Scarenthood creator Nick Roche: Kids are scary, especially the ones who need you to feed them

After years working in American comics, I’ve written a graphic novel about a group of Irish parents

Kids are scary. When you're a child, it's other kids; the one who told you about the moving statues in the cloakroom, the one who eats shavings out of his pencil sharpener, the ones on The Late Late Toy Show. When you're a parent, they're even scarier; the one who's hungry and needs you to feed them; to be on time to collect them when they're waiting outside school in the rain; to make sure that they grow up safely and securely, with minimal physical or emotional trauma. That kid – that kid especially – is the scariest of all.

Creating Scarenthood caught me by surprise. It’s a graphic novel set in modern Ireland about a group of parents who spend their mornings investigating a malevolent entity they’ve accidentally freed from beneath their children’s pre-school, before being back to collect the kids by lunchtime. It’s a folk-horror that channels the hauntological feel of old 1970s-1980s public safety ads and urban legends via Irish pagan folklore and Catholic Church conspiracies, all through the prism of modern parental anxieties – what frightens you more; fighting demons or letting your children down? A question we all ask ourselves at some stage.

Sure, Scarenthood features reanimated boy scouts and Divil Dogs, but it’s set in the “Real World”, with people wearing the same bags under their eyes as me and my circle of parent friends. After a decade-plus working in American comics – first on Transformers and then with Marvel Comics, including a mini-stint on Spider-Man – I had assumed any comic I created from scratch would contain superheroes, or spaceships, or robots, or time-travel. If I was really greedy, all of the above.

It might have helped lure readers of my previous work to my first creator-owned comic. It definitely would have offered more merchandising possibilities than Scarenthood; who wants to buy action figures of South County Dublin parents dressed in fleeces and yoga pants? (Let me know if you do, we can arrange something.) So what happened?


In real life, there was no portal beneath a crumbling village hall. Still, I found myself sucked into an unfamiliar realm: the School Gates. Two years into being a parent, it had come time to toss my firstborn into the hard-knock world of suburban Montessori life. I'd get my mornings back and have the chance to get work done. Or watch the previous night's Pointless accompanied by multiple rounds of toast. Either way, I went from being a reclusive vitamin D-dodging comic book artist, who only interacted with people sharing my surname, to someone forced to interact with other parents. Strangers. New people.

My daughter coped with the change of routine better than me. There was no stiltedness or awkwardness between her and her new classmates. The adults mingling outside were the opposite. The small talk that connected us also kept us at arm’s length, halting any real bond from forming. Making friends with the ease of a child is a trick that grown-ups lose. You trade it off for debt, soft bellies and howling existential dread.

My small-talk game was as inane as anyone else’s, but I was struck by how rich and interesting our kids’ lives were to compared to ours. Why did they get all the fun? Why are adults only interested in house prices, adequate coffee and the middle aisle in Lidl? (Not a euphemism.) When I asked myself the question, “What else could we be doing instead of pretending to be grown-ups?”, the answer was blindingly obvious: “Ghost-hunting.” Scarenthood had started to come to (after)life.

I couldn’t avoid it any more. My first original comic would be about shlubby Irish parents fighting ghosts, not some hyperkinetic futuristic superpowered epic. (That’s next time.) But this felt real. Even the ghosts. Especially the ghosts.

I began to explore what frightens me – what frightens all of us – as parents, and tie it back into the fears of my childhood. Things like creepy religious statues, fairy rings, imaginary friends that might not be imaginary, and lonely woods linked up with my grown-up concerns about adult isolation, vaguely tenable work-life balance and being a not-awful dad.

The more of Scarenthood’s world I explored, the more comfortable I began to feel there. Cormac, the harried dad trying to do his best by his daughter Scooper, is obviously inspired by my own worries, but the bored-of-being-an-adult Jen is me too; so is sardonic pot-stirring Sinead. Worryingly, bloviating know-all Flynno – a man obsessed with outlandish (possibly true?) conspiracy theories, and the guy you don’t want to be seated beside at a wedding – is also part of my DNA.

But I enjoyed seeing this group of strangers trying to unravel an old mystery, attempting to thwart an ancient hate-fuelled entity, and coping with loss and anxiety, all while trying to be half-decent parents. Writing and drawing it all (with colours by Cork’s Chris O’ Halloran) sure was easier than trying to make friends in real life.

No one wants to hear about a project inspired “By Love” any more than they want to see pictures of your offspring on Instagram. Apart from the affection for my own kids, Scarenthood was also a tribute to other stories I’ve loved; there’s vague traces of The Goonies and The Scooby Gang from Buffy, a whiff of MR James, and a dollop of terrifying BBC hoax haunting, Ghostwatch. There’s undeniable sprinkles of Shaun of The Dead in there too – I like my scares to have jokes, another analogy for parenthood.

I have three kids now. Three times the fear. My eldest is eight, old enough to read, but not old enough to read Scarenthood. That hasn’t stopped her. I wish that Daddy’s Comic wasn’t her first introduction to class-A swears. (How do I explain to Tusla why my daughter knows the phrase “Smooch me Gooch”?) The worry about “Getting It Right” never quite disappears when you’re a parent. But at least for now, it’s been replaced with a new fear: “Will anyone buy my book?”

Scarenthood is published by IDW Publishing