They were known as Fearsome Critters, and at night the lumberjacks of the Northwoods would gather around the crackling flames of their bonfire to share stories of exactly why you wouldn't want to encounter such a creature in the shadows beyond the firelight. Among these eerie animals was the Hodag, a mysterious spiked critter who roams the Wisconsin wilderness and haunts the pages of "Tall Tale Tour," one of the stories featured in Project: Cryptid #5 that marks the comic book debut of acclaimed novelist Melissa F. Olson and showcases artwork by Lane Lloyd and lettering by Rob Steen.

With Project: Cryptid #5 out now from AHOY comics, we caught up with Melissa in a new Q&A feature to discuss diving into the fearsome history of the Hodag, collaborating with Lane and Rob to bring her story to life, and working with the amazing team at AHOY Comics (which will continue with another anticipated project in the future).

Below, you can read our full Q&A and preview pages from "Tall Tale Tour," and to learn more about the Project: Cryptid series and all of AHOY Comics' exciting releases, visit:

Thank you for taking the time to answer questions for us, Melissa, and congratulations on “Tall Tale Tour,” your new comic book story featured in Project: Cryptid #5! How did you initially get involved with this anthology comic book series?

Melissa F. Olson: I’ve written fiction for a long time, but a lot of my writer friends work in comics, so I had the idea of writing one in the back of my mind for years. When my long-running urban fantasy series wrapped up, I was hesitant to jump into a new longform project—and right around then, I heard that AHOY was looking for pitches for the cryptid anthology.

Your story explores the history of the Hodag, a spiked creature that roams the wilderness of Wisconsin. Were you familiar with the Hodag prior to writing “Tall Tale Tour”?

Melissa F. Olson: Yes and no. The story is set in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which is only a few hours from where I grew up. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the Paul Bunyan stories and the hodag myth. I even knew Rhinelander had adopted the hodag as their mascot, because my high school often competed against the Rhinelander Hodags. But I didn’t really know anything about the stories until I started research for this project. That’s when I learned about the stories that lumberjacks used to make up about the strange creatures in the Northwoods—the Fearsome Critters.

As someone who grew up in Minnesota, I’m very familiar with the lore of Paul Bunyan, but the story of the Hodag was completely new to me! How fun was it for you to incorporate Paul Bunyan and lumberjack lore into your take on the Hodag?

Melissa F. Olson: From a writing perspective, nothing is more fun to me than taking real historical events or places and weaving them into a story that includes magic and monsters, so obviously I had a great time. When the tall tales about Paul Bunyan and his adventures with the Fearsome Critters first originated at the old lumber camps, they were meant to scare the stuffing out of the newest jacks and/or to teach them some sort of lesson. (Usually the lesson was “don’t run away from the camp.”) I made it my goal to write my own tall tale that honored that idea—be entertaining but make a point—with a modern dysfunctional family.

I love Lane Lloyd’s amazing illustrations and coloring in “Tall Tale Tour,” along with Rob Steen’s excellent lettering. What was it like pairing your prose with Lane and Rob to bring this story to life in a vivid and fun style?

Melissa F. Olson: First of all, thank you for calling out Rob Steen’s great lettering work; that’s something I haven’t talked about nearly enough. I hadn’t known Lane’s work before, but to me their style feels wonderfully playful—but with an edge of darkness that might turn on you on the next page. That is exactly the tone I wanted to hit for the story, and I consider myself very lucky that Sarah Litt recognized the potential and put us together.

Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from “Tall Tale Tour”?

Melissa F. Olson: A new appreciation for the hodag. I’m going to make a confession here: before I wrote this story, I really had no respect for what I think of as “regional cryptids” like the hodag. Tourism is a big business, so there’s certainly a financial benefit to claiming your town has its own monster… and I’m pretty cynical.

But researching this piece forced me to think about why these stories came to exist in the first place, and what value they hold both then and now. Storytelling is an entertaining and memorable way to teach lessons, whether that’s “be a good person” or “don’t run off in the woods at night.” The year 2024 might be pretty different from 1894, but there are lessons that still matter. And there are still very old things in the dark that we really shouldn’t mess with.

