• Abby Howard - Featured Interviews 

    Interview with a Webcomic: Abby Howard on “The Last Halloween” and the Comedy of Horror

    By | July 2nd, 2019
    Posted in Interviews | % Comments

    The webcomic creator is never far from their audience. Be it through social media, public email addresses, Discord servers, or simply the comments section beneath a page, there is a rapport and a conversation that is developed that is unique to the medium. We’re continuing those conversations here, albeit a little more formally, by interviewing webcomics creators to pick their brains about craft, storytelling, and their personal experiences with the medium.

    This month, we sat down and had a chat with Abby Howard, creator of a whole host of comics, such as the horror-comedy webcomic “The Last Halloween,” which we highlighted a few months ago, the non-fiction “Earth Before Us” trilogy, her comedy series “Junior Scientist Power Hour,” which is running a kickstarter right now for it’s second (and final) volume, and shorter, collaborative works such as “The Portrait of Sal Pullman” with Lonnie Nadler (“Age of X-Man,” “Come Into Me.”)

    You’ve been working with webcomics since. . .how long have you been working?

    Abby Howard: I think it’s been 6 years. I think since 2013, yeah, so 6 years.

    And you got your start on the Penny Arcade game show, which I only really know from apocrypha how that went down. So let’s start with that.

    AH: Alright! Yeah, I was very new to webcomics, I guess I’ve already been interested in webcomics so it’s not like it was my first few comics but I only had about 20 on the internet when I decided to apply to the show when my sister and a friend of mine just thought it’d be an interesting thing to apply for and definitely did not think I would get on and it went really well. I was the runner-up. They liked me, that’s very nice of them

    What was the name of the show again?

    AH: Strip Search.

    Right, right.

    AH: Always a fun one to tell people.

    Yeah, yeah. I gotta find the wikipedia article so I can give a little blurb for people, how long it ran, etc.

    AH: Yeah. It was one season, I don’t know how many episodes anymore.

    After that, you then launched a successful kickstarter to fund your long-form horror webcomic “The Last Halloween,” which you’ve been essentially working on since then.

    AH: Yep! We’re now on book 2, which is taking a lot longer because I now also have many other book projects I’m tackling all at once.

    Before we kinda get into that, give us a small elevator pitch for those that are unfamiliar with “The Last Halloween.”

    AH: “The Last Halloween” is a horror adventure webcomic about the end of the world. One Halloween night, billions of monsters spill over into our dimension and a young girl is chased from her home and thrust into an adventure where she has to stop the apocalypse, but she’s only 10 years old, so it’s not going very well.

    What’s been kinda the most difficult part of making the shift from the serialized webcomic format to working on these book length projects for these other companies?

    AH: I suppose the hardest thing is actually just having to put aside stuff like “The Last Halloween” when I would really like to finish it. I think that’s the hardest part, just kind of, managing to find the time for “The Last Halloween” in between these huge book projects, which have just ridiculous deadlines sometimes. “The Earth Before Us” series, I think I had a turnaround of 8 months for each book and they’re 128 full-color pages, heavily researched because it’s all non-fiction about ancient beasts. Each page has between 10 and 30 different animals that I had to look up.

    Oh my god.

    AH: Yeah, it was very intensive. Lots of very long work day. But that’s over! And I don’t have to think about for my next book until it’s like December and I have to finish a huge book in probably about 8 months.

    What was the process of getting hired to do this trilogy of non-fiction book?

    AH: I was actually approached by an agent, which was very kind of him and we’ve been working together so, once he approached me, I. . .I had had this idea because I was just kinda unsatisfied with a lot of the dinosaur books out there. I actually went to school for evolutionary biology so I have a background in sort-of paleontology – I went on a dino dig and all that sorta stuff so I decided to put it upon myself to make some really good, accurate books about ancient life that explained evolution and that, no ,not all of the dinosaurs all existed at once a few thousand years ago or whatever.

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    Jurassic World it was not.

    AH: Indeed. But it was super fun, I’m very glad I did it. Kids love them, which is the best I could have hoped for.

    Did you enjoy the process, obviously without the huge crunch, of making a non-fiction book about this topic that you love?

    AH: I enjoyed parts of it, for sure. Especially parts where I found out stuff that I never would have known because, while I did take classes in this, there’s only so much they can teach you. Having to look up, well, what were the amphibians like in this region at this time, was not something I had ever really thought about before or even paid enough attention to. So that was great, learning a whole lot more throughout the course of the books.

