The second volume of Drew Weing’s utterly delightful all-ages Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo series, The Monster Mall, came out last month, but this is the season in which it shines. Have you been wondering whether Echo City has vampires? It does, but they’re vegans, and they live in the abandoned mall. Weing fleshes out his fantastic world further, while still leaving plenty of room to explore it in the future, with funny, complex, thoughtful drawings and a great sense of pacing in his narrative. With Halloween only days away, it seemed like a good idea to probe his childhood experiences with costumes, things that lurk in the dark and, of course, candy.
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall Cover Art by Drew Weing
Paste: Tell me about some of your favorite Halloween costumes that you’ve worn, both as a kid and as an adult.
Drew Weing: Oh man, the best had to be the year my parents let me order the kid-sized Ghostbusters proton pack from the Sears Catalog for my birthday. Combined with an old khaki jumpsuit of my mom’s that was only slightly too small, all night I felt like probably every observer was doing double-takes, like, “Is that a REAL Ghostbuster?”
The best costume I did as an adult was the year my wife [Eleanor Davis, also an artist] and I and several friends made giant papier-mâché beastie heads with big fabric bodies, and we did a musical monster parade through the streets of Athens. Some drunk guy tried to steal my trumpet.
Paste: How do you think Margo and Charles feel about Halloween? Kevin? Marcus?
Weing: Like the song, every day is Halloween for Margo. I’ll bet Charles is totally into trick-or-treating and keeps a chart of which houses have the best candy, though of course now he’s got to start over in a new city. I’ll bet Kevin only trick-or-treats inside of the Bellwether with his Gramma, and mostly gets handfuls of pennies. Look, I’ve got to stop here, this is giving me ideas for stories.
Paste: Don’t you think Margo is like totally disillusioned about Halloween? Like, maybe it’s the equivalent of cultural appropriation for her and the monsters?
Weing: Ha, or propaganda. I imagine Margo is pretty disgusted with the ever-present anti-monster bias in American media.
Paste: I feel like part of the joy of your books is the feeling they give you about being a kid who’s allowed some free rein, without your parents around, when you can get into some trouble. That’s also a big part of the joy of Halloween, when you’re allowed to go trick or treating on your own. Discuss.
Weing: I had a pretty unsupervised childhood, but then I lived in the middle of the woods where there weren’t other kids to get into trouble with. My parents had to drive me into town on Halloween because otherwise our nearest neighbor was half a mile away. We mostly trick-or-treated in the faculty neighborhoods around the local colleges, and I didn’t get up to much mischief because my dad was always waiting for me in the car. But then for the rest of the year my brother and I would free-roam through the woods like a couple of feral children, making weaponry out of tree limbs and tools we stole out of the garage.
I think I romanticized cities the way I imagine a lot of kids romanticize the forest—it seemed like some magic secret lurked just behind every mysterious door or under every manhole cover, but I would never get to plumb the mystery because my parents wanted to get back to the hotel or whatever. Charles and Margo and Kevin get to live the big city life I envied. I don’t think most parents are quite as hands-off with their kids as Charles’ are these days, but it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise. They get to open all the doors, and of course what’s lurks behind that door is never a letdown. It’s probably some kind of awesome monster.
Paste: So are you scared of cities? I grew up in the middle of the city (with a very non-free-range parent, although I did take the bus everywhere in high school), and I am totally terrified of the country. Sometimes I wonder if what scares is what we’re less familiar with.
Weing: Cue that Lovecraft quote about the fear of the unknown (a guy who certainly had some unpleasant phobias). I do get pretty nervous in metro areas at nighttime, but for some reason I have a habit of making long treks across cities instead of just hopping on a bus or something. You really get to know the liminal spaces of a city by trying to get to airports or convention centers on foot. So far I haven’t been mugged.
Paste: Do you get a lot of trick or treaters?
Weing: A few more every year! I’m hoping that The Legend of The House That Gives Out Way Too Much Candy With A Kind of Desperate Look In Their Eyes is growing over time.
Paste: Our town (Athens, Georgia) is a little Halloween-crazy, what with the Wild Rumpus (a giant Halloween parade downtown in which anyone can march). Why do you think that is?
