Every Day Is Halloween

Anybody who knows me knows I am a horror fan.  To look at me you probably wouldn’t guess that – while I tend to favor black clothing out of general laziness, I don’t have any horror tattoos, or paint my nails black.  I don’t wear those colors on my sleeve.

But, I’m a fan.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment of my career is that none of my horror screenplays have actually been produced. Well, technically, this one, but it is more of a comedy than a gut wrenching horror (the story of how it became what it did can be found here).

So yeah, I’m a fan.  Thing is I wasn’t always one.

When I was much younger, I was plagued by nightmares.  Bad ones.  Ones that woke me screaming in the night.  When we lived in Vancouver, our house was nestled on the edge of some pretty deep and dark woods, and I was convinced there were things living there.  Dark things.  Things with glowing red eyes.  Things that would burrow underground at day, and at night, they’d rise and stalk the shadows.  Their eyes would inevitably be drawn to our house, lights gleaming from within.  I knew they could see me too, passing by the windows that looked out onto our backyard.

One time I was in the basement, where we had our TV.  For some reason I was alone.  My parents were upstairs, as was my sister, but at some point I was certain I wasn’t alone down there.  Our basement was only partially finished.  The TV room was to the right of the stairs, but through another door there was only the unfinished portion – my dad’s workshop, the furnace, and storage.  This door was opposite the TV room.  You had to pass that door to go back upstairs.  And for some reason I was convinced that something had gotten in and was waiting on the other side of that door.  Waiting for me to pass.  Waiting to open it and get me.

So, what I remember doing was turning the volume on the TV up to mask my footsteps, and at a particularly boisterous moment in the commercials, ran from the TV room and up the stairs.  I stole a look back … and I saw the door that I was sure had been closed a moment before was now open, and I saw a long hairy leg and large hairy foot step out.  I ran up the stairs, convinced that it would grab me before I reached safety, and drag me outside, muffling my screams, my family none the wiser.

Anyway I made it upstairs and muttered something to the effect I was going to bed.  I went to my room and closed the door.  In there I was safe … unlike my bedroom where we lived previous.  That room definitely had a monster in the closet.  I know this because I saw it – dark, vaguely human, vaguely simian.  Once I actually hid under the bed from it, and saw it lurch from the closet, heard it sniffing the air for me; I actually stayed beneath the bed all night, not poking my head out until morning came.

Note: not the actual closet monster but a reasonable facsimile

When we moved across the country I was relieved.  But when it became apparent that there were monsters in our new house, I wondered if it was the one from back East that had followed us across country, only traveling at night, sticking close to the shadows, gradually getting closer and closer.

We moved again the following year, and as we settled in to another house, I knew that monster had left the old house and was slowly but deliberately making its way towards us, and to me.

So yeah, I had a vivid imagination, and scary stuff on a vivid imagination is like giving a hyperactive kid a handful of candy before bedtime.  And for the longest time I avoided horror movies like the plague. This was because if I saw something scary on TV or in a book, I KNEW I’d have bad nightmares.  Seriously, even the assorted ghosts and ghouls on Scooby-Doo would induce paroxysms of terror in me.

What could possibly be behind this door — AHHH JESUS!

So horror?  Not my thing.

My dad, on the other hand, was a fan.  He famously took his parents to see Psycho – my Grandmother being likewise a fan of the macabre (more on her in a bit).  Even as a father with a couple young kids, he’d go out to the movies with his work buddies every so often, and it would usually be a horror film – Halloween, The Fog – and when we got our first VCR (yes, it was a Betamax), he’d plumb the shelves looking for monster movies to watch after we kids had been tucked off to bed.  I’d know he’d be down there watching them, and occasionally I’d creep downstairs and listen to the sound of chainsaws and machetes splitting skulls form just outside the TV room.  Once, he and I were at a department store for something, and one of the movies being shown on a TV in the electronics department was Poltergeist.

Once upon a time, TV stations actually ceased their broadcast day and — AHHH! JESUS!