    Did you learn anything about how you worked too?

    AH: Yeah, I learned out I can finish a lot of stuff really fast when I have to, so that was nice. Also I learned that I’m not bad at coloring, which I had never done a huge color project like this before so I was pretty certain it was not gonna look very good but as it turns out, I’m not half bad. That was nice and now I feel pretty confident in my coloring skills.

    What projects did you color before?

    AH: Just an odd comic here and there, sometimes an illustration just to practice. I used to use color a lot in high school but not really something, I definitely learned digital coloring, that was something I taught myself.

    Do you primarily work digitally? Or do you work physically or, kind of a combination of both?

    AH: It depends on the project. For the most part, I try to do everything traditional where I can. I can’t color traditionally. For one thing, you can’t press undo and it just doesn’t scan very well a lot of the time. Just a big, kinda, can of worms that I’m not interested in dealing with. Definitely will not try to color anything traditionally now that I have the means to do so.

    I usually like to ink traditionally every time so, actually, for the dinosaur books I wound up penciling digitally, printing it out, inking it all by hand, and then scanning it back in for the colors.

    Which was something that I’ve seen other people do and I was like, “Why are they doing that? It’s so ridiculous. It’s so many steps. Just do it all on your computer.” Now I understand.

    It’s easier that way?

    AH: Yeah, the line quality is very different. My printer broke, so I wasn’t able to print out something recently. And then I tried, I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll be better at it now. I’ve learned a lot over the course of however many years.” And, no, no. I was not able to do it. It was like learning to draw for the first time. It was very weird.

    Do you think you’ll ever, I guess, try to do a project like that, even if it’s a small one?

    AH: It feels like a hole in my drawing ability. Like I’m using the traditional inking as a crutch and one day it’ll come back to bite me. But I dunno, if I can get away with it for the entirety of my career, that would be nice.

    Today is not that day.

    AH: That’s for future Abby to worry about.

    You’ve talked about kind of an upcoming project, and I know this isn’t webcomics related, but what is your next project outside of “The Last Halloween?”

    AH: It is a very exciting project that I am having a lot of fun working on. It’s called “The Crossroads at Midnight” and it’s with Iron Circus Comics. It’s going to be a 360 page horror anthology all by me, so six individual stories written and illustrated by me. Hopefully done by January of next year and it will be kickstarting early next year.

    I was about to ask, cause, I know that when I talked with Blue they said that Iron Circus was starting to move into straight up publishing as well as kickstarting publishing, if that makes any sense.

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    AH: Yeah, yeah. It does. They’ll be kickstarting my comic for sure but they also do distribution, which is the most exciting part for me because I have no means by which to get into a bookstore on my own, so that’s very nice. I can’t wait to see something I’ll be so proud of in bookstores and I mean, I also see “Earth Before Us” in bookstores, so I’m also proud of that.

    What’s it been like working with Iron Circus Comics as a publisher vs Abrams as a publisher or even just when you self published “The Last Halloween?”

    AH: All three are pretty different from each other. “Last Halloween” I can do whatever I want, which always feels so nice after I’ve been going through rounds of edits or just trying to write something for an audience vs just basically writing for myself.

    Whereas, working with Abrams, it was very much, I have to make sure all of this is exactly what they want. They were very light on edits, I thought though, so that was good. Hopefully it means it was a good series and not just that they were going easy on me.

    Though there was stuff like, I had no say in the cover design basically. Which was very interesting. They had to do stuff like talk to Barnes and Noble to see what they wanted the cover to look like.

    Really?

    AH: Yeah. Definitely not something I was not used to. I’m usually just like, yeah, whatever I want. Let’s draw a pretty picture and put it on the cover. I wanted to have a big wraparound scene that looks exactly like the inside of the book; I thought that’d be pretty fun to look at. But they came back, actually, and were like, “OK. Now draw this animal here and draw a logo up here and make it look like this.” So, very different.

    And then working with Iron Circus is kind of a, so far it’s been pretty nice in that there aren’t too many edits. Though that might change because now I have a new editor and I know that she’s gonna really make sure this thing shines.

    That’s a very important part of an editor’s job, is making sure what’s great about a work is able to come through.

    AH: Indeed.

    So, in addition to these projects, you’ve also done a few other short-form projects. Be it for, I think Iron Circus, for “Tim’rous Beasties” and then the one about the creepy door.

    AH: “Door in the Kitchen?

    Thank you.

    AH: Course, I am the one who should remember these things.