Weing: Everyone knows Halloween is the best holiday, plus it’s totally built for college kids and hipsters (we need a new term). You get to flaunt your creativity or flaunt other things. It’s super wholesome and kid-friendly all day, and then all night it’s super not. There’s no pressure to buy presents or spend the day with your extended family. Plus it’s such a relief to have one night where things are actually supposed to be scary and awful and the pervasive sense of dread is just pretend.
Paste: You forgot the candy. That is absolutely the biggest attraction for my kids, who cannot even wait until they get home to start eating it. Candy is like the center of their universe, and I don’t think they’re alone (see, for example, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as being the ultimate wish fulfillment).
Weing: Of course! I reread that book so many times as a kid. Also I remember rewinding the opening of the ‘70s movie over and over, just to rewatch the real-life candy factory scenes.
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall Interior Art by Drew Weing
Paste: What was Halloween like for you when you were a kid?
Weing: We had a tradition of baking cookies “for trick-or-treaters,” but I think if anybody had actually knocked on our door in our neck of the woods we would have all been terrified. After we got back from town, my brother and I would gorge ourselves sick on cookies and commence the high-stakes candy trades.
Paste: Top five scary comics ?
Weing: There are so many great comics with monsters but I’ll try to think of the ones that actually crept into my nightmares:
Beautiful Darkness by Kerascoet
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (especially “His Face All Red”)
Uzumaki by Junji Ito
Pretty much anything by Al Columbia
Paste: What’s your favorite horror movie and why?
Weing: Here’s two:
Hausu (directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi): this is one of the most absurd movies I’ve ever seen, which makes the creepiness even more jarring. It’s utterly charming without losing its edge. Also there’s a cat.
Vampyr (directed by Carl Dreyer): I only saw this movie once a few Halloweens back, but it really stuck with me. A movie that came out this long ago has no business being this drenched in atmosphere. A fever dream of helpless paranoia and death visions.
Paste: I still haven’t seen Hausu, but it’s been on my list forever. Vampyr is pretty solid for how old it is. Did your parents let you watch horror movies?
Weing: Aw man, I wouldn’t have wanted to. I was a very self-protective little kid. I didn’t even like to walk down the horror-movie aisle at the video store, and I wouldn’t have if they didn’t keep the sci-fi/fantasy movies on the other side. I made sure I kept my back turned and didn’t dare peek at those awful VHS covers. My dad took me to Gremlins because I got a bunch of happy meal tie-in books, and I flipped out as soon as the Gremlins actually appeared and my dad had to take me out of the theater.
Paste: Gremlins is pretty scary! I watched it by myself, alone in my house, when I was probably 10 and completely freaked myself out. So when did you start watching scary movies? And what’s your favorite type (slasher, gore, ghost, devil worship, comedy, etc.)?
Weing: I probably didn’t watch anything scarier than Ghostbusters until I was in high school, when I made a concerted effort to try to be a grownup and watch all these movies I’d heard about for years. I remember enjoying this feature on TNT—Monstervision, I think it was called—where they played a bunch of ‘70s and ‘80s good schlocky horror movies, like Phantasm or The Fly. It’s probably not a big surprise that I love monster movies and anything with a supernatural twist. I’ve still got a weak stomach for blood and gore.
Paste: What are you most scared of?
Weing: Oh boy. Right now I’m scared of the prospect of a rapidly warming globe and first-world countries descending into dystopian nightmare fascist regimes in order to keep out the resulting masses of desperate folks forced into migration. Also, spiders.
Paste: Do you have nightmares?
Weing: I have the kind of nightmares where I start trying to scream out loud, so my wife wakes me up. But then minutes later I can’t remember what was going on besides, “there was, like, a really scary guy.”
Paste: Have you watched The Nightmare (the documentary about sleep paralysis)?
Weing: No, but I first heard about it in that [Carl] Sagan book, The Demon-Haunted World, and he went into the theories about how it varies culturally—that in ‘50s America you’d wake up paralyzed with a little gray alien in the room, but in medieval Europe you’d wake up with a demon or a succubus sitting on you. I think I’ve only had a true sleep paralysis experience once or twice. Usually when I get nightmares, I’m still well in the dream state, but some semi-conscious part of me knows that if I make enough noise Eleanor will wake me up. I wish I could remember them a little better, though. It might give me some good material.
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall Interior Art by Drew Weing