In 1978, John Carpenter unleashed the real Boogeyman upon the world with the release of Halloween—a movie depicting the random murderous rampage of Michael Myers in the small rural town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Thirty years later, the Halloween franchise has spawned a slew of sequels and even a somewhat faithful re-make last year by director/musician Rob Zombie. Earlier this year, Devil’s Due Publishing released Halloween: Nightdance written by Stef Hutchinson with art provided by Tim Seeley; with the mini-series seeing a fairly impressive amount of success.
Now, Devil’s Due and Hutchinson are back with the Halloween 30th Anniversary Special; a 48 page standalone featuring artwork by the likes of Tim Seeley, Bret Wedele, and Danijel Zezelj.
Newsarama sat down with Halloween writer Stef Hutchinson and his editor at Devil’s Due, Stephen Christy, to talk about the H30 and the direction of this burgeoning horror title.
Newsarama: With the recent success of Halloween: Nightdance and other subsequent horror icons having monthly titles—would you want to do a monthly 'Shape' book?
Stef Hutchinson: That's a tough one. I have a few stories I want to write—five arcs in total and two separate specials—with characters that combine together to form a larger storyline. That's around 20 issues or so of material. My reservation with a monthly book would be that I've planned things out as specific arcs (as a result of not-knowing how the book would do and also planning this out for the last five years).
The other reason I like doing set arcs is because each one feels like a movie unto itself, and I can switch time periods and cast with ease. I only want to write the stories I have and then step away, because coming from the point of view of a comic reader and fan, I think readers can tell if you’re going past your sell-by date and stretching it out—if you're not passionate about what you are writing it shows painfully in the finished book.
There's a plan to the storylines I'm doing—which does change and fluctuate during the writing process—but there's a very fixed point I wish to get to.
NRAMA: Tell readers a little bit about your upcoming H30 project. What are the stories about and who are the artists involved?
SH: This year is the 30th anniversary of the film, and the previous decades have all had some sort of celebration. In 1988, they brought back the character in Halloween 4; and in 1998, they had the 20th anniversary film Halloween: H20. This year, with the remake having come out in 2007, there's nothing in place to celebrate it. So what we have here is a double-sized anniversary book, with five short stories inspired by characters and situations from John Carpenter's classic. The artists have been chosen by the series editor, Stephen Christy, and he's brought in some fantastic talent to bring these to life.
Here's the roll-call:
Trick or Treat: This is a very simple story which focuses on the 'trick or treat' idea which is central to the night of Halloween yet only touched-upon in the films. This takes place directly at the end of the first film—pretty much between the end of that and the beginning of Halloween II. This will be illustrated by Danijel Zezelj.
Visiting Hours: This is our Laurie Strode story. One of the things about Nightdance was that the only returning character was ‘The Shape’—which was deliberate; we wanted to make the universe as accessible as possible to readers not overly-familiar with the mythology. So, beginning with this special, we're going to be including more of the supporting cast. Since this particular story is a more abstract tale, the art will be provided by Brett Weldele.
P.O.V.: One of the stylistic aspects of the original film is the point-of-view shot; this is a scene involving ‘The Shape’ which plays with that convention using comic panels. Jim Daly has been secured for this one.
Tommy's Web: I think this one will surprise people more than any other in the book; so, for that reason, I want to say the least about it. We see a snapshot of the Tommy Doyle character as he is many years later and what he's doing now. That's essentially the framing device for a very different kind of story. The artist for this is going to be Jeff Zornow. I'm a huge fan of his work and have been for a long time. We worked together previously on the Halloween: 25 years Of Terror DVD and I've been wanting to work with him again ever since. He's one of the strongest horror talents out there, and this is one of the two stories that were written specifically for the artists concerned.
Repetition Compulsion: This is the Sam Loomis story of the book. I wrote this one for Tim Seeley; he really wanted to illustrate a Loomis story. Working with him on Nightdance was great, so I'm glad he's back on board for this.
NRAMA: Stephen, how closely did you work with Stef to develop the H30 project? How "hands on" are you as an editor?
Stephen Christy: Stef and I worked hand-in-hand (or phone-in-phone, since he's in the UK and I'm in LA) developing the project and I've been supervising it every step of the way. After the success of Nightdance we both knew we wanted to do something special. I proposed doing a 48-page special that would bridge the gaps between the first and second series, and he shot back the idea of doing it as a 30th Anniversary tribute to the original film. It's an amazing idea, because it's allowed us to bring in some incredible artists to interpret Stef's stories that we normally couldn't get on an extended Halloween mini-series.
