I saw Edgar Cantero’s new book Meddling Kids pretty much everywhere I looked this year. On Instagram, Twitter, displayed prominently in both Barnes & Noble locations and independent bookstores (just look at that stunning cover!) The book is often described as, get this, “Scooby-Doo meets H.P. Lovecraft.” That’s some pitch—simple, with recognizable inspirations. I mean, who doesn’t love Scooby-Doo? So with that in mind, I probably should have seen the answer a mile away when I asked him, “What was your ‘first fright’?”
Edgar Cantero is a writer and cartoonist from Barcelona, Spain. He is the author of the punk dystopian thriller Vallvi (2011), The Supernatural Enhancements (2014), and the aforementioned Meddling Kids (2017), which, as of this writing, was nominated for a 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Horror.
(Interview conducted by John Brhel)
CEMETERY DANCE: What was your “first fright”?
EDGAR CANTERO: Well, let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of horror as in, “I enjoy being scared.” I enjoy “safe” horror. So…I guess I have to go with Scooby-Doo Where Are You!
When did you first see Scooby-Doo Where Are You!? I’m assuming you were a young kid.
Very young. I’m guessing 6-7. I can tell you the first Scooby monster I saw was the ghost astronaut. I also remember learning to draw the Scooby villains, like one of the first things I tried to copy.
Did you ever draw any of the Harlem Globetrotters or any of those weird crossover characters?
I don’t think so, because I wasn’t that interested in humans. I liked the monsters. I’m always surprised by how canonic the Scooby-Doo villains felt to me, as if I already knew that Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf, were all part of an established star system. It might have helped that I was already seeing them in other children’s shows, comics… Like the Groovy Ghoulies.
Scooby-Doo villains were my horror canon, so every monster they featured seemed to belong to me. The ghost scuba diver, the ghost astronaut, the creeper, the wax phantom, the ape man, the headless man—they all seemed to belong in the same pantheon. Then you learn that the ghost scuba diver never had his own Hammer movie and you get disappointed.
What was it about these monsters that piqued your interest more so than, say, something like the Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks? Why “spooky” and not “cutesy,” so much?
I don’t know… Gothic taste? Same reason I like Romantic painters now, I guess. I liked the chill of horror-themed cartoons. I liked the dramatic music. I liked the haunted houses and the ghost towns. I liked the secret passages and the trapdoors.
So did it disappoint you to find out that all the monsters are really just shady business owners in disguise?
I’m not sure. I remember often finding the explanations unsatisfactory. Like somebody saying, “The witch appeared and disappeared using smoke bombs,” and I was like, “No way! She appeared in the middle of a corridor with no doors! Where was she hiding?” I guess it was difficult for the writers to reconcile mundane explanations to apparently paranormal events with a cartoon world where some magic did exist if a gag required it (Scooby ate a ghost burger, or stuff like that).
I think this is an obvious question, knowing what I know about your book Meddling Kids, but did Scooby-Doo impact your sense of storytelling? And if so, how?
Well, I guess Scooby-Doo was my introduction to horror. From there, I went to watch movies as I grew up, read books, and from reading horror books to writing your own it’s a little step. There’s tons of things in the genre I have missed or that I simply didn’t enjoy, but to name one thing, I guess Scooby-Doo absolutely determined my penchant for haunted houses. “Haunted house” is a tag I’ll always fall for. And I’ve published two novels about them already. Three-ish maybe; there was one in Vallvi too, but it was in the background.
Were you actively thinking about Scooby-Doo when you wrote Meddling Kids, or was that a happy accident, some marketing thing?
Well, here’s the thing. When I pitched Meddling Kids to editors Jason Kaufman and Robert Bloom, my tagline was “Famous Five + Cthulhu,” or in other words, “Enid Blyton + Lovecraft.” They both said, “Who’s Enid Blyton?” And then I said, “Okay, think Scooby gang.”
Definitely some more name recognition there.
The Blyton Summer Detective Club wasn’t meant to be the Scooby Gang or the Famous Five exactly. They’re just one cliché that both of those series incarnate: group of tween detectives, two girls and two boys, plus animal.
That’s interesting. So did Hanna-Barbera actually lift the idea from Blyton?
No, it’s too broad a concept to say they lifted it. Blyton herself created several series of characters like the Famous Five that were all essentially the same formula. Boys + girls + pet, solving mysteries during their school breaks. And she was not the only author of these kind of books.
Now I’m racking my brain trying to think of teams that solved mysteries along with a pet.
The Happy Hollisters also existed, and the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden are not that different. Scooby-Doo is the same concept, but the kids are old enough to drive, and all mysteries are horror-themed. Those are the only key differences.
That’s why you can read Meddling Kids and think it’s only spoofing Scooby-Doo, because it kind of fits; and if it didn’t, you’d just make up the connections. And I’m happy people do that, because I do love Scooby-Doo too, but it’s sometimes a little unfair to the other series I’m stealing from.
Here’s an example. The lead in Meddling Kids is one of the girls: Andy, the tomboy. She’s completely based on George from the Famous Five. Readers who only take Scooby-Doo into account try to see her as Velma or Daphne. It’s an impossible fit. Andy has nothing in common with Velma or Daphne, besides their gender.
So you were drawn in by the monsters, but who’s your favorite member of the Mystery Gang?
What about him do you like? His mystery-solving skills are sort of dubious.
Well, I don’t know, but there’s a lot about him. I’ll start by saying that the concept of this dog, who is the title character of the series, is that he is a coward. And yet, we all root for him; he’s one of the most popular characters Hanna-Barbera created.
There is also a thing, from an artistic POV (I noticed this later, when I became a cartoonist): Scooby is actually one of the least anthropomorphized animals in animation. He’s pretty much a dog. He mostly walks on all fours, he barely speaks… He’s drawn quite realistically. Compare that with Huckleberry Hound, or Yogi Bear, or Bugs Bunny. And yet, he is SO human. You feel so much for him. Much more than you feel for a snarky, street-wise character with a Dreamworks face.
Did the show actually ever genuinely scare you? Or did you like it because it provided what you described as “safe horror”?
Well, I think overall the tone was calculated to hit the children’s’ sweet spot. “We give you thrills, but no nightmares.” So no, I was never like, “I can’t look.” And Scooby’s reactions to the scares always made it worth it. I do remember a few particularly dark points, though.
That whole Shaggy cannibalism scene was brutal.
Do you still watch the show? Do you think it still holds up as fun, or has adulthood tainted any of it for you?
I love to watch it in the background, so to speak. The plots, of course, don’t hold up for a grown-up audience. And the flaws in animation are hard to ignore. SDWAY was very low-budget. On the other hand, as a cartoonist, I tend to pay attention to technical aspects and I like to see the challenges the production faced.