There’s some debate as to when the Halloween season officially begins. Some Halloween hounds start prepping at the beginning of August, while others straight up laugh in the face of any rhyme or reason and pull out their plastic skeletons on July 5th.
Look, I don’t want to tell anyone when to celebrate St. Spook’s Day, but I’ve been walking this walk for the past two decades. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Samhain, it’s that you can get Halloween’d out if you start too early. It’s like being so excited for dessert that you start stuffing your face with Famous Amos cookies before you even leave for the restaurant. Slow down, chaps, and enjoy the ride.
A lot of fans – myself included – like to wait for annual signs of the season, like boxes of Count Chocula popping up at Target or the Lemax Spooky Town hitting Michael’s. As much as we want to sprint into All Hallow’s Eve, it’s so much more rewarding to let it creep up on us, like a masked serial killer hiding behind an enormous bag of black-and-orange M&Ms.
Everyone has their own unique Halloween Harbinger, that one thing that tells them, “Once you see me, there’s no going back.” Mine is local, approximately 30 pages long, and is completely freaking free.
I’m talking about the Fear Finder.
Damn, I love this rag.
The Fear Finder is, in simplest terms, one long newspaper ad section, only with coupons for places with names like “Slaughtered At Sundown” instead of your friendly neighborhood Piggly Wiggly. Just page after page of advertisements exclusively for Halloween-themed attractions, parties, costume stores, apple orchards, and pumpkin patches throughout Michigan.
The creators also throw in a full-page essay on the history of a particular Halloween topic, which adds a hint of investigative journalistic legitimacy to the FF. It’s not much, but they’re still a very welcome, trivia-friendly addition. I’ve always wanted to write one, by the way, so…hey, if you’re reading this, Fear Finder publisher Edward Terebus, consider this my audition.
On one hand, the ads completely make this ‘zine, especially if you’re into haunted attractions. Flipping through the Fear Finder is like walking through the “Horror” section of an old mom-and-pop video store. Each ad is trying to prove that it’s the scariest, resulting in some of the most bizarre and campy art you’ll ever find on newsprint paper.
The ads are what allow the Fear Finder to exist, so for that, I am eternally grateful to every haunted house and hayride that contributes. That being said, as lame as this will sound, that’s not why this freebie paper holds such a special place in my pumpkin-scented heart. No, what really makes the Fear Finder such a treasure is that balls-to-the-wall cover art!
Every year since I believe it’s inception, local Michigan artist Steve Shipp has been conjuring up some of the most detailed and downright atmospheric illustrations to grace the cover of the Fear Finder. His art has become so beloved in the Greater Detroit area that some Halloween stores even sell poster-sized prints of them.
Shipp’s Halloween art works best when he’s constructing a familiar fall scene with a supernatural twist, like this piece from 2016. This poor schmuck is just trying to enjoy his hot cider and cinnamon donut at his favorite local pumpkin patch, but those pesky pumpkin scarecrow demons just won’t let him. Haven’t we all been there once or twice in our pathetic mortal lives?
Real talk though, from the almost-nostalgic orchard setting right down to the guy’s jacket and beanie, you’ve been there before. There’s a chill in the air, crunching leaves under your feet, and you’re just looking for a pumpkin without a huge brown dent in it, dammit. It’s incredible. Hang this in the Louvre, cowards.
Every piece has been consistently impressive, but some stand out to me more than others. 2019’s edition is no exception, and…yeah, honestly, this may be one of my new favorites. There’s so much going on and it all just works so well together!
Let’s break it down.
Ahh, yes. That’s my cuppa tea.
Looks like the exact same sap from 2016’s eldridge pumpkin patch is just trying to take his kids (step-kids? nieces and nephews? students on a field trip?) trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, and man, the night couldn’t have been more perfect. I mean, a full moon on Halloween night? Someone left out milk and cookies for Michael Myers and got a wish!
Blonde Middle-Aged Protagonist obviously didn’t shirk on his costume duties, either. In fact, it looks like he designed and produced a cosplay based on his OC, Fear-Finder Man. Judging objectively, from where I’m sitting, it looks San Diego Comic-Con floor-worthy. This man clearly hasn’t let the horrific events of 2016 get the better of his Halloween-loving spirit.
His three kids look slightly more generic, but in the best of ways. We’ve got Eddie Munster up front, decked out as a classic Legosi Dracula complete with a widow’s peak that looks a bit troubling for a fourth grader. His ginger-headed friend behind him clearly has cooler parents who let him watch Friday the 13th Part 3 at a young age, as he’s dressed up as that movie’s version of Jason Voorhees.
The girl behind the trio, however, is wearing…something I can’t place. It looks like a deep magenta robe with an Ebenezer Scrooge-styled nightcap, so it’s entirely possible that her parents just gave her some old bedsheets and told her to figure it out. Either that or she’s the Strawberry Technicolor Phantom from The Scooby-Doo Show, which warms my heart.
So Fear-Finder Man and his merry band of 80s-movie protagonists appear to have had quite the successful night! Look at his vintage jack-o-lantern pail, it’s filled to the brim! And this ain’t one of those one-dollar pails that get filled up after a three-house walk, either. This thing is twice the size of a grown man’s head. This crew has been hustling.
They only have one house to go, and as luck would have it, it’s the rickety old Cape Cod at the edge of town. It’s supposedly been haunted since Fear-Finder Man was a boy, but hey, the lights are on inside, and there’s even a freshly carved jack-o-lantern on the porch! Maybe whoever lives there is giving away those little packets of Kool-Aid’s instant Ghoul-Aid?
The steps leading up to the front porch creak under the kid’s weight. The sun-damaged paint on the door is peeling off, but there’s no doorbell, so they risk a few quick knocks before going through the old “trick-or-treat” song and dance. Fear-Finder Man watches from down on the sidewalk, looking through his pail for a 3 Musketeers.
But his casual search for nougat is loudly interrupted by the sound of a door slamming open and the unholy chorus of children’s terrified screams! Towering in the doorframe, silhouetted by the flames of Hell, gripping his iconic butcher knife, stands The Shape!
Shipp, you mad son of a gun. Don’t try to tell me that that isn’t Michael A. Myers standing there. Even without being able to see the mask, there’s no denying it. You’ve captured his imposing stature too a damn tee. Brilliant.
The four doomed souls (and in fact, hey, we can’t be sure there weren’t five before The Shape opened the door) book it from the house, barely noticing the decrepit man dressed in a clown costume so shiny that it must be fresh from the package. A rotten hand removes the mask to reveal The Crypt Keeper’s older, slimier brother, who we’ll just call The Grave Gossiper. This nightmarish narrator then turns to the audience before pointing at the scene and going, “You guys seein’ this shit?”
Yes. I have no doubt that that’s exactly the story that was going through Shipp’s head as he drew this up. It’s canon, guys. Part of the wider Fear Finder Cinematic Universe.
Anyway, that’s my little shout-out to Steve Shipp and the ghoulish art that kickstarts every fall here in the Mitten State. I don’t know when the rest of you will begin enjoying the freaky fruits of the Halloween season, but I’ve already seen the sign. It’s officially time for pumpkin patches, Halloween stores, monster movies, hayrides, roadtrips, and waiting until the last minute to come up with a decent costume. This really is my absolute favorite time of year, folks, and it always feels so damn short! Enjoy it while it’s here!