Jude Ellison S. Doyle On the Fears Lurking Next Door with Boom! Studios’ ‘ The Neighbors’
Boom! Studios‘ five-issue limited horror series ‘The Neighbors‘ by creators Jude Ellison S. Doyle and Letizia Cadonici has given fans a haunting experience of fear of both the known and unknown as a small family moves into a small town that is more than meets the eye.
Three issues in, we now know that we are dealing with changelings and the dangers have kicked off a chain of events that puts the safety of the entire family at risk. With more questions left to be answered, the series continues to elevate through each issue and captivates readers with a truly one-of-a-kind story.
Focusing on both real everyday issues and those of the supernatural kind. The series has managed to incorporate fears and struggles of many different natures without losing the balance within its narrative and still keeping our eyes on unraveling the secrets of the town and clinging to the hope that the entire Gowdie family will come out of this alive… or unchanged.
Issue 3 of 5 just saw its release this week and found Janet raising trouble among the locals due to her realization of the lack of children in their new hometown. Oliver finds himself dealing with a much more grounded fear as he suspects the transphobia in the town might risk his wellbeing plus many more mysteries to unravel, including Agnes drawing Isobel in closer.
We had the opportunity to ask a few questions from the mind behind this sinister and captivating tale. Check out what Doyle had to share about ‘The Neighbors’ below:
GN: You tapped into two deep sources of fear for me personally with changelings and the little fear one has that their neighbors aren’t who they seem to be. How’d you land on these two sources to craft ‘The Neighbors’?
Nearly every horror story I’ve ever written has focused, at least a little, on how scary communities are. “Maw” had the women’s commune on Angitia. “The Neighbors” has the town of Cunnanock, and the men in black who arrive sometimes at night to take people away. Human beings need each other to survive, but once you have a group of people gathered together, you have insiders and outsiders, people with more power and people with less.
You have a culture, a set of expected beliefs and behaviors, and you have the outliers, who don’t fit in and who must be dealt with. That’s where fear happens for me, in the ordinary things people do to each other to maintain the social order. Coming out as trans in the 2020s will make you extremely aware of all the ways you don’t blend in, and I think I wrote “The Neighbors” in part to honor that fear.
GN: You’ve written horror before and one thing I appreciate about your writing and horror writing is that it always carries a deep narrative for character building. Is this something you aim for, or do you feel the two go hand in hand?
That’s absolutely it – you can’t really be scared until you have somebody to care about. Without real character development, horror is not horror; it’s gore. It desensitizes you instead of waking you up. I also think horror is just a great space to do character-driven drama, because it’s about the sides of life we don’t normally want to talk about. It’s about sex and death and rage and grief and everything you can’t bring up in an ordinary conversation.
Horror brings its characters into extreme situations, but it also brings them into contact with all the repressed and forgotten and unbeloved parts of themselves. I think every genre has room for good character writing, but in the case of horror, it’s literally just about taking a person, or in this case a group of people, and bringing them to their edge. The more human they are, the more we relate to that edge, the more disturbing it will be.
GN: You’ve brought to light fears and struggles that many people deal with these days with the fear of being themselves to the outside world. What were some of the inspirations that drove you to include this in your story?
I became a parent for the first time in 2017, and I started questioning my gender in 2019, which eventually led to me coming out as trans in summer 2020. The two processes were really connected for me – in order to be there for this little person, I had to be the best and strongest version of myself, and that meant I couldn’t be hobbled by complexes about my identity. I had to figure my shit out so that I could devote my full focus to my kid.
So there were life events that went into the creation of this story. I’m also a journalist, though, and in the time I was writing this story, there was an onslaught of stories about queer people as parents and queer people as kids. There were states, like Texas, threatening to steal trans kids out of gender-affirming homes and put them in abusive ones – real, awful, primal-fear stuff for any parent to read about.
There was a push to label queer people as “groomers,” unsafe for children to even be around, and in the past that’s definitely resulted in queer parents having their children removed from their homes. That’s a pretty constant fear for me these days.
