Scooby-Doo, that classic mystery cartoon involving a dog and his sleuthing pals, makes for a tempting adaption target. There’s a genre, mystery, baked into the premise, a cast of interesting characters, and even an animal with a personality – there’s a reason the animated series has been around in some form or another since 1969. The shows generally draw from the crime-a-week mold, which makes them great fodder for a novelization or serialization into written work – pick a set of episodes you like and just write them into prose. Easy!
Two problems with that, of course:
- Scooby-Doo and anything using those characters is going to be copyrighted for the foreseeable future, so if you want the talking great dane to feature in your masterwork, you’re going to have to secure the rights to do that. Which, well, let’s just say there’s easier ways of achieving your writing dreams than barging into corporate offices and demanding they lease you their property so you can put together that long-awaited Scooby/James Bond crossover, where the dog and spy prevent world annihilation at the hands of a cult of people all wearing lobster costumes.
- Even if you do get the direct rights, or just pray the lawyers won’t find you, every single one of those characters is going to carry immense baggage with your audience. The people picking up the book, reading the story, are going to have their own opinions about Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby. You try to do something twisty and original with those characters, and you’re going to get discontent from everyone who can’t believe that Fred is really a 45 year-old man on the run from the law masquerading as a teenager to throw off pursuit while steadily racking up criminals in order to bargain for a suspended sentence from his original crime: running an illegal ascot import business.
So how do you avoid that?
As seen in the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series, you can go for obvious parody. Your audience is going to know right off that this is not the story they’re familiar with, and these characters shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. The rightsholders and die-hard fans won’t care because the scenario you’ve created is so far from the story they love that nobody’s going to be offended. Scooby-Doo Meets the Mob, in which the dog and the gang team up with Tony Soprano to run drugs through New Jersey? It’s so far from the show and so patently ridiculous that you’re probably not going to get complaints (you also won’t get the rights, but it’s fun to imagine).
The other way, and what Meddling Kids does well, is to play off of a familiar cultural icon just enough to make the references clear and then swing it your own way. Edgar Cantero’s supernatural mystery uses an older cast whose characters have some relation to their cartoon alter-egos, but are more fully-realized. They’re older, they’ve seen some things, and they’re not scared of a man in a mask. The dog doesn’t really talk (and isn’t a great dane either). Yet there are enough similarities – the story picks up on a gang of teenage sleuths years after they’ve split apart – that it’s easy to fall in with the characters. Like friends that you’ve not seen for a while, there’s plenty to recognize.
Cantero also uses the setup to drive a more complex, more wild story than most of the cartoons ever did. These characters are deeper, have more complex motivations and histories – which is, partly, a function of a novel over a 23-minute cartoon for kids, which this book definitely is not – and come across, mostly, as actual people. As such, we’re able to use our familiarity with Scooby-Doo to get us in the door, but the place we’ve walked into is very different from what we know, which makes it fun to explore. If you’re a fan of mysteries, especially supernatural and somewhat comedic ones, this is a rollicking journey from start to finish. You’re not getting hard-boiled detectives or gritty realism, but characters that you’ll both recognize and be excited to ride along with as the story burns towards a nuts conclusion.
A couple things:
- One thing Cantero does that I wasn’t fond of, which is definitely a matter of personal reader taste, is use descriptions and narrative asides that are very over-the-top or that seem interjected by the author’s hand. These might be funny to some, and most were clever, or at least produced amusing images, but they often jerked me out of the story. Made me notice the writing, say, rather than the scene, and getting pulled out of the story is not what I want to do. I’m going to keep an eye out for this in my own work too.
- Carpet cleaning – it basically makes your entire house damp for a day. I kept forgetting this, soaking my socks. So my advice to those considering cleaning their carpets: get some sandals or slippers, lest your interior become a strange version of the lava game you may have played when you were a kid, except instead of “dying”, what you get instead is minor annoyance. Terrible, I know. On the other hand, the cats seemed to love it, and as everything I do these days is in service to my feline overlords, their happiness made the whole thing worth it.