BY JEN VAUGHN – Opening up my mail the other day I was assaulted by religious propaganda from Jack Chick for the most fabulous of holidays, HALLOWEEN. My pack included TWO holiday-appropriate comics that I will not share with you but be certain they took all the fun out of pranks, scary stories and trick-or-treating in their clumsy attempt to remind you that ‘Halloween was created by the devil.’
The included pamphlet encouraged the reader to yell things like “We’ve got comics” to get a swarm of kids at your door, filling their candy buckets with the little comics. More like ‘thank you for the toilet paper.’ What is unfortunate and a poor marketing campaign is that the claim to ‘witness’ to hundreds of people without ever leaving home. Most people prefer you to speak to them face-to-face about your beliefs than sneakily slip it into a bag of fun their kids worked hard to earn. Halloween is an appropriation of many holidays be they Pagan, Catholic or Capitalism. And with that, I will show you what Halloween means to me and give you some bitchin’ comics to hand out.
Halloween is about community. Many towns have events equivalent to ‘Take Back the Night’ or ‘Make Those Streets Safe’. With darkness comes shadows, mystery and all things evil but Halloween is about banding together with your town and neighbors to prance around the place and just be AWESOME. Your town doesn’t have one? Next year organize events fun for adults and kids with all things witchy and pumpkin-dazzling, ask local businesses to sponsor the events to pay for supplies and make sure to thank them copious. My town, White River Junction, has an egg haunt, carnival complete with a monster petting zoo and parade that the whole town marches in that ends in one big dance party.
Halloween is costumes. Not everyone can sew or has money to spend on costumes (not that you want to be Sexy Robin Hood anyway) but there are great ways to make costumes using recycled items and other things from around the house. I make it a point to host an annual workshop where I bring a sewing machine, pounds of fabric, cardboard boxes I’ve hoarded throughout the month of September and more glue guns than you can shake a stick at. The kids also get Halloween comics and their parents get ones on last minute costume tips!
Pictured above and below is one of the participants from my Halloween workshop this year who was going to be an astronaut! Helmet = old bike helmet + white fabric velcroed on + shiny packing tape + cardboard as the mouth guard + buttons + more tape. We painted a cardboard box as her oxygen tank. The kids worked together with their parents and myself to make truly original, handmade costumes they could be proud of!
Halloween is about candy. All kinds save possibly those frightening orange Kit-Kats because they aren’t really chocolate but vanilla bark. And then a lot of flossing.
Halloween is about comics! That is true with October 31st releases of comics like Dracula the Unconquered by Chris Sims & Steve Downer and the popular 31 Days of Monsters drawing challenge cartoonists like to make such as Kelly Doren. Last year, the comics group Trees and Hills created a Halloween one-sheet comic mail-out and this year they have more in store! Colin Tedford spoke with me about this Halloween excitement and the comics available to download, fold and hand out here!
Jen: What made you want to create comics to give out as Halloween handouts as a gang?
Colin: This is our first year doing it as a public project. I drew my first Halloween comic in 2008, and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to invite other cartoonists to try it. Last year did a Halloween swap where each participant sent me a batch of minicomics which I compiled into sets and redistributed back to the participants. Isaac Cates sold copies of his through his website, and that inspired me to reorganize it as a more public project. This year we have comics by Anne Thalheimer, me, Glynnis Fawkes, Madsahara, Sarah Frye, and Stephanie Piro, I announced the project really late this year because I was figuring out the new format, but next year we’ll have more lead time so more people will be able to submit.
Jen: What is Trees and Hills? When did it start?
Colin:Trees & Hills started in 2006 on the assumption that good things would happen if we connected the isolated cartoonists in our mostly rural region of New Hampshire, Vermont and Western Massachusetts. I met Daniel Barlow at a shockingly well-attended 24-hour comics event at the Brattleboro Museum in Vermont in August 2005. He knew some cartoonists in Vermont, I ran a local comics meetup in New Hampshire, and we were both so inspired by the mass of creativity that day that we ended up starting Trees & Hills.
Jen: What reactions did you have from kids and parents last year and what do you expect this year?
Colin: We’ll find out soon! I think they’ll be happy with it. The first time I gave them out was at the house of a friend who was also giving out candy, and most kids wanted both. Last year no trick-or-treaters showed up on my street – it was spooky (and sad)! Stephanie Piro gave some out the other night (along with candy) at her library’s Cartoon Club, and says the kids & staff both loved them.
I haven’t heard any parent-specific comments yet, but have had enthusiastic feedback from grownups in general. People like their Halloween! I know there’s a portion of the parent world who’ll be happy to have something other than candy to give out, too, though we do it for love of comics, not hate of candy. Apparently cartoonists are like rock stars to kids, or so I’ve been told after events by the parents & teachers of those I’ve interacted with!
Jen: Do you make other holiday comics as an accessory to candy?
Colin: Not as a group. I’m not sure if any of the other major holidays would be a great fit, at least for us. Halloween celebrations are more uniform than and lack the explicit religious connotations of, say, the winter holidays, which makes the Halloween comics a simpler project. I do like the idea of getting people to draw comics about their winter holiday traditions, though, maybe making holiday cards out of the shorter ones. I think that would be pretty fascinating because there’s a lot of variety and eccentric little family things. In any case, it’s been really fun for us to do a comics project that’s community-oriented, but in a different way from our usual anthologies.
I personally love seasonal comics that reflect what happens at different times of the year, so I’ve drawn a number of those on my own (e.g. most of the Spinning World strips I drew) & occasionally printed them up as giveaways. I made a satirical Valentine’s Day comic last year & have meant to do print holiday cards the last few years (maybe this will be the year!).
Doing these comics has really revived my enthusiasm for Halloween! I’ve been reading spooky comics and stories all month. I look forward to the time when we’ve made enough Halloween comics to make a leaf-like pile to jump into! (just jump into leaves, though, so you don’t get paper cuts and wrinkled comics)
Thank you, Colin, for your time.
So “What would Jesus do?” He’d probably rock the shit out of home-made costume, working hard on minute details and revel in the community building that happens around the holiday. As for “What would Jen do?” I’ll be sitting on my porch, carved pumkpins aglow, handing out candy with friends until it starts to snow again, then go inside and read comics while eating the rest of the candy. May we all be so lucky to do the same.
Jen Vaughn is a freelance cartoonist, writer, librarian and TARDIS. Additional pictures by Rachel Foss and Graham Robinson.