Have You Seen the Darkness? A Richard Fairgray, Black Sand Beach Interview
Jaded. I’m jaded. That’s the word for it. Authors? I know ’em. Artists? See ’em all the time. No, I’m one cool customer. Nothing fazes me. I’m not likely to go fangirling over . . . .
… over . . .
Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh, have you SEEN who I get to interview today????!!! Richard freakin’ Fairgray, THAT is who! The guy behind the Black Sand Beach series! The Cardboardia series! Lots of other books as well!
So yeah. I’m fangirling out. But with my penchant for creepy children’s books, can you even blame me?
Betsy Bird: Richard! This is a thrill. I’ve been meticulously following the story of Black Sand Beach from the beginning and the latest book in the series doesn’t disappoint. It may be difficult to rate the horrific elements of your books, but this one may actually be the title that tips most definitely into the darkest stuff. In other words, it’s fantastic. That said, I know next to nothing about why you started the Black Sand Beach books in the first place. What was the early impetus?
Richard Fairgray: I loved horror stories as a kid and was constantly getting in trouble for reading them. The first time I got sent to the principal’s office was for pretending to do a book report on Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and instead doing it on Dracula. See, the problem was that there just wasn’t much horror aimed at kids (this is pre-Goosebumps or Fear Street or any of that stuff had made it to my school). See, the thing is, I was a really unhappy kid and horror stories acted as an escape, gave me a sense that other people were going through worse stuff and (most importantly) a lot of those bad things helped me figure out how to get through my own stuff. It’s no coincidence I was drawn to Dracula, an immortal and fabulously dressed man who was rejected by polite society because they didn’t like his night time habits. So, the impetus is to make a series for kid Richard. Step 2 is inventing time travel so I can send him copies.
BB: Part of what really blows me away with these books is just how much was set up as early as the first title. It seems pretty clear that you knew where everything was headed right from the start. Is that actually the case? How do you keep track of all the different storytelling threads?
RF: There are so many threads and I do have all of them clear in my head, yes. But that’s not to say all the stories are figured out. For instance, I know how Ramsays keeps coming back to life, but it wasn’t until the day I finished art on book two that I realized WHO was responsible for it. There’s actually one thing in book 1 that’s not consistent, but it was meant to be written as a joke/deflection, but I think it comes across as fact. By now readers know that Dash changed his name from Harry because that big sparky snake keeps whispering that name in his ear. He’s the boy who can dash between the worlds. However, Dash doesn’t know that, so in book 1 he tells Eleanor he hated the name Harry-Gilbert so decided to go by the hyphen in the middle. It keeps me up at night thinking that people might have taken that seriously.
BB: Ohhhhh! Actually, you just clarified that for me. Then again, Dash isn’t that reliable a source in the first book, so I doubt many folks take that as canon. Now this is just a general comic creation question, but when you’re laying out these pages, do you work on the script entirely separately beforehand, or do you thumbnail it as you go?
RF: I am really loose with these scripts. I just write out all the dialogue as fast as I can and put in as little description of action or setting as I can. I then go through and figure out the pacing of that dialogue and assign movements through spaces to give it weight and then I lay it out from there. So far I’ve been lucky and my scripts have been almost exactly the right length every time, but the book I’m doing right now I want to add an 8page story to the end and I don’t know if I’ll have the space.
BB: Quick personal question that I’m just asking to sate my own curiosity: By any chance have you seen the old horror film The Stuff? And, if so, did that have any bearing on Doug? And failing that, surely there are horror films or books that have had some sway over you. What in particular might influence Black Sand Beach?
RF: I have not seen The Stuff, but if you recommend it I will definitely check it out (your insights on a certain HORRIBLY RACIST picture book have earned you a level of trust with me that’s unshakeable). There are exceptions to this, but I mostly try to come up with types of monsters that I haven’t seen before. Like, I based the Not Cows on the old Changeling story, but souped them up with tummy mouths as an homage to Grin by Eddie Monotone and that monster from Tekken 5, but usually I try to patch them together from interpretations of fears that come from somewhere more grounded. My other method is to just deliberately misunderstand Mountain Goats lyrics (the heads in Doug’s mouth are from the line ‘Someone’s waiting out there with a mouthful of surprises.’ Side note: If you think book 3 goes dark, just wait until you see The Scarecrows in book 4.
BB: (squeals to self)(calms down) So kids appear to have as abiding a hunger for horror as they do for graphic novels. Put the two together and you make yourself some magic. But do you ever put something into one of these books and then you or an editor tosses it because it’s too dark for the readership? Or does it all go in?
RF: I wanted the Not Cows to be slimier, like sweaty turtles. I was told to give them fur so they looked less like old people getting out of the bath.
BB: Oh yeah. I get that. How many Black Sand Beach titles will there be altogether? And will we ever learn what the heck happened to Dash’s uncle?
RF: Well, observant readers probably know that what happened to Frederick is INCREDIBLY connected to what that big sparky snake wants from Dash. I’m actually drawing that backstory right now. I’m giving these answers while ink dries on a particularly horrifying page. As for a number of books – I’ve got stories forever. There’s no break in time between stories so far, so everything in books 1-3 only takes a week and they have a whole Summer to fill.
BB: Now I’m going to have to go reread all the Frederick passages from before. Which sort of reminds me of his son. Is Andy based on a real kid? Cause he sure as heck feels like a real kid!
RF: Andy is a mixture of a lot of people in my life. I seem to always have an Andy in my orbit no matter how old I get. The inquisitive mind and lack of thought for consequences definitely comes from my cousin Andrew, the way he gets sick of Dash and all his moping is from my friend Lucy, the desire to always be defying gravity is all me.
BB: Finally, besides this series, what else are you working on these days?
RF: As usual, I have a million things on the go. There are 3 graphic novels that haven’t been announced by publishers yet, there’s the big re-release of my first ever comic Ghost Ghost from Stacked Deck Press, there’s Shed from Blue Fox Comics, and o course there’s my mature series Haunted Hill about being a 35-year-old dirtbag queer in Hollywood which I put out 6 pages of every Wednesday. But if waiting for all those things seems too hard, then there’s also about 2000 pages of older stuff on my website (richardfairgray.com) for free, including complete series and graphic novels and a whole mess of weird short comics.
As a fan of the weird, the short, and the comics, I cannot thank Richard Fairgray enough for coming by the old blog. In the course of things I also discovered this video from 2020 where Richard gives a studio tour, so I just wanted to include that as well:
Many thanks to Richard for so patiently answering my questions and to Sara DiSalvo and the team at Pixel and Ink for setting this all up. Black Sand Beach: Have You Seen the Darkness (the third in the series) is out now so be sure to run off and find yourself a copy.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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