Anyone with children (or step kids, for that matter) knows just how scary parenting can feel (especially nowadays). But what if you were raising kids amid an actual horror movie? That’s basically the premise behind Scarenthood, a brand-new series from writer Nick Roche and artist Chris O’Halloran. Specifically, the story follows a group of young parents who “disturb an ancient evil,” transforming an endless string of playdates into a “battle for the souls of one broken family.”
I touched base recently with Roche, where we discussed the book’s origins, how the story is filled with his own parental anxieties, what non-parents can take away from the book, and even the series’ connection to Transformers (that’s right), among other topics.
Scarenthood #1 is due out October 21 via IDW.
AIPT: You mentioned in some press that the series/story is inspired about growing up in a “haunted Ireland.” Is this book about grappling with some of the stories we hear as kids, and the context about the world’s true horrors we only learn as adults?
Nick Roche: Very much so — the adults in the story have a sort of pang for the days before parenting, which they remember as being simpler. You may have been terrified by urban legends and folk tales as a kid, but as an adult, you (think you) know none of it was real, so it’d be great to go back to when those were the only things to be afraid off — Headless coachmen are way less terrifying than missing a house payment.
But that involves them regressing to former juvenile roles — The Tearaway; the Bookworm; The Bullshitter; and The Misfit – that bring their own stresses. As well as that, the old ghost stories and tales of Satanic visitations were real, and they’re actively going exacerbate your adult problems of trying to stay mentally stable enough to keep your family safe. Double anxiety whammy. Tell the bank you’re missing a loan repayment this month because of a pooka in your coal shed. Let me tell you: they will not accept it as a valid excuse.
AIPT: What sort of real parental anxieties do you think this story addresses? Maybe more than letting our kids down, I get the sense that there’s this idea about monsters being more than gross demons and perhaps our own doubts and uncertainties about raising an actual functional human.
NR: When I think of letting the kids down, I think I mean “undermining their sense of security,” a thing that’s important to anyone of any age. So, if you’re late collecting your child, or forget to pack their snack, or left the house without bringing their coat… all small things that collectively can really chip away at your child’s confidence and trust in you. In Scarenthood, instances like these start to become more common place once a particular dark influence creeps into one family’s life, changing their dynamic and whole mood. And it’s a slippery slope once that despondency sets in, making it even harder to be emotionally present for your child. Scarenthood takes these fears, but creates more sinister causes for them, and some really unsettling and creepy consequences.
AIPT: I’ve become a step-parent in my own life in the last couple years, and I’ve noticed that in addition to fear, there’s this well of understated strength you tap into in dealing with, say, screaming fits or doing chores. Do you feel like this series celebrates parents in that sense or even explores some of this transformation that takes place?
NR: Scarenthood definitely examines the gulf between pre-kid and post-kid life, and is pretty much the touch paper for the whole story; The adults in Scarenthood act impulsively and irresponsibly in a desire to hark back to their carefree younger days, and it’s these actions that causes all the trouble. (Well, not all of it. Something happened before the beginning of the series, casts a shadow over Cormac and his daughter Scooper…)
The newfound endurance you talk about is on display here for sure. Just the automatic urge to put your children first, and the lengths parents (especially lone ones) put themselves through to juggle work and childcare. I feel unsure about saying ‘celebrate’ because I’d hate to think this book is some sort of advert for having kids. It’s definitely my aim to show that these characters care for and love their children very much, and explore the breakdown of that via the sudden emergence of a malevolent supernatural force that may have a history of destroying families.
AIPT: I want to touch on the whole Ireland thing again, because so much of that country empowers and colors the language and the feel and the scope of the story. Could this series have taken place anywhere else?
NR: I’m not sure it could. I think Ireland is a unique location, because even though The Church had such a stranglehold on all parts of society, Pagan Beliefs and Superstition were still adhered to — like never damaging certain sites that were tied in with Faeries — even by the people who made sure to not eat meat on Fridays. When Christianity came to Ireland, it just overlaid itself on existing Pagan Traditions, so the two types of Faith go hand-in-hand; The people who were brought up terrified that The Virgin Mary was watching you, or The Devil might get you in the night, also believed – and were scared of – things like Banshees and Changelings. We’re a small country, and those old shared beliefs, even though they’re fading away, still cast a shadow on people of all ages. Also, because there’s a “small parish” feel to the whole island, where every one knows each others’ business, it taps into a collective history that characters don’t need to explain to each other; they just assume that “Oh, of course. We were told all this as kids. Obviously, something like this was eventually gonna happen…”
AIPT: Another thing this book does that’s interesting is it forms a group to fight these supernatural horrors. It can often feel lonely as a parent in trying to relate and connect with others — do you think that team element is important, or is there some larger message or motif going on here?
