Re-Writing Halloween: Interview with Comics scribe Stefan Hutchinson

Stefan Hutchinson’s been a great friend to Cinema Crazed since we began reviewing his comic books and our raves about his takes on “Halloween” and the mythos of Michael Myers have not been sycophantic. If you’ve ever read a comic from this man, you’ll know he’s one who understands the world John Carpenter unfolded for horror audiences, and why it’s remained so prevalent in the film community in spite of bad sequels and remakes. With that said, we hear from Hutchinson and his approach to the comics.

So what inspired you to write Tarantula Man?
Tarantula Man came about as a result of a long discussion between myself and the team who write the website material. We were having a conference about potential new content for the site, and Greg Mitchell (one of the site writers) suggested possibly doing Tommy Doyle’s comic books. My thoughts went into overdrive at that point and I came up with the rather wrong idea of a pedophile arachnid. I was thinking about things that would scare a child, and I instantly thought of how myself, as a child, I was constantly warned to avoid strangers. In my mind when I was young, strangers were shadowy figures that hung around by the school gates and in the garden at night. That was the sort of thing I was trying to tap into there.

I wrote the story specifically for Jeff Zornow to illustrate. He and I have been trying to work on a project together for almost five years now, so I insisted we hire him for this. As I was writing it, I was picturing his style, because he completely understands the 70s feel that story needed. In terms of writing it, I was grateful for the opportunity to put out a story that to all intents and purposes, wasn’t Halloween. It still had the safety of that banner though, and also gave us the opportunity to expand the Halloween universe in a really different direction.

“Trick or Treat” was probably the sickest tale of the 30 Years of Terror, where did that stem from beyond the urban legend?
The urban legend was definitely the starting point – the razorblade in the apple, that sort of thing.  The original Halloween was full of things that related to the night itself. A lot of the sequels have eschewed that, so the night of October 31st is almost arbitrary. I also wanted to get into the other side of the character that we see in the original film – the side of him that likes playing games with people and scaring them. Laurie doesn’t see The Shape because she catches him out, she sees him because he lets her.

There’s always been an element of ‘Trick or Treat’ to The Shape himself, so it was fun to tie that with traditional Halloween folklore. Also, the ending of Halloween, with Tommy and Lindsay running to the Mackenzies, was an angle that tied in with what would happen many years later. In that sense I think it worked well – all the various elements, The Shape, The Trick or Treaters, the folklore and the tie-in scene from the movie managed to blend seamlessly into each other.

Why do you think Michael hates Haddonfield so much?
I don’t think he hates it so much as he demands its attention, sort of how a child would in many ways – he certainly enjoys the fear he creates. I think the darker sides of childhood, the untamed mind that exists there before the world makes you a social ‘human being’, is manifest in The Shape. There’s a frozen moment within him from when he killed his sister, Judith, and he’s never really progressed beyond that point. I don’t think he wants to either. There’s something about that frozen moment that links to him being immortal too, at least in an academic sense. He’s frozen and immutable, like he’s always been there and always will.

Haddonfield, in being the physical home of The Shape, is in a lot of ways the cause of The Shape. He’s very much a product of his environment, just like Jack The Ripper was. In this case, he’s the product of normal suburbia – all the repressed emotion of fake Norman Rockwell smiles. A collective unconscious almost, a monster of abjection, and the harder they try to force that away and bury it, the more monstrous it will become.

I had to ask: What did you think of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”?
It wasn’t for me, really. I’m very fond of the original and I grew up with it, and not only that, all of the things I find interesting and unique in Halloween were removed for the remake. It wasn’t about The Shape, it was a bout Michael Myers, and very much about humanizing, which I guess is the complete opposite of what I’m trying to do in the comic books.

I don’t want to feel any sympathy for The Shape. That’s a Jason Voorhees thing, and it works very well there. I see The Shape as a completely evil bastard, far beyond redemption, and in many ways, far beyond our understanding. I certainly don’t see him as a misunderstood man in a mask who is just looking for a hug. All of Loomis’ dialogue about the nature of evil doesn’t really apply or have the same eerie resonance when we know so much about Michael Myers as an actual person.

