Those of you who have enjoyed the first Scaredy Kids story (download it here) might be interested in how we came to it. It’s been a long time brewing; our first notes are of more than a decade and two homes ago. The concept has stayed remarkably true to its genesis, and we’re happy to finally having done something with it. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to do more!
The main inspiration for the Scaredy Kids, obviously, is Universal’s stable of classic monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and the Mummy. I refuse to include Gill Man, as he’s not classic era but atomic age. It’s a nerd thing. Starting with Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931) the original, establishing, films were soon followed up with “close family” films: Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), and when by the 1940s Universal had run out of plausible family, team-ups started with Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man in 1943. The monsters were familiar, and welcome, faces at the end of the war. The core gang were present in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (both 1945) and made a final bow in the still entertaining Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The first notes have the name Little Monsters, and would be a cartoon series, comic strip or picture book for ages 5 – 9. The concept was: An ensemble piece about childhood insecurities set in a castle and its grounds, where the little monsters live with the scientist who made them and who is their father figure. Problems usually come from within themselves, likewise solutions. As characters we had a Vampire, Monster (Frankenstein), Mummy, Witch and Wolf Girl.
From a young age we’d both been fascinated by spooky things and have good memories of books like those witch and vampire books by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins. We used to borrow them from our libraries, and ebay has furnished us with our own copies, decades later.
We were very interested in making it aspirational, without being ‘improving’; these things should be fun! Our description of the Wolf Girl: Needs careful handling so that she never becomes a cheap joke or, God forbid, encourages little girls to feel insecure about their bodies, since studies show that girls in the target audience age-group worry about hair, weight etc. The opposite should be true, with the character learning to accept who she is. Find ways to make her dilemmas about how to do things rather than self-disgust.
We found parallels in existing cartoon series like Arthur, Muppet Babies and Rugrats. Angeline wrote, at the time: Rugrats was arguably the definitive children’s cartoon for those born in the late eighties or early nineties. I suspect that part of its appeal was that, in satirising the faults and foibles of the adult world, it was like a Simpsons for kids that little bit too young to fully appreciate (or be allowed to watch!) that show. Indeed, its creators had worked on The Simpsons, the influence of which is seen in the clever scripts, E-number-bright colours and visual grotesquery of Rugrats. But it also had a strong heart, and grown men and women have been known to weep at the episode in which Chucky deals with the loss of his mother.
When we then picked the idea up a while later, we added a few other characters; George the Dragon, the youngest of the bunch, and Cyril the ghostly boy. The kids would range in age from roughly 4 to 12, with Cassandra the oldest. We figured that, much in line with the Muppet Babies and indeed Peanuts, the Professor should remain unseen, so that we’d focus on the world of the children. As a new reference point we came up with “Pippi Longstocking meets the Addams Family”, which in turn made us think of the St. Trinian’s cartoons by Ronald Searle.
There’s another book that had been niggling at my brain for many years, and must have influenced the Scaredy Kids too: Eva Ibbotson’s The Great Ghost Rescue. I read it first when I was struggling with the name “George” (my father explained that it was like “Sjors”, a Dutch comics character). It’s a children’t book about a family of ghosts , who get evicted from their castle, and then travel through the country looking for a new home. What is great about these characters is that they’re for children, but they’re not cute. The lead, Humphrey, may be friendly, his mom’s a hag, his father lost both legs in the battle of Otterburn and was run through with a sword, his brother George is a screaming skull and his sister a wailing ghost covered in bloodstains. And then there’s Shuk, a pet like you’d not expect in a book for young children! They may be disfunctional and chaotic, yet it’s also really interesting how this, really, was an early (1975) example of supernatural inclusivity.