MARY SHELLEY: Teen Mom Invents Sci-Fi!

Mary struggled to come up with a ghost story of her own…and her whole short life up until that point had been one of disappointing writers.

MARY SHELLEY: Teen Mom Invents Sci-Fi!

written by Fred Van Lente drawn by Ryan Dunlavey colored by Adam Guzowski


Written by Fred Van Lente / © 2023 FVL + Ryan Dunlavey


Panel 1: BIG PANEL: LEAVE ROOM FOR TITLE UP TOP: A Universal Horror Movie-grade LIGHTNING STORM flashing around the VILLA DIODATI on the banks of Lake Geneva. Try and get the lake and mountains in there in the distance.


COPY: …of 1816 was also known in Europe as “The Year Without a Summer,” caused by a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia the year before.

COPY: With record low temperatures came crop failures and constant storms, trapping many would-be vacationers inside during proverbial “dark and stormy nights”…

Panel 2: Three men and two women standing or sitting before a fireplace in the main PARLOR of the villa, trying to scare the crap out of each other with ghost stories. We will identify each one individually in a moment.

COPY: …including an unusual quintet of holidaying Britons in the rented Villa Diodati overlooking Lake Geneva.

COPY: They wanted to enjoy hiking and boating, but instead were forced to entertain themselves.

Panel 3: SMALL INSET of a spooky book, FANTASMAGORIANA, lying on a side table in the parlor, forgotten.

COPY: They took turns reading aloud from a book of German ghost stories, but, finding them wanting…

COPY: …on the night of June 17, 1816, decided they could do better, daring each other to come up with the best spooky tale.


This stylized page is four people in four corner panels telling four stories (just pictures, no words) in four word balloons.

Panel 1: LORD BYRON regales of his tale of a vampire. The gag is this drac is an ANCIENT GREEK vampire in a toga about to bite Plato, Action Philosopher.

COPY: The actual renter was the hottest young poet in the world, George Gordon, Lord Byron, self-exiled to Switzerland after a series of sex scandals.

COPY: Byron’s story was a muddied fragment about a traveling vampire, based on folktales he heard in Greece.

Panel 2: DR. POLIDORI tells his story—which is about Byron in a toga, canoodling with his sister.

COPY: Dr. John Polidori was ostensibly Byron’s personal physician, but was being paid by a London publisher to keep a journal of his travels with the poet.

COPY: His story was an updated Oedipus tale about a man who unknowingly sleeps with his own sister—the thing Byron very knowingly did that drove him from England.

Panel 3: CLAIRE CLAIRMONT tells a story about a woman with a SKULL for head (but with curly locks, I think) looking through a keyhole at something that shocks her (but we can’t see). Despite the caption, don’t make Claire visibly pregnant here.

COPY: Claire Clairmont was quite literally a Byron groupie. She had followed Byron to Geneva of her own accord after bedding him in an inn outside London.

COPY: Her story was about a lady who loses the flesh from her skull for peeping through a forbidden keyhole.

COPY: Unknown to most, she was currently pregnant with Byron’s child.

Panel 4: PERCY SHELLEY runs shrieking from the room! In his word balloon is a lamia that has EYEBALLS where her NIPPLES should be. I doubt we can see her face, but maybe if we can her eyes are just empty sockets?

COPY: To cement her insinuation into Byron’s circle, Claire had dragged with her to Switzerland another hot young poet, Percy Shelley. He tried to tell a story from his childhood…

COPY: …but some quoted lines of Coleridge made him think of a female demon with eyes instead of nipples, a vision so horrifying he fled from the room!


Panel 1: Similar to the previous four panels, MARY GODWIN sits, watching Percy go, sweating. She’s dreading her turn in the story circle.

COPY: Shelley had left his wife and child for Claire’s slightly older stepsister, Mary Godwin, the beautiful daughter of two of England’s most notorious social philosophers.

MARY: Oooh…Guess that means it’s my turn, huh?

