Horror master R.L. Stine talks his time with Marvel’s swamp monster!

He’s big, he’s slimy, and he’s coming to a silver screen near you—if he doesn’t scare all the kids away first. I’m talking about Man-Thing, the disgusting swamp monster leaving trails of slime in Marvel comics since the early 1970s.

Recently, however, we find this heinous dripping pile of muck in his own limited series penned by one of the great masters of horror, R.L. Stine of “Goosebumps” fame, who felt the time right to inject some humor into the adventures of the misunderstood, reality-hopping creature

As we near the fifth and final issue of MAN-THING on June 21, Stine—a self-proclaimed man without fear—looks back on his intimidating inspirations, helping Sallis find his voice—literally—and the close connection between blood, guts, and laughs.

Marvel.com: We’re two issues away from the finale of this series. How are you gearing up for the conclusion to this MAN-THING saga?

R.L. Stine: Well, I always have to have my ending first so I had an ending in mind from the beginning. The five [issues] are all done, actually. [Issue #4], actually, is the best, I think. I think #4 is the funniest, but I got him in this mess. He’s gone after Oldfather, and so he’s in this thing with all the realities and so I love doing stuff like that because I can do anything. If you can do any reality and have reality changing all the time it’s actually very freeing, you can do all kinds of things.

Marvel.com: Should we, as the readers, be bracing for an epic “Goosebumps”-level twist that will shatter our psyches and chill us to the bone?

R.L. Stine: [Laughs] Well, you know, I tried to make the whole series funnier because he’s such a hideous character. He has to be maybe the ugliest character Marvel has, which is one of the main reasons I picked him when they give me a [list] of characters that they weren’t using and said, “Which one would you like to do?” and I happen to love swamp monsters and he was just so ugly I had to pick him. But yes, there is a major twist at the end. You know, like all “Goosebumps” books there’s a happy ending, they all have happy endings, but then after the happy ending, there’s something pretty terrible [Laughs].

Marvel.com: I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad you brought up your affinity for swamp monsters because you’ve dealt with disgusting, dripping monstrosities in the past with “Monster Blood,” King Jellyjam, “The Blob That Ate Everyone”…

R.L. Stine: I actually did a “Goosebumps” book last year called “Here Comes The Shaggedy” and it was a swamp monster book.

Marvel.com: Well, that kind of segues into my next question, which is did Man-Thing prove to be different from the rest of these creatures and if so, how?

R.L. Stine: Well he did in that he has more of backstory and I felt the backstory was really good. And I think we recapped it in the first [issue] of mine where Ted Sallis, this brilliant scientist, is trying to keep this serum from the army so he injects himself with it and then turns himself into this creature. In the old series, he couldn’t really speak or anything, but I wanted him to be kind of funny and sarcastic about it, about how horrible he looks and he’s so eager trying to get back to human [form] so for most of it, I gave him back his powers of speech.

Marvel.com: Man-Thing, as a character, has influenced writers like Neil Gaiman in the past. Did any other properties play important roles in your writing career or have repercussions on this series?

R.L. Stine: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the EC horror comics, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. I was just obsessed with them and I think they were incredibly influential on what I do because, as you know, they’re horrifying, right? They’re really disgusting, horrifying things and they all have a funny twist ending, every story. That kind of stayed with me so I think they were very important to me. Also, I didn’t really know that much about Man-Thing. I had to learn so I read all the old [ones] that [writer] Steve Gerber did. I really liked those a lot and then that was very helpful to me.

Marvel.com: And other than being a disgusting swamp monster, what attributes do you think make Man-Thing a perfect subject for horror?

R.L. Stine: The fact that he’s an outsider, for one thing. There’s no way he can be accepted anywhere. In the first MAN-THING he says, “Why can’t I have a movie? Every other Marvel character has a movie.” And he tries to have a Hollywood career, but he [screen] tests so terribly because he’s so ugly and he scares the kids. And so, I think being an outsider is part of it and just being so limited in a way in what he can do. I think that’s a real challenge too.

Man-Thing #5 cover by Tyler Crook

Marvel.com: As someone who is comfortable writing within the horror genre, did anything end up scaring you when you were working on this comic?

R.L. Stine: Never.

