By ROCCO THOMPSON
Coming soon from HorrorHound Ltd., HALFTONE HORRORS: THE HISTORY OF HORROR MOVIE COMIC BOOKS collects 240 pages of full-color officially licensed horror comics in a handsome tome that just begs for a place of honor on every fright fan’s coffee table. The first fully-realized book release in the company’s 15-year history, HALFTONE HORRORS is also the first in a planned series of luxe collector-based hardbound books from the publisher. We sat down with our industry pal Nathan Hanneman (the book’s author, as well as editor-in-chief of HorrorHound Magazine) to discuss his love of horror movie tie-in comics, why the COVID-era pushed him to launch the project, and how Kickstarter is offering longtime HorrorHound fans a chance to snag one the most-requested items in the magazine’s history!
HALFTONE HORRORS is HorrorHound Publishing’s first fully realized book release in the company’s 15-year history. What is it about horror movie comic books that made them a worthy subject for your first landmark publishing endeavor?
I have always loved horror movies … and I have always loved comics. I always discussed writing a book about horror movie comics, but didn’t know if there was enough material to work with. I think time caught up to the subject material, as more and more comics continue to be published, the concept became more alluring for me. When I finally started to dig into the material [and see] how expansive the material actually was, that was the moment I realized that this project was THE project. In fact, to be able to include everything that was necessary – while maintaining a reasonable page count – I had to develop strict rules. The first thing I had to do was cut TV (sorry, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Walking Dead) and as much as I wanted to, I had to say no to sci-fi. The fact is: when you start making cuts like that, you would think that it would make for a lesser book. But the reality is, it made for a much stronger book. The focus and material are so pure, and it’s a LOT! Over 650 titles … thousands of issues. When you start to look at the volume of material, it’s impressive, and then you realize the comics tell a story. The publishing companies tell a story, the artists and writers, the film licenses…there is so much history here. I am sure anyone reading Rue Morgue has purchased a horror movie comic at some point in time, but even if you’re a mild fan of the format – I passionately believe horror fans have an interest or a curiosity about the history of this medium. The weight of that history is what made this the project I wanted to tackle today and now.
Can you tell us a bit about your own personal history with horror movie comic books?
I have been collecting comic books since I was a kid. For whatever reason, I always gravitated towards licensed comics – my first comics were Transformers, GI Joe, and Masters of the Universe. In all honesty, comic books led to my professional career. I grew up wanting to be a comic writer or artist – I started collecting comic book toys in the mid-’90s and launched one of the first online toy news Web sites in 1996, which resulted in a job working for a collectible publishing company. We have always covered horror movie comics in HorrorHound, which I have always been strict with. We rarely cover non-movie comic books. I don’t know why, but that was a rule I made from the get-go. I always felt that licensed movie comics got the shaft, they never felt very respected. I think most people view them as a cheap license cash-grab, but the talent who make them are legit; you look back at the history of movie-based comics, and you see names like Steve Ditko, Mike Mignola, Steve Niles, John Bolton, Simon Bisley. It’s so impressive! But I am a collector in more ways than one. I’ve literally spent 20 years scanning and archiving horror movie comic book covers for articles and features. I am always trying to learn more about any subject I am unfamiliar with. This book was always meant to happen, I just didn’t know when I would get to it!
What are some of the strangest titles you’ve discovered?
I was beyond thrilled to find out that there is a Mother’s Day comic book series. Oddly, the artist for that comic ended up signing on to work with us on our HorrorHound comic book, and that is 100% by accident. I laughed quite hard. I think the more obscure, the better! And I don’t really mean obscure films, but obscure comic production houses. Mother’s Day is from a Spanish company called Fester Comix, who produced a number of Troma titles, including Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and Frostbiter! Cosmic Comics was a Roger Corman-based company that delivered comics for Burial of the Rats, The Little Shop of Horrors, and Death Race 2020. I am a big fan of the Freaks comic book series, based on the 1932 Tod Browning film. Monster Comics did that title – the same company that did titles like King Kong and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. If you want strange or obscure, we have uncovered comics for movies we didn’t even know existed! Really low-budget indie fare, like Jezebeth, Satan Place, Zombie Apocalypse, Driller…we really had our work cut out for us digging those up. Luckily, I had amazing help in that corner of the industry thanks to the editor of Rotten Ink. He has been invaluable in sending me down some crazy rabbit holes.
HorrorHound’s editorial staff also have their names attached. Did you originally intend to make it happen on your own, or was it always conceived as a team project?
In all honesty, I did not know how the book would be realized. It was discussed over the last couple of years as an option, but we just didn’t have the time to make it. Most of my time is working on conventions, merchandise, and magazines. When COVID shut everything down in March, I started to discuss the book again with friends of mine, online. I actually started writing a totally different book first, but I kept going back to this comic concept. It was alluring. And I had almost everything I needed right here in my house where I was locked up, thanks to this damned pandemic! So, I kept tinkering on it. When COVID wasn’t ending, we really needed something, so, I put my head down and just worked like nothing else existed. I may have had more people help draft the book in any other circumstance, but since I was also designing the entire book myself, it felt like I needed to stay in the driver’s seat for this project. That’s not to say the editorial staff of HorrorHound isn’t involved. I have a team that works nonstop on our magazine – a lot of the research and development for the book stems from 15 years of magazine production. And my editing crew will be working on this project, polishing it to make me sound better, and making sure I didn’t make any bone-headed errors. Everyone is excited about it too. It’s such a fun subject!
What has been most challenging about this project?