    And the other you collaborated with someone a couple years ago.

    AH: Oh, yes, “The Portrait of Sal Pullman” with my friend Lonnie Nadler, who is currently just killing it at Black Mask. But yes, those are two short horror comes that I published on terror-town.com, which is kind of just where I put my short horror stuff. I have several more stories in the wings for stuff like that but I might hold onto them for future horror anthologies, so I can see myself doing a lot of those. . .granted that this first one goes well, which I think it will.

    Do you find that short-form horror is easier for you to do or, perhaps, that it’s more fulfilling?

    AH: It’s very fulfilling because it’s the kind of thing that I love to consume, just obsessively. All I do all day is sit there, draw, and listen to short horror, or horrible medical podcasts and that sort of thing. There aren’t enough of those, though, so I have to go back to the horror short stories.

    It’s one of my favorite things to listen to and to write and it’s so satisfying to have a nice, concise short story. People like them a lot. Though, the Last Halloween what I like to listen to when I’m working out at the gym or riding on busses and that sort of thing, to zone out and think about stuff that’s super cool. So, it’s fulfilling in that regard as well and it’s so much fun to draw.

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    To go back to “The Portrait of Sal Pullman,” when you were working with Lonnie Nadler, did you find that the collaboration process was easier or more difficult or just different from doing the short stories that you’re currently working on or “The Door in the Kitchen?”

    AH: I’d say it’s just different, for sure but it’s usually pretty easy to collaborate with people because I can just tell them, “Don’t worry about separating out pages. I’ll figure that out.” That usually takes a weight off of people, so that’s always nice.

    Yeah, as long as they give me enough leeway to be able to lay it out the way that I know is best, then that’s good. If I’m working with someone who’s a little too rigid, then that’s a little tricky. I’ve worked on a couple things where it’s a really limited amount of pages. Every panel is kind of like, “OK, you have to fit this many word bubbles in there and in the next panel, you have to show this many actions.” Which sometimes doesn’t work so well but because they laid it all out and I only have so much space to work with, then I’m not really allowed to kind of fix it like I might want to.

    So, yeah, it depends on the writer. I’ve been very fortunate. Lonnie was great and in “Tim’rous Beastie,” I collaborated with my friend Eli Church and they did the same kind of thing. They were like, “OK. Here’s a description of what happens next. I dunno how many pages this is, just kinda go nuts with it.” That’s always the easiest.

    But when I’m working on my own, I can have the most fun. Devote so many panels to giving everything breathing room.

    Which I find kind of interesting, because in “The Last Halloween,” it’s very apparent that you know how to use the scroll to really build tension and expand and make chapters or sections as long or as short as they need to be. But in “Junior Science Power Hour,” you, aren’t necessarily limited, but you tend to limit the stories to a fairly rigid structure. Is there a reason why you operate in those different ways for the two different projects?

    AH: Yeah, I guess “JSPH” mostly slipped into being a certain way. I have a lot of three part jokes basically — I’m sure you’ve noticed that it ties into the three beats. So, it’s three stories connected by one or two themes.

    . . .I don’t know, that’s just the way that the jokes happened I suppose. Like, I would come up with one and it wouldn’t be good enough on its own, as far as I was concerned, so then I would come up with two but then, there’s only two of them, so you gotta have a third one. I guess that’s where that came from.

    That’s kind of how it’s evolved over the years?

    AH: Indeed and now I’m mostly just posting little three to four panel journal comics. I’m actually going to be publishing a book two of “JSPH” because right now there’s a volume one that’s a collection of a certain number of comics and I finally have enough for a volume two. I’ll be kickstarting that this year!

    But yeah, it is very different from “Last Halloween.” I have a set story and I know what’s going to happen in “The Last Halloween” whereas “Junior Scientist Power Hour” is just messing around.

    How much do you have planned out for “The Last Halloween?”

    AH: The entirety of it. I’ve had the whole story planned out for many, many years. I think since the beginning. It’s changed since then but now it’s pretty certain the later we get into the book. It’s going to be three books and I think we’re about halfway through book two.

    When you say you have it planned out, do you mean in terms of scripts or just the story beats?

    AH: I have mostly story beats. The scripts get edited right up until they get put up online for each update, basically. Just little fiddly things here and there but some of them, I have little script sections pretty far out, especially for some of the later stuff. Like, this is what the conversation should be like, though it’s definitely going to look very different once I get around to editing that section.

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    I love to think about it; it’s got a lot of stuff fleshed out.

