As has been the case with most large-scale threats and tragedies, horror is always close behind ready to process the fears brought about real life. World War II gave way to violent horror and post-traumatic ghosts, the atomic bomb paved the way for giant monster films and horror sci-fi, and the AIDS epidemic brought with it a new kind of body horror. Now it’s time to see what COVID-19 will inspire in creators to make sense of what it meant to live through a pandemic. Jeremy Haun’s Haunthology is primed and ready to do just that.
Haunthology, written and illustrated by Haun, is composed of a series of 3-4 page short stories that are loosely connected by the common themes of isolation and pandemic fears. There’s a kind of otherworldly invasion or takeover taking place outside people’s homes, something that’s forced everyone indoors, and the consequences of this have allowed every kind of fear imaginable to manifest itself and terrorize those who remain quarantined.
The stories offer a more subtle take on allegories and metaphors of the pandemic. It’s not about pulling up a tale about a monster that hunts those who refuse to wear masks, or about gross bodily transformations for those who’ve resisted taking the vaccine. Haun prefers readers connect his horror to the real world without having to fill in as many blanks as tends to be the case in other stories.
The experience becomes more symbolic as a result. Each segment is a kind of puzzle in itself that can contain a multitude of readings, with some overlapping and some standing entirely on their own. The book’s black & white approach complements this and helps readers insert even more of their interpretations into the experience.
The Beat caught up with Jeremy Haun via e-mail to talk pandemic horror and just what makes his take so unique.
RICARDO SERRANO: Haunthology reads and feels like a very personal set of horror stories, each one a small glimpse into a particular fear or anxiety, or even something as simple as an idea. What led you to approach these stories in an anthology format?
HAUN: I’ve always loved short fiction. Give me a full comic series, film, or novel, sure. But there’s just something special about a short story.
Haunthology started out as me just working things out on paper. It was my Covid therapy. As time went on (after three our four stories) I realized how connected it all was– that I had a book here.
I love the way short stories can stand on their own or fit into a larger thing. You can take any one of the stories in this project and enjoy it, but when you read them together there’s just so much more to it.
SERRANO: One of the things that I appreciated the most about the stories in your book is that the metaphors they facilitate don’t consume the story at its core. They are legitimate horror stories in their own right. What goes into balancing story and metaphor in your process?
HAUN: The best horror takes society, comments on it, but still works as a piece of entertainment.
I needed to talk about the feelings and emotions that I felt– that we ALL felt during Covid and 2020. I also needed those stories to be entertaining. I wrote Haunthology for me first. I didn’t really want to see another mask or any of that, so the virus became monsters, post-apocalyptic landscapes, and the complexities of human interaction.
It was important to me that this stand as a work of weird fiction first. Twenty years from now I didn’t just want to be “That Covid Horror Book”.
SERRANO: There’s a common theme throughout the stories in Haunthology that echoes the terrors of isolation and the unknown during the pandemic, but that’s not the only thing you address in the book. What other things did you find yourself working through in these stories?
HAUN: I knew Haunthology was about the terrors and the isolation. The things that kept surprising me was the hope and even humor of it all.
I mean– that makes sense. We need to have some kind of joy and laugh a bit. Even in the worst of times. But that stuff really stuck with me. They became my favorite moments to tell.
Another thing– during all of this I had to process a lot of my own anger. I’ve spent my whole life trying to fight back against that anger. It’s not something I like at all. But it’s there. During Covid, when the world felt like it was about to completely jump the tracks at any moment, I really had to address how I was feeling.
Several stories in Haunthology were my attempts at dealing with the way I react to things and coming to peace with myself and the world around me.
The funny thing is, I’m not always sure readers are going see those things in these stories. I kind of like that. But all of that complexity is in there. I’m glad I got to get it out.
SERRANO: As things start coming back to some kind of normal, I’m sure we’ll see more stories trying to untangle the pandemic experience, something you do through horror in your book. What advice would you offer storytellers in terms of what to focus on and what to avoid when trying to get that experience down on paper?
HAUN: Tell your stories your way. I feel like the more that you try and calculate out a thing the less genuine it feels.
We keep hearing “write what you know”. It’s a strange piece of advice, because I think we miss the point. It’s not saying that you can’t write about aliens or monsters because you live in a tiny town in the real world. It’s saying write whatever kind of story you want to…just do so through your own lens.
You know about your life, your friends and family. You know about the time you got into a fight with a loved one or had to process unexpected loss.
Talk about those things. On your terms. If you can. But it does help.
Horror can be therapy. Telling stories can be therapy.
That’s a wonderful thing.