That said, I preferred the first half of the remake, where Rob Zombie was clearly doing his own thing, rather than emulating the original. I would have enjoyed the film more if it went it completely in its own direction, simply because I’m so attached to John Carpenter’s original. For the audience it was meant for, it did really well, and more importantly, it kept the Halloween series alive. It will definitely be interesting to see where they take the story next.

How would you sculpt a reboot/sequel to the “Halloween” movies?
If I was doing a sequel, it would be something like Halloween: Nightdance, something to get The Shape back to his roots and just focus on scares and atmosphere. I’d get Dean Cundey involved again to give it that wonderful look, and try to avoid the phenomenon of ‘shakeycam’. I miss having beautifully composed images in scary movies.

As for a remake, that’s a tough call because I don’t feel the original can be bettered, nor do I feel it’s dated at all. It’s timeless for me. The only way I can think of approaching it is by being radically different. I’d take the core concepts of Loomis and The Shape and relocate them to Victorian England, something radical like that.

Can you tell us about your history of writing and where it originates?
As cliché as it sounds, I‘ve always wrote stories even if only to pass the time. This goes back as far as I can remember. I’ve always had an active imagination and suffered from really intense nightmares. Similarly, I’ve always been fascinated by things that go bump in the night. It was always the scary stories that made an impression on me, regardless of medium.

Even my pre-teen writing was somewhat bleak. When we had to do a story at school, mine would be several times longer than everybody else’s and would usually end with half of the cast dead. I saw Halloween when I was young, so that’s a key influence. In terms of comic books, it would be things like Doomlord which used to run in Eagle, the old UK Scream comics, Captain Britain and Spider-Man. Later on, it would be just about every horror film that came out. My friends and I would trawl markets, backstreet stores and shitty little scuzzholes to find horror movies – always a hard task as all the good stuff was either banned or censored. Another big influence on me at that time was the Marshall Law comic. Lots of people talk about Watchmen being a big deconstruction of superhero books that made them see the genre differently, but for me it was always Marshall Law.

Was it your decision to ignore the mark of Thorn storyline in your storyline in the comics?
That decision was made by the film franchise. Halloween: H20 basically erased the previous three films out of existence, so we decided to follow that path (these books were originally being developed before they announced the remake, so were set in the continuity that was established at that point).

Also, from a writer’s perspective, it made sense to stick with that. Mainly because a central aim of our books was to capture the tone of the original film, and the more minimal continuity suited it best, rather than the “let’s explain everything” tone of the middle trilogy. I know a lot of fans liked that, but they’re so far removed from the simplicity of the original, they really don’t gel. Similarly, the producers don’t want to go back to that storyline, at least as it was.

However, while I’m not interested in uniting the continuities (I know that every second fan has a ‘great idea’ to unite the storylines, but the producers don’t want that, H20 explicitly says that the other continuity didn’t happen and we can’t legally use all of the characters), there is a way to include a lot of what people loved about those movies while dispensing with a lot of the baggage. We shall see…

Did Devil’s Due ever ask that you include it?
No – the only really specific request I received from them was to put The Shape in the first few pages of Halloween: Nightdance, mainly for those people who flick through the first few pages of a book before they buy it.
I was really opposed to that because it didn’t fit the story at all, so thankfully I was able to stick to my original outline. I have a really supportive editorial team, namely Stephen Christy and Cody DeMatteis, and that, as well as the backing from Trancas International, helps a lot.

I was surprised that you kept Laurie Michael’s brother; why did you feel it should have remained?
I never liked the idea of them being related, I have to be honest. It was an idea that actually diminished the first film for me. It made the original seem more like a series of completely unlikely coincidences, and also grounded The Shape into being simply Michael Myers. No longer was he an abstract force, but a guy with family problems.