Panel 2: TIGHTER IN - CU - Mary looks up nervously a similar word ballon as on Page Two. Hers is BLANK.

COPY: Mary struggled to come up with a ghost story of her own.

MARY: Hey, uh, maybe let me sleep on it, huh?

MARY: Weather forecast sucks tomorrow, too… Heh!

COPY: And her whole short life up until that point had been one of disappointing writers.

Panel 3: PREGNANT, Mary flees with Percy out the front door of a house as her dad, WILLIAM GODWIN, shakes a fist angrily at her.

COPY: Her father, William Godwin, was a social radical who equated marriage in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) as tantamount to slavery.

COPY: But when Mary decided to put some of Godwin’s theories of free love into practice by hooking up with Percy, one of her dad’s biggest admirers, at age 17, he was…not pleased.

GODWIN: You were supposed to be a new kind of woman! But you got knocked up by the first good-looking bad boy you meet!

GODWIN: Your mother would be ashamed!! I’m so glad she’s not alive to see this!!

Panel 4: On a German river, Mary sits miserably in a rainstorm on an open river boat and nurses a baby. She’s had better times. Claire and Percy canoodle in a canopy on the rear of the boat.

COPY: Mary and Percy bounced around Europe and England with Claire (daughter of Godwin’s second wife) in tow. Claire was sleeping with Percy too and money was always scarce.

MARY (THOUGHT): This wasn’t as romantic as I thought it was going to be…

COPY: Mary and Percy’s first baby died after a premature birth. Their William was born in 1816, when Mary was just 18.

Panel 5: As a young girl, Mary sits in the St. Pancras Old Church graveyard before Mom’s grave and reads Action Philosophers #9: The Lightning Round.

COPY: William’s rejection hurt Mary deeply. He had tried to raise her by the feminist principles of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died a few days after giving birth to her.

COPY: She learned her letters off the gravestones in the churchyard where the pioneering philosopher was buried.


The gag here is that the first five panels of “Mary Wollstonecraft” are inside a thought balloon. We get rid of the sixth panel of that story, and replace it with a new one, to which the bubbles from the thought balloon go. Maybe even leave the original story in black and white?

Panel 6: The adult Mary Godwin lies in her Swiss bed, eyes open. Rain drums at the window.

CAPTION: Mary Godwin’s many ghosts followed her to bed on the night of June 17, 1816. Years later, she’d write:

CAPTION: “When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think.


Panel 1: DR. VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN’S LABORATORY—which looks more like a wizard or an alchemist’s lair than anything from the age of science. He kneels before the table where a body lies. His back is to us.

COPY: “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.

Panel 2: ANGLE DOWN on the monster. It is seven-feet tall, stitched together, but not really similar to any version of the monster we’ve seen before. The ceiling rafters conceal the creature’s face from our view; just as, still bent over, we can’t see the scientist’s face either. A BELLOWS pumping chemicals through spiraling tubes go into the monster’s arm and somehow bring it to life. (Infamously, Mary does not actually detail the process by which the monster is brought to life in the book.)

COPY: “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir, with an uneasy, half vital motion.

Panel 3: As the monster’s hand raises in the foreground, Victor runs from the lab, covering his face with his hands.

COPY: “His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken.

COPY: “He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade

Panel 4: In a canopied bed, Victor, face in shadow, thrashes in throes of a nightmare.

COPY: “…that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter.

COPY: “He sleeps; but he is awakened.

Panel 5: BIG PANEL - a la Wrightson, Victor sits up, as the monster opens the canopy, peering in on him, his face still obscured.

COPY: “He opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”


Panel 1: The next morning in Switzerland, Mary sits up in her bed, possessed by her strange new idea.

COPY: “I opened mine in terror.

COPY: “The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around.”

Panel 2: While cradling her baby, Mary listens to Percy and Byron talk on the grounds of the Villa Diodati. One has a balloon that’s an ATOM; the other has a balloon that’s a THUNDERBOLT.

