The following is an interview with Danny Baram regarding the recent release of the comic book series, Halloween Team. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Baram about the shared creative process of working with artist Matt Shults to bring the story and characters to life, what he hopes that readers may take away from the story, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of Halloween Team! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise?
Danny Baram: Thank you! Our fourth and final issue released on June 20th, and this is the culmination of a couple years of work on this book. In particular, our talented artist Matt Shults has been really plugging away, doing pencils, inks, colors, covers, and letters. That’s pretty rare when creating a comic book, but Matt has really been a jack of all trades here – all while producing some amazing art.
As for the premise of Halloween Team, here it is in a nutshell: Years ago, five misfit kids banded together to form Halloween Team – a group dedicated to solving mysteries and hunting monsters in the small town of Greenwood, MA. Now, twenty years later, the kids are grown and lead separate lives – until a new mystery brings them together for one more adventure.
Basically, the goal here was to create a fun, spooky, genre-bending adventure – that also happens to have a lot to say about young adulthood and what it’s like to be a Millennial here in 2023. Some of the inspiration came from the old Nickelodeon TV show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? I was a huge fan of that series growing up, and began to wonder what happened to those kids as they got older. After all, they had such a cool childhood – gathering with friends every weekend, sitting around a campfire and telling scary stories … what could be better? I thought about those kids, and wondered what if they hadn’t just been gathering to tell scary stories, but also to solve mysteries? What if their small New England town had all kinds of supernatural threats that only this team of misfit kids could solve? And what if years go by, and the kids are now adults, and they’ve sort of gone their separate ways and in some cases now live much more boring, mundane lives than they used to? And what if, eventually, one more mystery brings them together after so many years apart? So that’s one example of one of the many pop-culture influences on this book. But there are also a lot of other big ideas that come into play. For example, there’s a lot in Halloween Team about nostalgia, and how we remember our childhoods in a sometimes idealized manner. And there’s a lot in the book about that stage in your life when maybe you’re in your 30s and feeling stuck and wondering if it’s too late to make the life for yourself that you really want.
So, there are these sort of big recurring themes – but also demons and cults and magic and action. If you’re a fan of stuff like Stranger Things or Buffy, I think you’ll dig it!
BD: What can you tell us about your shared creative process in working with artist Matt Shults to bring this story to life, and what have been some of your creative influences?
DB: Working with Matt was a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. We initially connected on a social media forum designed to link up comic book writers and artists. I had written the scripts for all four issues of Halloween Team, and was looking for a great artist who could also be a true collaborator on the book – helping to design the characters, the logo … Someone who really had a distinct style that could sort of define the book. I could tell from talking to Matt that he’d do a great job with all of the above. He does, in fact, have a very unique art style – it wasn’t necessarily what I’d originally pictured, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt right for this story. Like I said, a lot of the book deals with the theme of childhood nostalgia – and Matt’s expressive art on one hand evokes a classic Saturday morning cartoon-style aesthetic, while also, in its own way, having a bit of a moody edge. Matt and I spent a lot of time initially just working on the character designs – especially since we really wanted to nail both the kid and adult versions of each team member. And I’ll give a shout out, too, to our logo, which I really love. It was so important, I think, to get that right. But I’m such a fan of it that we actually made T-shirts with the logo available on the Design By Humans apparel site (a perfect pre-Halloween gift!). After that initial conceptual phase though, Matt had pretty much free reign to interpret the scripts as he saw fit. We’d have back and forth conversations whenever a question or issue came up, but those were usually pretty minor. Suffice it to say, Matt really needs to be snatched up by Marvel or DC or Image, because he’s a fantastic artist and it shows throughout the four issue of Halloween Team.
I will say, though, this was the first comic book I’ve written and seen through to completion (To date, a lot of my writing focus has been on screenplays for film & TV.) – and the cliché really is true that there’s nothing cooler as a writer than seeing the art come in for your script. I couldn’t wait to see how the art turned out for each of our four issues, and would eagerly show it off to whoever happened to be around me at the time.
In terms of my own creative influences, I’m hugely influenced by comic book writers who are able to do big, epic, imaginative stories that also include comedy and banter and satire. Brian K. Vaughan is one of my writing heroes, and Y: The Last Man was a game-changer for me in terms of how I thought about comic books. I’m a big Robert Kirkman fan, and his work on books like Invincible has been a big creative influence. Matt Fraction, too, and what he did with Hawkeye in particular. Kelly Thompson is one of my current favorites. She’s the master of witty banter on superhero books like Black Widow and Captain Marvel. It’s funny, because I’ve been a huge comic book fanatic for my entire life, and there’s definitely a clear comic book influence on all of the film and TV scripts I write. Inevitably, there in turn is a film and TV influence on Halloween Team – especially true since it started life as a TV pilot. But over time, I realized I’d written the pilot in a way that was heavily, heavily influenced by some of my favorite comic books – so it felt natural to re-adapt it into a comic book miniseries.
One other thing I will say: Something I really admire about a writer like Brian K. Vaughan is how accessible his books are, even when they deal with far-out concepts. When you look at Saga, for example, it’s got a huge, galaxy-spanning sci-fi premise, but the main characters are still very grounded and real-feeling. For that reason, it’s an easy book to give to a non-comics reader as sort of an entry point into comics. I often try to emulate that in my own writing. And it’s why, even though Halloween Team is a self-published indie book, I still believe that it’s very accessible and has a real wide-appeal feel to it. Longtime comic fans and newbies alike will, I hope, really enjoy it.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that the group’s story will connect with and impact readers?
