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Some people take a softer approach to Halloween: their celebrations begin and end with carving pumpkins and stringing up skeleton decorations, or consist of sipping mugs of apple cider and wandering through corn mazes. But, for braver folks, Halloween is all about the more terrifying activities—watching horror movies, or going to haunted houses. In this intensely scary world, spooky rituals provide a safe way to express and learn to master fear. For the cover of the October 30, 2023, issue, Mark Ulriksen used a staircase to represent the seasonal return of a holiday much beloved by kids and adults alike. I talked to the artist about his favorite Halloween memories and activities.
Did you enjoy scary books or movies as a child? Do you enjoy them now?
The scariest books I read as a kid were the Hardy Boys series, where every chapter ended with me frightened for my heroes Frank and Joe Hardy. But I was a huge fan of monster movies and making monster models—Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Phantom of the Opera. And I still binge on monster movies this time of year.
What are your strongest memories of Halloween as a child or as a parent?
One year, my little brother dropped his bag of candy into a sewer drain and wanted to make up for it by trick-or-treating the following night (didn’t happen). A memorable costume from when I was about ten was when my mom dressed me up as the Wolf Man, complete with hair glued onto my hands and knuckles that was extremely painful to remove.
My main memory of trick-or-treating as a parent was the inevitable task of finding a bathroom for our youngest daughter, typically at some kind stranger’s home.
Your children are grown up. Do you still celebrate—and, if so, do you prefer to stay home for trick-or-treaters, or to go out?
Given that San Francisco is a comparatively childless city, we hardly ever get trick-or-treaters. But we do typically carve pumpkins the day before; and, on Halloween, once it gets dark, we’ll walk the dog to one particular street in our neighborhood that goes big-time bonkers for the holiday. It’s always a mob scene. We people-watch, then return home to watch our family’s favorite comedy, “Young Frankenstein.”
See below for more covers about Halloween:
“October 31, 1983,” by Charles Addams
“Dressed Down,” by Ivan Brunetti
“Leaf Peepers,” by Liniers
Find Mark Ulriksen’s covers, cartoons, and more at the Condé Nast Store.