NR: I definitely wanted to acknowledge the idea of adult isolation, and the fact that devoting time to your young family necessarily means losing connections with old friends or pastimes. More than that, having kids brings you into contact with strangers more often, and you have to figure out ,“Do I want to run screaming from these bores and their obsession with house prices, or do I actually kind of enjoy talking to them?”, and “how can I be their friend without being weird and awkward about it?” I’m just fascinated that the kids find it easier and quicker to make new connections than grown-ups do. It’s a combination of that, and trying to figure out interesting things to do once you do with these people once you submit to joining their WhatsApp groups. Rather than commit to yoga classes and a post-yoga class coffee to discuss said yoga class, I wondered what it’d be like to spend the mornings hunting ghosts. So far, the blue ticks in my WhatsApp group have been few and far between.
AIPT: Chris O’Halloran’s art is always so amazing — it blends the dark and intense with the playful and breezy. What does his work add to the series? How did it impact the development of the plot or the way you tell the story?
NR: I still can’t believe I managed to convince “Comics” Chris O’Halloran to work with me. I’ve seen editors’ eyes light up at the mention of him. I’d like to think they used to do that about me, but I can’t love that lie any longer.
He’s just tonally spot-on, and knows exactly what I need in every instance. You never feel that he’s working against the scene; whether it’s funny or scary, he adds to and amplifies the story’s requirements. He’s enhancing the story with every choice he’s making. And it was important to have an Irish collaborator on this project, just for the visual shorthand. There’s a few years’ difference in our ages, but we’ve been to enough Church Halls, Old Ladies’ sitting rooms and Irish Autumnal Forests to share specific visual cues. I’ve literally opened an email containing new pages from him, and I’m still beaming. He gets better and better with each issue. He gives very good sky.
AIPT: Were there any specific references/inspirations going into the story? It sort of feels like a Saturday morning cartoon mixed with Stranger Things and maybe a dash or two of Single Parents?
NR: I’ve tried selling it to people as The Goonies, grown-up but with mortgages and panic attacks.’ It’s not set in the ’80s or ’90s, the way stuff like that, or Buffy would be, but the adults are from that generation, so you’re seeing similar dynamics to The Scooby Gang (either version) form amongst these heroes of the school gates. I’m not aware of Single Parents, but you could definitely combine the encroaching otherworldliness of Stranger Things, plus the profanity and awful parenting choices of Catastrophe, whack some Irish accents and folklore on top, and get something close to Scarenthood.
AIPT: Do you have to be a parent to truly appreciate this story? What are all the non-parental units out there going to pull from a series like this?
Any non-parents will remain resolutely glad they have not been ”blessed” with tiny emotional and financial vampires that share their surname or DNA. And they can enjoy laughing at the parents from Scarenthood living with their awful decisions to have a family. The readers who are owner/operators of kids will see a lot of their lives in the book, but it’s not essential to have pro-created, adopted or inherited a child to get the most out of the book. The adults in the comic are just characters who are trying to do the right thing for the people they love, while wishing they were twenty years younger and could stay in bed in the mornings. And fear is universal, whether it’s about ancient entities haunting the shadows of your home, or forgetting to pack lunch for your daughter. Readers will latch onto all of it pretty simply.
AIPT: You’ve done a few things for IDW (Transformers, Monster Motors) — do you think this series builds on anything from those projects even as they’re totally unrelated?
NR: There’s a mild crossover with Monster Motors, purely because that book and this could both loosely be described as ‘Horror’. I’m finding more and more connections with my Transformers work though; with the TF books I wrote, I always looked for new angles to explore their relationships, and chose to focus on something approaching parental dynamics, or whatever the Cybertronian equivalent is. So with the Wreckers books, there’s a lot of father/child (but robots, obvs) drama occurring; regret over being a bad mentor, the negative and positive affects a morally conflicted role model can have, etc… I joked with someone recently that the only difference between my Wreckers books and Scarenthood is that in Scarenthood , there are no decapitations… but then I remembered: That’s not quite true, is it…?
AIPT: The book’s been tapped for just four issues. But if things went well, would you want to extend the story? Any other larger goals or ideas within this universe?
NR: If Scarenthood only lives as long as these four issues, readers will definitely get a beginning, middle, and end with the story. It’s just that the ‘end’ has a lot of things that feel like they could very much lead on to more odd happenings in Rathdaggan Village. I’ve got a very clear idea about what happens next with these characters, and where it could all ultimately finish up, so I’m really hoping we’re able to continue Scarenthood after #4. As we speak, I’m drawing the last few pages of the fourth issue, and I’m very much not ready to say goodbye to them, so I’m counting on people’s spending power and/or tolerance for emotionally-stunted parents to bring us back for book two.