Abby Howard Invites Her Unsuspecting Readers to ‘The Last Halloween’ [Back Pages]
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Abby Howard's The Last Halloween is a distinctively-drawn webcomic; one that seems childlike, but has this increasing undercurrent of creepy tension and unpredictable weirdness flowing through each extended sequence. Through stark inks and bold panel layouts, Howard is able to convey silliness as powerfully as she can convey real horror, and the result is a singular piece of work that resonates in genuinely unnerving ways.
It's certainly found an audience --- having just launched a Kickstarter to bring the first volume of her series to print, Howard has already sailed beyond the initial funding target. ComicsAlliance spoke to her about how it came about.
ComicsAlliance: As an elevator-pitch; what’s the basic premise of your story?
Abby Howard: The Last Halloween is a humorous horror adventure story about the end of the world. On one unfortunate Halloween night, billions of monsters suddenly spill over into the human world, and a ten-year-old girl named Mona finds herself charged with finding the person who can set it straight again. With the help of some strange new friends, she must brave the horrors of the night and try to bring order back to the human world, despite being very small and bad at fighting. She'll do the best she can, but in the face of seven billion monsters, this may well be... The Last Halloween.
CA: What was the genesis of the project? How long have you wanted to get this comic up and running?
AH: I started putting together the pieces of what would eventually be The Last Halloween while I was in High School, and wrote the first recognizable draft in my third year of university as part of the finale of a web reality show called Strip Search. The finalists had to put together a pitch for a new webcomic, and I'd had TLH on my mind for years, so it seemed like this was my chance to finally get it out there. Except I lost.
But a few days after the finale aired, I launched a Kickstarter to help me make the comic anyway, and it was a success. I launched The Last Halloween in October of that year, and much to my delight, it has only grown in popularity since!
CA: What was it about this story which made you want to tell it?
AH: I love the world I've made. I love monsters and magic and all my characters, and I want other people to feel the same way about them that I do. I suppose that's what makes me want to tell my story --- I think it's very cool and I want to share it with other people!
Though it's also a bit of a response to the media I consumed as a young horror enthusiast, kind of a new look at some old concepts that people love to re-hash without inserting anything particularly new or interesting. I was unsatisfied with a lot of what the "horror adventure" genre had to offer, which was a lot of dull male power fantasies.
There are a lot of stories about a guy who has to fight a bunch of monsters to save people and/or survive in an apocalyptic scenario, and they tend to have pretty uncreative monsters and hollow plots (as well as very few roles for women and minorities). In The Last Halloween, I love giving my monsters personality and motivation, and to show a wider variety of characters that I don't often see in horror media.
That's not to say my work is particularly better than anyone else's, but I feel as if it's rather original and fun!
CA: Who is Mona, in particular? What motivates and drives her, and what do you enjoy most about the character?
AH: Mona is a very, very reluctant hero. The only reason she even left her home is because a giant monster appeared in her living room, otherwise she most likely would have stayed inside and never done anything to save the world. Most of her character is driven by self-preservation, and even then she's not especially good at it.
Eventually, however, she sees more of what is happening to the world around her, and starts to worry about the state of the rest of humanity and for her own future in a world run by monsters, which starts a shift from being afraid for herself to being afraid for all of humanity.
It's difficult to choose what I enjoy most about her, as she's my main character and I love her dearly, but it may be writing the last couple hours of the night --- she was getting tired and short-tempered at that point, and she had been through a lot, and it felt good to be able to write her justifiable anger at those around her. There was something cathartic about that!
But my absolute favorite things about her are all later in the story (from the books that haven't been released yet!) So you'll just have to wait for those.
CA: How do you approach telling the story? Did you write out the full script ahead of time, or do you tend to work more on the fly, going wherever the story takes you?
AH: I have it all written out! I much prefer telling stories that way. I can put in little Easter eggs and moments of foreshadowing that may not become clear for months or years, and I think a story that has a very clear destination is much easier for readers to become engaged with. Everything feels like it's headed somewhere, and a reader is less likely to lose interest.
CA: You mix horror and comedy really effectively --- is it difficult to strike that balance?
AH: I've never found it particularly difficult. I grew up with horror and comedy, and I always felt they married quite easily. What's much more difficult is mixing sincere moments with humor. Sometimes, audiences can balk at the transition from a fun mood to one that's more emotional and serious. Even then, the humor can help the audience in that transition --- if they have laughed along with a character, they may be more likely to sympathize with them!
CA: Why take this to Kickstarter?
AH: I've done two other Kickstarters in the past, so I know I can fulfill my promises, and I know I have a very kind audience that likes to back Kickstarters. This means Kickstarter is a pretty clear choice for me!
Besides that, I like to have full creative control, especially over a project that is so important to me. I want it to be a huge hardcover book with lots of bells and whistles, and I don't think I'd be able to get the same treatment from a publisher, especially considering how strange it would be to try and market The Last Halloween. I am so fortunate to have an awesome audience who wants this book to be as pretty as I do, since I don't think it'd get made if it weren't for them!
CA: What stage are you at with the project? How much have you already completed?
AH: Since all of Book 1 is done (and free to read online), most of the interior pages are already laid out, and the cover is well on its way. I have some extras that will need finishing, but that won't take more than a week or two! Then I send it off to the printer, and in a few months, the book is done and ready to be shipped.
As for how far I am into the next book, I have a lot of the script worked out, but have not started in earnest on the artwork --- I have another large project this summer that will demand a lot of my attention, but after that, I'll be able to start updating again in October of this year!
CA: Is it difficult to transfer a webcomic to print? How did you decide how it'd be set out --- the format of the print, and so on?
AH: A lot of webcomic artists still use page or strip formats that are fairly easy to translate to a physical book, but I like to use an infinite canvas and lots of large, borderless panels, so laying it out was a bit of a task. Fortunately, I work traditionally, so there were still some limitations on how large I can make my panels --- this means I know I can fit a certain number of pages/panels on a single printed page.
I'm not sure how the size of the book pages was decided, as that was up to a friend I hired to handle the print design, but once I had the page size I just separated the updates into chunks that fit on those pages. Like I said, it was a bit of a task, as there are about 400 or so pages of updates, but it was also pretty satisfying!
CA: Should you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
AH: My delivery is estimated for December, and don't see why I wouldn't be able to reach that goal. But it's hard to know what might happen in the meantime! It could take a lot less time, or a little bit more, depending on how well the printing process goes. I have done a large book Kickstarter before, so I have practice, and this time it should be an even smoother process.
Though if anyone wants to see what the book holds, the comic will remain online for all to read for the foreseeable future. I want my work to be available to anyone who wants to read it!
The Kickstarter for The Last Halloween will run until 5 June 2016, and has already met the funding target of $42,000. To find out more, check out the Kickstarter here!