Despite being one of the most versatile storytelling media in modern culture, with roots in the genre stretching further back than superheroes, comic books have had difficulty capturing horror lately.
Is it because of changes in sensibilities of the audience? Or maybe the creators? Is it due to limitations of the storytelling method? Does the very nature of scanning a page, glancing at it, before reading it lessen the content’s impact?
We’re not talking about your thrillers like From Hell
, dramas like the Walking Dead
, or shockers like Crossed
— those aren’t truly horrific. We’re talking about the comics that make you dread turning a page, that make you fear for the protagonists as well as your own well-being.
Many comics purport to consist of horror, while few actually do it well. Here’re some newer stories that are likely to cause a nightmare or four.
Locke & Key
By Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, Jay Fotos, and Robbie Robbins
You’ve probably heard of Gabriel Rodriguez and Joe Hill’s now-classic horror about a house and the family who lives there. Rodriguez's slick rendering of adolescence works well as a coming-of-age story, until you realize the Locke kids’ new home also hosts plenty of supernatural activity that wants to murder everyone.
Horror runs through the writer’s veins, and Hill employs both psychological and paranormal themes throughout the series, beginning with the Locke children’s arrival to Keyhouse and the journey of afflicted serial-killer Sam Lesser. Jay Fotos colors over Rodriguez's seemingly impossible lines; both serve to give life to the children and their vibrancy, while creating an ominous sense of dread in the framing, scene selection, and architecture of Keyhouse.
The Locke & Key
audiobooks from Audible are also wonderful, but if this is your first time experiencing this horror series, start with the first volume of the comic. Then time yourself on how long it takes you to return to the comic shop to pick up Vol. 2.
By Nicole Goux and Dave Baker
and on Comixology
An experimental indie triumph, Suicide Forest
is the size of a graphic novel while requiring half the time to digest. Comic book and sequential storytelling tends to rely on the relationship between layouts, page turns, and pacing. Suicide Forest
utilizes a fixed view throughout the series, utilizing a double-page splash for every scene.
The splash centers on a little girl’s room in the middle of the night as she sleeps, with each page turn fueling the tense, horrific, and brief narrative. Each page turn brings a short passage of time and subtle changes on the page. Small inciting moments lead to momentous action, indicated by unobtrusive lettering.
Nicole Goux and (former Arizonan) Dave Baker’s foray into horror is a worthy read just to see how effective this simple approach is in building tension and paying off, as many great horror stories do. It’s not something that could be replicated or expanded on without being derivative, but the concept was executed perfectly and is definitely worthy of a read.
The Sleep of Reason
Iron Circus Comics
From indie comics powerhouse Iron Circus and mastermind Spike Trotman, this anthology title brings together amazing creators for some unconventional, imaginative terror.
None of the tales feature familiar monsters such as zombies or vampires, and all of them tend to dwell in a weirder realm. But Trotman’s collection brings together great works from Carla Speed McNeil, Blue Delliquanti, and Jay Edidin of the popular X-Plain the X-Men
Iron Circus Comics is one of the best publishers churning out sequentials today. Their embrace of the oft-overlooked anthology format gives greater opportunity for fans to find new work while challenging creators to work within specific parameters.
Read on for more from Dark Horse and Terry Moore.