You have extensive experience writing novels and short stories, but “Tall Tale Tour” marks your first foray into the world of comic book writing. What was it like writing your first comic book story, and how does it compare to writing longer-form prose?

Melissa F. Olson: I’ve said this elsewhere, but it’s my best analogy so I’ll use it again: this experience has been like being a decent long-distance swimmer who suddenly joins the synchronized swimming team. I’m used to doing my own thing, and now I’m in a team sport that has a lot more structure and collaboration. Both things have good and bad points, but at the end of the day, I’m happy I get to play in the water.

What has it been like to team up with AHOY Comics as you prepare to release “Tall Tale Tour” into the world?

Melissa F. Olson: AHOY has been so supportive and encouraging—as evidenced by the fact that I’m answering these questions in the first place. I never got to do this kind of thing when I was writing novels, because most fiction publishers don’t do publicity for midlist authors. Instead, most writers are expected to do all their own marketing legwork, and a lot of us don’t have the bandwidth to be our own full-time PR agents. AHOY has connected me with ways to talk about my work and why I made certain choices within it. I love that so much.

After writing “Tall Tale Tour,” are you interested in writing more comic book stories, whether it’s for Project: Cryptid or other comic book series?

Melissa F. Olson: Actually, I’m working on an original comic book series for AHOY right now. I like the idea of spending the rest of my career doing a mixture of comics and fiction, because I love writing both, and because they have really compatible timelines: comics are fast and novels are slow.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are just getting started?

Melissa F. Olson: I’m not the right person for advice on getting published: the fiction publishing landscape is completely different from when I started, and although I’m just breaking into comics, I came to the industry with some storytelling experience and connections from my time in fiction. So as usual, I’m a terrible role model.

But the advice I’d give anyone trying to write or finish a project is this: the first person to believe in you has to be yourself. Every single writer you admire had to finish a first project at some point, which means they had to get past the inner and outer voices who didn’t think they could. The mark of success isn’t getting an agent, selling the book, or hitting a bestseller list, because all of those things are only marginally connected to your ability as a writer. The mark of success is the determination to keep going.

With Project: Cryptid #5 out now from AHOY Comics, do you have any other upcoming projects that you can tease for our readers?

Melissa F. Olson: My main project at the moment is the new comic book for AHOY. I’m not allowed to say too much, but it’s about a sentient island that’s sort of a nature preserve for the gods and legends of dead cultures. I’m reteaming with Sarah Litt, and the artist is the astonishingly talented Sally Cantirino. My lit agent is also about to go out with a new novel: an angry, feminist sequel to Frankenstein from the perspective of Elizabeth Frankenstein after she’s resurrected by the creature. At this point it’s a race to see which of those projects will come out first.

Thank you very much for your time, Melissa!

Melissa F. Olson: Honestly, my time isn’t all that valuable; I watch a lot of TV. Like a lot. But thank you for letting me be part of comics journalism and geek out about my stuff.


(W) Melissa F. Olson, Hanna Bahedry, Zander Cannon

(A) Lane Lloyd, Gene Ha

Cover: Lane Lloyd

In this cryptid-packed issue, we give you not one, not two, but three thrilling stories! Melissa F. Olson and Lane Lloyd take us to the wilds of Wisconsin, where we meet the fearsome Hodag. Newcomer and rising star Hanna Bahedry teams with Lloyd to give us a glimpse into a secretive Cryptids Anonymous meeting. And finally, Zander Cannon and superstar artist Gene Ha bring us a tale of interterrestrial love!

January 24, 2024


Melissa F. Olson is the author of more than a dozen books in the Old World universe, the PI mystery The Big Keep, and numerous short stories and novellas, including the Nightshades trilogy for Her journalism and academic work has been published in The International Journal of Comic Art, the compilation Images of the Modern Vampire,, and, among other places. Melissa has been a writing teacher, English professor, and TEDx presenter, but she now divides her time between writing and conventions, where she speaks about issues related to genre, feminism, writing, and parenting. Read more about her work and life at

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.