Focus. I have friends who found out I was doing this book, and they commented how excited they were to see I was able to use all that “free time” from our canceled conventions to create a book. That’s not actually what happened. The reality is, it was utter hell trying to find time to focus on the book when I had outstanding contracts for convention centers and hotels in locations that were not uniformly managing Coronavirus restrictions. There was a point in time where we thought we would be forced to put on our annual September event, so negotiating my way out of those contracts? I have never experienced such anxiety. Plus, book and comic stores were closed for a while, and that backed up my print production schedules. I am still playing catch up! It’s been one obstacle after another.
One of your big Kickstarter rewards is the first official comic book starring HorrorHound’s mascot. Can you tell us a bit about the conception of that comic?
Fans have been asking for a HorrorHound comic for a long time. I don’t know why we never created one. The HorrorHound mascot is a zombie-wolf kind of character that has been the centerpiece of our conventions for the last 12 years. He is on every event shirt for every con – we have printed thousands upon thousands of shirts with his likeness. He has been turned into an action figure, Halloween masks...he’s on pint glasses, koozies, hoodies, pins, posters we even have a tiki mug in the works! When I started working on this Kickstarter, I [thought], “Why not create a comic book as a companion piece to a book about comic books?” It seemed reasonable, and we have had a lot of fun doing it! We came up with some great concepts for the character that didn’t exist prior to this year, really fun and original concepts. We will be offering options for fans to be turned into characters within the comic itself! We will be doing sketch covers for a small handful of fans. Variant covers. The whole works! If the comic add-on is popular enough, it could lead to a larger series of comics starring the HorrorHound. We have a lot of fun ideas and situations to place the character in, and we have come up with clever backstory concepts to play with the alternative “looks” the character has supported over the years. The HorrorHound is often presented in mock-cosplay, as a Cyborg, zombie, vampire, etc, we were very inspired by Iron Maiden in that sense.
HALFTONE HORRORS is set to be the first in a series. Can you tell us some of the other topics HorrorhHound is hoping to tackle in upcoming tomes?
I love books about collecting. And I am a big fan of licensing. It’s something that truly fascinates me. I don’t care if it’s a pot-holder or a back-scratcher, if a company was able to secure the rights to produce an officially licensed product of any kind, I just get a kick out of it! It’s so funny. It’s camp, like John Waters. I am an adventurous collector. Right now, I am all about tiki mugs. I always collected them, but companies are getting crazy lately. I just added officially licensed mugs of Tarman from Return of the Living Dead, Basket Case, and Beast of Blood to my collection. So, I think anything could be a book, eventually. And I have worked in the field of writing collector books or magazines my whole adult life, from horror to Star Wars, Disney or Hot Wheels … I have worked on a lot! Point being: I would love to revisit toys as a book subject. I have a great idea to do a new toy guide, but if this Kickstarter is a success and the interest is there, I have a follow-up planned called Halftone Horrors: The History of Horror Television Comic Books! [As previously mentioned] I could not fit TV in this book, but just consider how many Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics exist! I didn’t want to cut TV, but I had to. I was so sad, but I got very excited when my wife suggested that I could do a second volume if this book was a success. That really helped me sleep! I hope I get to do that!
Is the horror movie comic something of a lost art form?
My gut instinct is to say yes. But the reality is, thanks to companies like Dynamite Entertainment, BOOM!, Titan, Legendary, and IDW, there are so many comics being produced today. And we also live in the age of variant covers. So, a four-issue mini-series can somehow net 16 or more comics to collect (if you’re a crazed collector, like me). In fact, the more recently produced comics are the ones that are the most daunting, as it were, for layout structure in this book. Between Eibon Press (Zombie, The Beyond, House by the Cemetery) or Dynamite’s entire catalog (Army of Darkness being the big dog in the yard), the volume of horror movie comics produced in the last decade overshadows those of any other era. There are a lot of fun stories being developed. Behemoth Comics recently announced a comic for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night! Amazing!
What makes you proudest about HALFTONE HORRORS?
I have been threatening to write a book for years, and am proud that it’s actually happening. I feel like the pandemic kneecapped everyone. I have never felt more vulnerable in my life. Not even afraid of what tomorrow could bring – but this weird acceptance of helplessness. I can’t solve this problem. But to use it as an opportunity to create something I always wanted to see realized? Truth be told, I didn’t even have to make the book myself. I would have been happy to discover another publisher was doing it. I would have bought it in a heartbeat! I am a fan and I love these types of books. They are so important to me. The research and history are important to me. So, to be able to create one in the thick of this madness – I honestly tear up – this is what I want to do with my life.
Why should fright fans back this project?
Backing the project would be important for a number of reasons. I need to show proof that there is interest in this concept of archiving nerdy history, even one as niche as horror movie comic books. If we can deliver a successful Kickstarter, it will allow me the freedom to continue my work. I see a future where dozens of oddball collector guides can exist. And I don’t half-ass it either. This is an exhaustive book. I wouldn’t be happy if it wasn’t. The TV comics volume would be an exhaustive book. The toy concepts we have would be epic. We have been leaning in on finally delivering a VHS Invasion book – another project we’ve been tinkering with for the last six-plus years. Being able to prove that there is an audience for these collector/history-based books, to prove I am not the only psychopath who cares about this subject matter, it’s everything. I know anyone reading this article is a fan of horror. I assume any fan of horror is also a fan of horror “stuff.” We can make a lot of horror stuff off the backbone of this book’s success. I truly believe that.
To help make HALFTONE HORRORS: THE HISTORY OF HORROR MOVIE COMIC BOOKS a reality, back the project today!