Callum Waterhouse ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Copyedited by Casey Nugent ‘17
October is the time of year to turn off the lights and curl up with something good and scary. While finding a horror movie or television show these days seems to be as easy as closing your eyes and reaching out your hand, good horror comics are a little harder to come by.
To understand why this is, a brief history lesson is in order. Back in the fifties, horror titles like Tales of the Crypt and Vault of Horror were staples of the American comic book industry. However, the excessive violence and grim subject matter of these stories helped to fuel the anti-comics campaign led by Fredric Wertham and other moral guardians of the period. The public outcry led to the comics industry adopting a rigid self-policing agency known as the Comics Code Authority. The Comics Code directly led to creation of the sanitized, kid friendly superhero titles many of us grew up with, while genres like horror comics were wiped out entirely.
Nowadays, things have changed. With the death of the Comics Code in the Eighties, and the rise of creator-owned comics, writers and artists can get away with all kinds of twisted, terrifying stories. Meanwhile, Japan has been producing great horror comics non-stop for the past sixty years, and some of these titles have finally made it into English.
Despite the fact that many writers can craft good horror comics, many of them still rarely choose to. This is because crafting good scares in the comic medium comes with its own set of challenges. As legendary comic writer Scott Snyder pointed out, comics cannot rely on editing or sound like a good film can. Nor can a comic book rely as heavily on the reader’s imagination as prose horror. Snyder expressed his doubts as to weather a great horror comic could even be done. Yet Snyder himself and these other great writers have proven that comic books can disturb, unnerve and even terrify.
So if you are looking for something to scare the pants off you this Halloween, sit back, find a flashlight, and enjoy some of the scariest comics out there right now.
Locke and Key
Written by Joe Hill, Illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Starting with the best of the best, Joe Hill’s family saga of horror has had critical praise ever since it debuted, and deserves every ounce of it.
Locke and Key tells the story of the Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, as they and their mother are forced to move back into their family’s ancestral homestead, a sprawling mansion called Keyhouse, after the murder of their father. Unsurprisingly, Keyhouse is no ordinary home. The house contains several dozen special keys which, when used with the correct door, can do something magical. Also, the house contains a bloodthirsty monster who would do anything to get the power lying behind one of those doors. Still, they will never have to worry about closet space.
What makes Locke and Key so effective is that beneath the horror lies a family drama worthy of Proust. The characters do not feel like mere engines for the plot, they feel like people who we’ve come to know well. And that just makes it all the more terrifying when there is a crazed killer with a knife to one of their throats.
Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, Illustrated by Attila Futaki
Severed is a comic that stands apart from its peers. The horror Snyder, Tuft and Futaki craft is one that sticks with you.
At the start of the comic, in 50s America, Jack Garron informs the reader that he tells people he lost his arm in the war, because the truth is “just too horrible.” The story then flashes back to 1916, where a twelve-year-old Jack runs away from home to track down his long-lost father. Jack soon sets out on a road trip across old America, while the whole time he is doggedly pursued by some-thing with razor sharp teeth.
Attila Futaki’s breathtaking full-color illustrations make this tale of murder and cannibalism look like an oil painting. Together with Snyder and Tuft’s prose, they capture the beauty of the American landscape and the unyielding horror that lies beneath. The result is a story about growing up that will remember in your fondest nightmares.
Written by Garth Ennis, Illustrated by Jacen Burrows
Crossed is what happened when Garth Ennis picked up a copy of The Walking Dead one day and decided, “You know what, this concept could make a damn good comic. If only it wasn’t so tame.” And thus, we get Crossed, a comic series that crosses every line you can think of and a few you probably did not want to think about.
The story is your basic zombie apocalypse scenario with a big twist. Instead of becoming mindless, shambling monsters, those infected with the “crossed virus” maintain their intelligence but are consumed by the urge to act out their most violent, gruesome fantasies. The story follows various groups of survivors as they navigate a world that makes zombie infested Georgia look like a tropical paradise.
Beneath all of torture, mutilation and bloodshed, there are great characters and a truly inspired story about mankind pushed to its limits. However, this one comes with a huge content warning. If there is anything, and we do mean anything that you are not comfortable looking at in full-color, stay far, far away from Crossed!
Written and Illustrated by Junji Ito
Not to be confused with the name of a certain spiky-haired ninja. If you are looking for horror that will unsettle you without relying on the usually blood and gore, Uzumaki is some of the best there is. Just do not say we did not warn you when you are lying awake at night.
The story of Uzumaki, follows high schooler Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Shuichi. Our two heroes live in the small Japanese village of Kurôzu-cho. The town suffers from an unusual curse—a curse of spirals. Spirals appear in objects and on people’s bodies, and begin driving several residents insane. Kirie and Shuichi begin trying desperately to escape the curse and discover what is behind it all; but have you ever known an investigation into a Lovercraftian force that went well?
Uzumaki may not be as fast paced as some of the other entries on this list, but it is by far one of the most unsettling. It paces itself like a mystery while looking like a peek into a madman’s brain. Not for those with weak stomachs!
Written by A. J. Lieberman, Illustrated by Colin Lorimer
As anyone who has watched The Walking Dead can tell you, the scariest thing in this world are the people in it. That is the mentality behind A. J. Lieberman’s medical-horror series about the black-market organ trade.
When Dr. Benjamin Dane’s medical career is destroyed by his own addiction, he finds himself stumbling into the arms Jason Craven, a blood-soaked kingpin of human organ trafficking. After making his deal with the devil, Dane is forced to help stitch up those who buy Craven’s organs and to “repossess” the organs of those who fail to make the payments. There are no good guys in this story, only a bunch of men digging their own graves.
Strongly recommended for anyone who has ever been afraid of hospitals, this comic knows just how much shock to throw at you without diluting the effect. Throw in a few Yakuza assassins and a young boy who may as well be Doogie Howser’s evil twin and you have a bloody good time.
Written by Joshua Williamson, Illustrated by Mike Henderson
The newest entry on this list, Nailbiter is more of a slow-burning mystery than a horror story, but it still knows how to pile on the scares. Williamson lays down a careful web of intrigue and bloodshed. Before you can realize what is happening, you will be completely sucked into his story about a town where everyone is related to a killer.
Nailbiter is set in the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon, which has become the birthplace of sixteen serial killers over the last century. The plot starts off when NSA agent Nicholas Finch gets a call from his former partner, Carroll, informing Finch that he has discovered the secret of why Buckaroo has produced so many murderers. When Finch arrives in Buckaroo, however, he finds that Carroll is missing and he is forced to work with a small town sheriff and a notorious serial killer to help find him.
Williamson knows the formula for a good mystery and, more importantly, he knows how to spice it up. In addition to the drum-skin tight story, he brings a level of winking self-awareness to the action that helps this title rise above the crowd of murder mystery titles. We, for one, are very excited to see how this story ends.