Marvel.com: [Laughs]

R.L. Stine: It never happens. I wonder if it happens to other writers. I don’t know. There’s something missing in my brain in that horror never scares me. Any horror always makes me laugh. Seriously, the scariest Stephen King, the most disgusting, creepiest…“Pet Sematary,” for example. Those books make me laugh and I’ve never been scared by a movie. People say to me, “Oh, your book was so scary, I was up all night, I had to leave the lights on.” I’ve never had that feeling. I don’t know why, but I’ve just never had it. I think there’s a very close connection between humor and horror, there’s sort of the same visceral reaction. When you jump out at somebody and say, “BOO!” they gasp at first and then they laugh. I think it’s very closely connected. One other reason that I can never get scared from what I’m writing is I plan it all first, I do complete outlines of every book I write so I already know what’s gonna happen [Laughs], I can’t scare myself.

Marvel.com: You brought up your love of Tales from the Crypt. I love the idea of bonus back-up anthology scary stories at the end of each issue.

R.L. Stine: Those were fun for me. Originally, when [former Marvel editor] Katie Kubert called me and said, “Would you like to do something for Marvel?” and I said, “Yeah! It’s sort of a lifelong dream, I’m finally getting around to it,” and at first, I was going to do just the straight, old fashioned type horror comic with two or three stories like that. But then I thought, “Gee, it’d be a lot more fun to just play with a Marvel character too.” So I got to do both and it was terrific.

Marvel.com: That’s awesome. Where did that idea for these stories come from? It’s a very “Twilight Zone”/Rod Serling/Crypt Keeper sort of thing…

R.L. Stine: Yeah, that’s just what it was supposed to be so I say that’s what we thought first, that would be a good thing to do and then I thought, “Oh, come on! Take one of these characters and put a little story in the back.”

Marvel.com: Are there any other Marvel you’re interested in tackling?

R.L. Stine: I have to think about that one; I would love to do some of the sillier ones like Ant-Man, ones that you could have sort of a satirical view with.

Marvel.com: And any other characters you think are kind of suited for horror or scary stories?

 R.L. Stine: Well actually, they all could be. There [are] elements of horror in a lot of Marvel stuff.

Prepare to be scared with MAN-THING #4—out May 31—and the grand finale, MAN-THING #5—available June 21—both from R.L. Stine and artist German Peralta!

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The Marvel universe is about to go bump in the night with first terrifying issue available March 8!

Legendary author R.L. Stine brings his unique brand of horror to Marvel Comics as he makes his mark on one of the most monstrous creatures in the Marvel mythos! That’s right True Believer, the beloved Goosebumps & Fear Street scribe will pen the highly anticipated MAN-THING #1 – in stores on March 8th featuring art from German Peralta (Moon Knight, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and a bevy of comics rising stars!

Attempting to recreate the formula that produced Captain America, biochemist Ted Sallis was transformed into the shambling creature known only as MAN-THING! Now, having recently regained his ability to speak, Man-Thing sets out on a journey to leave the swamp once and for all. But when an ancient and mysterious danger threatens reality, he will have to choose between his new life and the place he once called home!

Plus, it’s terror on the high seas as R.L. Stine and artist Daniel Warren Johnson bring you a special second tale that’s sure to leave you seasick!

Prepare your senses for a spine-tingling journey that will take you, dear reader, from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the muck and grime of the deepest swamps. Run, don’t walk, to your local comic shop on March 8th for the can’t-miss MAN-THING #1!

MAN-THING #1 (of 5) (JAN170932)
Written by R.L. STINE
Art by GERMAN PERALTA & DANIEL WARREN JOHNSON
Cover by TYLER CROOK
Variant Covers by BILLY MARTIN (JAN170934) and FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA (JAN170933)
Action Figure Variant by JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER (JAN170936)
Man-Thing and the Marvel Universe Variant by RON LIM (JAN170935)
Venomized Variant by STEPHANIE HANS (JAN170937)
FOC – 02/13/17, On-Sale – 03/08/17
ISBN: 978-1-302-90200-1

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The acclaimed writer brings a blend of humor and horror to one of Marvel’s most unique heroes!

For years, he has ruled bookshelves everywhere. Then he expanded his empire to small screens. Most recently, he conquered the box office. Now, R.L. Stine has come to comics, back to where his love of storytelling first began.

A fan of comics from his youth, the king of the Goosebumps empire has finally teamed with Marvel to deliver scares to his fans in the pages of an all-new MAN-THING series. We talked to him about his love of muck monsters and pitch black humor, plus why he had to give up on the idea of making a life as a comic book artist and more.

