There was a magical time a few short decades ago when Saturday morning television reigned supreme. Long before Cartoon Network and Netflix–with all their fancy convenience–came along and ruined that special time between 7am and Soul Train, where I’d sit, my eyes glued to the 12-inch screen, for Saturday morning cartoons. And, while Super Friends and Jabberjaw were a good warm-ups, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? was always the main attraction. Fred, Daphne, Thelma, Shaggy, and their canine companion sleuthed their way through haunted amusement parks and cursed swamps to capture some corrupt local land owner, the trying to hedge the real estate market by scaring away the competition. And, he woulda gotta way with if it hadn’t been for you… well, you get the picture.
Although the Saturday morning tradition may have gone the way of the portable disk player, Scooby Doo has continued on in several iterations for more than forty years. The meddling kids trope has remained popular for children (what is Harry Potter but Scooby Doo minus the Great Dane?) and for us who loved the soft mystery and horror of those adventures. Thankfully, two new products are arriving to take us back to a time when the best laid plans included a ghoulish monster and a Rube Goldberg contraption for insnaring it.
Animation and game publisher, Ankara, is about to kickstart Monster Slaughter: a boardgame that draws on the nostalgia of 1980s style horror flicks combined with a playful character design reminiscent of the Mystery Machine crew. But, here’s the twist. Monster Slaughter allows the players to assume the role of a monster family whose task it is to kill a group of teenagers holed up in the proverbial cabin in the woods. Choosing from zombies, werewolves, and zombies, you will have to uncover and murder your victims, in your selected order, to earn points. A brilliantly designed and beautifully illustrated 3-D game board hides the location of each teenager, and as you search, a number of random events can delay you from your quarry. With detailed figures and an innovative play, this one ends up on our most anticipated games of the year. The official kickstarter is set for this coming October. Get your orders in as soon as you can.
To round out your nostalgic horror trip, pick up a copy of Edgar Contero’s Meddling Kids –a book that hits all the right notes for those of us that grew up on Goosebumps and graduated to Stephen King. The novel follows a trail of former teenage investigators as they return to the scene of their last adventure. Contero’s story has it all: an unmasked lake monster, perfectly parodied Nancy Drew archetypes, some honest-to-goodness scares, and even (you guessed it) a dog.
But, don’t let the frequent 80s pop culture references lead you to believe that this isn’t serious storytelling. Contero’s prose is quick (and caustic at times). He reminds us where the story’s origins lie, but never lets nostalgia become the story. As the protagonist, Andy, reassembles her companions for one more jaunt into the darkness, she has her own very real darkness to overcome. The action comes fast and rarely lets up, and it has a blunt visceral quality–letting us know, while the kids may have started out on Saturday morning, it’s well passed midnight on Sleepy Lake.
Meddling Kids is out now and is climbing the New York Times Best Seller list. How’s that for a Scooby Snack?
I’d be the first to admit that the perceived quality of many of my favorite childhood entertainments have not stood the test of time. However, at the center of each was a compelling message that has traveled well, weathered but no less diminished–that children have agency, they can make choices, take risks, be powerful, suffer consequences, make a difference. This simple theme is embedded in every episode of Scooby Doo and is why it’s still around inspiring future ghost hunting skeptics and not a few new stories.