Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Halloween: White Ghost" - The Story Behind the Story

Better late than never!

It’s been nearly a year since my first foray into official Halloween fiction—“White Ghost”—was published and I had always intended to sit down and write end notes for the thing. As a fan, I’m always fascinated to hear the “behind the scenes” stuff of the creative process so, just in case there’s anyone out there like me, I thought I’d sit down and share a few thoughts on the creation of “White Ghost”.

The first surprising fact that you will learn is that “White Ghost” was not my idea originally! That honor belongs to the head of the Halloween Comics beast, Stef Hutchinson. It’s ironic, because he came up with “White Ghost” and I came up with the idea of the movies Halloween 4-6 (which had been “retconned” out of the main Halloween continuity by Halloween H20) being a series of in-universe comics as written and drawn by an older and traumatized Tommy Doyle. Stef ended up alluding to the Tommy Doyle idea in his 30 Years of Terror comic anthology, and now I've brought one of Stef’s ideas to fruition.

Back when Stef first approached me to work on the Halloween Comics team, we talked a lot on the phone about the mythology and all the stories he had in mind. “White Ghost” was one of the earliest ideas he’d shared with me. The concept of doing a story about the tow truck driver who lost his life (and his clothes) to Michael Myers was especially exciting to me. Watching the Halloween movies, I’d always taken a shine to those minor characters in the background and always fleshed out their personal stories in my head. But, believe it or not, I had never given a second thought to that mustachioed naked dude lying in the bushes.

Originally, Stef intended “White Ghost” to be a short comic and include it in an anthology. When time rolled around to do that anthology—what became Halloween 30 Years of Terror—“White Ghost” was not included for whatever reason, and he offered me a chance to write a prose version of the story. He gave me his outline, which really just consisted of “Guy loses his would-be bride because of drunken infidelity at the Red Rabbit Lounge. She gets hit by train. He returns years later a broken mess. Michael Myers kills him.” Stef wanted the story to feel like a real ghost story, but with the twist that it wasn’t. I liked that idea. I ran with it.

One of the things I believe was in the initial draft was that the story would begin with Dr. Sam Loomis at Smith’s Grove at the time of Michael’s escape (as seen in the first film). That was to give the audience a sense of setting and bring them back to the first movie. I really jumped at the chance to write Loomis and Nurse Marion. One of the things I always enjoyed about Stef’s Halloween work is the camaraderie that developed between those two characters over their years together, so I extended a lot of the Loomis stuff—even cutting back to it—in order to write a kind of prequel to that relationship. I wrote Marion as practical as a counter-balance to Loomis’ driving obsession. Marion stops to consider the people, while Loomis is always focused on following the monster. I think that, together, they make a good team.

Also, in these scenes, I introduced Reverend Jackson P. Sayer of Dumont County.

Let me tell you, I love Halloween 4. It killed me when we were told that Part 4 was no longer canon because I have always had aspirations of writing the demon-hunting adventures of Reverend Sayer. Now with the idea of Halloween 4 being a comic that Tommy wrote, another idea blossomed that—in sort of a Shakespeare in Love concept—Tommy created these characters based on real people he’d met in his life. So, I decided to make the “real” version of Sayer. Now you ask yourself, “Well, when did Tommy meet him?” There’s a story for that. I hope to one day tell it.

Writing Sayer was a highlight, and I wanted to recreate that relationship that he had with Loomis from the fourth movie. Sayer is nuts, but he’s also right about the nature of Michael Myers’ evil. Loomis recognizes that.

I wrote the Loomis scenes in more of a classic horror movie motif, because that’s how his scenes were in the original film. The “baby-sitter scenes” with Laurie and her friends were an entirely different tone than the Loomis scenes. Whenever Loomis entered the picture, we were back in Hammer Horror Film mode; when we cut to Laurie, it was more slice of life character drama. I tried to keep that pace for “White Ghost”.