Marvel.com: Just straight away, given Man-Thing’s power set and his tagline—“Whoever know fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch”—the idea of hiring a horror writer like yourself is pretty straightforward. From your perspective, from a creative mindset, however, what is attractive about taking on a Man-Thing story?

R.L. Stine: You know I honestly couldn’t tell you why. I just have always had a thing for swamp creatures. I even did a Goosebumps just last year called “Here Comes the Shaggedy” about a really hideous swamp monster. I just think it is horror character #1; it’s your basic nightmare, of this thing rises up from the muck, this hideous thing. It’s just always appealed to me.

So when I saw Man-Thing was available to do, that they weren’t using it, I said, well, let me try it. Let me see what I can do differently with it.

Marvel.com: You have said that you’ve enjoyed comics, that you grew up with them, and you’ve touched on comics in your books, telling stories about comics and comic book characters like “The Masked Mutant”—

R.L. Stine: Yeah, that’s right. That’s one of the best ones, I think, actually. One of the best Goosebumps books. I like that one.

Marvel.com: Right, exactly. So having spent so many years reading comics and then writing about them at times, how did the experience of actually tackling comic book writing match up with years of being a fan and of imagining comic book characters?

R.L. Stine: Back then I wanted to draw them. That’s what I wanted to be: the artist. But I had no talent, had no drawing talent of any kind. If I draw now, it looks like a third grader.

I realized at a very young age—when I started to bring in my own little comic books in fourth grade and everyone would say, “You suck,” and “Those are terrible,”—I realized that I would have to write.

Marvel.com: On the subject of art, as a writer who is used to writing prose, how has the transition been to having your words appear right with the art?

R.L. Stine: I’ve always tried to be very visual. Like in my Goosebumps books. They are very simple books and everything I’ve always tried to make it so kids can always visualize the location, the setting, what is going on—you spend a lot of time describing where the characters are.

In this it was a little different. In writing MAN-THING, I kind of left a lot of that up to the artist and mainly just concentrated on telling the story and on the dialogue. It was kind of like writing a script, like writing a TV script for something, where you don’t really have to concentrate that much on describing the backgrounds.

The process is a new thing, it’s very different. It’s very strange to see all this finished art—first you see the sketches, then you see the pencils, then the inks, then it’s colored, and still there [are] no words. No words anywhere. To me that’s really bizarre.

That came as quite a surprise that the [words] come on last.

Marvel.com: Have you had a chance to see any of the artwork from German Peralta, Daniel Johnson, or Christopher Mitten on the first couple of issues?

R.L. Stine: Oh, I’ve seen a lot of it!

I love it. I love the [Tyler Crook] covers. I think just German is fabulous. He’s great with violence. They all are. They’re all real violent and I love that. [German] especially is just great with that.

Marvel.com: You said earlier you wanted to do something different with Man-Thing and right out of the gate you start that by giving him/it speech back. You’re letting him exist beyond that silent shambling creature that he’s more or less only been for years now…

R.L. Stine: Yeah, I needed to. Otherwise…Man-Thing is so…he’s so hideous. He’s just such an ugly character it is hard to take him seriously. So I thought I would add a lot of humor. That would be very hard if he couldn’t speak. So I have him getting his human abilities back. They’re coming back. And then, he’s struggling, he’s striving; he wants to be human again, of course.

He’s very sarcastic—sort of in that Marvel mode. That kind of smart ass sarcastic dialogue. I think it helps the story a lot, not having him be that mute.

Marvel.com: And one of the first things he does when he gets that power of speech is to head out to Hollywood.

R.L. Stine: Yeah. He sees all the other Marvel characters and he thinks, “If Ant-Man can have a movie, well then why can’t I?”

Then they tell him, “Your tests came back. You tested really poorly. You scared all the kids. You’re too ugly to be in the movies.”

He asks if he can take the corporate jet back to the swamp then and they say, “Sorry, Ant-Man is using it.”

Marvel.com: Besides the lack of critical reception and excitement when he gets to Hollywood, another thing that is causing stress for him is once he leaves the swamp, bad things start to happen there.

R.L. Stine: Things are all out of order. Something is very wrong when he gets back. The animals aren’t acting right, nothing is right. It’s just…chaos.

