As you head out dressed as your favorite ghost, ghoul or goblin this Halloween in search of delicious confectionary delights, don’t forget to swing by one particular home for a special treat-“The House of Mystery,” where series writer Matt Sturges and a horde of other Vertigo creators join together for the second “House of Mystery Halloween Annual.”
The All Hallows Eve tradition began last year with a special double-sized “House of Mystery” anthology collecting all-new original stories from some of Vertigo’s most popular titles. A through line tale written by Sturges connected the disparate short pieces, following “House of Mystery” protagonist Fig as a malicious mask attached itself to her face, showing her glimpses into the worlds of Vertigo titles including “i, Zombie,” “Madame Xanadu” and “Hellblazer.” Last year’s issue also contained a special bonus for longtime Vertigo fans and fans of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” in particular,an original Merv Pumpkin head story by the “Fables” creative team of writer Bill Willingham and artist Mark Buckingham.
This year’s “Annual” continues along the same path. A main story written by Sturges and illustrated by Luca Rossi serves as the nexus point for various side-stories from across the Vertigo line. Twisted tales featured in the issue include “Madame Xanadu” by Mike Kaluta and Jill Thompson, “i, Zombie” by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, and “Hellblazer” by Peter Milligan and Guiseppe Cumoncoli. And like last time, readers get an extra treat, and not a trick, this time in the form of an all-new “Lucifer” story by the original creative team behind the series, Mike Carey and Peter Gross.
Sturges took some time out of preparing his literary party and spoke with CBR News about the concept behind the upcoming “House of Mystery” annual, his plans for the ongoing series and his own personal Halloween favorites.
CBR: Matt, this is the second “House of Mystery Halloween Annual” you guys are putting out. Why did you decide to continue this tradition with this anthology of Vertigo tales?
MATT STURGES: The whole thing was [Vertigo editor] Shelly Bond’s idea from the very beginning. The first annual was her idea; I think using the mask as the theme was her idea as well. All I did was write the silly little framing sequence, in which Byzantium Mack saves the day with Diet Shasta. But it all came together so well that we decided to officially make the annual an annual event. So, here we are again.
You look at the basic idea of House of Mystery, where it’s all these people sharing their stories, and it makes sense to use the title as a vehicle for this sort of collection of Vertigo stories. Was that the basis of the original idea behind producing these annuals and under the “House of Mystery” name?
Exactly. We had the idea first that we ought to do an annual, which led to the question of what sort of annual it was going to be. I think I suggested that we do a straightforward anthology with a recurring theme, and then Shelly hit on the idea of using it as a showcase for other ongoing Vertigo books. With the House of Mystery as a nexus for all of these different kind of stories, it all fit together very naturally.
What goes into putting together an Annual like this? How involved are you in the process and are you aware of the basic plot of the other stories as you write your section?
For the annuals, I’m sort of the Ronald McDonald of the operation. I smile and wave and all the really hard work of orchestrating everything is done by the editors. For this year’s theme, I came up with the idea and then Angela and Shelly sent it off to the other creators who all did very clever things with them. It was a bit of a shock to see people whose work I respect so much, like Mike Carey, take hold of these little characters I’d created and breathe life into them. It’s a wonderful thing.
On that note, in the first Annual, a House of Mystery tale featuring Fig and a mysterious mask linked all the stories together. This year, I understand it’ll be a group of cursed Trick or Treaters. What can you say about them and your story that connects everything?
I had an idea for a cover that featured these terrifying kids trick-or-treating; kids who’d merged with their costumes and become twisted versions of the things they were dressed as, in keeping with the Vonnegut maxim, “Be careful what you pretend to be, because you become what you pretend to be.” And this case it’s quite literal. These poor kids are just plain old trick-or-treaters who’ve been cursed by an old gypsy lady after they toilet-papered her house. And now they’re doomed to do nothing but trick or treat until the end of time. It’s made them very unhappy. There’s Donald the Kid, a cowboy who’s become an utter nihilist. There’s Twinkie, who’s the princess, who’s kind of a skank. There’s Long John Tuchman, who’s a pirate that’s afraid of water and just about everything else, for that matter, and then there’s Bobby, who’s dressed as the devil. Their basic deal is that they’re cursed to go wherever it’s Halloween-always, everywhere, so they can end up in London for “Hellblazer,” Eugene, Oregon, for “i, Zombie,” and so on.
This year’s annual is unique in that it contains a new “Lucifer” story by Mike Carey. How’d that come about and what does it mean for the future of Lucifer? Might we be seeing more of him in the future?
Certainly we’d all love to see more Lucifer, but it appears as though Mike and his Lucifer cohort Peter Gross have “The Unwritten” to deal with, so I wouldn’t hold your breath. But I think it was great fun for them to spend a little time revisiting the characters in a way that they could just let loose and have fun. I believe the way it came about was that the editors asked Mike and Peter if they wanted to do an “Unwritten” story, and they said, “No, but can we do a ‘Lucifer’ story?” and that was pretty much that.
