Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Fearbook Club! For readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the book?
Richard Hamilton: Thank you! We’ve all been working on this since the dark days of the lockdown, so it’s a real joy for the book to come out and, hopefully, terrify children soon.
As for the premise, Fearbook Club is about a shy sixth grader, Whit Garcia. At least, that’s who it’s about at first. Whit is enrolling at a new middle school in a new town due to a trauma that reveals itself over the course of the story, and his first day there kicks off two big things: One, because he’s a shutter bug, Whit’s new principal drafts him into the yearbook club to “force” him to make friends — the only problem is that the three other members are just as weird as Whit; and two, when Whit takes photos around his school, these strange, photonegative students appear in the developed prints, even though they weren’t there in-person. Pretty soon, the other kids in the club start to see them and learn that these are actually the ghosts of students who have vanished, one per year, yet nobody else seems to remember them. So, now it’s up to Whit and his new pals to put aside their fears and solve this mystery at their middle school, or their yearbook club just might go missing, too.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative experience in working with artist Marco Matrone and letterer Dave Sharpe to bring this story to life?
RH: It’s odd that I should enjoy this much collaboration and camaraderie on a story that is ultimately about the loneliness and isolation many of us feel as children but, hey, I’ll take it!
In some ways, I guess our creative relationship is a bit like the yearbook club. Just as Whit is the new kid at his school, this book is my first project with Aftershock/Seismic. But our editors, Mike Marts and Christina Harrington, were there to play matchmaker a la Whit’s principal by introducing me to Marco and Dave. And as with Whit’s new friends, I feel like my artistic partners have brought out the best in me.
Honestly, it’s like you said in your question. They bring this story to life. The word I always use to describe this book is “Amblin-y,” which I guess isn’t technically a word. But I think most of us know what emotions get conjured up by any of those movies Steven Spielberg directed and/or produced in the 1980s, right? And even though Marco was born and lives in Italy, his art and acting have perfectly captured that mix of adventure and emotion, peril and comedy. I thought I knew our characters through and through before I even wrote the script, but it wasn’t until I saw Marco’s first character sketches that the kids really became fully-formed and alive in my mind. Likewise with Dave’s lettering. His placement, his font choices, his ability to emphasize certain words in relation to others sells our characters’ dialogue and moods to me. I feel like our kids look and sound like real kids, which is crucial to the story.
BD: You recently mentioned in an interview that this story found its beginnings as a campfire story that you would share with your own children. In light of Fanbase Press’ #StoriesMatter initiative, why do you feel that it’s important for young readers to experience horror fiction, and what do you hope that they will take away from Fearbook Club?
RH: Guillermo Del Toro has said that kids today have lost something important that had long been an essential part of every childhood — fairy tales. And I couldn’t agree more. For every “happily ever after” there was also some dark allegory to important life lessons about puberty or the inevitable nature of death or even something as basic as “don’t take candy from strangers.” Kids have always sought information about subjects that seem dangerous or forbidden. Yet somewhere along the way, I feel like our culture has gotten away from telling kids stories that run the risk of being frightening or thematically mature. I’m sure this was all done with the best of intentions — we don’t want to give our children nightmares, that sort of stuff.
But in sheltering kids from concepts that might scare them, we’ve robbed our younger generations of the skills they’ll need to deal with those issues when they eventually come up at some point in their lives. That’s why nightmares are actually good thing. Those are our brain processing and preparing us for something that upsets us in real life through a fake story. And that’s just what we want Fearbook Club to do. If readers see how our characters deal with the fears in their lives — be they supernatural or day-to-day — and then apply those coping skills to their own lives, we will have done our jobs.
BD: What makes Seismic Press the perfect home for this graphic novel?
RH: You know Aftershock’s slogan, “Read Dangerously?” I love that and I think it applies to their Seismic line for younger readers, too. As I said before, kids seek out and need stories that challenge them and prime them for the issues they will face as they get older. And everyone at Seismic, from the execs to our editors, Mike and Christina, seems to get this.
All of that said, Fearbook Club isn’t, like, some dissertation about childhood trauma. It has always been first and foremost a scary story meant to entertain and thrill anyone who reads it, regardless of their age. I don’t think I need to list all of the terrifying things happening in the world. And kids aren’t immune to any of them. In fact, they’re more acutely aware and sensitive to these crises than adults are, if for no other reason than young people are always haunted by this stuff on their devices, whether it is at school, at home, or on their own. This generation has it so rough, so we just want to show them a fun time that’ll hopefully give them a break from all of their existential dread and maybe teach them a trick or two to cope with and live around whatever brings them fear in the moment.
BD: Your writing has predominantly focused on younger audiences, creating new worlds and characters for them to identify with and explore. How would you describe your approach to writing for younger audiences, and what do you find to be most challenging or fulfilling when working on each new project?
RH: For me, it’s all about trying to strike that balance between the wonder I felt as a kid when I read or saw something that really wow-ed me — a comic or cartoon that stoked my imagination and made me want to add my own idea to that story or invent a whole new one — and respecting the intelligence that’s inherent in a younger audience. I’m not saying anything novel when I tell you that children are far more honest and perceptive than most adults. And they deal with their own challenges that, for them, are just as unique and painful and transformative as anything we grown-ups have to deal with. My job, I feel, is to tap into their respective concerns and reverse-engineer some fantastical story from there.
So, the challenge — and the joy — of that comes from staying up-to-date and invested in whatever is on kids’ minds which, as you can imagine, is ever-changing. But it just means I get to talk to my sons even more and observe their interactions with their friends, while also checking-in with the teachers and coaches and therapists and fellow parents and grandparents that we know. And I suppose I’m also always trying to project myself back into whatever twelve-year-old Ricky Hamilton was thinking about way back when. I mean, there’s worse homework out there.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
RH: Well, aside from SCOOP, which is my ongoing series of YA sci-fi sleuth graphic novels, I have some other middle-grade graphic novel projects that are still in the contract phase, so I don’t want to jinx them by revealing any details too soon. (I guess that’s one of MY fears.)
There’s also a graphic novel I wrote called The Ascension Chronicles, which is almost like a bio-pic about Corey Goode, who is quite a big figure in the UFOlogy/contactee culture. It’s available for preorder and is so trippy and ambitious and ultimately about the potential of humanity and the importance of family, regardless of whether you believe in aliens or not.
And finally, I wrote a LEGO Jurassic World book called Camp Chaos! that’ll also be out in the new year, I believe. This story represents the first meeting between Owen Grady and the Camp Cretaceous kids, for those who follow that franchise, and is really a lot of fun with a big action set-piece that I’ve been trying to pull off since my How to Train Your Dragon days. I just switched dinosaurs for dragons, which shows you the shallow limits of my “genius.”
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Fearbook Club and your other work?
RH: As any of the sparse handful of people who follow me online can tell you, I’m terrible at social media. But you know who isn’t? Aftershock. They have some awesome reveals about Fearbook Club that’ll be coming out of the woodwork like photonegative ghost kids in the coming weeks.
And if this interview hasn’t already made you totally sick of me by now, you can find me on Twitter (@RegardsRichard) and on Facebook (@RichardAshleyHamilton). I’m there semi-regularly and always up to talk comics and horror with kind, respectful folks. Thanks!