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COMIC ARTIST & WRITER JEREMY HAUN ON 
THE HAUNTING & HEALING POWER OF HORROR

BY MO MOSHATY, NOVEMBER 17, 2023

The healing power of the horror genre has been researched for decades and as creatives in the genre, we sometimes find our own catharsis through the misfortune of those in our stories. Mo Moshaty speaks with comic writer and artist Jeremy Haun on how drawing on his own grief created a richer path for his characters.

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MM: I'm so happy that you've come to join me to speak about grief and horror because it's just so important to discuss how this genre has this incredible healing power. Or maybe that's just me.

 

JH: Not at all. I always knew that it was a thing –  a therapeutic element helping to deal with a lot of these things that we feel. Then when I did the Haunthology project during the pandemic, I got to experience firsthand how telling those horror stories was healing for me.

MM: 100%. I'm also a cognitive behavioral therapist. So it's really dissecting our emotional reactivity to everything and researching how we can adapt to not only our trauma but keep through it and kind of navigate the parameters that it gives us. And that’s why I grew so attached to your work, because it does have that throughline of surviving through trauma. For

example, in The Red Mother and Daisy losing Luke so early on, you open the comic and in the first few cells, he’s gone and tragically so. Talk to me about how that story came to be. Was it a fully formed story or did you have to kind of navigate the grief as you were writing it?

JH: Oddly, I think this is the thing that we all do as creatives – a story starts out as one thing and sort of finds its larger theme along the way. 2019 was one of the hardest years of my life. We had an incredibly traumatic loss of a family member. A lot of the projects that I was working on and felt passionately about had suddenly shifted. We had to make a lot of adjustments, unexpected adjustments. When I set up The Red Mother, I knew that I wanted to tell a story about trauma (both physical and mental) and surviving those things. 

My partner always says that I always walk in with a pretty fully formed idea. I’ll come back from a walk or something and say, “I've got this idea for this new thing,” and I’ll talk through the whole thing, beginning to end. In a lot of ways, The Red Mother was like that. I knew what I was building to. I knew the scenes and had a strong idea about the characters. But then I kept finding new things through the experiences of 2020 that made that story even stronger. 

I wrote most of the twelve issues of The Red Mother series through the pandemic. We were all in this thing together. We all saw how the world changed – how it changed us. And I wanted to get through a lot of my own trauma with that series. During the writing process, I had the opportunity to interview one lady who had lost her eye. We talked about the grieving process of a loss like that – the effect it had. I saw firsthand how similar the grieving process for a physical loss is to the loss of a loved one. It fascinated me. It helped inform even more of the story of The Red Mother, and it was better for it.

MM: And I think that's where that physical, emotional, and mental loss kind of find this common ground, and I say mental loss because even like mental decline. For instance, with dementia, the loss of one person that's still very much here. Within that intersection of grief and loss, was creating something a catharsis for you?

JH: I’ve always been fascinated by the human condition – the things that we go through – the emotionality of life. I think working on The Red Mother and then Haunthology during the pandemic sort of further opened my eyes to the connection we all have. In horror, we get to explore themes that are so universal. We examine, loss, anger, elements of nihilism, and of course fear. But in horror, we give those things a face. We show you those things in the form of some monster or another. 

 

MM: Oh absolutely – tackling it in tangible form so it’s easier to deal with.

JH: Yes! You were talking about dementia. In Haunthology, I wrote a story called, “Still in Here”. It was, on its face, a zombie story, which is funny because I made myself this promise that I wasn't going to do any zombie stories for the collection. There are just so many zombie stories out there. Good ones. I was like, “Do all the cosmic horror you want, but let’s leave the zombies be.”  But then had this idea that I just couldn’t shake. Taking it back to that personal connection, my grandfather (who with my grandmother raised me and was really integral to the man that I am now) had a series of strokes in 2019 into 2020. He had a pretty intense decline and we ended up losing him during the pandemic. 

 

My grandfather went from being the wittiest guy in the room, this old wonderful, kind, salt-of-the-earth farmer, to being unable to communicate almost at all. But even through all of that, he was still in there. We could see it. He’d still laugh at things, and on the good days, could even say a bit of something. It was still him. But it was just different.

So I ended up writing "Still In Here". It was a zombie story, but instead of what we usually see, well, what if the person you know is literally still in there begging you to run, saying “I'm so sorry. Please run!” They’re trapped in their ravenous body, completely aware as they’re eating you. 