DB: As was mentioned, Halloween Team deals with a lot of crazy, supernatural stuff – but the goal was also to keep the main characters very grounded and real-seeming. A lot of the story came from a place of being in my 30s and looking around at my friends and peers and realizing how different of a place everyone seemed to be in. Some people were married with kids, others still pretty much acting the same as when they were 25. Especially these days, it feels like it can be difficult to know if you’re in a good place, to know if you’ve made the right amount of progress in life. And it’s so easy to feel stuck – where even if you want to grow and change, you keep hitting these brick walls. In the first issue of our book, we start by introducing Tommy – who’s sort of the gateway character here. And we see that Tommy is stuck – he’s working at a monotonous desk job where he’s undervalued and underpaid. He’s in an endless loop of online dating. And he’s not sure exactly where he went wrong. I guess it’s kind of the cliché of the Millennial who’s having trouble “adulting.” But it’s a cliché because it’s something that I think so many of us actually go through and stress about. And that then leads to the open question here, because in Tommy’s mind he thinks if he can just get his old team back together, everything will be perfect. But is that really the case? And was his childhood really even as perfect as he likes to think? So, that’s one example of a character journey that really delves into some real-life issues and questions that are hopefully relatable. On the other end of the spectrum, you have a character like Casey – who we see more of starting in Issue #2. She’s moved out of her small town and is living in New York City – where she’s learned magic and has become a legit sorcerer and spellcaster. So, she’s achieved something really amazing, and become very powerful in a certain way, in a way that’s almost scary and intimidating. So, there’s a flipside to it, because she’s lost something, too. She’s closed herself off from other people and put all her focus into mastering this one thing. And that thing has a bit of a dark side. So, she and Tommy, even though at one point they were best friends – they’ve now gone in very different directions. Personally, I moved away from a small town in CT to live in Los Angeles and doggedly pursue a career in the entertainment industry. So, there are aspects of me in both of these characters, and in other members of the team, too. And I’m kind of using them all to grapple with different questions I have about what it means to grow up and try to live the life you want to live.
I’ll also say that it was really important to me that Halloween Team have a diverse cast of characters. Not only are the characters in different places in each of their lives, but they all come from very different backgrounds. We touch on some of this in this miniseries, but if we get to do more Halloween Team, there are certainly a lot of things I’d want to explore further. There’s so much potential to go deeper with these characters and each of their unique identities, which represent a number of various cultures, religions, and sexual orientations. And I think a fun thing with that is not just representation for the sake of representation (which is important!), but also the fact that it opens up so many interesting story possibilities. In any case, I hope that readers will find someone or something they really relate to or connect with in this book.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the series into subsequent story arcs or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
DB: To the above point – yes, the dream would be to tell much more of this story! When we’re talking about a self-published, self-funded book – it’s tough because, realistically, you’ve got to keep the scope somewhat limited in order to make it feasible to get the comic out there. But in my ideal scenario, Halloween Team could go on and on. This miniseries is the story of how the team gets back together after so many years apart. It tells a complete story, in a sense – but it also leaves you with some big questions as to the future of the team. So, the door was very intentionally left open. If I had my way, an ongoing version of Halloween Team would have an X-Files-like cadence, where we alternate between bigger “mythology” story-arcs and more one-off, mystery-of-the-month type stories. So, I’d absolutely love to have the opportunity to expand on these four issues. That’s why reader support is so appreciated. The more noise we can make around the book now, the better shot we’ll have at continuing it down the line. And as far as adapting Halloween Team for other mediums … I mean, it did start life as a TV pilot, so I’d definitely be open to it. That said, I know comic book fans are wary – often with good reason – of comics that seem made solely as a marketing tool to attract the attention of TV or movie producers. To me, I think the key is to make a comic book because you have a passion for comic books. Writing comic books has been a lifelong dream for me, and I hope that shows with this book. And hey, if anything else comes of that, then that’s just the icing on the cake.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
DB: Right now, in terms of comic books, Halloween Team is my main focus. I’m doing everything I can to promote the book and get the word out, and I have one or two ideas to make a little bit of additional noise as we get closer to Halloween, as well – so stay tuned. But I’m also hopeful that this book can be a calling card for myself and for our artist Matt Shults, as well. I’d love to do more comic book writing, be it for my own characters or for already-established ones. So far, the response to Halloween Team has been pretty positive – and it’s led to a few interesting conversations – so we’ll see. I’d love it if this can help lead to more work in comics. I’ve also got a few things cooking on the film and TV side of things – more to come soon!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Halloween Team and your other work?
DB: Readers can follow me on Twitter at @DannyBaram, and follow Halloween Team’s official account on Twitter – @HalloweenTeam22 – or follow Halloween Team on Facebook. You can now purchase all four issues of the book digitally, on Amazon/Comixology or via GlobalComix. Here’s a link to our page on Amazon.
If you read and enjoy Halloween Team, be sure to leave us a good review, and, of course, tell your friends! We really appreciate any and all support.