Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: As a prolific writer and illustrator of children’s graphic novels, what can you share with us about your most recent middle grade series, Black Sand Beach, as well as the release of its eBook?
Richard Fairgray: I’ve always loved ghost stories, like ALWAYS – the first book I ever made (when I was three by taping paper together and writing a story until the pages ran out) was about Donald Duck meeting a ghost – but as a kid I could never find stories that were scary without being exclusively aimed at adults. The ghost stories for kids that I could find always had some dumb explanation at the end that of course the ghosts weren’t real. I’d seen ghosts, I knew they were real and it made me hate those stories.
Black Sand Beach is horror for kids where the horror is real. Four kids spending the summer at a falling apart family beach house next to the ocean at the edge of the world. There’s a dark energy clawing its way in to our reality, turning the sand black and magnetic, corrupting and mutating the people who stay there too long, so for these kids the possibility of not making it through the Summer in one piece is very real. But, the thing that makes it fun is that the four of them are in it together, so what would normally be terrifying becomes an exciting adventure.
The first book in the series is out everywhere right now, both physically and as an eBook, and I’m just finishing up colors on book three. They’re like 200 pages each, so my publisher won’t let me do more than one volume a year. I have big plans for where this story is going.
BD: With more books in the series in the works, what can readers anticipate from future installations within the series?
RF: Without giving away too much, book 1 sets up a pretty unsettling mystery for one of the main characters. The demon in the lighthouse knows him and needs him for something, but he has no memory of even being at the beach for a very long time. Book 2 builds on that and reveals a lot of the much creepier stuff that’s just bubbling under the surface. By the time book three rolls around, there’s a monster who wears faces, an undead sheep, dried-up heads being spat out throughout the woods... it gets pretty fun.
In a lot of ways, this book is about confronting your nightmares, looking at the stuff from childhood and processing it no matter how scary, because you have people with you who can make that manageable. I’m also trying to play on fears that I genuinely had as a child, like what might happen to you if you forgot how to be alive.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in balancing the writing and illustrative duties of each new project, and what (or who) have been some of your creative influences?
RF: I don’t know if I really have a process. The word implies a plan and a structure, but really I just kind of keep moving until things are done, no matter the order. When I get really into a project, it becomes more of an obsession and then I feed off of it and live inside it. When I first signed the contract on this series, I didn’t actually read any of the details, so I suddenly had 192 pages of fully colored comic to write and draw in just under 3 months. I bulk ordered water and microwave meals and just lived in my office until it was done. There was a solid 6 weeks there where I never stepped out of the building. It was smelly, it was lonely, and I lost a little piece of my mind, but it was also the most fun I’ve had in years. Side note: I couldn’t shower so I also bulk ordered those wipes they use in hospitals, but I bought a really cheap brand and now I have a scar from a chemical burn.
In terms of influence, I would say a lot of my stuff comes from a desire to fill gaps. I see a lot of horror that is retellings and reimaginings and I enjoy it but never remember it. I want to make new monsters and find new things to be afraid of. So, I guess my biggest influence is Franklin D. Roosevelt; he said fear was the only thing we have to fear, and I am determined to add to that list.
Artistically, I am very inspired by Maurice Sendak. He knew the secret to writing for kids was that kids are always on the verge of being overwhelmed with joy, so his characters were always dancing instead of walking. In my picture books, I try to do the same. In my horror stories, I try to draw people always ready to scream.
BD: In addition to your graphic novel work, you also have short horror collection slated for release in January. What can readers anticipate from this upcoming collection, and what age group would be most appropriate for these terrifically terrifying tales?
RF: Tales from Black Sand Beach is one of those "dream come true" moments for me. It’s a collection of short horror stories that build out the world of Black Sand Beach with 13 stories all set at the beach, some before the Darkness fully broke through, some before the town disappeared. My publisher really let me go crazy with this, and I think I’ve come up with some stuff that will really stick with you. My greatest hope is that it becomes a book that parents are afraid of and kids are delighted by, because those were the kinds of books I would carry with me everywhere I went.
BD: Speaking of terrifically terrifying, fans who follow you on Instagram will know that you have a frequent traveling companion who joins you while on the road between book release engagements. What can you share with us about Nigel and your traveling adventures?
RF: I have to be a bit careful what I say here, because Fake Nigel is in the room. Right now, we’re in a government-managed isolation hotel in New Zealand, and I’ve recently discovered that this plastic skeleton is in fact not the real Nigel at all. The real Nigel is back home in Canada, chilling with my dogs and enjoying his death. Whoever this is that stowed away in my suitcase is not to be trusted. The other night, I woke up and found him on Yahoo Answers researching how to kill and replace a comic artist. My current plan is to play it cool until we get released on Monday. Then, I’ll send him on his way and live a trouble-free life for the rest of my time here. The only down side is that he has started wearing my best KFC outfit, and I don’t think I’ll be getting that back.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
RF: My next graphic novel series is a middle-grade fantasy called Cardboardia. It’s about 4 kids from Queens who can travel through cardboard boxes into a world of living cardboard. The thing that makes it stand out from the genre is that the adventures are fairly evenly split between the two worlds, rather than that usual thing where kids go somewhere magical and then are just never home again. That one launches next Fall, and I think it’ll be on a 9-month release schedule moving forward.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Black Sand Beach and your other work via your website and social media?
RF: Everything is on richardfairgray.com and my Instagram (@richardfairgrayauthor) is the best social media for people to follow, not just because I update it regularly, but also because I’d really like more people keeping an eye on Fake Nigel. He’s sharpening a spoon right now, and that makes me super nervous.