    While you’ve been working on it, you’ve honed this balance of comedy and pretty gruesome imagery. What have been some of the influences on the tone of the work?

    AH: I grew up on, as many people have guessed, “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,” Invader Zim. Edward Gorey has a bit of that as well. I loved his books and he definitely influenced my hatching and the detailed black and white line art I do. And he always has, like, the “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” where it’s all of the kids getting killed in horrible ways. . .but it’s kind of funny and cute.

    So, it’s always been a part of my life and I like to tell jokes but I love gore and monsters and stuff. Why not combine them as often as possible? A lot of my “JSPH” comics are pretty, not spooky I guess, but they’ve got horror elements for sure. But at the end you’re supposed to laugh instead of scream. Could go either way if I don’t have the part where the laugh track kicks in or whatever.

    Do you think you’ll make more that lean fully into being straight up spooky scary? Or do you think you’ll continue making works that tread that line between the spooky scary and the catharsis of the laugh, even if, when you think about it, it’s still, mmm, spook.

    AH: Aw, thank you. I will absolutely make stories that are just spooky. Several of the stories in “The Crossroads at Midnight” are going to be just horror, not even any moment of just a little bit of levity. But a few of them have moments of levity here and there, if ultimately it’s kind of horrific in the end rather than ending in a joke.

    I think it is good to have little moments like that, in between characters in any piece of horror, just to make them seem more human. It helps a lot, I think, to flesh out your characters a little bit more with their personalities. Unless they’re just miserable the whole time, like in some of the stories that I have upcoming.

    This is going to sound really weird-

    AH: OK.

    But what do you think the purpose of horror is?

    AH: I have no idea. I get asked sometimes, “why do you like this stuff? Why are you so fascinated with it all the time?” I have no idea. It is just something I really enjoy.

    I guess. . . I guess I’m just really drawn to horrible things. I know they’re horrible and they make me feel bad inside but I can’t stop looking. I don’t know if that’s something I have for a reason, like, it’s a part of my personality from birth or if it was something I acquired, I have no idea.

    Maybe to help us. . .nope, I got nothin’. No profound thoughts on the purpose behind horror and why people are drawn to it so much. Maybe it makes you feel less miserable about your life? Sometimes? Like, “Wow. I’ve got no money and things are hard but at least I still have my head attached to my body.”

    At least I’m not that guy.

    AH: Yeah. I guess that’s a very basic answer. [Laughs.]

    But it’s still an answer.

    AH: Indeed. And it won’t stop me from writing horror, that’s for sure.

    What are some of your favorite horror comics?

    AH: Ooh. Emily Carrol is, of course, incredible and Junji Ito as well.

    I can see how Junji Ito might have influenced the way you draw monsters, because of how he does these detailed drawings of spooky scary monsters.

    AH: I really like all of the weirdness that he throws in. A lot of the time, you just don’t know what’s going to happen to the characters. It could be anything. They could turn into a giant snail or becoming a living jack-in-the-box. I love his short stories a lot. He also a couple stories that are a little bit funny, so that’s cool to see.

    Emily Carrol’s work is beautiful and haunting, so that’s really fun. Oh! Bernie Wrightston is actually a person that I saw illustrations by as a kid that really, really influenced me in that I wanted to be able to draw gore that well. Specifically, “Cycle of the Werewolf,” the book he illustrated for Stephen King. He drew this werewolf ripping a guy’s face off and that’s one of my favorites.

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    Trevor Henderson does very interesting little photoshops on Twitter. Well. . . I don’t know if I would call them photoshops, they’re just illustrations but with a photo background. People send him photos and then he puts something creepy in there and writes, sometimes, these short little captions to them; those are really fun. He has a good time and he’s a really sweet guy it seems. I’ve never met him but I would like to.

    Let’s see. Oh! Skelehime, they make just wonderful horror comics that they’ve been posting to twitter. They’re relatively new it seems but already have a great body of work. I recommend. They just published their first collection of comics, though I think it was very limited. I didn’t snatch one up in time.

    And I think that’s my list!

    That’s a good list. On the topic of Twitter comics, you’ve been in the webcomics community for about six or seven years in a quote-unquote official capacity. What have you found has changed about how people discover new webcomics or disseminate them?

    AH: Things change every few years. They’ve always been changing, I suppose. I used to read webcomics when I was in elementary school and even just the time it took to break onto the scene for me, it’s become very different, I think in a good way. A lot of really good stuff has come out of webcomics. A lot of people who wouldn’t have been able to have a career in this industry are able to create whatever they want and put it on the internet for really cheap. I think that’s just incredible.

