‘Classic Monsters Unleashed’ Creator James Aquilone: The Conskipper Interview

For many of us, classic monsters were the gateway into the worlds of film, literature, comics, and collecting. The classic representations of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and all the rest continue to create life-long impressions on young readers and viewers.

Writer James Aquilone was one of those “Monster Kids” and he continues to pay tribute to them in his writing and in the upcoming anthology Classic Monsters Unleashed (currently available to back on Kickstarter). Aquilone spoke to Conskipper about the origins of the project, the Frank Frazetta art that he secured for the anthology, and all things that go bump in the night in this exclusive interview.

Where did the idea to do a classic monsters anthology originate?

James Aquilone: I actually had the idea about 10 years ago, but was waiting for the right time to do it. Judging from the response, it was the right time.

I’ve loved the classic monsters ever since I watched those Abbott and Costello horror-comedies on Sunday afternoons as a kid. Monsters were all the rage back in the day, along with Star Wars and Yoo-hoo. And who can resist new stories about Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Invisible Man? Classic Monsters Unleashed is an ode to the old monster movies and books, but also an update. There will definitely be something for everyone. The stories I’ve read so far are amazing. I can’t wait to unleash them into the world.

What was is like to try to put together the story list?  Did each writer pick their own monster?  

Aquilone: It was surprisingly easy. Almost everyone I contacted said yes to the project. I shot for the very best in the genre and landed them. It’s very exciting to be working with so many great writers, and a few of my writing heroes. And we may have another surprise or two after the Kickstarter regarding big-name contributors, so stay tuned for that.

I gave potential contributors a list of about 20 monsters to choose from. Some came up with their own, and if it fit the theme, I went with it. We’ll have an open submissions period in April for a few remaining story slots, and you can see the list of remaining monsters and guidelines on my website. There’s still a lot to choose from.

What are the challenges/rewards of editing an anthology versus writing a story for one?

Aquilone: Writing is a lonely business; editing is not. An anthology is a collaboration, and Classic Monsters Unleashed involves dozens of writers and artists – and the art is very integral to the book. For an author, a novel or short story is just about writing, while an anthology for an editor is about assembling and managing a project. People think an editor only edits an anthology, but there’s so much more to it – from finding authors and artists, developing the theme and cover, and dealing with contracts marketing, budget and a ton of potential issues.

You were able to secure a number of Frank Frazetta pieces for Classic Monsters Unleashed. Was this process a difficult one? 

Aquilone: I hope all my future projects are like this one. As with the writers, everyone else who heard the concept was in. The Frazetta Estate was very excited about this project. I was told they don’t usually allow Frazetta’s art to be reproduced in books not published by the Big 5, so they must have seen the potential in the project. We’ve even created an exclusive reward with the Estate featuring Frazetta’s “Creatures of the Night” and a classic monsters poem that Alessandro Manzetti wrote especially for the anthology.

Can you tell us more about the other art that will be featured in the collection? 

Aquilone: Frazetta’s “Creatures of the Night” will be inside the anthology as well as his Wolfman and Headless Horseman paintings. We have a gorgeous piece from Mister Sam Shearon, “Frankenstein’s Monster,” which is based on Mary Shelley’s description of the monster from her novel. And Colton Worley is creating illustrations just for Classic Monsters Unleashed. His first is “Red Death” for Lucy A. Snyder’s Phantom of the Opera story. Colton also did the amazing cover, so I can’t wait to see what else he does.

The Kickstarter campaign also has loads of cool rewards, like prints, posters, T-shirts and Sam Shearon’s Dark Portraits of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley.

Why are the classic monsters such enduring and beloved characters?

Aquilone: Stephen King says in Danse Macabre that there are three main types of monsters in horror fiction: the Vampire, the Werewolf and the Thing without a Name. Or Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which are the perfect and most iconic representations of these types. And these types have been remixed and reimagined countless times to create all the monsters in the genre. So the classic monsters are the foundation of horror.

But I also think these characters endure because of their aesthetics. Now, I’m talking mostly about the movies. Take any still from DraculaFrankenstein and The Wolfman and you have a piece of classic art. These monsters are probably recreated more in horror art than anything else. They just look cool.

You are well known for your own monster series Dead Jack. Any updates on future installments? 

Aquilone: Oh, my favorite monster of them all! A new short story came out a few weeks ago, “Dead Jack and the Case of the Creepy Cryptid,” and the third novel, Dead Jack and the Old Gods, comes out in July.

Crystal Lake Publishing’s Classic Monsters Unleashed is currently available on Kickstarter until April 7.

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