Imagine an upstanding small town called Woodbrook where anthropomorphic animals live in harmony and go about their daily lives. While it might sound cute and cuddly, writer-artist Patrick Horvath turns paradise on its head with a revelation that a serial killer lives among them in IDW Publishing’s Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees. Described as Dexter meets Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town, the comic book series takes every trope and flips it on its head, creating a mystery that will have readers chewing their nails over what happens next.
Fortress of Solitude chatted to Horvath to get more insight into the intriguing decision to turn a bear into a serial killer. The creator opened up about the story’s influences and how the artwork required a specific balance that may not have worked in another way. Horvath also discussed why the Teddy Bears’ Picnic Song might be one of the most sinister songs of all time.
Fortress of Solitude: First off, congrats on the series! How do you plan on responding to the hate mail from some parent who bought Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees for their little one thinking it’s Richard Scarry and finding out it’s not?
Patrick Horvath: Thank you very much! And boy, I sincerely hope that does not happen! [Laughs]. So far, I’m happy to report that I haven’t received any angry letters from parents, so I’m crossing my fingers that nobody has blundered into blindly picking this up for readers that are too young. I’m hoping that the image of Sam dragging the bloody sack behind her was enough of a warning. The cover for the second printing goes even more explicit, so hopefully that helps too. But yeah, man, parents: a little research goes a long way. [Smiles].
The title Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees is inspired by the Teddy Bears’ Picnic Song, right? Why did you choose this title in particular and why this song?
The song itself always seemed sort of sinister to me in its old-timey sound, but the particular lyric, “Beneath the trees where nobody sees, they hide and seek as long as they please,” always struck me. Like, what else are they doing beneath the trees where nobody sees?! I’m sure that’s just a little porthole into the way my mind works, but I’ll often have a flash of a macabre idea that runs parallel to a well-meaning notion, and here we are.
In the first issue of Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees, it’s revealed Sam the bear is a serial killer. What made you decide on a bear, though?
The idea for the series came from a drawing I did quite a few years back. I was just doodling for fun and started drawing this anthropomorphic bear wearing overalls and carrying a bloody axe. After looking at it for a couple minutes, the main idea of this bear that was a serial killer hiding in plain sight in a quaint little town just came to me. It all grew out of that, but I did really like the idea that it was a bear. There’s something so wholesome to bears – big thanks to Smokey the Bear, the Charmin Bears, Winnie the Pooh, etc. – but they’re also completely terrifying in the wild. It felt like a perfect dichotomy to lean into.
For the artwork, what are the considerations you take into account when creating the more brutal and bloody moments in the book?
When I’m drawing the moments of gore, I try to make it fairly grounded. There’s something particularly off-putting in pairing this whimsical, quaint little town with realistic violence. Weirdly, it seems more visceral to me than if we were watching regular people going about their lives and then being attacked. In terms of how far it should go, I don’t have any hard and fast rules. I’m trying to be guided by Samantha’s perspective in all of it: What would she be interested in, what would she think was in excess? So far, I’ve been really lucky in striking a balance with everything.
I pick up a large influence of Dexter lurking in this story as Sam tries to find out who the second serial killer is and how they may unravel her own secrets. You have mentioned in previous interviews how you looked at a variety of serial killer stories. So, let me pose you a different question: Which stories did you look at to find the cute and cuddly side of Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees?
As you mentioned earlier, Richard Scarry is definitely a big influence in terms of cute inspiration. I don’t go all-in by any means, but I kept thinking back to what I could remember about Scarry’s Busytown and then tried to place some of those notions onto a small town. I didn’t want the townsfolk to be completely naïve, but their general innocence is a huge part of what defines them for me. It’s sort of an innocence that comes from having lived such a sheltered existence. It also serves Samantha incredibly well and has allowed her to enjoy her little bloody hobby for decades. For the town of Woodbrook itself, it’s sort of an amalgamation of different tiny towns with a lot of Montpelier, Vermont in there.
In terms of the story, do you see a hard stop or is there potential for it to carry on for a long time?
The book was originally conceived as a limited six-issue series, but there’s definitely a lot more that could be told. It depends on how well it’s received by everyone, but fingers crossed I’ll get a chance to take it further.
Ask your comic book store to order IDW Publishing‘s Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees now.
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.