‘GremoryLand’: Author A. Rasen on the Graphic Novel’s Thrills, Chills, and Emotional Power [Interview]

Few events in life are as nerve-wracking as a high school reunion. While initially fun to catch up with former classmates and share perfunctory memories, old secrets and scandals always find a way of rising to the surface. Set this high-stakes rite of passage at a haunted amusement park and you’ve got the makings of a night filled with terror. A. Rasen’s graphic novel GremoryLand combines these frightening scenarios to deliver an action-packed story that manages to thrill and terrify while causing the reader to dig up the secrets buried in our own pasts.

Bekka is an influencer who invites five of her old high school friends for an advance tour through a brand new horror theme park called GremoryLand. At first glance, the unnerving attractions feel like a bit of spooky fun, but as the rides and games begin to feel uncomfortably familiar, Bekka and her friends realize they may not make it to the park’s exit gates alive. Murderous mascots, sinister animatronics, and deadly carnival games fill the pages of this blood-splattered tale to bring the unfortunate friends on a trip through their own worst nightmares.

After more than 22 million views, this hit WEBTOON has been adapted into a breathtaking graphic novel from WEBTOON Unscrolled. To celebrate this release, Bloody Disgusting sat down with GremoryLand author A. Rasen for a peak behind the curtain of this spine-chilling adventure.

The GremoryLand WEBTOON has over 22M reads! What do you think it is about this particular story that connects with so many people?

With GremoryLand, I wanted to move slightly away from the obsessive and psychological horror style of my previous work, Melvina’s Therapy, and try a genre close to slasher. I did keep some psychological elements, though. GremoryLand is entertainment, and I think readers wanted to enjoy just that in the beginning. To feel like they were starting a ride into the horrors hidden within the amusement park, as if they were actually there.

I think horror has changed a bit, and as societies become less religious, we no longer fear sin and demons. Instead, our fears now revolve around losing human rights; abuse; labor precarity; and the idea of an uncertain or nonexistent future. I believe that some of these fears are experienced by my readers, and because of that, they can see themselves reflected in some of the characters.

Have you enjoyed the process of adapting the story from WEBTOON to paperback novel?

GremoryLand was first published in the WEBTOON vertical scrolling format rather than the traditional comic page format. I worked with the WEBTOON Unscrolled team for months to adapt this vertical format into a graphic novel, which meant taking all panels and structuring them into the traditional page format. The experience has been fantastic, as I had the final say on the book and was able to add some new personal touches.

Can you tell me about your creative process? Do you start with a story or with a particular image?

When I want to create a new project, I enter an obsessive state. This means that from that point, everything I do and everything I engage with will be focused towards that new work. To this end, I need to isolate myself for a while. I go for walks alone and listen to music that inspires me. Thinking about past experiences can help me connect with strong emotions, making it much easier for ideas to come to me.

I continuously come up with ideas and discard them until gradually, this network of concepts starts to connect and form a structure that convinces me. If the structure seems strong enough, I decide that this idea will be my next project. Once I have this idea, I begin writing the script. It starts pretty loose, and I go over it a few times to add in more details. When I am satisfied with the detail of the script, I start with the artistic end of the comic. Much like preparing for a film shoot, I work on the settings, assets, and designs that I will need, so that when the day of “filming” arrives, I can simply focus on drawing the episodes.

How much of the overall story do you have when you begin a series?

When I create a series, I have a structure that helps me know where I’m going, but it’s not strict and does not limit me. Some things are open to change as I go, and thanks to this structure, I can improvise and add new elements as necessary as I go along. In the case of GremoryLand, I had an ending planned for the series, and it’s hinted at on a blackboard in the first flashback of Rami and Zoe in high school. However, things changed as I published, and the reason behind those changes provides a little more insight into the nature of the story.

In fact, the trilogy composed of Melvina’s Therapy, GremoryLand, and Counting Sheep has a hidden backstory through the hints and easter eggs hidden in the panels. The three series can be enjoyed perfectly independently, but it’s an extra experience for the reader who enjoys re-readings and wants to understand the mythology of the trilogy. I plan many things from the beginning, but there has also been improvisation and last-minute changes as I create.

Why do you think the graphic novel format is so effective when it comes to telling horror stories?