The character of Chris Hastings was actually born out of necessity. I had Stef’s original outline, so I knew the guy cheated on his girlfriend in a moment of drunken stupidity, and it ruined his life. However, Chris’ name, his age, the town where he lives, and the fact that he had a wife and daughter were revealed in his obituary in the Articles section on the Halloween Comics website. The writing duties on the in-universe newspaper articles were split between myself and Myron James. I didn’t write that article, so I’m assuming Myron did. Also, there was more information about where Chris’ body was found, and the state it was in, on the form for his morgue report—which I believe was written by me and Steve Cattaruzza, our awesome editor. So, I had all these separate facts about this guy and it was my job to bring them all together to make a unified character.

Stef likes his tragedy. If you’ve read any of his Halloween comics, you’ll know this. I, however, have a hard time with such a bleak outlook on life. I was also a pretty new father to a baby girl at the time of writing this story and the thought of a man dying and leaving behind his baby girl was especially painful to me. So, a coping mechanism was to write Chris as a complete scumbag :) My idea was that, his previous wrecked romance left him a shell of a man, unable to meet the emotional expectations of his wife and child. In some strange way, him dying at the end was almost liberating to his family. I tried to write Chris the exact opposite from me. First off, he doesn’t love his daughter. That seemed absolutely alien to me, so I really stretched myself to put myself in a guy’s head who looks at his kid as a screaming mouth to feed that he never wanted. Also, I made his wife super bossy. People who have read the story have commented on how evil this woman must be, but I think she’s just appears evil to a lazy husband who doesn’t want anything to do with his family. True, she’s demanding, but I think, to her credit, a lot of that developed out of having a husband who was emotionally absent and content to sit and drink beer all the time. There’s always two sides to the story in those situations. We’re telling the story from Chris’ side, so his wife is extra monstrous and fire-breathing.

What’s really interesting is that, despite this man’s flaws—and I packed as many as I could—I found myself feeling for the guy as I wrote his story. It’s especially interesting that others who have read “White Ghost” have sided with Chris. Understand, I intended him to be a jerk who had a grisly, impersonal death coming. But, people have taken to Chris. Some even identify with him. He sees his life as a failure of his own making. He’s sympathetic. We all make mistakes and we all live with consequences, and we can either choose to learn from them and grow as people, or we can be like Chris and dwell on the past and never move on.

When it came to Chris’ doomed romance, I tried to show the softer side of Mr. Hastings. He really loved Sylvia. He was a better person with her around. I imagine that if he’d had a kid with Sylvia, that baby would have been his pride and joy. He had the shot at a great life, but he blew it.

Enter: Jenny Reeves. Jenny is one of the River Folk from the Lost River. As part of my job at Halloween, I wrote detailed histories on Haddonfield, its more famous locations, and the Lost River (that was mentioned in Halloween II). I practically created an entire world revolving around the Lost River and its backwoods denizens. Sadly, no one has ever seen this material because it’s yet to be published to the site (write letters *hinthint* :)), but I have since tried to make some connection to the Lost River in all of my Halloween work. Sort of a mythology-within-a-mythology. Will Jenny pop up, as some have asked? I don’t know. But, as long as I’m writing Halloween, I hope to keep taking readers back to the Lost River.

Sylvia finds out and I get to write the traumatic break-up scene. Next, it was time for bloody death-by-train. Stef stepped in and added a little gory detail to the incident, which I think gave it a nice flourish. I really liked this scene. I felt bad for Chris here.

Years later, Chris returns to the scene where his life ended only to have…well, his life ended. Michael shows up, in his flowy white hospital gown, and a drunken Chris thinks it’s his one true love come to offer him forgiveness. Chris joins Sylvia in death, his wife and child potentially move on to a man who will love them and care for them, and Myers has a new pair of slightly used coveralls. Everybody’s happy. See? No tragedy here :p

These days, Halloween Comics are sitting on the back burner for varied business reasons that I am neither totally privy to, nor able to divulge. I’m not sure what the future holds, or if my other work beyond “White Ghost” will ever make it to the surface. But, if “White Ghost” is my only Halloween story, it’s one I’m quite proud of. I think that it encapsulates what I’m about as a “tie-in” writer—it takes a no-nothing character that spends but scant seconds on screen and (I hope) develops them into a real, breathing person that people can be invested in. To those of you who’ve read it and enjoyed it, thanks for the kind words you’ve given me. If you haven’t read it, what’s your problem?