We stopped at the video store on the way home so he could rent it.  He watched it; I didn’t, even though I was fine watching it at The Bay.  I think because bringing the movie into our home meant the monsters and nightmares it unleashed would be unleashed on home turf.

What changed between me and horror was my dad pulling a fast one on his ten year-old son.  He brought home a movie for me and him to watch one afternoon.  It was a sci-fi film, and he knew I was a sci-fi fan.  I was in love with Star Wars, and all sci-fi was like that, right?

Oh yeah, it was this one:

Seriously, the friggin’ POSTER scared the crap out of me.

I was terrified from the opening credits, but resolved I was going to stick it out to the bitter end.  Sleep?  Overrated.  I had to prove to myself I could do this.  I watched through to the bitter end … and a strange thing happened.  I slept soundly that night.  There were no Alien nightmares at all.  And the following Monday at school, I was BRAGGING in the playground that I had seen this movie Alien, that a guy got his head punched off, and another guy had something burst from his chest.  I thought I was hot shit.  And in my own way I was, because I had survived Alien.

The flood gates had opened, if not to a full surge than at least a steady stream.  I was becoming more attuned to horror movies.  Alien was the gateway, and soon after that I managed to survive Poltergeist, and The Birds, and Bride of Frankenstein.  Mostly watched on an afternoon, in broad daylight, but still, I watched them.

My burgeoning interest in horror brought me and my aforementioned Grandmother closer together, given she was a HUGE horror fan.

Definitely NOT my grandmother.

Every Christmas she was a recipient of the latest Stephen King hardcover from my sister and me.  She came to expect it, and look forward to it, and soon after un-wrapping it, she’d be in her chair, cigarette clenched in hand, shunning the rest of the celebration so she could get started into Needful Things or Misery or Pet Sematary (her personal favorite, and with good reason; it’s a scary mofo).  She’d lend some of them to me to read, after she was finished with them, of course.  When she passed away in 1993, left me all her King books.  They’re sitting on my shelf as I write this.  One of them contains a note she wrote to me. You can still feel the indentations from the ballpoint, 20 years later.

Once I started exposing myself to the horror, the less it horrified me.  I realized that, rather than terrorize me, it was trying to help me.  To prepare me for adulthood, to show me that fears could be conquered, and bent to your will.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I started to enjoy horror, I likewise began writing, with horror being the creative tinder for the fire that’s burned bright for well over 30 years now.  The monsters stopped visiting my house entirely — they knew I wasn’t scared of them anymore.

So, yeah, I’m a horror fan.  And if you ask any horror fan, they’ll tell you that it was an involved process of confronting, and then conquering their fears, to make them their obsessions.  Horror fans get a lot of grief from the so-called “normal” people, the ones who ask why you watch that “horror crap” when there’s already so much horror in the real world.  But if you have to ask that question, chances are you’ll never know, or understand why we do.

As much a fan as I am, I regret that horror movie, and books, aren’t the vivid, terrifying experiences for me as they once were.  When you hit adulthood, the stuff that scares you changes – it becomes more real.  People I know with families tell me they have a visceral reaction to a child in peril that they didn’t have before they became parents.  The older you get, the more you age, those worries of illness and disease stake out the same mental real estate that vampires and zombies once did.

My grandmother was never a healthy person, and even when she was diagnosed with cancer, knew it would win in the end.  But she still read horror novels and watched horror movies right up to the end.  She never articulated to me why, but I like to think it was because they made her happy, and took her mind off her own problems.  In horror, the monster can be defeated, though sometimes it comes back (usually in a series of increasingly awful sequels).  Not so much in life.

One thing I’ve come to believe is that being completely, irrationally freaked out as a young kid, is key to becoming a sane, creative adult.  The horror fans, the writers, the journalists and the filmmakers I know count among the very best people I’ve ever met.  The ones who confronted their fears and conquered them and bent them to their will, to thrive and make a living off those things that terrorized them when they were younger.

