Don’t let the name fool you. Akron artist Shawn Coss’ upcoming book “KinderGarten” is most definitely not for children. While the illustrated collection has the look and feel of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” there is no humor within Coss’ pages. And the content is pretty dark.
“KinderGarten” which is still in production, features a creepy little girl named Lucy who’s led through 11 different tales (some in the form of diary entries and poems) that are manifestations of Coss’ own fears as a new parent, and how, when his first child was born he started “losing his mind” with worry.
“No one really prepared me for when I became a dad a few years ago that you’re going to think of every scary f$#%ing thing that can happen to your kid: good luck,” says Coss, whose day job is working as a cartoonist, writer, voice actor and background designer for the popular “Cyanide and Happiness” Web comic and cartoon series. He’s also a part-time ER nurse, which helps provide insurance benefits for his young family.
Despite the subject matter, Coss’ illustrations are darkly beautiful, and his stories cover such topics as suicide, sickness and accidental death. Like “Gentle Swing,” in which Lucy’s dad never took the time to play with her, until he ended his life, and now he swings with her every day. In “Breathe Easy,” Lucy observes her mom’s illness, and her mom’s movements become, “like a marionette made of sticks, her toenails drag across the floor, I hear her outside the door.”
“Family Tree” finds Lucy’s parents mentioning that the wood from her tree will one day be used for her coffin.
The intended audience are readers about 16 years of age and up, especially fans of the “Creepy Pasta” Reddit community and the aforementioned “Scary Stories” book series and creator Stephen Gammel, whom Coss admits to being obsessed with. Gammel’s artwork and stories have scarred many a child for generations.
Coss writes: “As artists, we tend to bleed out in front of our audiences, and reveal fears and
vulnerabilities that no shrink could pull out of from even the longest couch session. I find myself in
an odd place where I’m putting what I typically keep hidden away into physical form, and in front a
potential large audience no less.”
Existential fears aren’t the only ones plaguing Coss. He also has a fear of how much people will like the book when it comes out. But that is a fear that is likely unfounded, as his dark yet elegant artwork and brisk storytelling are sure to leave an impression on his readers.
Not to mention the fact that his current crowdfunding campaign has met its original $20,000 goal. So he’s set up a few stretch goals, like adding a spot varnish cover at the $30,000 mark to add some “extra creepiness,” and an expansion to include the “Lost Lucy Gallery.”
Also, Cecil Baldwin of the darkly popular “Welcome to Nightvale” podcast has recently recorded one of the stories, which has been added to the rewards.
As Coss discusses his motivation for writing this book, he clarifies how his pitch has changed throughout this process: “I used to say I’m making a creepy children’s book; now I say I’m making a creepy book about children dying.”
When asked about what inspires him, Coss says he looks for it everywhere. “Movies, music, conversation, I try to be open to let anything inspire me. I really look up to (artist) Alex Pardee. We’ve become close friends over the past couple of years, and he’s helping me to understand art as a career.”
For info, visit Coss’ Facebook page, and to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2070645537/kindergarten-a-collection-of-creepy-stories-by-sha.