Listening to the rain on a stormy day and enjoying a horror story while huddled up under a blanket is a very relaxing experience to me. If you’re reading a graphic novel or webcomic, you can control some things about how you engage with it. This might include what you are listening to, or even how fast you read, and when you stop.

Are you a horror fan? Who are some of your favorite authors, artists, directors, or creators?

When I was a kid, my father made me watch horror movies instead of cartoons. So, like a baby bird imprinting on its mother, I imprinted on the horror genre. In general, I enjoy all kinds of horror. I believe that when you love the genre, you can appreciate aspects of all of them. Some of the movies that have influenced me are: Ringu, Hereditary, Get Out, Scream, IT, Lake Mungo, Noroi, The Blair Witch Project, and A Tale of Two Sisters. Also, series like Twin Peaks, Marianne, Channel Zero, AHS: Murder House and Asylum.

Video games like the Silent Hill saga, Forbidden Siren, and Rule of Rose. Comics like Blood on the Tracks by Shūzō Oshimi, Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki, Bernie Wrightson’s comics, the compilation of stories in Creepy, and most especially Uzumaki by Junji Ito, as he was my biggest initial inspiration to start drawing my own horror comics. I also enjoyed some books by Stephen King and by H.P Lovecraft, and also as a child Goosebumps by R.L. Stine.

How would you characterize the overall theme of GremoryLand? Is it a story about adolescent mistakes or the secrets that tear us apart?

It’s a subversion of teen slasher movies in which I use some characters typical of the genre, though older, and with a bit of a twist; I wanted to show that people are more complicated than simply good or bad. It’s a story about how the problems we carry make us vulnerable to a greater power that will take advantage of our troubles, and manipulate us to perpetuate its system.

Aside from the horrific elements of the story, GremoryLand touches on some very heavy real life horrors. Why is it important to tell these stories and what inspired you to begin this series?

Some of the stories of the characters come from my own life and others from the experiences of people close to me. Some of these problems have long been invisible. What is not shown in society tends to be rejected, so I think it is important to show them in order to find solutions and prevent unnecessary suffering.

You’ve described the process of creating GremoryLand as well as Melvina’s Therapy and Counting Sheep as therapeutic and that writing them has helped you better understand yourself. Could you tell me a little bit about the psychological or mental health aspects of your work?

Some episodes of abuse during my childhood had an impact on my life into adulthood, and I developed a mental illness that began limiting my abilities both in my work and personal life. I made the decision to start therapy in order to address these issues. While attending therapy, I began creating Melvina’s Therapy as a means to process the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing during the sessions. Through working on this comic, I came to realize that I’d dissociated part of myself in order to survive what I’d been through. However, I knew I would have to reconnect with that part of my emotions again to continue growing as an adult.

Also thanks to those therapy sessions, I discovered my true career calling and left my job as a web developer with some savings with the intention of becoming a horror comic book author. Creating Melvina’s Therapy, GremoryLand, and Counting Sheep, and sharing them on WEBTOON, has been a way for me to reconnect with myself and understand the emotional child that I’d suppressed within me. That is why I refer to these three series as the Trilogy of Horror, as they’re interconnected within me and are a part of my healing journey.

I love to talk about the horror genre through the lens of mental health. Do you agree that the genre is particularly suited to helping us better understand our own minds?

I think that horror has the power to delve into the depths of our minds, leaving us vulnerable. It’s in this vulnerability that we are able to establish a stronger connection with ourselves, leading to introspection and self-discovery. When the horror incorporates relatable plots and characters, it creates a cathartic state for the audience, enabling them to free themselves from their own troubles and potentially gain fresh insights about their issues. We can’t control the horrors of the world, but in stories, we gain a sense of being able to. As a creator, I’m in total control of what happens. As a reader, I can choose how to engage with a story.

I’m fascinated by the Happy Family ride and how this horrific story depicts feminist revenge. I also love how outspoken Zoe is regarding her beliefs. What inspired you to incorporate this vignette into the story?

When I was a teen, my female friends always needed to be accompanied home, and I didn’t really understand why, since boys like me didn’t have that problem. I even frivolously said that their parents were overly protective. As I grew up, I began to see that there were real reasons for this, and they were ingrained like a rotting mass in the roots of our society. That’s why I incorporated this scene and a character like Zoe, as they represent the experiences of my friends too. A little fact about the attraction of the Happy Family itself is that it was heavily inspired by Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor, which was an attraction that left a mark on me as a child.

