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Let’s start with a basic introduction. If you don’t know who Bogleech (Jonathan Wojick) is, you really have to amend that.
To name a few of his many talents and accomplishments: he is responsible for Mortasheen, a pen and paper rpg with hundreds of beautifully drawn monsters that populate the world, Awful Hospital, a choose-your-own adventure where readers comment on pictures and shape the story as he illustrates them, as well as a collection of hilarious comics that you really need to read.
Jonathan Wojick has also written articles for Cracked.com and has a number of articles on his own site ranging from top ten lists, reviews of pokemon/Neon Genesis Evangelion angels/Final Fantasy VII enemies, to one of my favorites, a retrospective on the illustrations of Magic: The Gathering cards. (As an aside, I am pretty sure that the illustrator; Ron Spencer drew sustenance from my childhood night terrors spawned from his metal as shit/grisly images.)
Emp: I would like to begin by getting an idea of the man behind, what I can only assume, is a massive shroud of insects; tell us a bit about yourself. Give us some background information, hobbies, occupation, how’d you start out writing, and what was your first story about?
Bog: I can't remember a time where I wasn't obsessed with monsters or real-world biology, and coming up with all sorts of worlds, scenarios and creatures of my own. Here's an actual drawing from my early childhood.
Most of my life has just been spent reading and drawing, I was always a homebody and lived relatively isolated. I was eventually homeschooled because I got sick at an unusual rate around other kids, missing up to a fourth of the school year with fevers and infections, which left me with a fear and fascination for germs and disease that still influences a lot of things I've made.
Emp: A lot of your stories have unique/interesting premises. A few that spring to mind are: The Five/Headed South. Would you mind sharing with us what influences you and where you get your inspiration?
Bog: I've always found things scariest when they're really strange and a little bit silly. When I was a child I had absolutely chronic nightmares and night terrors, I was afraid to sleep alone in a room until almost my teens because I knew I'd wake up having a panic attack, and the things that triggered it were always just bizarre and absurd. I wouldn't dream about things like a slavering monster coming at me, but things like long, white fingers curling out all the cupboards and cartoonish voices booming from inanimate objects.
I'm glad that a lot of creepypasta and other online horror really "gets" how frightening something can be just for not making much sense. I know everyone praises the hell out of Candle Cove already, but, there's good reason for that, it's easily the most flawless horror story I've ever read. Junji Ito also perfectly captures real horror of the unknown and improbable in a lot of his manga, especially the utterly bonkers entries like "Hanging Balloons."
Emp: I recently also got turned onto Junji Ito, he’s got some amazing mangas that are perfect for unsettling the reader.
Besides showcasing a number of your excellent stories, you also have a lot of comics, illustrations, figures, and t-shirts that are up for sale, which always made me wonder, how time consuming is it to do all of these things? Typically how long does each comic take to draw our and color in?
Bog: For me, it usually takes around two to five hours for something to go from a concept to colored and uploaded, but I'm also a procrastinator and waste probably 99% of my free time getting distracted on the internet or just thinking hard about what I wish I was getting done. I also have a hard time revisiting anything, so almost every drawing I have up was done in a single sitting, and would probably look a lot nicer if I knew how to space it out and perfect something over a few sessions. Every little bit of work feels more daunting than it is, so I'll put something off for weeks, finally start on it, and be done before I even realize it. Then I start over fearing the next thing for no reason.
This can all be considered advice. People reading this should try not to do any of the things I just said. They also shouldn't feel bad if they can't help any of it, though.
Emp: One of the reasons why you’re one of my favorite authors is your ability to inject humor into horror without weakening either element. Burgrr Entries is a perfect example of this; your descriptions of the parasitic entities are hilarious and horrifying at the same time and it has one of my favorite endings for a story ever.
Do you have any advice for authors looking to tell a horror/humor hybrid?
Bog: I think an element of humor was there to almost every single horror narrative I've ever enjoyed, and I'm not just talking about throwing some jokes or a comic-relief character in; I mean the horror elements themselves seem to work a lot better when they're silly on some level, like what I was saying earlier about goofy nightmares and surrealism.
As a writer OR a reader, you can't let yourself equate horror or overall quality with how "seriously" you can take something.
"John Dies at the End" was excellent both as comedy and as horror, and there wasn't a very clear distinction between the two. A lot of the monsters themselves were cartoonish and preposterous, and that only gave their frightening aspects more effective contrast.
Emp: I loved “John Dies at the End”, David Wong does an excellent job with the Lovecraftian Korrok making it threatening and comical at the same time.
Of course, I can’t interview you without talking about your troll pastas. There are classics like: TEH DAY OF ALL TEH BLOD, Cackling (although that one always felt like a genuine horror story until the last few lines), as well as some other ones that are deeply ingrained into the creepypasta community. How important do you think it’s for readers/authors to take the time to poke fun of overused tropes that are prevalent elements in a lot of stories?
Bog: Pretty important, considering that even long after they've all been mercilessly picked apart, those tropes are still being recycled with disastrous results. I know I'm starting to sound repetitive here, but a lot of that comes back down to writers taking their work dead seriously and expecting their readers to do the same.
Emp: I re-read a lot of your stories in preparation for this interview like: Doctor Dementist the dentist, Dr. Phage, the bacteriophage, and Harmburger, I can’t help but notice the awesomely absurd nature of your stories and how effective you use descriptions. The description of the sentient hamburger in “Harmburger” is comical and cringe inducing at the same time due to the details you put into its rotting form. What advice can you give to the users reading this on how to effectively build a description?