And the ones who don’t watch horror? The ones with the “nice, normal childhoods”?

They’re the ones you really need to be afraid of.


  1. Alien (1979)
  2. The Innocents (1961)
  3. Jaws (1975)
  4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  5. Halloween (1978)
  6. The Evil Dead (1983)
  7. Black Christmas (1974)
  8. Phantasm (1979)
  9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)
  10. The Haunting (1963)


Anyone Got A Pencil?

Okay I’ll cut to the chase; Mixtape #2 will be delayed. The good news is this should only be a short one.  We’ve had to switch printers and that process has taken longer than we hoped, but the digital files are out the door, and as soon as they can give us a pub date we’ll share it here and on the Facebook page.

[There’s also the matter of Hurricane Sandy barreling up the East Coast. I live in NYC. Printer’s in Maryland. Expect delays there too.]

As frustrating as it is for you fans, it’s doubly so for yours truly.  Mixtape #1 arrived in stores in April, and here we are approaching November and #2 is still in the wings.  One thing I am going to work towards in 2013 is to ensure Mixtape arrives on a more consistent basis.  Fortunately we have great fans who’ve been incredibly supportive and understanding of the challenges of getting an indie book like ours out to stores.

Once I have the new pub. date, so will you.

A Real American Hero

I have a problem.  The problem is comic books.

I love them.

I love the feel of newsprint between my fingers and the way the pages smell, I love the way their spines show wear and tear; I love the imperfections.  Through my considerable ups and downs I’ve never stopped reading comic books.   Hell, I even love flipping through the letters pages of books I bought twenty plus years ago and read people’s letters on the previous issues.   I wonder what became of that  letter writer  Are they still reading comic books, or was it just a passing thing for them?  I even wrote a letter to a favorite comic book 25 years ago.  They never published it.  I did however review the trade collection of Alan Moore’s Jack the Ripper opus From Hell several years after that, and they did print an excerpt from that review on the dust jacket (look for it on the inside cover, below the guy from the Village Voice).

Point being, comic books weren’t a passing thing for me.  I still read them, though the numbers of books I keep up with are considerably fewer than they were at the height of my collecting. I pretty much stick to trade collections now, both for space and cost considerations, but also because I just know if I were to pick up a monthly book mid-way through I’d be spending pounds of dollars to get all the back issues.  As I sit typing this, all I need to do is cast a glance to my right and see three large shelves loaded with trade paperbacks and hardcover graphic novels to see the end result.

But what started me on this obsession?  Well, if you’re a collector, what started you? Ask any fan and they’ll tell you there was that one, that gateway comic that set them on the path to full blown fandom.  As for me, I could narrow it down with an absolute certainty;

If you were a boy growing up in the early-mid 80s, chances are pretty good you were, at least for a short period of time, a fan of G.I. Joe; surely the greatest ever Cold War era metaphor unleashed upon Reagan’s America.  Remember this was post Return of the Jedi; pre-teen boys were desperately looking for something to fill the void, and the Joes fit that bill.  G.I. Joe was America’s highly trained special missions force, whose mission was to defeat Cobra – a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world (like Russia, get it?).  Of course they never defeated Cobra, because if they did you wouldn’t have the toy line, the cartoon, and the comic book series.  The characters are going strong even now; after a ten year hiatus they were re-launched largely to cater to the now middle-aged fan-base that fell in love with the characters back in the 80s.  For a really solid history of the 80s run, you’ll find it here.

I was a fan of the toys first, then when the first G.I. Joe Miniseries aired in fall of 1983, I became a fan of that too.  But I didn’t pick up my first G.I. Joe comic until I was visiting friends out west the following summer, all of whom had been collecting them for a while.  Here were stories and situations I hadn’t been experienced to, and characters who existed only in the comics.  I plunged on in, and discovered just what I had been missing.  The books were different from the cartoon – though still kid friendly they were more “adult”; people actually died in them.  They were also more grounded in reality than the cartoon.  You can credit the series writer Larry Hama, an ex-Viet Nam vet who brought a sense of military realism to a comic book that ended up being better than a book based on a toy line had any right to be.  In fact I’d rank the span of G.I. Joe #11 through #33 as some of the finest continuous comic book storytelling of the last 30 years.

