Our standards are firmly in place. Like veering away from Starbucks to try a new, Mom & Pop coffeehouse, or opting for a period, Danish-language film when one could just watch another episode of The IT Crowd, it often takes a strong tug of the leash to venture away from our favourite fire hydrant, no matter how bright and shiny our favourite is. Holiday seasons especially bring about a kind of good ol’ stand-by comfort. The paths of tradition and convention are followed innately and without question, usually with good reason. The standards are so because they are simply the best. We love and revere our fave films, fabled tales and customary characters during Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, just because your BFF is sitting at the head of the holiday table, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun talking to the new kid at dinner … in this case, The Halloween Kid.
Peanuts, The Addams Family, Ichabod Crane, Jack Skellington, Edgar Allan Poe et al, be they fictive or not, rest dearly within our hearts, year after year as Hallowe’en rumbles down the block, announcing the start of the full, holiday season. For some of us, these cherished characters and their creators continue to stick around, well after the Christmas trees are down and the New Year’s glitter has worn. As much as we love Snoopy and the gang, it is nice to widen our circle of friends and invite in others, sometimes. Rhode Montijo has moved into town and his Halloween kid is a rough ‘n’ ready, mummy-bustin’, vampire-quashin’, werewolf-vanquishin’ rowdy boy born in the oh-so-American vein of Howdy Doody and Spin and Marty: a now-kitchy, black-and-white, kid-cowboy drama made popular on the original The Mickey Mouse Club. Montijo’s The Halloween Kid is a joyful, pleasing blend of the 1940s/’50s cowboy craze and man’s timeless terrors hiding under the bed, in the back of the closet, up in the attic and down the alley.
For centuries, Hallowe’en has been a celebration of autumn harvest and a time to let loose before a punishing winter can set in with surprising speed and brutality. Hallowe’en is also the one night of the year the spirits may cross over from the netherworld and mingle with the mortals and muggles, like a great, spooky cocktail party. We, as said-mortals and -muggles play dress-up in our best efforts to confuse the spirits and protect our souls. In our contemporary day, Hallowe’en and all its accompanying fright nights leading up to October 31st can, sometimes, go a tad far for some, where the realm of gore and purposeful, obligatory, instigated terror are concerned.
Modern psychology deems that our psyches and we, in our cozy, comfy, cushy 21stC. lives of heated BMW seats and Peet’s organic coffee, need a little cage-rattling now and then. Hence, there exists the quizzical, überpopular appeal of zombies and serial killers as subject matter: note The Walking Dead, True Blood, The Originals, Game of Thrones. All quality productions with unarguably impressive fanbases. Nevertheless, the table is somewhat crowded with voracious zombies, mythical Barbarians and ravenous vampires; it’s nice to keep seats open for not just Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead‘s exec. prod./SFX designer) and Bill Johnson (The Originals‘ SFX makeup artists), but the traditional likes of Walt Disney, Charles Schulz and, now, Rhode Montijo.
For this girl’s take, I find it wonderful that Hallowe’en has become a welcome domain for adults. Some of us have never outgrown the joy of October and, unlike many a day past, those of us whom have transferred the holiday to adulthood can find far more ephemera and moral support today for our spooky penchant. Even so, some enthusiasts might take Halloween to an uncomfortable level, especially for neighborhood children. When trick-or-treating is just too terrifying for the tiniest of fairy princesses and fearsome pirates, your decorations might be too much.
Case in point: enthusiastic homeowners in the Minnesota suburb of Eden Prairie have been asked to remove some of their more realistically disturbing designs, including a bloody torso in a cauldron, a hanging man and a headless corpse. It seems to be a bit much for the wee ones in the neighborhood. Local police, though, state there is no ordinance forbidding such special effects. Maybe the neighbors draw the drapes, light some candles and read The Halloween Kid instead.
Besides the Leave it to Beaver, rolled-up jeans, all-American, good-time tale of good vs. evil in The Halloween Kid, Montijo’s happy style of illustrations, kind of a Candy Corn-meets-Dennis the Menace, is pure visual contentment. Pages of goblins, ghosties and suburban streets full of kids dressed as clowns, superheroes and pirates await you: Hallowe’en at its Americana best! If you met someone from, say, Siberia or Mars and they said, “Vhat ees zis Halloveen?”, (Yes, they have Eastern European accents on Mars.) to best describe it, you might invite them to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Hocus Pocus, then give them copies of Halloween by Jerry Seinfeld and The Halloween Kid by Rhode Montijo.
Now, after you’ve read The Halloween Kid to your Hallowe’en kid, or to yourself over a very figgy-noted bottle of Black Mountain Fat Cat Cabernet Sauvignon, the book deserves a key spot amongst your holiday décor. Leave it closed on a side table with a glowing candle nearby, or open it to your fave page; mine is the Giant Miami Werewolf, natch, being Miami-born. The best thing about Montijo’s charming black-and-orange artwork? There are bushels more available at his website: portraiture of Victorian Jack o’ Lantern ladies, orphaned skeletons to adopt, art postcards, children’s books, the comic book adventures of Pablo’s Inferno and even antique jars of “Wind for Indoor Kite Flying” and various Halloween Kid related goodies.
Besides The Halloween Kid, my fave bit of Montijo is a fleeting bit of fantasy which, sadly, eludes me online. Fortunate enough to have met and spoken with the elusive Rhode Montijo at San Diego Comic-Con this year, he told me the inspiration behind a certain artwork. It is a giant, friendly sort of pumpkin-moon with glowing, orange eyes and a chipper glowing, orange smile; the rest of the pumpkin-moon is painted all the beautiful colours of The X-Files: blacks, pewters and navy-blues, all set against a starry, stormy, autumn night. The piece is, in his words, Montijo’s “vision of what The Great Pumpkin looks like as he’s coming to town”. Splendid! (Mr. Montijo, if it comes available again, before next year’s SDCC, please do LMK @JennyPopNet!)
Fortunate I was indeed, to chat with Mr. Montijo at SDCC, as he is a bit like a Republican at WeedCon: out there, but hard to find. Even according to the official Montijo website, “Very little is known about children’s book author and illustrator, Rhode Montijo; he was discovered at the front steps of the Elden Library.”
Were I able to chat with Mr. Montijo again, I would thank him for a cherished new addition to my treasured collection of Hallowe’en books. May The Halloween Kid feel right at home, in our home, with Poe’s raven, Morticia and Gomez, The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror comic books, Cranberry Halloween, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Seinfeld’s Halloween, The Teeny, Tiny Witches, Cinderella Skeleton and so many more of my fave, autumnal friends of childhood as well as my childlike adulthood. (I suppose I can tell him at next year’s Comic-Con … if he appears.)
As The Halloween Kid exclaims, “Y’all keep trick-or-treatin’ now, ya hear? Yee-Ha-lloween!”
For a full list of JennyPop’s fave Halloween films, TV specials and books … voila!
Follow or Tweet @JennyPopNet #Halloweenbooks #TheHalloweenKid #RhodeMontijo
Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?