Growing up, director Josh Boone and writing partner Knate Lee were comic book fanatics obsessed with anything Marvel. As kids, they wrote and illustrated their own comics from their parents’ garages which they sold to friends and family. Now, their dreams come true with The New Mutants.
” I wrote this with my very best friend in the world,” says Boone. “We’ve known each other since we were little babies. Our moms are best friends and we grew up in the 1980’s reading Marvel Comics. I still vividly remember to this day seeing the covers of The New Mutants comics that Bill started working on these Demon Bear ones beause they did not look like any comic book covers I’d ever seen before. They were painted, they were impressionistic, they had a more slippery surreal look than typical comic books do.
Writer/director Josh Boone – the filmmaker behind The Fault in Our Stars – has been able to overcome a difficult childhood and take his love for Marvel comic books and horror stories and parlay that into a feature film about the New Mutants with horror overtones.
“I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything, because if I didn’t believe the things I believed when I was a kid, I don’t think I would have believed I could have done impossible things,” he says. “I’ve been able to maintain some important friendships along the way, and that’s an amazing thing to be able to work with my friends every day.”
The New Mutants at the heart of this story are grappling with their burgeoning mutant abilities as well as real issues that all teenagers face, and they are all able to deal with their issues and problems together.
“Horror movies are a great escape,” says Boone, “because you can go to the movie theaters and deal with all the anxiety you don’t want to think about when you are lying in bed at night staring up at the ceiling. It’s like a healthy way to go through all that.”
Being a teenager is a horror story in itself, and the struggles teens face hit especially close to home for Boone.
He enjoyed horror stories like Stephen King’s The Stand and horror films like The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Jacob’s Ladder.
But as the son of two evangelical Christians, he was shamed and punished for his attraction to dark and fantastical stories.
As a result, some of his favorite comics growing up focused on the struggles of teen angst and growing pains.
“Growing up I related to movies like ‘The Lost Boys,’ where you had a group of kids struggling with adolescence,” says Boone. “They helped me realize I wasn’t alone in the world.”
Boone and Lee were both fans of the “X-Men” comics and were especially drawn to the New Mutants storyline which debuted in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 in 1982.
Written by Chris Claremont with illustrations by Bob McLeod, the series introduced a whole new cast of characters who had little in common with the students from Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
The characters’ powers and backgrounds were more unconventional and very psychological compared to the rest of the mainline X-Men characters. “It was the first ‘X-Men’ spinoff comic ever, and it was done at a time when the X-Men were thought to be dead, so Xavier had to bring new students together,” explains Boone.
In 1984, graphic artist Bill Sienkiewicz took over the illustrations for the stories, and the narrative moved to a more mature kind of storytelling with a darker tone. “It was partly Claremont’s writing and also Sienkiewicz’s insanely-bordering-on-abstract art that contributed to more of a horror-movie feeling,” says Lee.
Within the New Mutants storyline there was the Demon Bear saga, which revolved around Native American teenager Dani Moonstar confronting her demons, both figuratively and literally, and the New Mutants were forced to overcome self-doubt and distrust and unite to save the life of their new friend. Boone and Lee were both convinced it was the perfect backdrop for an original story utilizing these existing characters, and thought it was one that would translate well to the big screen.
It was through comic books that the aspiring filmmakers were schooled in the fundamental aspects of screenwriting. “Josh and I grew up in the ‘80s devouring comics,” explains Lee, “so we learned storytelling and shot listing and the importance of character development just by reading Marvel comics all the time.”
Twentieth Century Studios’ history with the “X-Men” franchise dates back to 2000 and the release of the first “X-Men” film. Producer Simon Kinberg produced six of the titles in the franchise, and Boone knew he was the key to getting a New Mutants project off the ground. “We wanted it to be a horror story, one that relayed the true horrors of being a teenager in search of themselves,” says Boone, “and he – above all people – understands how much we have to push these movies to make them their own unique thing and to have their own unique identity.”
Together, Boone and Lee pitched Kinberg a female-driven origins narrative with the Demon Bear storyline as its framework, which introduces the New Mutants to a brand-new audience. “Although we incorporate similar themes from the comics, this is very much its own unique story,” says Boone. “Though there are references to the X-Men, and our characters know who the X-Men are, this a stand-alone world where if you took these characters and tried to place them in another ‘X-Men’ movie, they would seem like outsiders.”
Adds Lee, “The New Mutants always stood out to us because the characters and their powers –as well as their back stories – were just a little bit more screwed up than the rest of the mainline X-Men, and translating their powers and their storylines really lent themselves more towards the horror genre.”
When the story begins, the five protagonists are fragile and confused kids, and by the end of the film they have all become the New Mutants, and it is a story that is told in an interesting way. In fact, Boone sees the film as a darker version of “The Breakfast Club.”
“’The New Mutants’ is very much a coming-of-age story about young adults accepting what’s happened in their pasts so they can move forward into the future,” says producer Karen Rosenfelt (the “Twilight” saga). “We all have a history and past that we have to move beyond, and within this story we wanted to embrace that narrative which provides a strong emotional spine.”
“It is still a horror film,” adds Boone, “it’s just one that is more in the vein of a horror novel so it’s more character-driven but with that added horror aspect as well.”