Sweet Dreams Cthulhu is a an all-ages bedtime tale from ComixTribe, a well-established independent publisher helmed by Tyler James. Black Ship Books had the opportunity to interview the book’s creative team, Eisner-nominated writer Jason Ciaramella and illustrator Greg Murphy.
1. I’ve read the preview of Sweet Dreams Cthulhu and it’s charming. But I’m curious what lead to a Lovecraft-inspired brand aimed at all ages. Can you tell us a bit more about the birth of the C Is For Cthulhu book line?
Jason: The entire idea is based on the fact that I would have loved to have had books like these to read to my kids when they were little. I think for a lot of parents, bedtime stories and reading time with their kids can become tedious, especially if the subject of the material is mundane. As a fan of Lovecraft’s work, I knew there were a lot of interesting characters and monsters that, with a little tweaking, would translate into a fantastic cast for children’s books.
2. I believe that a fair percentage of your readers are childless adults who purchase these books for themselves or a loved one. What’s the secret behind creating a book that appeals to both children and adults?
Jason: I think if you’re a fan of something, it can be fun to see that thing twisted and churned and flipped and turned into something new, but still very familiar. For the kids, everything will be a new experience, and for the adults, they get to see some of their old favorites presented in a unique way.
3. The book manages to achieve a beguiling simplicity without sacrificing the darker aspects of the Lovecraft mythology.
What were some of the challenges when it came to reinventing Cthulhu as something endearing and how was it managed without over-sanitizing him or any of the other Lovecraftian beings?
Jason: I don’t think it was all that challenging, mostly because Greg and I built our version of Cthulhu from the ground up, and he was never presented as a scary monster. I’m also not overly concerned with how our versions of these characters stack up against the original mythos, so when I’m working on a book I can do what’s best for the story without worrying too much about the source material. Our goal is to create fresh and original content, rather than repurpose what’s been done so many times already.
4. The main theme of Sweet Dreams Cthulhu seems to facing one’s fears. It’s an interesting choice to use an infamous monster as a vehicle for this message. Do you think having Cthulhu as the protagonist makes this message more effective and if so, why?
Jason: I do. Even though our Cthulhu is a kind, shy creature, he’s still huge and monstrous in appearance, so if it’s okay for him to be afraid, it’s okay for anything to be afraid. I think kids really do well with overcoming obstacles when they are shown examples or proof of someone, or thing, facing the same challenges.
5. What are some of the other themes explored in this book?
Jason: Friendship and trust, for sure, but also independence. Howard and Cthulhu are the best of friends, and I wanted to show kids that it’s okay to trust your friends and those you love with your fears. I also thought it was important to show that Cthulhu really does overcome those fears, and is able to go off to bed on his own after his talk with Howard.
6. Does one need to be familiar with Lovecraft or C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book to enjoy Sweet Dreams Cthulhu or can it be read as a stand-alone volume?
Jason: It can be enjoyed on its own without ever knowing anything about the Cthulhu mythos or C is for Cthulhu. In the end, the story is about someone helping a very good friend overcome fears. This is something we can all relate to, no matter how the story is presented or who the characters are.
7. The book’s illustrations consist of delightful stylized paintings. What were some of the inspirations behind this art style?
Greg: From the beginning, I knew the art in Sweet Dreams Cthulhu had to have the feel of classic bedtime story, so I started by looking at some of the all time greats of the genre. Goodnight Moon’s serene, slice-of-time artwork was on my mind as I was developing the look of our book, as were Sendak’s wonderfully strange illustrations from Where the Wild Things Are. Those same feelings of quietness and wonder were the ones I wished to impart through the pages of this book. Even in the (slightly) creepy parts, it was important to me that the illustrations maintained a gentle quality. The characters in the story may be scared, but I wanted to make sure the kids hearing or reading it would know there was nothing to truly be afraid of.
8. The C Is For Cthulhu brand has gone from strength to strength over the last few years.
Over 25,000 books have been downloaded and more than over $100,000 raised via Kickstarter for various projects related to the brand. I’d call that an inspiration for any independent publisher.
How did ComixTribe develop and promote this brand so successfully?
Tyler: Starting with a best-in-class board book by a top-shelf creative team in Jason and Greg certainly helped!
But one of the reasons C is for Cthulhu took off like a rocket and hasn’t slowed down has a lot to do with the fact that:
1) We’re crystal clear about who it is that we’re trying to entertain. Basically, if you can pronounce “Cthulhu” and have little monsters in your life, you’re our ideal reader.
2) We made a commitment to get in front of our ideal reader systematically and methodically, day in, day out, 24-7. Our primary traffic source has been Facebook and FB ads, and that’s allowed us never stop growing our fanbase of cultists of all-ages.
3) We follow-up systematically, with both automated and regular email broadcasts to our fans, and we survey them regularly about new project and product ideas. As a result, we’re not taking a lot of risks with product development. We give the fans what they want and they buy it. (Cool how that works, right?)
That’s really the simple three-part strategy for world domination as publisher:
Know who it is you want to entertain, get in front of them every single day, and follow-up with them systematically to build a relationship & find out what to launch before you launch it.
9. Jason, I believe that your childhood bedroom overlooked a cemetery. I can imagine that would have been a frightening experience for any child, never mind one with the imagination of a budding writer.
Do you think that this book would have helped equip the younger you to face bedtime fears? And how do you hope it’ll help your younger readers?
Jason: I absolutely do. I was a very scared kid, and I dreaded the dark. I think a lot of it was due to me not really having anyone to bounce the fears off of and cast some light on things. This was mostly because I was embarrassed about it and never shared my fears with my parents. A story like SWEET DREAMS CTHULHU goes after that problem head on, and shows kids that not only is it okay to be scared sometimes, but that it’s okay to talk about it, too.
10. Finally, what do the minds behind Sweet Dreams Cthulhu feel makes a good or bad bedtime story?
Tyler: Something that stands the test of time. I love the idea that parents will be tucking their little ones in at night to SWEET DREAMS CTHULHU for aeons to come.
Greg: I think all great bedtime stories share a perfect fusion of magical art and reassuring words. Something that fills a young imagination with only good thoughts to take through the night.
Jason: I think Tyler and Greg summed it up perfectly 🙂
More details about Sweet Dreams Cthulhu can be found here.