The Inspiration Behind MARY’S MONSTER

January 31, 2018 | 5:00 PM

The Inspiration Behind MARY’S MONSTER

By Lita Judge
The Inspiration Behind MARY’S MONSTER

I wanted to write about Mary Shelley for over a decade after I learned that she was a pregnant teenage run-away when she wrote her novel, Frankenstein. That blew me away. Why did I not know more about her life when she should have been an incredible role model to young women? We’ve all heard the popular myth that Frankenstein was conceived spontaneously on a stormy night when the poet Lord Byron dared a small party of fellow expatriates to write ghost stories. But the myth strips away the identity of the brilliant young woman who wrote one of the most influential novels of the Romantic era and places credit for its inspiration in the hands of a man. Countless events in Mary’s life before and after that evening played a much greater role in the horror novel’s creation. 

Mary Shelley was a girl brimming with ideas about politics, literature, and love. In a conservative world, this teenager radically refused to accept the social norms of her day, which denied women a chance at an education or a career. In movies about her life she is often depicted as an aristocratic wife, but in reality she grew up incredibly poor, faced the constant threat of debtors’ prison and lived next to the prison gallows and livestock slaughter houses. She was straddled with a cruel stepmother who mistreated her. But she had a strong, resilient, and rebellious nature. At sixteen, she fell in love with a married man, Percy Bysshe Shelley. 

Vilified for her decision and forbidden ever to return home, she faced horrific losses and abuse, but survived and began writing her novel when she was only nineteen. 

Sadly, teens today inherit a world with social injustice, a world where women are still fighting for full equality. But Mary’s life is an inspiration to us all about how to fight for what we believe in and how to live by our convictions.

I knew immediately I wanted to create a book in free verse with full bleed art on every page. Mary persevered to create a new genre in literature (the Industrial Age science fiction novel), and the most iconic monster ever created. I thought the best way to honor her innovation was to create something that looked different from YA biographies we’ve seen before.  By using free verse and full bleed art, this is not just a novel in verse or a graphic novel. It’s part biography, part visual fantasy, and part feminist allegory. 

For the illustrations, I felt I needed to reach beyond depicting Mary’s life in a purely historical way. I researched the clothing, architecture, and other elements of her life, so that I could get those elements right, but the art focuses on the expressions of the characters. Through a realistic style, the illustrations evoke the fear, sadness, and passion Mary experienced. The artwork is a combination of pencil, watercolor, ink, and digital. I kept it in black and white to give it the haunting feel the story needed. 

I also needed to go a step beyond illustrating the reality of Mary Shelley’s life and depict the interior imaginative world of her own mind. For those illustrations, I layered in digital elements to create a haunting atmospheric mood that was very different from the illustrations depicting her life. 

For more on how I created the art, please watch my video, The Making of Mary’s Monster. For more information about the process, I have a timeline documenting the six years of research, writing, and painting it took to create this book.

Mary's Monster
by Lita Judge

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.

Start reading now.