That, for me, was terrifying. I got to tell this intense story, but I also got to talk about losing my grandpa. It was my own therapy through horror. It was a big step in my journey as a writer. It was me fully leaning into the emotionality of my characters and getting to grow with them.

MM: And it’s that leaning in that really makes horror emotional. I'm a huge advocate of horror as pedagogy because it's so relevant and relatable to the things that we go through. But I've said that, you know, horror really shapes who you are and as creatives, it teaches us to get to the heart of the story. In Haunthology, the stories are quite short and I think that having that keen sense of how to arrive late and leave early is remarkable. Was that tight arrival and departure the original structure for the project?

JH: Haunthology was a completely new thing for me. The Red Mother is a story in three acts across twelve issues. It's pretty expansive. I had time to build the lead character, Daisy’s, entire world and emotional arc. Haunthology was just these quick glimpses – flash fiction. You don't always start at the beginning or even always get the answer in a story like that. You just see a moment. I love that sort of thing. 

 

I've always been a voracious reader. I’ve always especially loved short stories. Give me a collection of horror fiction and I’m at my happiest.

MM: That's my jam! That’s my specialty, short form.

JH:  I love it, you know? I remember reading Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, specifically one called “Best New Horror”.  The story sets everything up perfectly, building and building, and then leaves us wondering. That’s just the best-worst feeling. 

I’m obsessed with wondering if the character will go into the house – what’ll happen? 

I love that you have to completely imagine what’s going to happen sometimes.

MM: It's like screaming at the screen. Don't go in there!

JH: Yes! But we as the reader have to decide that for ourselves. Maybe he got hit on the head, he may have been served tea. 

As writers, if we do our jobs right, we leave readers wondering and, hopefully, wanting more.

Say you have a story about a couple driving across the United States. She knows that she's pregnant and she also knows that she’s going to break up with her boyfriend when they get there. Meanwhile, he's trying to figure things out. He really, really just knows that he needs to show her that she matters, that he can do better for them, never even knowing about the baby. So this couple is just driving along and they end up in a haunted wood, with these terrible creatures coming after them. If I’m telling this story, I want the reader to be so involved in their relationship – whether she’s going to tell him about the baby and if they’re going to stay together -- that they’re almost pissed off when the monsters come out.

With The Red Mother, I wanted you to care so much about Daisy that the idea that this terrible thing was coming for her was almost in the way of the examination of healing from the loss.

 

MM: And what I really love about short-form work is I've always been inspired by it. It's funny that you mentioned Joe. I have always been inspired by Stephen King's short-form work. I actually love Stephen King’s short-form work more than I love his novels, and Ray Bradbury is also a huge, huge, huge inspiration of mine. With pulling that concern for the character out of the audience and seeing yourself as the audience, is there a piece of horror, whether it's a book or a film, where you really needed to cuddle within that to help you heal through something?

JH: Yeah, I mean, to be perfectly honest, just the genre itself was so key in healing and identity for me. When I was about 11 or 12, my parents did what parents do and got divorced. That is such a key time for a young person and a big part of who you will become. You're figuring out so much – who you might like, how you like them, who you want to be, how you are in your own body. All those things are incredibly important. And I was suddenly very, very alone. 

We moved from the city, where my friends were, to my grandparents’ farm. That was very, very hard for me. Suddenly, a lot of the stability in my life changed. I was in a new, kind of spooky place, out there in the middle of the woods. Going from the city to the countryside, it’s very, very dark out there. 

I was terrified of everything around at that time. The farm. The dark. Hell, back in the late eighties trailers for horror movies would pop on during TGIF sitcoms. I’d be watching Urkel do something stupid on Family Matters one second and then Freddy Krueger would pop on and just scare me to death. 

I’d go to bed there on that dark, all too quiet farm with my covers up to my eyes, just terrified that something was coming to eat me. One day I said, “This is enough, I can't do this anymore. I can’t keep being horrified of everything.” 

 

My aunt had rented A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 with some friends. And Freddy specifically scared me to death. I knew the tape was down there in the VHS, so I said, "I’m gonna watch this even if it kills me." So everybody had left the house for the day. They've gone to some event and I faked being sick, like all smooth 12-year-olds do. But I watched it. I got to see Freddy “die”, and I understood that it was just a movie. I saw that we can control our dreams and if you can control your dreams to a degree, you can control your reality. 

