February is getting closer, and The Strange Man will finally be loosed upon the world.
As we hurdle closer to that moment, I'm reminded of my nearly 13 year long journey to see this creation come to life. The road has been twisty, with more than one detour or roadblock in the path. But today, I want to talk about the Strange Man, himself. The Bogeyman.
The first concept I guess I ever had of a "bogeyman" was Freddy Krueger.
I remember the night I first watched (most of) A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was on late night TV and I was, maybe, nine years old. I was petrified, but fascinated. I'd watch a little bit, then turn the channel to catch my breath, then flip back to Fred. Scary stuff. Perhaps what stayed with me the most was the taunting. How much fun he was having, killing these people. It was that ego, that totally carefree attitude to butchery that fundamentally disturbed me.
I don't suppose it's any coincidence then that, years later when constructing my own bogeyman, he got a little Fred Krueger buried at the heart of him. The Strange Man is a sadist, deriving a kid-on-Christmas-morning kind of glee from inflicting misery and torment on his victims. He taunts them, daring them to stand against him, then laughs as he crushes their hopes and dreams before their stunned eyes. In order to write "The Coming Evil" from the heart--from the gut--I had to put my characters against something that terrified me, and the Strange Man is that.
For the physical look of the Strange Man, he's gone through a lot of renditions. First and foremost, in the very first draft of "The Coming Evil"--back when it was a screenplay--he wasn't called "The Strange Man" at all. In those days he was simply "The Devil". From the get go, I really wanted to touch on the duality of the Devil. He's charming and enticing one minute, then he reveals his true nature and rips your throat out. In the original script, he appeared in a "human form" throughout the whole story--with maybe only glimpses of his true self in window or mirror reflections. Here's a sketch I threw together back then.
His monster form sorta looks like a plucked bird. I was playing on the popular renderings of angels with wings. My idea was that, as a fallen angel, his "wings" would be removed. Also, he's got no eyes, or perhaps they were just closed. My concept was that, after having been locked up in "the gloomy caves of hell" as the Bible refers to it, he'd be malnourished, frail, pale, and his eyes would be sensitive to the light. This was a pretty bizarre sketch. I quickly ditched it.
That smile, though, really struck me.
The smile can be a creepy thing. I'm told that I don't actually smile a lot, and, as it turns out, I think I distrust people who walk around with a smile on all the time. That kind of smile, oftentimes, seems forced or perhaps used to cover up darker thoughts. I think it was Mark Hamill's turn as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series that made me see the power behind the "demented leer".
I began to incorporate that more and more into my bogeyman. In fact, for a brief stint, he was known as "The Smiling Man" in that "plucked bird" form. But, I wanted something a little more dramatic. Hence...this.
This was my attempt at a Lestat figure (it didn't last long, either). Very charming, metrosexual, some Goth influences in there--really over the top. I really dig that monster, though. I refer to that as "Open Face". But, no. That was too much, and kinda silly, really. But it was a lot of fun to draw and I still get a kick out of looking at it. The only thing I think I retained from this concept was the metrosexual approach to the Strange Man's "beautiful form" (though he's a much better dresser now).
I went back to the "plucked bird" concept to see what worked. In the Bible, when Moses leaves the mountain after having a conversation with God, his face is glowing. When angels are described, it says that they're glowing. I put two and two together and deduced that this glow comes from being in the presence of God. But, again, for a fallen angel--which the Strange Man is--he's not been in the presence of God for a very long time. I went back to the concept of him being frail, malnourished, pale, sickly. But, I threw in some Joker influences for his face, and dressed him up in some leather straps and chains.
While some might feel that the obvious inspiration for this leather fetish was Pinhead from Hellraiser, I was actually paying homage to Edward Scissorhands--which I looooved as a kid. Also, around the time I was doing this, Dark City hit theaters and I fell in love with the costuming and art design in that movie (probably because it reminded me of Ed Scissorhands :p).
As it turns out, the villains in Dark City were called "the Strangers", but I had actually forgotten that until today when I was trying to google for that cool Dark City pic. So, no, I didn't nick the name for my bogeyman. The name came just by happy coincidence. When I first started writing the novel of "The Coming Evil", I kept referring to the monster as "the strange man" until I could come up with a cool monster name. After awhile I realized, "Hey! That is a cool name!" I capitalized it and there you go. The Strange Man.
But the bogeyman wasn't quite there yet. For those of you who have read the Xulon Edition of Book One, you'll be familiar with the Strange Man's gremlin hordes. There was a very brief time when they were one and the same. I had this bizarre image of the gremlins forming together to make this "beautiful man". Then, when he revealed himself, he "exploded" into a thousand tiny monsters. That sounded really cool, but too complicated to write (does he have a hive-mind POV?), so I scratched it. Once I made the gremlins their own thing, I was free to design the Strange Man. I went back to the Dark City stuff, Edward Scissorhands, the Joker, and a little Nosferatu for good measure, and I finally came up with a winner.
Immediately after I finished drawing this picture, I knew I had my bogeyman. The character really took off from there. The chains and straps were no longer just for decoration--I came up with the concept that they were a sort of prison, keeping him contained. So, even at his worst in the books, we get the hint that's only scratching the surface of his true evil potential. I also added the concept that the Strange Man doesn't walk--he hovers. Again, he's imprisoned, caught between heaven and earth, in a way. He doesn't belong to either world; he can't soar (like an angel) and he can't walk (like a man). I remembered that movie The Craft, and how Fairuza Balk's character floats in one scene, dragging the points of her shoes on the floor. I thought that was so cool, so I added that to the mix, as well. But the inspirations continue today. I'm always seeing new movies, reading new books or comics, and coming up with more little touches on the character. But this sketch is the foundation of everything the Strange Man is.
Since his initial premiere in 2007 (when the Xulon Edition came out), I've been incredibly blessed to see some amazing artists offer their own interpretations on the character.
Here's Richard Harrison Green's rendition. Richard was a Disney Animator and also has done some work for Ray Bradbury! He sketched this up at my very first convention as a guest.
Next, Brent Schoonover put this one together on the inside cover of a copy of his comic Horrorwood!
Most recently (and perhaps most famously) Thomas Mason painted this beautiful scene that has created a fair number of goosebumps since its unveiling.
Finally, we have the Strange Man as he'll appear on the cover of the book come February.
This is a more "realistic" approach--some of his more gruesome elements have no doubt been toned down to not scare the ladies perusing the Christian bookstore shelves--but I'm actually very pleased to see that there's a bit of Richard O'Brien from Dark City in this! Talk about coming full circle.
The Strange Man has come a long way, but I'm proud of the results. I love monsters and it's been a real pleasure creating one of my own. One day, I hope to see the Strange Man break out of the world of prose and enter comic books. After that, maybe movies! Toys! Model kits! Coloring books! Lunchboxes!
Well, you get the idea. :)
Thanks for tuning in to my nostalgia. Pick up the book when it hits stores in February and face the Strange Man!