Bog: Harmburger was actually intended to poke fun at the excessively detailed descriptions you stumble upon in some stories, where the writer launched into every boil and scab on their demon's face. I thought it'd be funny to do that for a monster that's also a big sandwich.
Less really is usually more when you truly want to be creepy. Sometimes I love getting that high-res description of a creature, but the most memorable monsters are always simple enough to describe in a few words, and if you do really want to communicate a lot of characteristics, SPACE THEM OUT!
The first time you describe your monster, boil it down to the basics. Say you're really bent on a detailed monster, like it's a big skinless frog with chicken feet and lobster claws and its eyes are a pair of screaming skulls for some reason. You don't have to say all that in one place.
The first time your protagonist encounters it, you only need to say so much as "a disgusting mish-mash of features stood in the door. Fat and frog-like." Later when it starts coming for your protagonist you can say how it lopes along on scaly bird-legs. When it corners somebody you can say how it reaches out with clacking, crustacean limbs, and maybe the last thing its victim notices are how weird its eyes are. You can wait to mention each detail when those details become relevant, one by one. If there's never a time a detail is important, you hardly need to bother.
I didn't actually do this with my own stories, no, but I was aiming for a more corny and parodic feel. To really make something creepy, you want to be more subtle and delicate.
Emp: Every year your website does a Creepypasta Cook-Off, which features horror stories from a number of up-and-coming authors. So here’s a bit of an opportunity to promote some writers on your website. Are there any authors that are contributing quality content on your site that you want to give a shout-out to that you think our audience needs to check out?
Bog: I know this sounds cheap, but I don't think I could pick favorites if the fate of the world depended on it. I get outside help to narrow down "contest winners" because I end up listing almost every single entry as a "maybe." If people are only bothering to read the winners, they're seriously missing out. I can't believe there's so much creative writing talent in just the readership of my one dumb website, so many of them put anything I've ever come up with to shame.
If people can browse through 3,000 SCP entries, I hope they can find the time to give more of the Bogleech stories a chance. Even without a feedback and screening process their quality is very nearly always higher than most of the creepypasta you may have been trudging through years before.
This may be because a lot of the people who enter stories aren't even part of any creepypasta or horror writing community beforehand. They're largely going in blind with all-original ideas instead of trying to fit in with an established status quo!
Emp: You also have a number of articles published on Cracked.com which is no easy task as I can attest to. Can you go into a bit about the process of researching and writing an article?
Bog: It's been a few years since I've done that or other free lance writing - it's actually pretty difficult for one person to keep up with, if they're like me and only keen to write about so many subjects. Like, I could only really get motivated to pitch ideas regarding strange animals or mythological creatures, and I quickly ran out of ideas they really wanted to run on Cracked, but I'm grateful for all the traffic they brought in to my site and the almost entirely positive feedback I got from them.
The process is pretty simple; say you want to write an article on surprisingly important snails throughout history. On Cracked, their minimum list article is normally five entries, but they'll want you to pitch your idea with least six or seven different possible snails to include. For each one, they're gonna want a couple of sources backing up your claims, and a brief explanation as to why that snail is surprisingly important.
They'll also want you to write up two of the entries completely, so they can really judge what the final article might be like. If they enjoy the idea and how you're presenting it, they'll move it on to the next step and ask you to write up the rest of your list. You'll get various feedback throughout, like if two entries are way too similar to one another, or a source seems too weak, or if there's even a different angle that might make the article more exciting, like maybe it turns out a lot of snails influenced the cold war or killed famous poets, and they want you to try focusing more on that aspect.
When your article is all done, they'll pay you right away, and then they'll pass it on to their editors. A few weeks later, the article will go up on their site, with a degree of alteration. When doing freelance writing for almost any website, you can often expect up to half of your writing to be changed; it's nothing personal, it's just how sites maintain a consistent atmosphere and flow to what they publish. I only wrote about half of the jokes and references in most of mine - I'll admit that, in my opinion, the very funniest lines in a lot of my Cracked articles were usually added in by mystery editors.
This takes a lot of pressure off the writing process, too - they do want you to put in your best effort at making the information humorous, but you don't have to worry so much if you don't think you're very funny on your own.
Emp: Any final piece of advice you’d like to give to writers just starting out that you wish you had been given?
Bog: Yeah - never feel like your ideas are too stupid, because there's a whole lot of different kinds of people out there with very different tastes. What one person finds laughable might give another person nightmares for weeks, and even if EVERYBODY thinks it's a stupid story, there's a market for that anyway. Just have fun and write the thing you would want to be reading, without worrying what's "cool" to anyone else.
Emp: To wrap this up all up nicely, are there any projects you’d like to promote while we’re here?
Bog: I've started running a patreon so I can devote more time to art and maybe kill that procrastination I mentioned before, covering both my "Awful Hospital" web series, Mortasheen and other stuff. Even people who don't want to contribute to it can see some exclusive art there for free, mostly design ideas and sketches!
I also always like to plug “Don’t Get Spooked the fully illustrated twine game I did in 2013 and honestly no longer remember how. I feverishly got this idea in my head, taught myself twine, drew some 100 illustrations, learned a bunch of tricks to adding in features like the inventory and the environment changing as you're more or less "spooked," and then I just kind of forgot how to ever do any of that ever again.
Emp: I actually poked around the game when I was doing some research. It’s a really original idea and fun to boot.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us a bit. Visit his website and click on the links above to read his superb stories, comics, play the games designed around his art, and much more.