—My friend Thomas Mason did the cover. He was the colorist on WildStorm’s first Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic and, these days, has had an impressive run on Marvel’s Cable. Check him out on his website at He does commissions!

—Page 5. Nurse Ethel Strickland is intended to be the red-headed nurse that shows Loomis to Michael’s trashed room in the television edit of Halloween. I’m a huge fan of the bonus TV scenes of Halloween. Some would say it slows down the narrative—and it does—but it adds more detail to the world and I’m a sucker for that stuff. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time elements from the TV edit have been brought into canon proper. Some of you are going to ask “Is the TV edit canon, then?” Well, personally, I think it is. Regardless if you watch that version or prefer that version, I believe those things happened—off camera if you stick to the theatrical cut, on camera if you watch the TV edit.

—Page 6. “Bernardi” is the guard mentioned in that same scene in the TV edit.

—Page 6. Reverend Jackson Sayer, people. I love that guy. Also, everyone refers to him as “Mr. Sayer”, just as Loomis did in Halloween 4.

—Page 7. Loomis’ metal lighter that no longer works was first introduced in the online short story “Sam”, I believe. Written by Stef. If you know nothing of this story, it’s the last adventure of Sam Loomis. You should read it.

—Page 8. Loomis’ exchange with Sayer about Damnation being among us (“Yes, Mr. Sayer. I’m afraid he is.”), was meant to echo Loomis’ words (though not exact, but in spirit) to Laurie at the end of the first movie.

—Page 9. Nichols Hardware Store versus Stoddard’s Hardware Store. This is actually a retcon. In Halloween, the hardware store is Nichols. In the novelization for Halloween II, a cop mentions Stoddard’s Hardware Store. The idea was that, only in recent years did the name change from Stoddard’s to Nichols and some folks in Haddonfield still think of it as Stoddard’s. I wrote quite a bit about the history of the hardware store in one of those Locations pieces that still hasn’t made it to the public yet.

—Page 14. The first mention of the “River Folk”, though like I said, not the first thing I’d written about them. The Locations pieces I wrote delve into their history and their relationship to Haddonfield. Mostly, I wanted to make backwoods folk. Like Pumpkinhead or some of Lovecraft’s writings. Just this secretive, mysterious group of country people who live out along the River. I love driving out in the country and I see all these dilapidated country houses that look really creepy. I always wonder what kind of people live there. The River Folk is a romanticized, “typical horror” version of that.

—Page 14. The Red Rabbit Lounge is, of course, the name on the pack of matches that Marion kept with her in the first movie. It’s in the car when Myers takes it from her and it’s left behind at Chris’ murder scene. It’s the breadcrumb on the trail. So, the place where Chris ruins his life is tied to the scene of his death. Make of that what you will.

—Page 19. Wynn’s lost a patient apart from Michael Myers. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? I believe Stef has some things planned for this escapee (that you may or may not have met already).

—Page 19. The last scene with Loomis is Chris’ “big appearance” in the movie where Loomis comes across the empty truck and Myers’ discarded gown. In the movie, the scene plays out with Loomis on the phone to Haddonfield, he hangs up frustrated, then heads to the truck. This scene is meant to be a sort of prequel to that scene—before his phone call.

—Page 20. “So, you’ve shed one skin, Michael. What form will you take now? What will you dress up for as Halloween?” I don’t think I have to explain to you the giddy thrill I experienced writing words that Donald Pleasance might form in his mind or say. That was awesome. He’s still missed.

Thanks for reading :)