I'm "hands on" as an editor in terms of picking talent; putting together the right team is always the first and most important step in the process, especially with a book like Halloween. If you have the right team in place your job as an editor is much easier because you know they're going to deliver quality, and it becomes your job just to make sure that the quality is turned in on time.
NRAMA: You've got a really solid array of talent lined up for this 48 page one-shot. How did you go about picking the artists for H30?
SC: My goal with the whole Halloween line (and with all the other books coming out from the DDP Los Angeles office) is to always take people's expectations and throw them out the window. The whole creative team busts our asses to make sure that the Halloween books are some of the best books on the stands, period, and to do that sometimes we go after amazing artists that no one would ever expect to be on a licensed book.
I went about picking the artists for this by just going after people I've always wanted to work with, and people that I knew I would have a hard time getting to commit to doing a long-term Halloween series. The level talent we have on this book is crazy and it's mostly because since it's all short stories, a lot of these pros can take time out of their busy schedule to work on it. I'm still shocked that I'm getting the chance to work with Danijel Zezelj and Brett Weldele, who are two totally different but equally incredible legends in their own right. We're also reuniting the awesome team of Tim Seeley and Lizzy John (the best colorist in the biz and she's only 19!) for a story. If that wasn't cool enough, we also have horror legend Jeff Zronow and Jim "Bad Planet" Daly onboard, both of whom I've been dying to work with. And we have Tom "The Man" Mandrake doing an amazing cover featuring Laurie and Michael... how f--king cool is that?!?
Basically, we're always going to put the best talent on the Halloween books... this is never going to be just another "licensed" comic.
NRAMA: Was Halloween: Nightdance a litmus test for your continued work on projects involving the Halloween franchise?
SH: It was never explicitly said to me, but I always worked with a belief that it would be the case. You're only as strong as your last project—both in terms of reviews and sales. I'd written two of the previous Halloween comics (One Good Scare and Autopsis), but that's very little in terms of actual comic writing experience. When I was writing them, I had to turn off the fan within me as that can really cloud your creative judgment, so I had to step back a little. I think I fumbled the ball a little with the first issue of Nightdance—it was overwritten in places. My first draft was longer and I had to bring it down to the required 22 pages, and I made the error of condensing everything rather than trimming a couple of scenes. I think the series got substantially better from issue #2 onwards and the reviews certainly seemed to reflect that. By the end, we'd won a lot of people over.
What's particularly difficult about Halloween is that the films are all quite different in what they do with the character of The Shape (who is pretty much not The Shape in any film but the original). Because he's a blank slate and evokes various ideas, you find that everybody has their own definition of what a Halloween story should be and how the villain should behave. There was one review that bemoaned the killing of a cat in the story saying that 'this is more of a trait of the Rob Zombie remake'. Umm... no, it's not. He killed two dogs in the original (one of which, he allegedly ate!). So again, that sort of stuff I have to filter through and look for genuine criticism I can learn from.
Ultimately though, Nightdance did well and was well-received by a lot of readers. One thing I am proud of is that we did get people into comic shops who wouldn't normally be there (a lot of Halloween fans, for example), and that's great. The hope there is that they'll check out other books, such as The Walking Dead and realize that horror can be done really effectively within the comic medium when it's done by creators who genuinely care.
NRAMA: Halloween and Myers are turning 30—Michael Myers should be close to 60 at this point, right? How could you contend to keep these concepts as timeless as possible?
SH: Well, the great thing about the comic books is that we can set the stories at any time; so the actual age of the character within the story isn't so much a problem. Also, the character represents more than just a human—the actual age of the character kind of becomes a moot point (especially within comics; how old would Batman be if we took his age from the character's first appearance?).
That and we can use characters like Sam Loomis—with the great Donald Pleasence having passed on--he was never going to appear again in the original series of movies. Loomis is a rich character and great to write.
The main challenge isn't really keeping the concepts timeless—it's more keeping the concept fresh. The differences between ‘The Shape’ and the hundreds of other masked murderers are what help in this regard. He's intelligent, abstract and seems to be sadistic in the sense that he really enjoys terrifying his victims as much as killing them—that's a springboard to a lot of material right there.
NRAMA: Would you ever want to see a cross promotion of horror icons involving 'The Shape'? Or possibly a book with Loomis investigating a different psychopath? Or is Loomis a modern day Ahab chasing his whale?
