I Luv Halloween
Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/Artist: Keith Giffen/Benjamin Roman
Conceptually, horror and comedy have more in common than you might think. In both genres, the storyteller must manipulate and play upon the emotions, expectations, and reservations of the audience in order to frighten, shock, disgust, amuse, or exhilarate. This isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, which explains why there are so many terrible horror movies and failed comedies out there. I Luv Halloween, the brainchild of artist Benjamin Roman and writer Keith Giffen, does a lot of things right. It has the attitude and the look of a great comedy-horror title, yet it carries a fundamental flaw. Instead of toying with our emotions and expectations or creating an atmosphere conducive to either horror or comedy, it takes a glib “point and laugh” approach to things that are not in and of themselves funny– things such as dismemberment and murder.
The plot: Some kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween night. They don’t get good candy. They decide to get revenge. The rest of the comic is devoted to people being really hateful to each other, and various cases of dismemberment or death. Ironically enough, the group of “main characters” – Finch, Mr. Kitty, Pig Pig, and Devil Lad – are main characters by designation only. In practice, they’re one of the comic’s less distinctive elements. The story doesn’t give them enough to do, or even differentiate them by anything except appearance and shtick. They spend most of their page time meandering around, exchanging verbal jabs and pithy remarks that, by and large, aren’t bizarre enough to be funny or clever enough to be witty. Most of the actual action in the story is the product of a criminally insane little girl who likes to collect molars.
TOKYOPOP bills I Luv Halloween as “Comedy-Horror.” That may very well be the intended genre, but I’m more inclined to give it the label “Morbid Comedy.” I say this because in spite of all the murder and death in this comic, there’s nothing particularly scary about any of them. Gory, sure. Ghoulish, definitely. Superficially creepy, at times. But nothing here is going to keep you up at night, or plague you with nightmares. There are a few aspects of the story that were likely meant to be frightening on some level, like the fact that the most dangerous character is a psychopathic little girl in a ballerina costume, but such imagery is too shopworn and obvious to be effective today, particularly in a comic that sets the macabre as the norm in the early going.
But I Luv Halloween doesn’t work as a comedy either, because of a fundamental flaw in its approach to humor. It tries to extract laughter from situations that cannot produce it. There is probably some humor in the idea of a lady being disemboweled by her own false teeth, but this comic makes little effort to tease it out. It points and laughs at injuries and murders that simply aren’t ridiculous or ironic enough to be funny. We’re evidently supposed to find humor in kids putting razorblades into an apple and feeding it to a cop, but really, what on Earth is so funny about that? It looks more like a cheap attempt to be shocking than a genuine effort at being funny, scary, or clever. It’s theoretically possible to make even mass homicide funny, but you have to do a bit more than show a mass homicide, point, and expect the audience to laugh.
Another part of the problem is that it often feels like the horror and comedy elements in I Luv Halloween are struggling for dominance, rather than working in concert. It’s too leaden, grim, and sadistic to facilitate laughter, but it’s too silly, benign, and obvious to create feelings of horror or outrage. The comic tries far too hard to achieve a sardonic edge similar to that of Jhonen Vasquez, but doesn’t manage to harness the same engaging wit, energy, or sadistic glee of Vasquez’s better work. As a result, I Luv Halloween’s venom and cynicism stifle any attempt to inject levity into the situation. The comic’s mood comes off as more apathetic, sullen, and hateful than a gory good time. I imagine there are some people who will still find this all knee-slappingly funny, but I imagine they’re the same people who thought the Alien Nine anime was a laugh riot. I hope I never meet any of these people.
All this is really a shame, because I Luv Halloween definitely does have some good qualities to it. Roman has a distinct art style that calls to mind Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge, Bill Watterson, and even the early-90s Beetlejuice cartoon, and it works very well for a macabre-humor type of story. Giffen’s dialogue is convincing enough, to the point where the dialogue is more vivid than any one of the real characters, in spite of the fact that it seldom says anything inherently funny or interesting.
So I Luv Halloween doesn’t work. However, that’s not because of a lack of talent going into it. I have little doubt that Roman and Giffen are two very talented people; you can see glimpses of that throughout this volume. They both have solid skills and a good premise in this comic, but the end product is more concerned with getting a reaction out of the audience than entertaining them. The characters are all vicious people. There’s murder and blood and guts. There’s plenty of cursing and lewd comments. There’s a kid carrying a gun. But none of it’s particularly scary or funny, or even all that shocking to its prescribed age group (age 16+) unless one or two particular readers have led very sheltered lives.
Added: Thursday, October 13, 2005
Related Link: TOKYOPOP