Marvel.com: What is the emotion then to come back to this almost prison and have to redouble his efforts to fix it, to save it, tying him even more tightly to it?

R.L. Stine: He’s horrified. He’s very disappointed he didn’t make it in the movies and then he’s pulled back.

But he doesn’t really have time to think about it. This woman he knew before, when he was a scientist, is kidnapped by snakes and everything is so wrong he knows he has to fix it. He has to find out why everything is going so berserk.

So he doesn’t really have time to get into his thoughts. He is still thinking, “I was so close to back to human,” that kind of thing, but he can’t stop.

And then, on top of that, he starts entering other realities.

Marvel.com: While this is not the first time you’ve adapted other people’s works or characters, you’ve built your career and reputation predominantly on your own original creations. With that in mind, how is it for you to step into an existing character’s mythology, to play with a character that has been defined for years by a collection of other writers?

R.L. Stine: I’ve actually done a lot of things like this. I did a bunch of Indiana Jones books.

Marvel.com: Yes! The Find Your Fate series.

R.L. Stine: Yeah. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure. Right, right, Find Your Fate.

So I had to do Indiana Jones and get into that world. I had to do a couple that were James Bond.

Back in the early days of my career I did a bunch of movie novelizations which is getting into another world. I did the novelization for Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs.” And I did the novelization of a Pee Wee Herman movie [“Big Top Pee Wee”].

But this was kind of interesting. I read the Steve Gerber [MAN-THING stories]. Just to find out what this was all about. I read them and thought “Ok, that’s what he did. What am I going to do that’s different?” I guess the humor element is what I’ve added.

Marvel.com: I’ve heard that part of the reason for the comedy element is drawing on the EC horror books with the black humor and the darkly ironic twist endings that you really responded to…

R.L. Stine: That’s right. The secret is—and it is really not much of a secret—is that I was always only interested in being funny. I never planned to be scary. I never planned to be a horror writer. It was all an accident. I always wanted to be funny.

I wrote about a hundred joke books for kids and I wrote a humor magazine called “Bananas” for kids for 10 years. I always thought I’d just be funny.

Then an editor said, “I need a horror novel.” I said, “Ok, I’ll do it.” She gave the title. “Go home and write a book called ‘Blind Date.’” She gave me the title and everything.

So I bought a bunch of teen horror books to see what this sort of thing was all about, went home and wrote it. And it was a #1 best seller! So I thought, wait a minute, forget the funny stuff. So I’ve been scary ever since.

Marvel.com: When I was in my teens, I worked in a bookstore and I can remember repeatedly having to shelve “Blind Date” because it was one of those books that always sold and we’d always reorder. I can remember that cover distinctly.

R.L. Stine: I loved the 90’s! [Laughs] The 90’s were great.

Marvel.com: Given your affection for the black humor balanced against the violence, is it fair to say that MAN-THING will be defined by that tone?

R.L. Stine: Yes, yes it is. And there’s also some insult humor. [Man-Thing] gets insulted walking the streets of Burbank. People are just horrible to him. I mean, he looks like a garbage heap.

But I get serious too. There’s a lot of good violence, a lot of fighting, diving into all the worlds he has to save. Presenting Old Father who is the master of the swamp. It’s got a lot of comic book elements. This isn’t a satire.

Marvel.com: In addition to the main stories in MAN-THING, each issue has a short straight horror tale as a backup with art by the likes of Daniel Johnson and Christopher Mitten.

R.L. Stine: Well, I thought they should know it was me. So we did a four or five-page old fashioned horror comic [story] for each issue.

Marvel.com: Given that you loved that stuff as a kid, it must be a thrill to do that, even if it didn’t have the Marvel stamp on the cover.

R.L. Stine: Yeah, right. It’s fun!

Marvel.com: What would you tell the readers and life-long R.L. Stine fans considering adding this to their monthly pulls?

R.L. Stine: If they enjoy my other work, then I think they are really going to enjoy this because it is the same combination of horror and humor, just taken to an all new medium and paired with great illustrations. I think they’ll love this.

[Laughs] I think that might sound a little immodest of me.

Marvel.com: I think that’s ok. We have a pretty good history in comics of selling ourselves.

R.L. Stine: [Laughs] Alright then. There you go.

Look for R.L. Stine’s MAN-THING beginning in March of 2017!

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