SH: To the first question—nope. I think putting ‘The Shape’ into a 'versus' situation is a big no-no; simply because he's not that type of character. He doesn't have the physical power and presence of Jason; or the supernatural levels of ability that Freddy has. He's primarily a creature of the shadows—a voyeur and a stalker. The only way I could possibly see it working at all would be to use the Halloween 4-6 rendition of the character who can survive multiple shotgun blasts, etc (and is also not part of the continuity that we are working with).
As for Loomis--that's a huge “yes”. I'm itching to do a book with that character so I'm trying hard to make that happen. I think you are correct though—Loomis and ‘The Shape’ are very much the Captain Ahab/ Moby Dick metaphor; so it would be something set before he encounters ‘The Shape’. That's also exciting because of the time period—the 40s and 50s—and the location. I'd set it in post-war England, and focus on how he changed from a man of SC: ience to the rather superstitious character in the films.
NRAMA: Stephen, Ultimately, do you think these Halloween projects could become a big staple for Devil's Due?
SC: I want to do Halloween comics as long as Josh and Malek Akkad (the Halloween license holder) will let us. I can tell you that DDP has big plans for the line, and that Stef has managed to tie one long overarching story across the next few Halloween miniseries, which is awesome. Between Halloween, Hack/Slash, and Chucky, DDP has a nice little horror line coming together.
NRAMA: Stef, do you recommend any of the number of the Halloween fan websites? Where could someone who is a fan of the movies indulge themselves by checking out the fan base of the movies all the while enjoying your work with the character?
In the late 90s there were many great fan sites, like One Good Scare and the Myers Museum. Now, not so much; it seems. The best source for information is now probably message boards—the biggest being the official forum which can be found at www.ohmb.net
In addition, we're going to be uploading lots of new content to www.halloweencomics.com which will really help to expand on the films and comic books, adding a bit more personality to the background characters who have been in the stories over the years.
NRAMA: What's next for you and 'The Shape'? Are you working on anything that is not related to Halloween—or is this franchise something you've got long term plans for?
SH: I have long-term plans for The Shape—well, two years or so anyway—and I'm currently fleshing out the second series. It's going to have a different approach than Nightdance in some ways; it was a good learning experience but I don't want to repeat the trappings of some of the lesser sequels by just relying on a formula. There's no sense in telling the same story twice, even if there is a change in execution or style. As much as I want the comic arcs to feel like movies, we're in a radically different medium with completely different narrative possibilities. We also don't have a million studio executives and test screenings happening that often throw the films off-course.
One thing that is coming up soon is a short story involving Loomis with the simple title of 'Sam'. That's going to be available as a download at www.halloweencomics.com hopefully in June. That's been illustrated by Marcus Smith who provided the artwork for Autopsis.
Non-Halloween, I'm finishing off a screenplay about a haunted apartment block, and also developing a pair of creator-owned books with Jeff Zornow, and also with Peter Fielding who I worked on One Good Scare with many moons ago.
NRAMA: Stephen, what can you tell us about the sequel to Halloween: Nightdance?
SC: : Well, the 30th Anniversary special coming in August isn't so much a sequel to Nightdance as it is taking the original film and expanding on it. Coming up in September, just one short month after the Anniversary special, is a three-issue series that we're not quite ready to talk about yet. Let's just say it focuses on one of the Halloween "trinity" (Michael, Laurie, and Loomis) and it's going to have Halloween fans talking for years to come. It's not a direct sequel to Nightdance as none of the characters in that miniseries (except Michael, of course) will be returning.
Remember, all of these comics are officially approved by the Akkad family as Halloween "canon"! What happens to characters in comics will be continued in the Halloween movies and vice-versa. The new series will shock people and fills in a lot of the story gaps of a much-loved Halloween character.
NRAMA: Do you think the future of this character might possibly reside off of the silver screen in comic books or possibly novelization? Rob Zombie's remake of the original Halloween proves that the character has still got what it takes to pull in audiences—as such a tremendous fan, do you feel like the franchise could carry on?
SH: For sure. There's always going to be life in the film series, because people do want to see these films—the remake was proof of that. Also, the series has had some real bombs along the way, but it has always recovered. All credit of that has to go to the original film, because it really tapped into something. It will be interesting to see what they do next with the series from this point.
As for the series continuing in comics, I thing it's a great place, as the type of stories we can tell are much more varied. I really want to build this into a larger canvas—a universe where we can tell lots of scary stories about a presence in a mask. Because it's so simple, it's also extremely flexible, and while the films haven't always been the best showcase for that, I'm really hoping we can demonstrate it in the comic books.