However it’s not my place to drop everything from the series – I don’t really have the right to do that as many fans have a lot invested in these characters. However, Halloween: H20 did radically change the series and we are in that universe. My role is to make it all work in the context of what we want to do, so that’s where Halloween: The First Death of Laurie Strode fits in. A lot of things stop being a coincidence in that story and instead become fated, unavoidable elements.

One thing I wanted to ensure is that we didn’t go strolling down the bloodline path again. That’s been done, and really isn’t in the intent of the original. So the sister aspect is still very much a part of our world, but it’s certainly not the driving force of our stories. I want The Shape to be scary again, and one part of that is making him more unpredictable. All of the actions he does do, however, have their roots in the original film, or in Halloween II. We can’t assume that we saw everything The Shape is capable of in the brief time we spent following him over these films.

That’s also the double-edged sword of obsessive fandom rhetoric! We repeat things and people complain it’s seen before, we do something new and it’s suddenly decried as being out of character. I’ve just learned to switch off from all of that and trust my own judgment. Everything that does occur I’ve thought about carefully and discussed at length with the whole team – all of whom are massive fans with a truly disturbing amount of knowledge. Be afraid…

What’s your method to storytelling and do you have a specific niche you prefer?
I don’t really have a fixed method as such, but there are certain things that play out the same. I do tend to keep an idea floating around in my head for several months before I start typing, so the themes develop. From there I start to get visuals and imagery (I start with visuals a lot, rather than plot moments), and those develop into set pieces. I also rewrite as I go, so every time I go back to the story, I go through it. I’m not really the sort of writer who can pound out a draft.

One thing I also often do is make a music playlist that fits the mood of what I’m writing, be it lyrically or sonically. The mood and rhythm of the music influences how the story takes shape (when I’m struggling with a tale structurally I tend to listen to pieces of music and take a cue form their structure).

As for a niche – horror, definitely, as much as I don’t really care for the word because it’s kind of limiting. That’s always gonna be my first love. One thing I think is important though, is to bring influences from other mediums. I like a lot of surrealism myself. I’m limited in that with Halloween, but it still creeps in (be it in the form of Ballerinas or flattening notions of time and space etc.). Hopefully when I start to put out my own material (as in not a licensed book), then I can explore more in that direction.

So I have to ask: Can you tell us if your Michael is Supernatural or not?
He is definitely supernatural, but hopefully in the ambiguous and abstract way he is in the first film – I tend to loathe explanations as they always reduce the character and belong in sci-fi, rather than horror. We’ve got this horrible culture now of DVD special features and message boards which means that everybody wants to know reasons. Everybody wants to know why. That, to me, is not something conducive to good horror. I like possible explanations, but anything more than that reduces an eerie entity to bland facts.

That said, the nearest I gave to an explanation is the Charlie story which was included in the Halloween: Nightdance trade paperback. There’s a flattening of time in that as Charlie Bowles develops his ‘evil’ side. He becomes one with past, present and future in his hallucinations. The purpose of this is to give some idea of the nature of evil in our stories – it’s a timeless force that exists everywhere at every time in a constant state of ‘now’, if that makes any sense? Charlie sensed it, but The Shape actually *is* it. He’s had 15 years in silence attuning himself to this force to the point where he is, as Loomis says, “pure evil”.

This is why events happen around him that seem like coincidences, as he is at one with darkness and with fate. He’s going to get more powerful as our stories progress, more dangerous and more terrifying. I don’t want the readers cheering him on because he’s not the hero. All of this is drawn from the original film – from him being a part of the night of Halloween, from him being a very different entity in the mask to without. John Carpenter says that the predominant theme in Halloween is that ‘evil never dies’, and we’re trying to be very true to that. In a future issue, a character asks, “He’s in every street, every leave that falls – how are you gonna stop that?” I think that sums him up.

Which of the films in the series are your favorites?
The original is so superior to the others that there’s no comparison at all. I see the original Halloween as a work of art, whereas I see the sequels as mostly fun films. From the sequels, I like Halloween II, Halloween III and Halloween: H20. They come the closest to the original in mood and tone for me, even though they are still a long way off.