[Someone was selling this on ebay for $2,400.00, which is more than I paid for the computer I’m currently typing on]

Despite the fact it was a book pretty much intended keep interest in the toy line active, Larry really brought his “A” game to storytelling.  He made Snake-Eyes, arguably the most popular character on the entire series and toy line, a Viet Nam vet like him, and his writing introduced me to that war that was ending just as my life was beginning.  Even in the face of adversity and Hasbro lobbing increasingly outlandish characters like Zartan, Dr. Mindbender and Serpentor into the fray, Larry ran with it; finding surprising depth in stock villainy and keeping the focus on the men and women in uniform who were the linchpin of the series.  He was even forced to bring the Transformers into the story at one point late in the game, and he heroically did.

Anyway, I bought the then most current issue of G.I. Joe (#28) and by the time I got back home I was on the hunt for more.  This meant journeying to a type of store I’d never set foot in before; a comic book shop.  See, I had discovered that there were stores that sold comic books exclusively (though many did and still do combine comics with movie and sports memorabilia). Thus began a ritual that me and my friends maintained for years, of taking the subway downtown and loading up on comics, music and horrible food.  I went to those shops, and began filling in the Joe collection, all while keeping up with the current issues.  I was aided by a couple cases where two books would be packaged in the same bag and sold at corner stores.  And before long, I had managed to grab all of the preceding issues, even a copy of #1 – in horrible condition no less – from a garage sale.

But there was one issue that was impossible to find anywhere.  That was the ever elusive issue #2.  You see, after its big splash debut, comic stores had underestimated demand, and ordered fewer copies of #2 than they should have (which remains standard practice even to this day with new books of unknown audience).  Then, when it became apparent that G.I. Joe was there to stay; presto — instant collector’s item.  Point of fact; G.I. Joe issues 2 through 4 were the Holy Grail as far as me and my friends were concerned. I had managed to find 3, 4 and 5 over several excursions, and I think I may have paid a princely (for 1984-85) sum of 10 dollars for them in total.  But #2?  Forget it –

So, we moved to North Carolina in the summer of 1985 (though I should point out this was not so I could find G.I. Joe #2).  On the plane ride down I had packed the entirety of my G.I. Joe comics into a briefcase my dad had given me (because we were staying in a hotel for a few weeks before we could move into our house – honest).  And one of the first things I did on arriving was to flip through the Yellow pages and seek out the local comic book stores.

There was one.  It was downtown.  I convinced my parents to take me there one afternoon.  They did, and walking through the doors with twenty dollars in hand and ready to do some damage, I saw it, bagged and boarded behind the counter; I saw GI. Joe #2.  My mind was blown. I had to know how much it was.

You can guess the next part.

It was 20 bucks.  For a comic book.

For a comic book?  My mother pointed out that I could buy close to twenty books for twenty dollars.  But I didn’t want twenty other books, I wanted that one.

So, then and there, in July of 1985, I spent the most money I ever had on a comic book up to that point, and it was the best twenty bucks I ever spent.  Because it represented the end of a search, because I had the complete set of G.I. Joe; and even though I stopped reading the book a couple years later I still have that complete run stored away here.  I even have a Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow battling it out on a bookshelf here.

It also marked a change in behavior for me.  During those teenage years and beyond, anytime I’d visit aunts and uncles and cousins or grandparents in several towns, I’d always seek out the local store just to browse the racks, maybe make some purchases, and just see what they’re like.  As we witness the sad decline of the local record shop, you realize the last reliable place to have that “record shop experience” is at the local comic book store.  You have your new releases, you have your back catalog, and you have surly staff judging you silently on your taste.