COPY: Mary’s subconscious had been fed by a number of sources that summer. Shelley and Byron argued over science and philosophy, in those days still largely indistinguishable.

COPY: The poets wondered whether life would be a force that would soon be identified along with electricity or oxygen, and all the others discovered over the last century.

Panel 3: An Italian nobleman hooks up various parts of KERMIT THE FROG to a hand- cranked ELECTRICAL GENERATOR that makes him shake his (unconnected) arms.

COPY: Mary knew Italian physician Luigi Galvani had been able to make the parts of dead frogs move by stimulating them with an electrical current.

COPY: In 1803, Galvani’s nephew hooked up a recently-executed murderer to a giant Voltaic pile of 240 plates and zapped him into opening one eye!

Panel 4: Mary looks up from nursing her baby on Page Two, panel 4, to see CASTLE FRANKENSTEIN looming over her.

COPY: Earlier in their travels, she and Shelley had passed by a Frankenstein Castle overlooking Darnstadt, Germany.

COPY: The name stuck to her tale, which thrilled her Lake Geneva companions, on the night of June 18th, 1816. Mary’s husband encouraged her to expand it into a novel.


Panel 1: Newspaper photo of miserable Mary holding FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER BABY.


COPY: Though Mary is often identified with Victor Frankenstein, due to her difficulties as a creator of life

Panel 2: STAT last panel from Page Five, except now we see the Monster has MARY’S FACE!

COPY: —in many ways she can be much more strongly identified with the Monster,* created by then rejected for living out the free love, anarchic ideas of her philosopher parents!

FOOTNOTE: * Mary Wollstonecraft refers to the aristocracy itself as “an artificial monster” in her Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790).

Panel 3: PROMETHEUS (flaming hair, like Firestorm) carefully sculpts the Frankenstein creature out of clay.

COPY: She subtitled Frankenstein “a Modern Prometheus,” after the Titan who defies the gods and creates humanity from clay. COPY: Percy got a publisher to bring the novel out anonymously in 1818. Despite a glowing review by Sir Walter Scott—who thought Percy wrote it—the first edition only sold 459 copies.

Panel 4: At a 21st century Barnes & Noble signing, Mary sits with a pile of unsigned copies of FRANKENSTEIN and glares at the next table, where Polidori signs away his last copy of THE VAMPYRE (with a Bryron-as-vampire-head cover).

COPY: By contrast, Dr. Polidori ripped off Byron’s story into The Vampyre (1819), which defined the modern archetype of a sexy, aristocratic bloodsucker, and became an instant hit.

COPY: Like Mary, Polidori’s story was first attributed to somebody more famous—Byron himself, whom the titular vampire is clearly modeled after.


Channel your Inner Edward Gorey: This is a GRAVEYARD full of the stylized tombstones of our story’s principles (and some who have only been briefly touched on). You can do this as a splash with a bunch of headstones like the opening of a Treehouse of Terror, or you can break them up into individual panels, your call.

TOP COPY: Still, few of the storytellers of the Blood-Red Summer lived very long or happy lives beyond it.

Gravestone 1: “HARRIET S.” grave marker has a sculpture of a DEAD SWAN.

COPY: Percy Shelley’s abandoned wife Harriet, pregnant by another man, drowned herself in Hyde Park’s Serpentine in 1816.

COPY: This freed Percy to wed his current girlfriend, and at the end of that year Mary Godwin officially became Mary Shelley.

Gravestone 2: Three pairs of baby shoes, over “SHELLEY(S)” headstone.

COPY: The couple moved to Italy, where Mary gave birth to Percy Florence, the only of her four children to live to adulthood.

Gravestone 3: “POLIDORI,” with a sculpture (relief?) of a pair of VAMPIRE TEETH in a CUP OF WATER, like they were old-fashioned dentures.

COPY: Dr. John Polidori, broke and depressed, drank cyanide and died in his father’s house in 1821.