What did the research for writing the comic entail?
Not that much, because I already know way too much about these films, firstly as a fan, and secondly as a consequence of making Halloween: 25 Years of Terror. There was a period just after that where I was completely ‘Halloweened Out’, but when we got the comics rolling it all felt fresh and exciting again.

Michael’s sexual confusion and frustration is ambiguous through most of your series; will you ever try to break down his fascination with women?
Not any more than I’ve done already – at least directly, anyway. I’m gonna paraphrase a David Lynch quote because I the exact words escape me: “If you get too specific then the dream stops.” It goes back to my general dislike of spelling things out, especially within horror.

I think there’s a lot of material in Nightdance that can be interpreted in lots of ways, and there will be similar material to that in future storylines – that hint of sexuality. I just don’t want that to be the focal point of the character – it should be an aspect, but that’s all. I think it all comes back to Judith for The Shape in a lot of ways…

Can you tell us about your turn in to the writing field?
I got lucky. I think everyone who breaks in at any level gets lucky. I studied Film Theory at university, which didn’t open any doors whatsoever, but it did help with a critical understanding which helps me a lot. I don’t have any formal training in writing, other than what I’ve taught myself through constant practice. I just managed to get a break by being at the right place at the right time. You just have to keep trying.

When did you start writing comic books?
My first attempts would have been in the early 90s. I was working with a local artist, but we’d never get anywhere due to differing opinions. He’d come up with these completely random ideas for inexplicable reasons – you know, “I think there should be a dog in this scene.” You do? Why? It just made it impossible.

After that, my focus went towards screenwriting, which is a direction I still want to go. Ideally, I’ll get to the stage where I can do both for a living. The great thing about a comic script is the speed it comes to life. You write something, and three months later it’s on shelves. I love that. There’s also a lot more creative freedom there because you have less people to answer to. You also aren’t catering exclusively for the date crowd, which is one of the problems I have with recent horror movies in general.

Do you write novels or short stories? If so, how different are the mediums? If not, would you ever consider it?
I have written short stories. I’m far, far too lazy to contemplate writing a novel, however. I also don’t read enough, which I’m ashamed of saying. I read comic books and I watch films. Those are the languages I understand, and even those are extremely far removed from each other.

For example, the act of motion in a screenplay is easy. Take a scene in which a man walks across a room, picks up a knife, walks to the other side of the room and stabs himself. In a screenplay, I’d probably describe it like I have here, but in a comic book, I have to break that action down into still images but still communicate that movement. On my first comic scripting attempts it was a challenge just getting from panel-to-panel.

If you want to read an example of my regular prose writing, then simply pop along to the website – there you will find ‘Sam’, a short story which is there for free download.

Have you ever considered writing other horror comics before?
All the time! I have many stories of my own I wish to tell, but I’d love to tackle all of the famous characters. Freddy and Jason are both characters I’d like to write for, but my approach would be different to what it has been on the Halloween books. What I would carry over from my Halloween experience is my focus on keeping it real, as cheesy as that sounds. That means playing it less for laughs and more for horrific imagery and suspense.

What is your goal with the mythos you’re spreading along the “Halloween” comics?
To really use the comic medium to it’s fullest to build a universe and tell unique Halloween stories that couldn’t be told the same on film. The skill of the original film is that it’s a uniquely cinematic experience – it’s a film where the form and content are perfectly matched. The style is constantly expressing the narrative and characters at hand. It would be to do that film a massive injustice to try and simply copy it.

Comics bring entirely new possibilities, both in the telling of the story and the story itself, so these stories aren’t meant to be films quickly adjusted for another medium. I’m taking a lot of care to ensure that I exploit the medium as much as I can and what we ultimately create is an experience unique to comic books.

I’m taking the whole mythos extremely seriously (maybe too seriously), but fully determined to give these characters and storylines respect.

Any last words for the readers?
Well, to everybody who has supported this line so far, or who has even picked-up one thing I’ve been involved with, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU. It’s always appreciated. If you like what you read, then that makes it even better. If not, I hope next time I won’t disappoint!

Thanks for your time Stefan!
No problem sir!