Callum Waterhouse ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Story and Art by Mike Walton
Horror comics were once a staple of the American comic book industry. These came mostly in the form of anthology series, such as Vault of Horror or Tales of the Crypt Keeper. Comic fans of that era often have fond memories of rushing to the comic shop every month to see what demented pleasures the Crypt Keeper was serving up each issue.
After the American comic book industry abolished its content restrictions in the mid nineties, horror comics have been experiencing something of a renaissance. However, it has mostly come in long form series like The Walking Dead and Locke and Key. While these series have provided some of the best entertainment in recent memory, there are still some fans who long for the days of the horror anthologies that used serve as the bread and butter for publishing houses like Entertainment Comics.
Thankfully, writer and artist Mike Walton has come along to fill this particular niche with his webcomic anthology False Positive. The series captures the spirit of those old EC Comics anthology series better than any comic or film in recent memory. Unfortunately, False Positive has replicated this formula so well it has also brought with it the flaws that held many of the old horror series back in the first place.
There are some uncomfortable truths to be told about so called “classic horror comics.” Since most of these series became the poster children for comic censorship killing good writing, there is a tendency by fans to look at the old EC Comics lineup with a generous nostalgia filter. When looking back on these comics with a modern lens, however, it becomes clear that these comics were more interested in consistently shocking readers than actually scaring them. Yes, there was the odd story here and there that provided genuine chills, but for the most part, coming up with gory imagery and shocking plot twists took precedent over narrative cohesion.
This same mentality carries over into False Positive. It is regularly shocking, intermittently entertaining, but it is rarely ever scary. And for something that advertises as horror, that is a very grave sin indeed.
Credit where it is due, Walton does take full advantage of the format of an anthology series. Besides a few recurring monsters that occasionally pop back up, there is no connective tissue between each of the individual stories. Not only does the length of the stories change from one to the next, but also the tone, setting and genre. One story might be set in feudal Japan, the next one set abroad a space ship in the far future. One story might be a long atmospheric ode to H. P. Lovecraft, the next might be a dark comedy full of gallows humor. Among its problems, you could never accuse False Positive for a lack of variety.
It would be futile to try and asses the quality of each story individually, so here are a few highlights. Yolk is a rich and atmospheric tale of a Samurai looking for some supernatural aid in his quest for revenge. Seance is a lovely Victorian ghost story about a group of gentleman who try to summon a dead relative, and end up conjuring more than they bargained for. Frenzy is a darkly brilliant combination of the pulp-detective and cosmic horror genres. It is the story of a private investigator who takes on a simple missing persons case and gets in way over his head with some supernatural cultists. Lastly, Specimen is a brilliant and bloody homage to director John Carpenter’s classic film The Thing. Between those stories, you should get a fairly good idea of whether or not you will like this comic.
However, for each of the stories that offers atmosphere, tension and original ideas, there is often two more that offer nothing but cheap shocks, mindless gore and nonsensical twists. One story actually ends with a variation on the “it was all just a dream” twist. Another story ends when a person with a gun bursts into the room and kills all of the other participants. Raymond Chandler would be proud.
So yes, like many anthology series, the overall quality is a bit of a crapshoot. This concerns both the writing and the artwork. Walton’s line-work has a unique look that implies that he leaves many of the rough lines of his early sketches in the final product. This has the effect of making the things he draws up close and with lots of detail look stunning in its verisimilitude, but making the less detailed, further away objects look unpolished and sloppy. Fortunately, the art does make up for itself at times with some expressive use of color and a few truly inventive creature designs.
False Positive is not a perfect series, but it is a great deal of fun. This is partly because the short length of most of the stories, along with the anthology format makes it easy to pick up and put down. The good stories are quite good and even the bad stories usually offer at least one or two interesting visuals. False Positive is less like a classic book of ghost stories than it is a ride through a carnival haunted house. If you go in hoping to have the pants scarred off you, you will be probably feel like your time has been wasted. However, if you just want a short, fun ride, you will not leave disappointed.