Vampires, Zombies, Psycho Killers and How Bill Burroughs Shot His Wife.

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Halloween, or “Hallowe’en” as it is was in my young day, is a word derived from Hallow’s Even, which literally means “sacred evening”, as in “Hallowed Ground”, so how has it come to be associated with Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-leggety Beasties and Things that go Bump in the Night? Originally it was pretty much one more excuse for the Ancient Britons to have a drunken knees-up (nothing much has changed there) but the pagan associations persuaded the Catholic church to move it to from May to November 1st and re-name it All Saints’ Day.

Unfortunately the night before was the festival of Samhain, derived from the Celtic word for “summer’s end”. As October 31st ticks down towards November 1st the year slides from light into darkness. At the other end of the spectrum the Celts (and Marc Bolan) celebrated Beltane on May 1st, where winter ended and spring began. Beltane came at about the same time as the original festival of Halloween, so we have the Pope to thank for transforming the ceremony from a celebration of light and new life to a British version of the Day of the Dead.

Over the last century the popularity of horror fiction and particularly Hammer horror and the later Hollywood movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th and so on, have turned the whole thing into an orgy of blood and gore. Not so much a day of the dead as a Day of the Undead. Perfect timing to launch a brand new Vampire comic don’t you think? Or a Zombie comic? Those fiendishly clever people at Radical Comics have chosen this week to give you both in one blood-soaked package. FVZA (that’s Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency) # 1 is on the shelves this very week and I’ll be spending my Halloween in the company of fellow horror creators at Orbital Comics in London, signing copies of that and the first issue of Arkham Reborn from DC.

Did you notice how I subtly steered this column towards a plug for those books? To be honest this column may well be an incoherent rambling piece of nonsense for all I know. I’m suffering from a bout of what may be common or garden influenza, Terminal Swine Flu or just a bit of a cold. I should be in bed with hot water bottle, a stiff drink and a good book but I promised the column for today and I’m a man of my word. So I shall plough on through the fever, as the sweat drips onto the keyboard and my vision blurs and outside in the darkness the wolves howl piteously at the moon. South London can be a bleak and lonely place now that the nights are drawing in.

There has rarely been a time when horror was quite so popular as it is right now and certainly never a time when horror was so mainstream. TV is dripping blood and gore, with Dexter, True Blood and Vampire Diaries and The Walking Dead shambling over the horizon next year. On the big screen this year has seen Let the Right One In, Zombieland, Cirque du Freak, Twilight 2, Drag Me to Hell, Saw VI and spooky stuff like The Triangle with The Wolfman on its way early next year.

There is a danger of saturation and it’s sure there have been a lot of second-rate movies and comic books riding the horror wave. I’ve spent the last few months promoting the FVZA book and the one question I’ve invariably been asked is “What makes FVZA different from all the other vampire and zombie books out there?” Frankly I’ve answered that so many times I can’t be arsed any more. We started on this book what seems like a lifetime ago and everyone involved has sweated blood to turn out the best quality book we could possibly make. Radical have pushed it like nothing I’ve ever worked on. If you haven’t seen the previews by now you must have been in a coma for the past six months. The advance reviews are coming in and thankfully they are almost universally excellent so I guess I don’t have to slit my wrists. Read FVZA and demand the movie!

Arkham Reborn is a very different book. For one thing of course it’s part of the Batman franchise and a modest three-parter totalling 66 pages, less than half the length of the FVZA series. There’s a lot less blood and gore - Killer Croc does eat someone, but it happens offstage – and I don’t get to use profanity, and there’s almost no sex - offstage again – but it is every bit as scary as FVZA. If you liked No-Face, Mirror Man and the Hamburger Lady in the Battle For The Cowl one-shot, you’ll love The Raggedy Man. It can be frustrating to work under the strictures of censorship, those unspoken, fluctuating rules of what you can and can’t do and say in a Marvel or DC comic, but I have to admit that working within those shifting parameters does push you to find more creative ways to chill the spine. It’s what you don’t see that will give you the horrors in Arkham Reborn and apologies to artist Jeremy Haun, who found himself sitting in the maternity ward with his newborn baby, designing the costume for a serial child-killer, sewn out of souvenirs from his victims, including pacifiers and dolls’ body parts. I know Jeremy has suffered permanent psychological damage but it was worth it. The Raggedy Man is seriously spooky.

Now the sun has long-since set and those wolves are moving in… okay they’re foxes, but they’re mean and hungry foxes… and I am planning to dose myself with a bottle of Jack D to keep the fever dreams at bay. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from William Burroughs: “ Never keep a pistol under your pillow where you have to reach up for it. Keep it down by your hand at the crotch. That way you can come up shooting.”

FVZA # 1 from Radical and Arkham Reborn #1 from DC are on sale now. David will be part of Orbital Comics London's major Halloween signing on October 31st.

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