    Now, I’m not actually sure how people find webcomics or if they even click through to webcomics. I know people read mine, so that’s great. Thank you for reading my comics. [Laughs.]

    I mostly find out based on what people ask when they walk up for the first time at a convention and they see my work and are interested and are like, “Oh. Do you have this social media platform?” And that’s whatever the social media platform people are discovered on these days. For a little bit, it was Tumblr. Twitter has always been a very good place to find people and still is better than some other ones.

    Instagram is really big right now. I have a lot of people come up to me and ask me at conventions if I have one of those, which I do, but it’s for young people and I don’t understand it. I’m trying to figure it out, I post little journal comics and illustrations and stuff. I guess that’s what you do? You use hashtags?

    I could not say. I am an old in a young’s body.

    AH: Haha. Same. I wish I didn’t have to do any tweeting or posting to things because I could spend all that time drawing. Alas, it is part of my business. I must be present online.

    But yeah, Twitter is the best one for me because you can link to a lot of things. Something of yours can get tossed out there but people can go back to the source most of the time. Instagram won’t sometimes even let you link your website in your description. In order to get verified, I need to have no links in there, which is really weird. I am a cartoonist, I have stuff you should see.

    And independent places that collect things.

    AH: Yeah, where you can see all of it. But they want you to stay on Instagram, which is creepy.

    Do you think this is going to fracture audiences more, making it harder to follow and preserve comics once they’re completed and/or change what types of stories can be told? Or do you think it’s just a communication tool to be like, “Here’s a thing. Go elsewhere for the rest?”

    AH: It’s hard to say, but I will say yes, it will fracture the community more, if mostly because of the algorithms they use to show things to people. That has always been. . .why would you do that? So, someone who is less popular will not necessarily even seen the light of day, which defeats the whole purpose of anyone being able to put their stuff out there.

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    But it seems to not be. . .it’s not like we have the numbers on whether or not people who would’ve been popular are not popular so that is a very difficult one to say but, logically that would make sense that that would harm people. Definitely it has affected the structure of comics because Instagram you only have a square, so it has to be a square and legible on a phone. I’ve seen people chopping up longer-form comics into multiple images that you can swipe through.

    And of course that lends itself to entirely new forms of comics, so it’s not necessarily like we’re losing out on anything, just things are shifting.

    Kind of like fitting from a newspaper to a printed [comic] page to the ye olde block screens to the now widescreen?

    AH: Exactly. Just slowly shifting sizes. An interesting progression to watch for sure. And you gotta learn as you go, like, “Oh, I can’t post this sort of thing to Instagram ‘cause nobody can read it.” And you have to be careful about what ratio my image is at for Twitter because they’ll just crop it horribly. I still don’t know how to fix that. Even when I do the correct dimensions, it still crops it horribly. But that’s OK. People know to click through and see the image on Twitter and it doesn’t take too much extra time, so they usually do it.

    I was about to ask if you’d started adjusting your journal comics to be like that.

    AH: I still stubbornly drawn them the same. Because, of course, for a while, I was doing it Tumblr-style, which is all vertical, so now that’s the way I draw them and I just chunk ‘em up. But I should change that soon, so why should I do the extra step to shift around chunks in Photoshop when I could just draw it the right way. You just get into habits. Always good to learn new things. Always good to kinda look for what’s different, so you don’t get stuck doing the same stuff like I am.

    Do you feel that you’ve either gotten stuck or typecast?

    AH: No. I definitely don’t feel like I’ve been typecast, which is always nice because
    I’m doing book stuff more often, I can kinda do whatever I want, which feels awesome. Right now, I’m working on a pitch that I can’t talk about, of course; that’s many years down the line but it was really fun to sit there and be like, “What would I have wanted to read when I was 12 years old?” and then just writing it, fleshing it out, that sort of thing.

    And plus, since I don’t have as much horror stuff out, even if I do have “The Last Halloween,” it’s kind of been a science-y lean. But now I’ve shared all the science I’ve ever learned, so I can’t keep that up; I don’t have anything else to write.

    When I first pitched the series, Abrams was like “Oh you can do the sequels all about other stuff like, I dunno, space.” And I was like, “I can’t do that, actually. I only know about one thing. I will only write about this one thing. I don’t know about what space is and I wouldn’t like to know. It is very large and frightening to me.” Haha.

    But hopefully I get typecast as a horror creator because that’s great, can’t wait. It’s what I want to do forever.

    When you eventually complete “The Last Halloween,” do you think you’ll embark on another webcomic, maybe not of the same length? Or do you think you’ll mostly stick to book publishing or collaborating in anthologies or just releasing through your patreon, which are a form of webcomic but slightly different?

    AH: I’ll definitely keep doing that since those are just simply journal comics and they’re easy to do. For other webcomics, I’m not entirely sure. I guess it’s too early to tell. Maybe I’ll get fed up with the publishing process for, like, bound books, and just decide to publish online. But so far what I’ve found is, it’s really nice to work on an entire book and release it all at once and have a big sturdy hardcover of it and be able to go back and make edits to stuff without people pitching a fit over it.

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    Has that happened before?

    AH: Yeah. But that’s alright.

    Now I’m curious. When?

    AH: Very early on. Haha. People still pitch a fit about it so I don’t discuss it anymore. I try to keep it buried since most of the fans don’t know about it. Also, there are some things that they don’t notice that I’ve changed. I actually quite recently went back and added a line but I also won’t talk about that because it draws attention to it.

    But this is why it’s also good to have a, I am working on this book, it will be released at a later date, so that I can go back and fix these things if I have to without anyone noticing and thinking I’m trying to pull a fast one or that I’m a bad writer for not doing it the first time.

    It’s one of the problems of serialization.

    AH: Yeah. If I were writing something where it’s like a continuous story that I don’t have a set ending to, then maybe it would be a different thing, like-

    Like a superhero comic?

    AH: Yeah, yeah. Something like that, where you wouldn’t have to necessarily go back and make sure that whatever you write now is in line with what you’ve written before. Whereas with “The Last Halloween,” it’s very much like, “Well, I should’ve talked about this at earlier times so that it doesn’t seem weird now.” So I have to go back and add a line and pretend they’ve been talking about it all along. And then people will get confused because they don’t remember it being there, but they’ll just think they forgot.

    Sneaky sneaky.

    AH: Sneaky. But now they all know because I’ve said it in this podcast. They’ll be suspicious of me forever.

    Wait, no, not podcast. Written interview. Haha.

    Speaking of podcasts, you have one with your sister.

    AH: Yes! It’s basically defunct at this point. I have a few waiting in the wings but my sister became very involved in local politics after the horrible man was elected. She’s basically just been, every single day, doing things for the greater good, so she hasn’t had a lot of time to sit around and watch. . .

    The entirety of the podcast was to watch these forgotten pieces of media. So, TV shows, movies that time forgot but you kind of vaguely remember? We had a few of those and then we reached out to people and were like, “Hey, what from your childhood do you only vaguely remember existed and you can’t find it anymore and no one ever talks about it?” And then we would watch them or consume them in whatever way.

    It was always very interesting. Some of them were very good. Some of them were just very boring. It was always very fun to talk about it and talk about what was interesting about these old pieces of media. But now she’s a busy, important lady and she’s going to law school in New York in a few months, so I don’t think it’s going to start back up anytime soon.

    That’s unfortunate but you both seem very busy.

    AH: And I have so many books, so many books to illustrate and write.

    So you have the one with Iron Circus, “The Last Halloween,” and I’m guessing the rest are all under NDAs?

    AH: Some of them are little side projects. Right now, I’m actually going to be doing illustrations for a cephalopod scientist friend of mine, Casey Backroft. He wrote an upcoming science comics book on whales. That was his first foray into comics. He actually has a grant to create a comic for the visually impared, which is really interesting. It’s on paper that has raised lines where the ink is so you can actually feel your way across the page.

    He’s written this little story about octopus and how they change color and he has commissioned me to illustrate it for him. So, yeah, that’s just an interesting little side project I’ve been working on. I work for the No Sleep podcast now; I do illustrations for them every now and then, which is very much fun because I listen to their podcast a lot, as someone who savagely consumes every short horror thing I can find.

    Continued below

    So, that doesn’t take too much of my time. And a pitch that I’ve been working on but now that’s out of my hands so I don’t have to work on that right now. It’s a few years down the line.

    The publishing industry is just so interesting. How different is it from the comics publishing industry? Because you’re primarily working with Abrams, which is primarily a book publisher, although they have a graphic novel division, and Iron Circus Comics which is more, not more traditional of a publisher but more like Abrams than DC Comics or Image Comics, which adapted themselves to book publishing.

    AH: I definitely prefer working with book publishers. For one thing, they pay me more money, and I like that. Haha, though I guess that’s a little. . . you aren’t supposed to speak of money, you know. But it does pay more. You get a wider audience as well. I just really like it. It’s more likely that you’ll be able to pitch a whole entire book and be able to make it, which is always what I’ve been interested in, versus a series. And you’ll be able to pitch it as, “It’s just me. I’m just doing it.” and they won’t be weirded out by that. That’s all good too.

    Have you pitched to the serials market before?

    AH: Not really. When I was in high school, I endlessly pitched to Slave Labor Graphics, who published “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.” I dunno if that counts though,because they were never going to accept it. I was like, 13, and very, well I wasn’t very edgy I guess. Actually, I probably wasn’t edgy enough for them. So I’ve never really pitched to DC or Marvel or anything. Mostly, I’m not interested in working on other people’s IPs. I just kind of want to make my own thing.

    Earlier on, you said that now that you’re freed from the trilogy, even though you enjoyed working on it, and you have some downtime, you’re planning on ramping up, or at least working more on “The Last Halloween.” Do you think you’ll figure out a way to balance “The Last Halloween” updates and working on your other pitches and illustrations? Or do you think you’ll continue chunking it up?

    AH: We’ll. . .find out. For now, of course, I’m extremely optimistic but I was also optimistic at this point with all of the other books as well. Just the, “I’m only a few months in and I’ve been able to not feel the incredible pressure of a deadline yet, so, oh totally, I have time for ‘The Last Halloween.’” And it always takes more time than I think it will, so there’s that. I’m hoping this year for at least an update every month and my updates are pretty lengthy, usually no less than ten pages of work.

    I feel like that would be pretty satisfying for people and for me. Because, of course, I want to get to certain story points and I get very excited about it. I want people to see the cool stuff I have planned. Here’s hoping that I’m able to do that but like I said, “The Crossroads at Midnight” is about 360 pages and while they’re black and white pages, so they won’t need the whole coloring process that I had to go through with the trilogy, it’ll still be very time consuming. Especially since it’s all very pretty art.

    When you were working on “The Earth Before Us,” did your process change because you were coloring it?

    AH: Yeah. I actually used a whole lot less line art. I usually do a lot of cross-hatching but I totally left it out, especially with the third book so that it would just be colored and still have all the values so I wouldn’t have to do all the crosshatching, which is pretty time consuming though not as time consuming as coloring for me. I also had to rush through the rest so I could save the most time for coloring. Luckily, I did use a flatter, which makes it very easy.

    They don’t get enough credit.

    AH: Definitely not. He saved my skin. Luke Healy is the guy who did it for me. Cut down dramatically on how long coloring took.

    Continued below

    Since becoming a more high profile webcomic creator, have you found your interactions online to have changed with other webcomics creators?

    AH: Thank you for saying I’m high profile. It’s been mostly, for me, slightly more stress free, so that’s always nice. Most of my interactions before that were just like, “They don’t wanna talk to you. You’re a nobody.” So this is nice. It’s kind of like I’m coming at them as an equal, like, “Yes. I too make comics. Look, I have all these books and I keep making more.” That’s really nice because usually I’d be so stressed out talking to anyone who I admired but now I can actually speak to them and not worry about it. . . Although I still do! Hasn’t stopped me.

    Next week [when this conversation took place,] I’m visiting some other cartoonist friends of mine and I’m totally convinced they want nothing to do with me even though, of course they do, they’re my friends, I talk to them on the internet all the time. It’s weird, just that social anxiety. At least I have all these books to point to, to help me out on not feeling so bad all the time.

    Do you meet them mostly at cons?

    AH: Yes, almost exclusively. This is a very unusual thing where I’m actually taking a train out to see somehow. I see them. . .pretty often actually, because I do a lot of conventions. I’ve gotten close with a few other cartoonists. It’s nice. It’s so good to be able to go to a convention and know people and talk to them. So much nicer than going back to your hotel room by yourself. I’ve done a few of those two because Abrams sends me to different conventions that are very strange and unusual like library conventions or science-teacher conventions, where I definitely don’t know anybody.

    Although, then I get to. . .it’s nice sometimes to go back to the hotel room. I’m definitely appreciating it more these days versus when I first started and wanted to talk to people who I thought were cool. Now I’ve done that and I like to eat pizza alone in a hotel room, I guess. It’s just the best. For at least one night.

    Do you ever feel like you’re going to too many conventions? Or do you find that conventions are another part of the job, kind of like having to use Twitter and Instagram?

    AH: I definitely feel both of those things. Last year, I definitely felt the “I need to go to less conventions” part of it. I think I did something like 10, maybe more? Not sure but it was a lot, the most conventions I’d ever done and it was just a little bit much. It makes me money but it’s just a really stressful endeavor and takes me away from my work.

    I decided to cut down on the ones that stress me out the most or aren’t the most profitable so this year I’m doing much fewer and more of the ones I really like, so that’s nice. Also, a lot of the times I do so many because I’m trying them out for the first time to see how it is. But then I keep going back because I’m like, “Well, maybe next year will be better. Maybe this was an off year.” Then I have to try them out for a few years and if they don’t improve then. . .I know what to do.

    Which conventions do you find the most rewarding?

    AH: Definitely Small Press Expo. That one is amazing, it’s definitely, I think, my top. TCAF is also really great; this year looked absolutely insane. It was also the year Junji Ito was there! So, TCAF you do every other year because they have so many applicants, they request that you self-regulate how many people apply. This was my off year.

    Awww.

    AH: I had so much work to do, and it was going to be really stressful and it did seem very difficult to see Junji Ito. A friend of mine got in line at 4:30 AM to see him. While it’s worth it, I feel too old in my bones to do such a thing. I’ll just have to write so many great horror books that he has to be my friend. This is my method of making friends. Make more books!

    Continued below

    Books books books!

    AH: Yeah! So, I like Small Press Expo, TCAF, VanCAF is one I’m actually doing this weekend in Vancouver and that one’s always delightful because I have really great friends who live there that I get to spend time with. So that’s a great bonus and also it’s just very pleasant. Every year, it lines up with Victoria Day and there’s this train that has a birthday on Victoria Day. It’s in the convention center and they take it out and there’s this huge live band right outside the convention for this train’s birthday.

    They hand out smoothies, sometimes cake. One year it was cake because it was the 200th birthday of said train. . .or Victoria, I don’t know, perhaps both.

    Those are my top three.

    OH! I always do Emerald City, because it’s always profitable. It used to be more favorite but now less so. It’s very big. There’s another local convention, MICE, that’s really really pleasant. It’s so cute and everyone is so nice, they come around with free oranges and stuff for the cartoonists, which is so sweet. It’s in a college building, Lesley University in Boston. It’s just very nice. Everyone is so sweet and nice and cute and there’s lots of nice little zines.

    And that’s my list!

    When you said zines, I went, “oh yeah, there’s an entire industry of independent comics in print as well.” It’s interesting, the way everything kind of splits and goes.

    AH: Interesting to see where people find themselves happiest. Cause there are people who want all kinds of stuff out of comics. So you have the indie people who like making zines and living anarchist lifestyles and that sort of thing who would really just be happy with that forever. And other people who really want to work in animation, other people who want to work in superhero comics, or at least other people’s series, other people’s characters and that sort of thing.

    Or people like me, who just want to make big ol’ books. It’s nice that there’s a pretty good range out there for making comics, just like whatever you want to do.

    For the final question, it might seem a little repetitive, but what are three webcomics that you would recommend for fans of “The Last Halloween” and then for fans of “Junior Scientist Power Hour?”

    AH: I tend to get grouped in with these few comics, because I think they’re just very good comics and I’m just thrilled that anyone would group me in with them. For fans of webcomics and fun in general but also “Junior Scientist Power Hour,” maybe? I would say “Cucumber Quest.” It’s incredible. I think everyone already knows about “Cucumber Quest.”

    “Paranatural” is incredible. I definitely, highly recommend that one and that’s also for fans of “The Last Halloween” for sure because it’s got a spooky bent to it. Also some of the best faces that I’ve seen in webcomics. Super hilarious.

    Emily Carroll is technically a webcomic.

    Also Eisner nominated.

    AH: Yeah! Very fancy, very cool, very incredible at her job. OK. One more. I swear I read webcomics.

    I think my last recommendation is actually nothing like my comics but is very good, is Blue Deliquanti’s work on “O Human Star.” It’s just a good comic and I think people who read my comic like reading good comics. Hopefully. Oh, wait. That’s tooting my own horn a little too hard maybe. That and, buy all of Iron Circus Comics’ stuff. It’s good stuff, haha.


    //TAGS | webcomics

    Elias Rosner

    Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. He can be found on twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his photo to be a hair nicer than before.

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