Shawn Richison 02

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So, with Halloween around the corner, and recently been given an opportunity to write a few words for HorrorTalk, I started thinking about what scares people. Or more specifically, what scares me. Because if there's one thing I love, it's a really good, scary story; that's part of the reason that Halloween is my favourite holiday.

Of course, there’s also the dressing up in a costume part.  That’s tremendously fun, as well.

Let me begin by introducing myself: my name is Shawn Richison, and I'm a cartoonist who has worked in zombie stories, sci-fi slasher stories, psychological weirdness and monster terror. So it's one of the questions that drives me when I'm trying to come up with something that I hope will get some sort of visceral reaction from my audience. And I imagine it probably drives most creators of horror fiction, be it filmmakers, novelists, short story writers or comic artists like me.

Friday The 13th
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In trying to answer the question of what scares an audience, I have to look to my own past. One of my earliest memories as a kid was going to a sleepover where the host wanted to watch Friday the 13th, and frankly, I wasn't really ready for that level of fright at that age (I think I was maybe 6 or 7). This I think is the one factor that primarily determines what scares us -  exactly how much experience do we have with horror? At the age of 7, I certainly didn't have much; my classmates already had experienced much more of the genre than I had. Perhaps I was sheltered, but the Jason I was inclined to watch was of the '& the Argonauts' variety, complete with those fantastic Harryhausen skeletons.  Which if you think about it, is just a different kind of horror - maybe one from a different era, or for a different sensibility, but dead people rising from the grave trying to murder someone? Isn't that kind of the essence of horror?

Shawn Richison 01
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I think it is. And although some folks might love splattergore and others want some psychological terror, there is room for all kinds of horror (and horror fans!) within the confines of the genre. It took me a few years to really begin enjoying things of that ilk - the Friday the 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets. Soon, I graduated to classics like The Exorcist and Amityville Horror. Stephen King and Dean Koontz became some of my favourite authors. More recently, I have really loved stories like Sinister and The Strangers. I admit, I’m not really a big fan of some of the more extreme elements of the genre, but I get that some people really love that, and I am glad that those stories exist for those fans.  And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Maybe some kinds of stories are too extreme for some fans or too tame for others, but let's try to explore all the possibilities. And instead of excluding people for not loving the same horror we do, maybe we should understand what kind of stories compel those other fans of the genre.  At least, that's what I try to do as a storyteller... And I hope that one of the stories that I tell will be one that resonates with you.

Have a happy Halloween, and to all, a good fright!

Shawn Richison is a comic book creator living in Hamilton ON (one of the scariest cities in Canada!) with his wife and two cats.  His current book, FISK: the S.U.B.S.T.I.T.U.T.E., co-created and written by Dino Caruso, about a special agent working for the Board of Education investigating supernatural, extraterrestrial and other spooky phenomenon that threaten the students and faculty in the school system is available now on Kickstarter.

Fisk 01

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