The idea behind these Annuals is very cool and it serves as a really interesting way to collect stories from various Vertigo titles under one book for new readers to get a taste of what Vertigo has to offer. But for you personally, what does this type of annual mean? I mean, as we said before, it’s all under the “House of Mystery” name, so that’s got to be pretty great.
For me, it’s two main things. One is that it’s very rewarding to me to be shepherding along this title that’s managed to attract such astonishing talent to itself, both in the regular series and in these annuals. A lot of these folks-and I don’t want to make any of them feel old, so please excuse this-are people who were my heroes when I was reading comics in college: Peter Milligan, Matt Wagner, Mike Carey. Chris Roberson, who writes “i, Zombie” doesn’t count because we were in college together reading the same comics. The other thing is that it’s a great opportunity to give readers a chance to sample several things at once without a huge investment of time or money. So folks who are avid “House” readers can try an “i,Zombie” or a “Madame Xanadu” and see if it floats their boat. And, likewise, fans of those books might read the framing story and decide that “House of Mystery” is worth looking into. Ultimately, everyone wins. And it’s all kinds of fun.
Looking at the main title beyond the annual, what can you say about what’s coming up? Right now, we’re in the midst of the Witch Queen battling the Thinking Man’s Army, but what else can you say?
The war’s going to wrap up in issue #30, and then a huge, important story arc follows on its heels, in which we finally discover exactly what the Conception is, where it comes from and what Fig has to do in order to stop it. And part of that includes the return of a major character that we haven’t seen in some time. It’s a story that I’ve been wanting to do for ages and ages and I’m so happy to finally be writing it.
Along with the main plot, there are short stories included in pretty much every issue. Can you tease some of those stories you’re going to be telling?
We’ve got some really great stuff coming up. Esao Andrews, who does our covers, got to bust out his sequential skills in “The Goblin Who Loved Babies and Also There Is a Hunter In It,” which is a traditional goblin fairy tale. And then there’s one that I’m really excited about, which is a prose piece called “Lotus Blossom’s Theory of Names,” with illustrations by a French artist named Carine Brancowitz, who does these absolutely magical drawings with just Bic pens. It was a treat to get to write prose for comics, and the story came out really well. And there’s another big name artist who’s going to be in the next arc that I’m extraordinarily excited about, but I can’t announce it yet, so you’ll just have to wonder.
Looking back at what stories have been told thus far, is there a favorite of yours?
God, there have been so many of the things. I have to say that doing these stories has been my proudest accomplishment in comics. For the most part, they’ve all come out very well, and it’s given me the opportunity to work with artists that I never in my wildest dreams have believed I’d get to collaborate with, like Sergio Aragones, Brendan McCarthy, Gilbert Hernandez and Michael Kaluta.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but there are a few I’m especially proud of. One that springs immediately to mind is “Jordan’s Movie Idea with the Gorillas and Sh*t,” which was a three-page insane spree that David Hahn absolutely knocked out of the park. Then there was “Maidenhead,” illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez, which is a harsh coming of age story about a young werewolf in what is essentially Palestine. But my favorite of all time is probably “Romantic Comedy (with Corpses),” which is a love story about two vampires set in Florence. It was one of those things where I just felt like I really nailed the story, and then it was perfectly drawn by John Bolton, who’s probably my favorite artist working in comics today. That was a real high point in my career.
As we close out, this is about a Halloween special, so I wanted to ask some Halloween related questions: first up, what’s your favorite scary movie?
It’s “The Shining,” by a mile. Kubrick creates such an astonishing miasma of dread in that film, that by the time the violence breaks out, you’re just dizzy with horror. I can’t watch that movie alone. The only other movie I’ve ever seen that actually scared me was “The Exorcist.” Okay, I take that back. The American remake of “The Ring” gave me nightmares for days. But that’s about it.
What was the craziest Halloween costume you ever wore?
When I was a kid, my mom sewed this little red devil costume from a pattern. I loved that costume and must have worn it three years in a row, until I couldn’t fit in it anymore. It’s the costume that Bobby the Devil wears in the annual. In retrospect, it seems odd that my sweet mother would go out of her way to dress me as a minion of Satan, but hey-it was a simpler time.
Favorite candy, which may or may not be Halloween specific?
The fun-size Snickers is probably the king of Halloween treats, as far as I’m concerned. When we go through our kids’ bags after they get home from trick-or-treating, those tend to vanish up my sleeves. Kids can’t appreciate fun-size Snickers the way I do. There is one candy that I only eat at Halloween, and that’s Smarties. I would never consider just buying a thing of Smarties. Who would? But I cadge them off of my daughters for weeks after Halloween.
Alright, as a final question, do you have any crazy Halloween stories from when you were growing up?
When I was in college I went out with some friends, and we decided that since we were clearly too old to be trick-or-treating and didn’t want to annoy anyone, that we’d write some Halloween carols to sing. I carried my guitar around and when people answered the door, we’d belt out “O Little Town of Salem’s Lot” and “O Come All Ye Undead” and “Deck the Walls with Human Entrails.” It was fun, and we got lots of candy.
Boys and Girls of every age, if you’d like to see something strange, check out the “House of Mystery Halloween Annual” on Oct 13 from Vertigo.