Sometimes, people just don’t know when to leave things well enough alone. Take Signal Fire Studios in Georgia. They just about caused the end of the world when they released The Lovecraftian ABCs, exposing children around the globe to a number of ancient secrets and creating thousands of new acolytes bent on waking untold evils. Thankfully these plans were interrupted by a few well-timed naps and On-Demand episodes of Caillou. (Of course, we parents are beginning to suspect that even Caillou is a minion of some of the most foul creatures ever to swim the dark ether of outer space.)
You would think that Signal Fire Studios would have learned its lesson (especially with the Blue Slime Crib Incident of 2014). But with the release of its latest book, The Very Hungry Cthulhupillar (written and illustrated by Ben Mund–yes, the same Ben Mund that remains a person of interest in the Twitchata Forest fungal infection that resulted in 175 acres of trees shedding bark and growing both eyeballs and navels), it is probably safe to admit the truth: this organization has revealed itself to be an instrument of that most evil and corruptible influence of the twentieth century, Cthulhu. (A search of public records has indeed found major investments in Signal Fire Studios made by a holding company, R’lyeh Real Estate Development, LLC.)
Just how much damage could a 30-page, full-color children’s book actually do, you ask? Plenty. While the book’s story is wrapped in sweet-sounding text and eye-catching imagery, a deeper examination reveals much more. First, is it really necessary to provide the location of the sleeping Cthulhu? Only if your goal is to inspire as many young researchers as possible to start digging for the lost rituals needed to awaken the giant. And why include the correct spelling of one of the most dangerous books lost to mankind in an age where a Google search can start a young inquisitive mind down a dark road? One might think the two-page spread labeled “Mythos Fun Page” complete with a dot-to-dot, maze, and a color-by-number activity harmless, but the book goes one step too far by also providing the instructions for making one’s own Shoggoth. Apparently this is what corruption of our youth has come to–a dose of cute mixed with a pinch of evil.
So how do we fight this continued attempt at infecting our youth? Simple. We buy up all the copies and hide them. Bury them deep. (But not so deep the poisonous pages will affect our water supply.) Do your part, parents. Buy a copy. Tell your friends to buy a copy. If you’re extremely wealthy, buy a few hundred copies.
But whatever you do… do NOT read the pages. Don’t read them aloud. Don’t read them in a well lit room. Don’t read them in a dark room. I hear you: “I’ll read just one page. How bad can it be?” Well, a few well-known HPL mythos researchers have your answer: “Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal.”
My copy, however, is quite safe. I’ve run it through a number of UV lights and covered every page while using up seven cans of disinfectant. I only read it backwards, and even then only under careful supervision from my doctor. You can trust me. Any additional knowledge I gleam from these pages will be shared in future updates (assuming they will still have internet in this facility). Meanwhile, I’m including some Q&A with the author-illustrator, Ben Mund, and Jamie Chambers, owner of Signal Fire Studios below. I know there are some hidden messages in his responses, but I’ve yet to decipher them. More to come…
Q&A with author Ben Mund and Jamie Chambers of Signal Fire Studios
Geekdad: The most obvious question must be asked–from where in the world (deep in the ocean, maybe?) did the idea for this book come? And have you or Ben Mund been having any recurring nightmares since the book’s publication? Do either of you live near the ocean and, if so, are you considering a move?
Ben Mund: It actually started out as a gag on Twitter. I had just read the actual Very Hungry Caterpillar (and possibly also the Necronomicon) to my daughter. I mocked up the Cthulhupillar cover as a joke and tweeted that I had found the old book the cultists used to read to me. I don’t think anyone laughed (although Charles Stross retweeted it!). A few months later I had started work on a separate Lovecraft-themed game for Jamie and Signal Fire Studios, and I happened to show it to him. Twisted minds think alike, I guess, so we cooked up the idea of producing the actual book. Incidentally, the daughter to whom I read the actual book? She now keeps this parody in her permanent stack of night-time books. You may want to check back with her in ten years or so.
Jamie Chambers: I live close enough to the ocean that I can routinely scout for squid-like horrors rising from the depths. And far enough inland that I can easily drive inland in case of squid-like horrors rising from the depths.
GD: The artwork is simple but amazing. Do you have a favorite scene? (Mine would have to be the dining that took place on Saturday, with all the references to famous HPL monsters and story devices.) Are you in any way concerned that you and Ben may now be targets of insane cultists for daring to convert text descriptions to more vivid and colorful representations of things that must not be named?
BM: My favorite scene is the bloated, overfed Cthulhupillar. I loved making Cthulhu feel like a monstrous, world-eating turtle that had flipped over on its back. Speaking of vivid and colorful things that must not be named, you know what I got stuck on? The Colour Out of Space. How do you represent that in a full-color book? I actually wrestled with that for quite a while. What color do you make something that’s supposed to an unnameable hue? So I ended up going with “all of them.” There’s an activity page later in the book that includes a color-by-number that instructs you to use only one color–the color out of space. So I guess readers can correct my undoubtedly wrong guess at what it might look like.
JC: I’m very proud that Ben was able to take cosmic unknowable things beyond our understanding and translate them into something more accessible to kids. And since Ben did such an amazing job with both the writing and art side of this book, I selfishly also love the Saturday page spread since it was one of the few places where my contributions are visible to our readers. So clearly my favorite bits are the more-me sections.
GD: The book has a warning on the back about not being intended for young kids. But come on… is a parent really risking a child’s sanity by giving that child some advanced knowledge about those things that sit silently waiting for eons?
BM: Oh boy, I hope not. As I mentioned above, my daughter keeps it by her bed. If she DOES eventually turn into world-dominating tyrannical Cthulhu worshiper, please delete this interview.
JC: Predictably, despite our warnings, many of our early customers are parents who read this book to their children. Fortunately I’m saved from lawsuits when Ben’s daughter builds an Elder God in the family garage.
GD: I’m glad to see that author-artist Ben Mund didn’t shy away from that other forbidden tome, the Heckronimicon… it rarely gets any mention these days. Did you or Mund find any dark knowledge in those pages that influenced the story of the Hungry Cthulhupillar? Was there any instructions inside that helped direct the artwork or pick the references from HPL’s original stories?
BM: I suppose the Heckronomicon isn’t quite as bad as the Necromicon. So it probably contains speakable things, knowable knowledge, and ancient rites that will bring down the old gods of mild inconvenience.
You mentioned picking references from HPL’s stories, and that was the most enjoyable part of the book. From groaners like the steamer trunks labeled “Ward” (Cases of Charles Dexter Ward. Get it? Get it? Ugh.) to getting to do [famous artist of illustrated children’s books]-style art of my favorite Lovecraftian bits, it was a blast to do.
JC: Even if the only reward was learning how to easily create my own shoggoth, it would all be worth it.
GD: Finally, you included in the back of the book your own retelling of “The Cats of Ulthar,” a short but chilling HPL story about the dangers of mistreating cats. Why this particular story? Are you a cat owner? What’s the takeaway for children (and adults) who like to pull on cat tails and jump out at them from hiding places?
JC: This is actually the second time I’ve adapted “The Cats of Ulthar” by Lovecraft (the first being in Cthulhu Haiku from Popcorn Press). We had limited space, so I wanted a story to which I could do justice as an illustrated children’s story written at a slightly higher level than the Cthulhupillar. And while Lovecraft was an avowed cat-lover, I am the opposite. I look at the story of Ulthar as a cautionary tale against owning cats in the first place. You never know when gypsy incantations will cause an army of whiskered murderers to invade your bedroom at night.
Note: You can also catch a video of a read-through of The Very Hungry Cthulhupillar book below: