberry is just The Monster. Boo-Berry is a young man named Buford T. Berry who happened to die at a blueberry farm, and his ghost haunts the area. He’s kind of our narrator for the whole thing.
Kanayama: How did he die?
Braun: He fell in a dry well in the middle of the blueberry field.
Kanayama: It happens.
Braun: His family just left and forgot about him for a while. It’s pretty sad. Then there’s the Count’s manservant, the vegetarian werewolf called The Brute — Fruit Brute — and he pushes the Count around. And when the Count unleashes him as a werewolf, he’s ravenous because he’s only allowed to eat fruit and vegetables, so he’s kept vicious that way.
Then finally there’s the mummy, Yummy Mummy, but it’s Yum Eh the Mummy, an Egyptian goddess who might have the keys to immortality that the Count is looking for. And she may or may not be a good mummy or a bad mummy.
Kanayama: What’s she the goddess of?
Braun: I’m not sure, but her mummy wrap is full of scented flowers and fruits and things. And she’s quite attractive, so the Monster, Frankenberry, falls in love with her and tries to save her from the Count. It’s a whole story, and it started from drawing these characters every Friday just for fun, then suddenly a story comes out of it.
Kanayama: That’s amazing! I would read the heck out of that. You post art from your previous work a lot, like Fables or Mulan, so I was wondering: have any of your other Frankensteins come from your previous work?
Braun: That’s right; I forget that he’s such a prolific character. I forgot all about him being in Fables, and I drew Frankie in Fables — well, just his head — and it was like, “Oh, there you go!” He’s in a lot of different comics [that I’ve drawn]. I did the Frankenstein that was in the Invaders, that fought Captain America, and a recent one about what Frankenstein would be like in The Boys universe and what kind of weird prosthetics he would have.
Kanayama: Since the Monster is on the shelf (ha ha) for now, have you been able to use these ideas in any of your current or recent stuff?
Braun: No, I haven’t thought about putting them in the background or anything like that, but that might be next. That might be my thing. I do like to put little Easter eggs in my comics every now and then. But yeah, maybe you’ll have to look out for a Frankenstein Friday Easter egg in my next book.
Kanayama: One last thing! I once read something online to the effect of, “Knowledge is knowing Frankenstein is the doctor; wisdom is knowing Frankenstein is the monster.” What are your thoughts on that?
Braun: You know, that’s well said. I like that. I thought it was going to be — there’s an Internet meme that goes around, with the last page of Frankenstein, and it says, “I don’t mind that you call me Frankenstein.” We all know, yes, that Frankenstein is the doctor, and the monster isn’t named; some say he’s Adam, but — I like the idea of wisdom being that Frankenstein is the monster. Because the doctor really is the monster, if you think about it. He created the creature through monstrous means. We can be meta about it, I guess.
Kanayama: And since you’re creating all these Frankensteins, or Frankenstein’s monsters—
Braun: Now I’m Dr. Frankenstein, I suppose, for Frankenstein Friday. Proud to be that.