More than any comic book, G.I. Joe #2 made me a fan of comic books.  I wish it was something “cooler” like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, but no, it was that G.I. Joe comic.  It was my gateway book; the one that set me on the path.  And while I’ve sold or gave away toys and games and many other things over the run of my life, I still have every comic book I ever bought.

I’m glad I did keep them too, because a couple years back at NYCC, I was wandering artist’s alley and actually saw Larry Hama at his table.  And I went home that night and rummaged through my long-boxes and dug out the same comic book I’d bought with my hard earned money twenty-five years before.  I returned the following day, and you can probably guess what happened next;

[That’s #2 cover artist Herb Trimpe’s sig. on the left. At that point pre-teen me lost his frickin’ mind]

I had to tell Larry too, how I hunted across two countries and two cities for it, how at the time it was the most money I’d spent on a comic book ever.  It was the most money I’d spent on comics at that point in my young life.

“I’m guessing you spent a lot more after it though,” he grinned.

Larry, you have no idea …

Breaking Up The Band

If you know me, or at least know my work, you’ll know I like music.  A lot.  I write a comic book about music and bands.  Music is a big part of my life.  In fact music is probably as much a part of my life now as it was 20 years ago.  I’ve written before about certain bands and albums that made me who I am today, and if I was asked to name my favorites it would be easy to rattle off ten at a time without having really to think about it.

It’s quite easy to have a “relationship” with a band.  Bands like U2 and The Pixies are ones I’m in a lifetime relationship with.  Might as well add Nirvana to that list.  There are also bands you’re into for a time then lose interest in  only to re-discover what you liked about them in the first place (Pearl Jam, R.E.M.).  The bands you like become like friends you catch up with every few years.  They’re older, you’re older but you’re both essentially the same, and it’s nice to catch up and see what’s new with them.

But not every relationship is for life.  You fall out of love, you find you have less and less in common with the other band/person the older you get, you move away. And one day, you realize you’re just not into them anymore. It’s like the line of your life and theirs crossed paths at one point, and maybe you were on the same road with them for a bit, but they went their way and you went yours.

So what about the bands that are a short-time fling?  The ones who you’re “with” for an album or two, and two, maybe three years, but then they go their way and you go yours and you never cross paths with them again?  For me there’s four that spring to mind.

For the record I still love The Ghosts That Haunt Me, their 1991 debut.  It was huge in Canada, apparently, but they didn’t achieve US fame (where I first heard about them) until 1993’s God Shuffled His Feet. You know that one, just like you know that song Mmm-Mmm-Mmm-Mmm.  It was everywhere in ’93.

Thing about the Dummies is they were (and remain) a pretty good band.  Once you stepped outside their catchy if somewhat twee singles, they were like a less sloppy version of The Pogues.  And Ghosts  remains to me, a gem of an album about death and dying that somehow manages to remain chipper about it.  Naturally it had enormous appeal to a gloomy teenager like me.  I bought the cassette sometime in early 1992; I know this because it was winter, and the album will always be a winter album; where you start your car up and wait for it to warm, as your breath steams in the light of the console, and this album just happens to be in the deck.  It’s a winter album because it’s a chilly one, with the warmth of a fire on the hearth at the center.  I listened to it enough, that when I listen to it as I write this, I still know the lyrics to pretty much every song.

But those songs and that album faded almost as quickly as I discovered the band. By spring, when the snows had melted and the days got warmer and longer I was listening to something else.

I have two Faith No More albums in my collection; 1989’s The Real Thing, which everyone had, and its 1992 follow-up Angel Dust.  And if you were to ask 1992 me what album I was most looking forward to, it would have been Faith No More’s.  They hit big in that short, sweet spot between the decline of hair metal and the onslaught of Grunge.  That funk-rap-metal hybrid aided by the Anthrax/PE mash-up of Bring The Noize, and Ice-T unleashing Body Count.

