What Scares Us | How Monsters Can Represent Childhood Fears

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Recently I read Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV (Boom! Studios, 2020), and the monsters of these comics were simply brilliant. What is killing the children in Something is Killing the Children is… * spoiler alert* a monster. And while at first glance that may sound simple, the monsters here are only seen by children because of the fear they have for them. This child-focused fear got me thinking about how the monsters we face define the audience that the author is trying to scare.

When attempting to scare children, the larger idea of “monsters” is central and important. When children are scared, they may be afraid of monsters in general, not necessarily zombies, vampires, or aliens specifically—unless they have been engaging with media related to one of those monstrous archetypes. Children loosely represent the fears of the outside world, coupled with their own anxiety, into some personified force: a monster. 

One of the most striking scenes in Something is Killing the Children is a large panel of an adult character standing with a large monster behind him. On the page, the adult is speaking about finding the monster that killed his sister, assuming it’s our main character since he can’t see the monster right in front of him. The horror comes from the disconnect these children face as they are fighting forces that adults can’t see or help fight against. 

Monsters that operate on these rules are often seen in children’s stories because they represent a number of things. Sometimes the children in these stories have to overcome these monsters and find some new level of independence and freedom. In Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Coraline’s defeat of the other mother results in the protagonist becoming more confident and more connected to her family, in part because of the connection she feels to her true parents after losing them while combating her other mother. Monsters can represent the fear or danger that outside influences can potentially have on a child. The Beast in Over the Garden Wall (both an animated mini-series on Cartoon Network and an adapted comic book series) takes advantage of Greg, one of the kid heroes, at his most vulnerable time, convincing him to become an edelwood tree in order to save his brother. One of the most interesting things about finding new media is watching how authors and creators personify the fears of the outside world that we all face as children.  

PRR Writer, Jon Kresal

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