Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Monster High takes a bite out of Barbie

Lisi Harrison's new series for young teens, Monster High, isn't just a book series: its a multi media toy megabrand.

With its gothic make up and vamped up vampires Monster High is an hilarious counterpoint to the nicey-nice world of Barbie.

Harrison's first Monster High yarn was, I thought, weirdly brilliant - just as it should have been.

If you like these books check out Carmen Reid's St Jude's series. There are no monsters, but they are equally entertaining and brilliant. Plus, Carmen is my other, far more talented half.


High School is bad enough when you are 15 years old and relatively normal looking. But imagine if you were just 15 days old, had steel bolts in your neck and seams on your skin showing where your arms have been stitched together. And what if you were green instead of a nice fleshy pink or brown?
Put it another way, how difficult would being a teenager be if you were a monster? And before you say, ‘well no change there then’, author Lisi Harrison tells you that that is just the point of her new series, Monster High
“Oh it’s a big metaphor,” she laughs. “I tried to make these characters like real high school characters. They are all dealing with something that we’ve all dealt with in high school or middle school, something they are embarrassed about.
“Going through puberty and changes in your body and your world can leave you feeling like a monster, something that’s horrifying.
“For instance, Clawdeen the werewolf is dealing with major hairgrowth issues – and every kid deals with that! Frankie Stein has her skin colour which is definitely an issue with a lot of people in this country. And Lala [full name: Draculaura] has her fangs which reminds me of when I got braces and became really self conscious of my teeth.
“Even the Jekyll and Hyde character, Jackson, well every girl I know dated that guy: really nice one minute and a total jerk the next. I wanted to draw these characters in such a way as you might think maybe there are monsters in this world. The message behind it is that we should all be celebrating our differences rather than hiding them.”
Harrison, a former MTV producer who has a bestselling US high school series The Clique (think Gossip Girl for juniors) says monsters wasn’t what appealed about the idea at first. In fact it was Mattel.
The US toy giant approached her with a collection of dolls and the offer that she make up a series of books about them. Blatantly commercial it might be but it’s working. The figures are now sold out in the US and a spin off single (‘Monster High’) is even doing well on MTV. Kids are already turning up at book signings carrying the dolls and wearing the T-shirt.
“At first I wasn’t interested because monsters aren’t my thing, but they wanted the books to be funny, they knew my other books, and so they gave me the freedom to pretty much do what I want. The experience has been really positive and they have been great,” she says.
“OK, they have a brand to uphold and yes, they did insist on taking one thing out – when Claudine [central character Melody’s older sis] names her boobs Coco and Chanel after her favourite designer.” Lisi releases another whooping laugh. “One day I’ll write a book with that in, and you’ll know why!” she promises.

This interview was published in Big Issue Scotland magazine, October 12 2010

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