Yeah, I was a fan.  A big fan.  They were unique and fresh and exciting, and I nearly wore out my copy of Epic the summer I bought it.  Every little bit of information I could find about their upcoming album was like Indy finding more clues to the Ark.   I was so stoked for Angel Dust, especially when the early reviews proclaimed it a masterpiece.  I watched with baited breath when MTV premiered the video on a Friday afternoon.  I drove to the local record shop to plunk down money for it.  It played in my car constantly that summer and in my dorm room at college that fall.

And by spring 1993, I was done.

For years I couldn’t figure out how a band I was into that much was one I could lose interest in so quickly, but looking back on it now I realize that Angel Dust was the climax of that relationship. I had anticipated it so much and for so long that when I got it finally it felt like I had reached the finish line.  I listened to much of their later work and it didn’t have that same connection with me like they did before.  I’d lost that groove.  I’d found other music, other interests, and while I still like listening to those two albums, I haven’t bought a FNM album in 20 years.  But listening to them now though, it feels for a moment like 1992, which is what all good albums and bands should be able to do; transport you.

At Lollapalooza 92, amidst Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and the RHCP, I was less interested in Ministry … but that was before I saw Ministry.  Picture the scene.  The sun is setting, and as night falls me and my friends realize these dark clad figures — Goths — have appeared in the crowd, seemingly out of nowhere.  A wave of them is washing towards the stage, and the moment the sun slips below the horizon, Ministry takes to the stage.  And the place goes INSANE.  They are LOUD.  Their stage set-up is INTENSE.  Lights blasting, sound blasting, very theatrical – as a budding film student the show’s imagery had me in its spell.  And when it’s over I know I have to discover more about this band.

A few weeks later I picked up Psalm 69, their newest album, and it became my soundtrack for frosh week as I settle into my residence room.  Trips thru the local used record shops shagged me The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and The Land of Rape and Honey.  I blasted them constantly, prompting my roommate* to ask who they are.  I dubbed him copies, and pretty soon he was hooked — really hooked. He was transformed from a slightly geeky, shy kid to a full blown industrial music addict.  Ministry became his gateway to NIN, Front 242 and Malhavok.

I realize now that show was the climax to my relationship with the band.  I listened to them on and off in 93, but by the time they released Filth Pig in 96, I was kind of done.  A taste I’d acquired and binged on, and then lost a taste for.  I still spin Ministry from time to time, but it’s always that sweet spot of those 3 albums.  The albums I fell in love with when I transitioned from High School to College life.

Okay, something of a confession; I’ve never really liked Smashing Pumpkins all that much, even though I have everything from Gish through Adore in my library.  I even saw their headlining show at Lollapalooza ’94. Coincidentally or not that was the last Lollapalooza show I attended.  They were good, just like their albums were good, and their songs were good, but they never quite reached nirvana (the state, not the band) with me.

I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that they were one of those bands I read about before experiencing.  Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind, was producing their major label debut Siamese Dream, and SPIN had been talking them up relentlessly, giving the album a “green” light in an early review. Remember this was small-town radio in the early 90s – non AOR radio was as rare as a four leaf clover – so you looked to other outlets to find out what was cool. So I bought Siamese Dream cold, without having heard anything by the band.  And as Cherub Rock unfolded, I knew I had made a great choice.  Siamese Dream is a great album, and still holds up pretty well.  I snapped up Gish, and a few years later their epic 2-album set Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  I think that’s where I started to sour on them, only to realize I wasn’t that into them to begin with.  They were just fine, and while I tried to stick with them and make it work, it turned out that they were going one way and I was going the other.

I think the Pumpkins are the musical equivalent of Anime or Manga.  If it hits that sweet spot and you find yourself into it, you’re into it body and soul.  And Pumpkins fans are into that band to the degree I never was. There’s nothing wrong with that; just that music affects different people differently.

So all of these bands were important to me at a point in my life, and for a relatively short period of time.  Like those friendships that drift apart because you’re in a different place then they are.  You may have moved on, you may periodically check in to see what they’re doing, but you pretty much realize it’s all over. But, you’ll still have the memories and the music.