Watching that movie changed my thinking. What if monsters are cool? What if I like this stuff? What if this fear doesn't have to rule me? So the next day I went to the video store and started to rent everything – I mean we were not supervised at all.

 

MM: No, not at all.

JH: So true. I rented every horror movie from A to Z. Everything they had. I watched it all. There was so much stuff that I should not have watched but -

MM: Oh, I mean, that's literally any horror fan’s bio.

JH: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

MM: Pretty sure I saw Carrie at age 3 or 4!

JH: Yes! There are so many things we shouldn't have seen, been exposed to that early, but then it sort of becomes your armor, right? Those horror films got me through that tough time, and they really gave me a different outlook on fear. I stopped letting those things control me. 

Somewhere in there, I had this epiphany. I realized that I was telling stories that scared me much worse than these movies ever did. I didn’t even really understand where some of that came from. 

We often do this thing as creatives where we catastrophize situations. A lot of that is based in trauma.

MM: And Imposter syndrome. 

JH: Very true. We often imagine that worst-case scenario. If you have to go and have a really hard talk with someone, you run through the scenarios to protect yourself, because as a child you had to figure out how to explain to someone how you were feeling without them getting hurt. And now, as a creator, those worst-case scenarios are places you can drop your character into. This is kind of strange – my entire life having to figure out how to navigate terrible, uncomfortable situations and just figure it out led to me being a writer.

 

MM: As a child of divorce, too, you get very aware of people's attitudes, and you zero in on the person in the room, who’s the worst off, and you just do whatever to make them happy and run the worst-case to find the perfect string of words.

JH: Oh, yeah.  But I think that when you do that, you've built scenarios so often that, through your creative mind, you can take your characters down these relatable, amazing, terrifying, heartbreaking, or comforting moments. You know you can do all these things because you see the paths, and your brain learns to process through this quickly. It's like a choose-your-own-adventure where you know you're limitless.

MM: Yeah, I love those. Books that say, "Skip to Page 42 if..." You want to do this. Makes me think of House of Leaves. So funny about those choose your own adventure ones especially. You're familiar with Paul Tremblay? He has a short story collection called Growing Things where there’s a story called, "A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken," which kind of makes it sound like a Panic! At the Disco song. The story reads like a choose-your-own-adventure. “Go back to living room and then… “ Reverse engineering, it's just so cool.

JH: Oh I like that! I’m not sure I’ve read that one. I’m going to need to check. 

MM: I’m a sucker for oversharing what I love in the genre!

JH: But that’s one of the things I love about the horror community. However much stuff is out there, movies, games, we're still hungry for more content and more things. I have a stack of books by my bed by some of my favorite authors that I desperately need to catch up on, but I’m always incredibly excited whenever someone suggests something new that I’ve missed.  It just makes me really proud of this community, that we're always making things and sharing things. It’s exciting. 

 

MM: Yeah, 100%. And I love the collaboration in this genre because it's so welcoming, or you know, people are willing to hear you out or people are willing to support you, even if it's not like a monetary thing. It’s just kind of having your back and being like, "This is really cool, you should talk to this person." Or "Did you know my friend is making X." That's kind of how we find out about each other. And I think what's so interesting is that everybody wants to see everybody win because we just want to absorb more horror stuff. Like, I get to see it, so why would I not stick by and support that? This has been so great to speak about this!

JH: Thanks for having me. I’m always happy to talk about the wonderful world of horror. 

Order The Red Mother and Haunthology

Watch this space for exciting new projects coming from Jeremy Haun! 

Jeremy is a comic book writer and artist from Joplin, Missouri. 

His creator-owned work includes THE BEAUTY, THE REALM  and HAUNTHOLOGY for Image Comics, THE RED MOTHER and THE APPROACH for Boom Studios, and 40 SECONDS for Comixology/Dark Horse. Haun has worked for nearly every major comics company in the industry, including work on KNIGHT TERRORS: BLACK ADAM, BATWOMAN, CONSTANTINE, ARKHAM REBORN, and RED HOOD: THE LOST DAYS for DC Comics and CIVIL WAR: IRON MAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA for Marvel.

 

Jeremy resides in a crumbling mansion with his wife, two sons, and a rather large orange cat.

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