Growing up, many of us can remember how scared we were of the most haunted house in the neighborhood. The stories were forever evolving to insert plots or backgrounds that grew more and more sinister, but the foundation of the story remained the same – the house itself was creepy, with or without the stories.
That idea is what immediately drew me in to, “The Stumps of Flattop Hill”, by Kenneth Kit Lamug. You may recognize Lamug from other works such as, “A Box Story” and “The Tall Tales of Talbot Toluca”. “The Stumps of Flattop Hill” is a delight to read, and Lamug recommends that it is read aloud, which makes the story even more fun! It has a distinct flare in the illustrating and writing that will surely thrill Brothers Grimm and Tim Burton fans alike.
This story follows the twisted adventure of Florence, who is dared by her friends to brave the hill and enter the notorious house at the top of the hill. Although she is scared, she begins her journey and soon finds herself witness to very strange things inside and outside the doors to the house. Lamug writes in a way that makes you want to read out loud, even if you’re alone. I got the chance to ask him a few questions to shed some light on his inspiration and concept. Check out his responses:
Comics and Cashmere (CC): First of all, congratulations on the book! It’s fantastic! It does have a very distinct style that Tim Burton fans would love. Are you a fan of Tim Burton, yourself?
Kenneth Kit Lamug (KL): I’m glad that you liked the book. It’s always great when someone enjoys and appreciates something that you’ve put your heart into.
When I was child, many of my drawing inspirations came from newspaper cartoon strips such as Garfield and Peanuts. And since I grew up in the 80’s, we had a lot of cartoon shows that have also been a source of inspiration (many of which are recently being remade in Hollywood, e.g., Transformers, Ghostbusters, Voltron).
After a long hiatus from drawing, I finally had a chance to get back into art for my own creative and personal pursuit. One of the first art styles that inspired me came from Edward Gorey and Tim Burton.
Once I made my little discovery, I absorbed everything Gorey and Burton related. The gothic, macabre stories and visuals resonated with me from the very beginning.
Even though they had similarities, Gorey and Burton’s art style couldn’t be more different. I loved Gorey’s technical precision and how he balances humor with dark undertones. And I very much savored Burton’s loose drawings, quirky characters, and long form storytelling prowess, which is evident in his movies. Burton’s short film, Vincent, made a big impact when I first saw it.
Around the same time, I also found this online magazine called Underneath The Juniper Tree. It was a collaborative production between international writers and artists. The goal was to produce a quarterly e-zine showcasing scary stories, poetry and artwork for children.
I took the plunge and contributed some of my earliest work to the magazine. I was bitten by the creative bug and fell in love with the genre.
CC: Is there a children’s story, or fairytale, that you feel is a bit dark?
KL: I always liked Little Red Riding Hood. My earliest memory of this story was actually from a television show. They showed Little Red cutting the wolf’s stomach and out comes grandma! She then proceeded to fill the wolf’s stomach with rocks, closed him up, and tossed his body into the river. I was never really scared of it as a child, but now as an adult, it seems quite morbid. But I think this happens to a lot us, as we get older, we end up over analyzing things to conform to modern beliefs.
On top of that, we also had our local folktales and ghost stories that would be told around the school halls or among friends. The Philippines has a rich superstitious culture. The country is a melting pot of urban legends and old wives tales.
When I got to high-school I was reading a lot of Greek mythology. I found the drama that played between the humans and their gods quite interesting.
I was re-reading a lot of the old fairy tales, I found out that many of them had been drastically sugar coated to conform to modern culture. I’ll leave your readers to look it up, but the real stories are quite dark and would probably be banned in most places. Death was a very common theme (and that’s not even the worst thing that could happen.)
We have to remember that these tales were used to teach their intended audience about good and evil and how little kids should not wander off on their own into a dark forest.
So if we go far enough in history, most original fairy tales have really dark origins.
CC: Was there ever a house in your childhood that could have inspired this concept?
KL: Oh, definitely! I grew up in an old neighborhood and there were decrepit houses throughout. It sounds like a cliche, but there was this one house where the kids would dare each other to go into.
Soon, we met another kid who actually lived in that old house and he was pretty cool. So the perception was hilariously different from reality.
My friends always messed around. They provoked and dared each other to do something crazy. And that’s sort of how The Stumps of Flattop Hill starts, except Florence’s adventure is a little more interesting.
CC: Do you get to test your ideas with your own children? I’m sure they’re loving this story!
KL: I have a four, seven and eleven year old boys and they loved it. The four year old, I think loves my delivery more since I don’t think he fully comprehends the story. I think what’s fun about this book is the rhyming aspect and if you can really get into character, then you’ll have a lot of fun. When I read to my kids, it ends up being a performance on my part.
I also “freestyle” stories with my kids. If there’s an idea that sticks, I keep poking them about it until a story forms. It doesn’t have to make sense but it’s fun to do. Sometimes I feel like the looseness of this process gives me better ideas than when I sit down in front of the computer!
CC: Something I find really interesting about your collective works is that it’s different styles. How does writing a book compare to working in movies and comics?
KL: When it comes down to the nuts and bolts, it’s all about telling a story.
Filmmaking is more of a bigger production with many moving parts. As a filmmaker you have to manage actors, locations, set design and various technical issues to complete a production.
Comics and picture books are a little closer siblings, both are essentially sequential art on a printed medium. And typically the production can be done with just a handful of people.
Picture books have a different pacing than comics. The target audience is generally young and the books are read by the adult to the child. And most modern picture books are around 600 words or less, so your images have to really play a big role in the story.
Comic books on the other hand allows the writer and artist to explore the story even further. You can easily add more issues and divert from plotlines and make as rich of a world as you want.
I love mixing it up to make things interesting. But switching my mental gears and thought process between genres and formats can also be challenging.
One thing that I miss from Filmmaking is the audio aspect of it. To be able to hear the actors and the music… it enriches the atmosphere and mood. Missing that element in books, you have to make it up through the proper use of words, panels and page turns.
That’s why I enjoyed making the book trailer for The Stumps of Flattop Hill. I was able to bring the music and the narrator into the mix and make it a bit more interesting.
CC: What’s next for you? Are you working on any projects you’d like to share?
KL: My new comic book series called Monstrous was just released through Source Point Press (issues 1-4) and has been making its rounds through the conventions. It’s been doing good and I am working with my partner in crime, Greg Wright, to continue the series.
On top of that, a new book I illustrated, HURTS LIKE A MOTHER (Penguin Random House) just hit bookstores in time for Mother’s Day. It’s a hilarious alphabet parenting parody book in the same vein as Gashlycrumb Tinies.
Currently, I’m working on a wordless comic book based on an old Filipino folktale about a boy who has to save a town infested by the Flea King and his minions. I’ve been posted screen captures on my instagram and twitter so you can check out what it looks like (@rabbleboy).
After that, I hope to unravel some of my older manuscripts and finish them. I wish it was more planned but sometimes I just have to go with the flow.
Definitely worth reading, as I’ve read it three or four times already in the past few weeks! Follow Lamug and stay tuned for more from this talented and award-winning author!