The idea of these shadowy forces, lurking outside the home, waiting to steal children, became very real to me. But that’s also a fairy-tale threat. That’s an ancient threat. There have always been monsters that steal babies, and trying to move from the headline to the myth was where “Neighbors” came from.
GN: You combined some deep and real fears with supernatural ones, particularly with Oliver. With Oliver’s distrust and paranoia surrounding the fear of the town finding out he is trans, do you think this makes him more open or aware of the weirdness of the town?
I think that for any marginalized person – not just trans people – a lot of your survival depends on being able to read the people around you. It depends on being able to anticipate the worst or the ugliest thing that someone might do. My husband, who grew up as basically the only non-white kid in a very small town, grew up to be extremely good with people, because he had to mind-read and charm people in order to ensure they wouldn’t turn on him.
I was read as queer, and for me, it inspired almost the opposite set of skills. I’m very good at shutting down my feelings and hardening myself against a potentially hostile situation. I’m always trying to read someone for their potential ulterior motives, I’m always prepared for conflict, because in my experience, conflict can arise at any moment.
I don’t think it’s a healthy adaptation in either direction, but the point is that it IS an adaptation. Trauma always starts as a reaction to a genuinely dangerous situation. It helps you survive. It only becomes unhealthy when you get stuck, and that’s what PTSD is. Your brain feels like it’s trapped in the same dangerous situation 24 hours a day. You can’t settle down. You can’t trust.
Oliver has reached that point, and passed that point, when we meet him. He can’t leave the house. His fear is running his life in every respect. But if they’re in a dangerous situation, he’s going to be the one to see it first, because his alarm system is always on. It’s the people who can trust in the world’s essential goodness, like Janet, or Isobel, who are really at risk.
GN: Casey was abducted and who we see now is most certainly not the Casey we saw last. Although she is causing harm, she seems to be causing division among Oliver and Janet who both usually play very good counterparts to each other. Can you divulge anything about Casey’s actions?
I think Casey – any version of her – has a very keen insight into where the fractures and fault lines of this family are, both in the relationships and in the people themselves. She knows how to get Oliver and Janet into a fight, and how to create a situation where neither of them will concede the argument.
She knows what everyone in the family loves or needs – it could be Oliver’s medicine or Isobel’s favorite toy or Janet’s secret cigarettes, or, for that matter, Janet’s love for Casey — and she knows how to take that away or use it against them.
One of the most sinister things about kids is that they can cause harm without really processing it as such. It feels like a game. There’s a Richard Hughes book, “A High Wind in Jamaica,” which is great on this – the kids are kidnapped by pirates, but not only do they not fully understand the danger they’re in, they don’t understand death at all. One of them falls and splats on the deck in front of the rest of the group and they just laugh it off.
The kids turn out to be much scarier than their adult kidnappers, ultimately, because they have no sense of consequences or adult morality. They can do anything, as long as it’s fun. That, to me, is Casey. She sees herself as a trickster. She sees the things she’s doing as pranks or games. If someone dies, oh, well. It’s that kind of game. It just doesn’t bother her in the end.
GN: You play around with different types of fears in The Neighbors, but I am curious. What scares you more, the fear of the unknown or the fear of the known?
Always the unknown. The scariest horror movie I ever saw was an episode of “Columbo” when I was eight. My dad had seen it before, and he said that what happened next was too scary for kids to watch, so he was just going to turn off the TV until that scene was over.
I was up until four in the morning trying to think about what had happened in those missing five minutes of television. I got to some incredibly dark places. I still don’t know what it was.
GN: Lastly, I just want to applaud the entire team for putting together such a wonderful story. It feels like a modernized fairy tale and is not only creepy but feels very real and it’s all credit for your touching on some real-world issues we deal with today. Anything you want to share with readers of the series?
I’m so glad that it feels real to you. That was always the goal – to take you into a story you might think you know, but to bring it to you in a way that makes it feel fresh and alive and like it’s happening for the first time. So I will say that, as we speak, we’re sort of right about to find out who the monsters are and where they live and what they call themselves, and I am really excited to see if we pull that off.