Boston-Based Talent Unleashes a Monster Squad

As declared in my previous post, I get very excited when I hear of a cool kid’s project coming out of the Beantown area. While many of my Boston compadres may get giddy with pride over the Red Sox, this media geek does the same for companies and talent putting together quality projects for the kid demographic. So, I was thrilled to learn that my newly-acquainted chai buddy Dave Schlafman was the illustrator of a tween book series, Monster Squad.

Monster Squad Covers
Tween-friendly terrors: Monster Squad Cover Art

Written by author Laura Dower (From the Files of Madison Finn), the Monster Squad series is already up to book three, with the fourth set for a release this spring. The series focuses on a rag-tag group of four tweens recruited by director Oswald Leery to stop his own B-movie monster creations from wreaking havoc. It seems Leery accidentally brought them to life and only monster-loving Jesse Ranger and his friends can put them back where they belong.

Author Laura Dower clearly knows how to write for the youth demographic, with over 20 entries in her From the Files of Madison Finn series, a slew of non-fiction titles and even some licensed novels including “spooky” titles like Scooby Doo and Goosebumps. She is well-matched in artist Dave Schlafman, whose day job is creative director at children’s media company CloudKid Studio. CloudKid is already getting industry accolades for the ground-up creation of the PBS web property Fizzy’s Lunch Lab. Dave has also designed, animated and illustrated for youth-friendly clients like Hasbro Toys, Parker Brothers, WGBH, and American Greetings. After sitting down with him, it is clear he has a passion for this demographic and has a true desire to bring new and interesting character creations to them.

The Monster Squad
The Squad’s All Here

Between working on Fizzy’s and planning his next project, Dave was kind enough to let me throw a few questions at him regarding the Monster Squad book series. Oh, and while Monster Squad has no relation to the cult 1987 film of the same name, Schlafman was quite a fan of the kid-targeted horror film.

Nugget Island: How did the Monster Squad project come to be?
Dave Schlafman: I always wanted to get into publishing, but always thought I needed an agent. I was contacted out-of-the-blue by a Grosset and Dunlap (Penguin) book designer who stumbled on my website. I did a round of sketches (as a tryout), and the author, editor, and art director loved my silly characters. It was a perfect fit for everyone involved.

NI: What inspired the look and feel of the Monster Squad illustrations?
DS: I always start my projects with research, so I looked at old movie posters and horror movie characters. Then, I just dove right in. I wanted the style to be cartoony but not too cartoony. It was great working with the art team from Penguin, because they let me run with EVERYTHING. They gave me a lot of creative freedom. I first designed/illustrated the covers, which gave me a chance to explore the character designs of the monsters – did lots of really rough sketches. Once, it came time to illustrate the interiors, I had a good handle on things. It was a really fun process.

NI: Were you a monster/genre film lover as a kid?
DS: Yes! I loved My Pet Monster, The Monster Squad movie, and even horror movies – LOVED Tales from the Crypt. As a kid, I was drawn to anything that was out-of-this-world “fantastic”. Things like M.A.S.K., Nintendo Classics, M.U.S.C.L.E. Men, etc. My childhood definitely has a huge influence on the type of work I’m doing now. I think the ’00s were a time of really “dark” content for kids – maybe a post 911 influence. I hope the next 10 years can bring the innocence back with silly adventures that kids can lose themselves in. Monster Squad is a perfect example of the type of media that inspired me as a kid.

NI: How much did you collaborate directly with the author?
DS: Laura Dower reached out to me early on in the process and we were able to have some great back-and-forth, but most of the creative notes came from the publisher. Laura and I touched base every few weeks to talk about things, which was beyond helpful. She’s full of amazing energy and we hope to collaborate on a project together in the future.

NI: What are the future plans for the Monster Squad series?
DS: I hope Laura and I will be able to work on more of these – but no word from the publisher. The fourth book is due out April 15th.

NI: Has this project opened the door for any other kids’ book projects?
DS: Not professionally. I’ve been working on a number of book proposals and ideas, but I’ve been pretty busy over the last six months producing my first animated series for PBS. Once things slow down, I’m hoping to find a book agent and explore children’s publishing a bit more. One thing at a time!

Check out the Monster Squad series now on Amazon. Also, take a peek at some sample illustrations below, straight from the pages of the series.

Monster Squad Sample Illustration

All images courtesy of Penguin Group USA

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