I also love the Mascots From Hell and how they keep us connected to the high school vibe. Were you working from any particular references when bringing them to life?

The reference I had in mind for the mascots was the Robbie the Rabbit mascot from the Silent Hill theme park in the video game Silent Hill 3.

Is there a particular character you feel more connected to than the others?

There are parts of myself in all characters in some way. Sometimes their personality is simply one I like and can relate to, though there are also parts to some that I find terrible. I guess I feel more connected to Rami since some of the experiences I’m portraying in the series are inspired by my own childhood. I also gave him the same name people closest to me call me: Rami.

I laughed out loud when I got to a particular reference in the Truth Game. Are you a fan of Friends and was that an intentional reference?

I’m glad you liked that scene. It was very fun for me to create as well. Friends is my favorite sitcom so I included the reference in the series. It was funny to see how the characters, like younger generations who haven’t watched Friends, were completely lost at that question.

I’m curious about the Angel of Peace that appears to Rami. What was the inspiration for this element of the story and do you see the Angel as a positive or negative presence in Rami’s life?

Good and evil are binary elements, and it’s often thought that they are completely opposite. In my opinion, binary thinking is a problem in itself, as it ignores the diversity and complexity that exists in between. Rami was raised in this binary thinking of good and evil, translating this simplification of reality into his way of thinking and ignoring the complex reasons behind the behavior that his parents considered incorrect. Therefore, the Angel of Peace is an extreme of good intentions that doesn’t fit with the intricate human psychology and ends up having a very negative effect on Rami.

The colors are so vivid and the art is just incredible. Did you have any specific themes or references in mind when designing the look of GremoryLand?

Thank you! I’m happy you like the art. My previous work Melvina’s Therapy was in black and white with a heavier feeling that could reflect the uneasiness of psychological horror. In GremoryLand, I thought that an amusement park needed color, so I decided to make it as eye-catching as possible. I took inspiration from the horror book covers that I loved so much as a child, like the Goosebumps book covers by Tim Jacobus.

I have some ideas, but I’d love to know if there’s any significance to the name GremoryLand?

When I was a kid, my favorite attraction at theme parks was the haunted house. But it wasn’t enough for me. The idea of creating my own horror park came to me when I was a child while reading R.L. Stine’s HorrorLand. Later, as an adult, I wanted to make that amusement park a reality in webcomic format. So you can see where part of the inspiration comes from. The name Gremory refers to a duke of hell. There’s another origin for this name, but that’s a secret held by a few close friends and myself.

Without spoiling anything, GremoryLand ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Do you have any plans to continue the story?

GremoryLand is a completed series on WEBTOON, composed of 67 episodes. Volume two of the graphic novel will cover the final part of the series. My goal now is to create new stories and have fun with different subgenres of horror and thriller. I won’t rule out anything since I don’t know what I may feel like creating in the future.

Do you plan on unscrolling Melvina’s Therapy or Counting Sheep? Are there any other projects you’re working on?

I would love for them to be published in print, preferably with the WEBTOON Unscrolled team that I have collaborated with for the printed edition of GremoryLand. Currently, I’m preparing a new comic called Manny for WEBTOON. It’s a psychological thriller about unraveling the disturbing horrors of a supposedly happy family. If you enjoyed the attraction Happy Family in GremoryLand, this should be right up your alley.

I encourage the Bloody Disgusting audience to read GremoryLand if you enjoy slasher type stories. If you prefer psychological horror, try Melvina’s Therapy, and if you want a bit of both psychological and slasher, then check out my latest work, Counting Sheep, which is also available on WEBTOON. I have many projects in mind that I would love to create since I enjoy exploring new things. Growing as a horror comic creator is not easy, so if you have enjoyed any of my work, please share my stories with others. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Finally, I would like to thank the people who have helped me during these six years to carry out Melvina’s Therapy, GremoryLand, and Counting Sheep. From the people I have worked with from the beginning, like Alakotila, to my chosen family who supports me daily.

These people, along with WEBTOON and WEBTOON Unscrolled, have been instrumental in allowing me to dedicate myself to creating my own stories and in getting GremoryLand published on paper.

Lastly, I would like to thank Bloody Disgusting for this interview. Since I was a teenager, it has been my go-to website for getting news about the horror genre, and I’m thrilled that you are asking me questions about my work now.

Survive GremoryLand yourself and pick up a copy today!

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