Gravestone 4: ALLEGRA,” is a BABY FACE in a NUN’S HABIT.

COPY: Claire Clairmont gave birth to Byron’s daughter, Allegra, whom Byron immediately took from her and gave to a Ravenna convent to raise.

COPY: Claire was trying to convince the Shelleys to help kidnap her when the girl died of scarlet fever in 1822.

Gravestone 5: “SHELELY, P.” is a HEART (anatomically correct) ON FIRE.

COPY: Two months later, Percy Shelley drowned with two friends in a storm off Tuscany.

COPY: His rather theatrical funeral ended with his body being burned on a beach and an admirer refusing to give Mary his heart—which somehow survived the flames.

Panel 6: “BYRON” is a FEZ with a SWORD THROUGH IT.

COPY: Lord Byron died of a sudden illness in 1824 helping Greek separatists against the occupying Ottoman Turks.

COPY: Weirdly, though, one unexpected product of the summer of 1816 would enjoy a rebirth and (so far) eternal life.


Panel 1: Walking through a muddy London street, William Godwin, carrying a cane, does a double take at a theater poster advertising “FRANKENSTEIN.”

COPY: It was William Godwin, of all people, who noticed stage adaptations of his daughter’s novel had begun cropping up—and doing whiz-bang business.

COPY: The biggest hit was 1823’s Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein, which followed a play of Polidori’s Vampyre earlier that season.

Panel 2: Godwin bursts on stage to shake his cane at the actors playing Victor and the Monster.

COPY: But because Frankenstein was published anonymously, no one knew who to credit with the source material.

GODWIN: You have done my daughter a grave disservice, sir!

MONSTER ACTOR: But — I don’t know who your daughter is!

GODWIN: Exactly! That’s the problem!

VICTOR ACTOR: The guy’s a nut! Run!

Panel 3: Godwin weeps with joy as a bookseller at The Temple of the Muses shows the cover page of a new, credited edition of FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley on it!

COPY: The success of the stage Frankensteins allowed Godwin to secure a new edition of the novel—with its true author’s full name at last prominently on the cover!

GODWIN: That’s my baby! Sniff!

Panel 4: ELON MUSK flees with his incel Igor from a TWITTER-headed Frankenstein monster as it shambles off the 1931 movie set’s slab.

COPY: Of course “Frankenstein” has entered the world’s lexicon as shorthand for any well-meaning creation run amok with unintended consequences.

COPY: And Mary Shelley, who was 18 years old when she began the novel and 20 when it was published, became the mother of a whole new genre of speculative fiction.


Panel 1: William Godwin welcomes Mary back, hugging and kissing her.

COPY: And, if nothing else, Frankenstein reconciled William Godwin with his own misbegotten creation.

MARY: You’d still love me even if I didn’t write a good book, wouldn’t you, Father?

GODWIN: But now I don’t have to!

COPY: Mary Shelley left London a scandal-plagued Bohemian; she returned a renowned and respected woman of letters.

Panel 2: WIDE ANGLE - The whole LYCEUM THEATRE (the English Opera House in those days), Monster and Victor on stage, stand and applaud Mary where she sits in a box. Her four year old son PERCY FLORENCE is by her side. He’s clapping too, but doesn’t know why.

COPY: She was able to attend a performance of Presumption herself in August 1823.

MARY: “But lo and behold! I found myself famous!”*

PERCY: Mama! Mama! What are we clapping? Is this your story?

FOOTNOTE: * Paraphrasing her pal Byron

Panel 3: TWO-SHOT: Mary smiles down at the Percy. She beckons him down.

MARY: Yes, Percy. One summer a few years back, your father and I were in a contest to see who could write the best scary story.

PERCY: Mama! Mama! Come here!

MARY: What, Percy?

Panel 4: TIGHT TWO-SHOT - CU - Percy whispers into Mary’s ear. She has a wistful expression on her face. (“What did I win?”)

PERCY (WHISPER): I think you won.