Horror Comics, Not Just for Halloween Anymore

Halloween is great. If it was still socially acceptable for me to trick-or-treat, I would. It’s also a time of year when most media gets a little spooOOooOokier for the season. Well some people (read:me) like getting scared year round. Horror comics are a tricky thing. Slasher movies get away with being called “scary” because a monster jumping out of a corner will ALWAYS scare you. It’s science. But a comic book doesn’t have the luxury of moving images. We must provide our own closure to realize those jumbled pictures actually tell a story. Because of this, the writer must make the reader experience real fear and panic just through the images conjured by the writing (and art). Generally, the more conclusions you have to draw yourself, the more terrifying the comic will be. I’ve compiled a short list of some of the greatest currently in the genre. For the most part, these comics are available every month, perfect for those of you that hate sleep.
The Walking Dead
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Publisher: Image Comics
Creative Team: Robert Kirkman (writer) Charlie Adlard (penciller)
Number of issues to catch up on: 114 (worth it…)
I realize writing a comic post about The Walking Dead today is akin to saying, “Oh you like soda? Have you tried this brand called Coke?” But for the dozen or so that haven’t at least heard about it, allow me to pull you out from under that rock. The Walking Dead is, at its core, a comic book about zombies. But as you read you find that this is about the undead in the way Animal Farm is about pigs. Dig a little deeper and you find that the walking corpses are sometimes the least of protagonist Rick Grimes’ worries. Kirkman strips away societal trappings and shows us how terrifying our own flesh and blood can be. It also does a great job with quieting your friend’s flimsy zombie survival plan. While real terror lies within the hands of the living, the zombie gore factor cannot be discounted. There are some panels and pages that can make the most die-hard Romero fan squirm in his or her seat. In fact, I can recall where I was the day I realized I have romanticized this particular brand of apocalypse too much. After reading the issue (it takes place in a prison is the best spoiler-free description I can give) I set the book down, and thought long and hard about my choice of hobby. Consider it my “oh yeah, a zombie apocalypse would really suck” moment. Robert Kirkman had said the worst part about any zombie movie was the credits. He always wanted to know what the survivors were going to do next. We get that in TWD, and with over one hundred issues in, the answer is filled with plenty of bleak despair and loss. It is a captivating read, one that influenced me to visit my local comic shop for the first time, and set up a love of the medium. Buy the first TPB (Trade Paperback) here.
American Vampire
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Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Scott Snyder (writer) Rafael Albuquerque (penciller)
Number of issues to catch up on: 34 (currently on hiatus)
Scott Snyder seems to have this horror thing down. His most recent project, The Wake, is almost like The Thing under the ocean; he wrote for Swamp Thing during the new 52 reboot; he is responsible for Severed, a terrifying short run about bad things happening to runaway kids in 1916 America; and his run on Batman is terrifying and dark. American Vampire showcases how to make a compelling vampire story. Like with zombie stories, the plots involved with undead Casanovas have gotten a little tired. I personally hope we can put the vampire boom from a few years ago behind us as a whole, saving a few great texts including this one.  Snyder takes us through the decades and weaves the mythos of vampires into the fabric of US history. We follow Skinner Sweet, the next step in vampire evolution (he is impervious to sunlight, stronger, faster, etc) from the untamed American west (told in a backup story by Stephen King!) to 1920s LA, WWII, and more. Sweet, to me, looks like Sawyer from Lost, but the vampire transformations that take place are horrific and wonderfully grotesque. Albuquerque’s  art captures the change perfectly and proves vampires can do more than just sparkle. Snyder blends hardboiled detective work, coming of age of crime in America, and bloody vampire entanglement into a can’t-miss read. If that doesn’t sell you, the first five issues feature a backup story written by master of horror himself, Stephen King. Check out the first trade here  then do yourself a favor and catch up on The Wake here  and Severed here
Locke and Key
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Publisher: IDW
Creative Team: Joe Hill (writer) Gabriel Rodriguez (art)
Number of issues to catch up on: 36 (the last issue hits stands October 30th)
If Stephen King was what sold you on the last recommendation, you’re in luck. Joe Hill, writer and creator, is King’s own son and it seems the apple barely fell off the tree (presumably a haunted tree in a cemetery somewhere in Maine) Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke move with their mother to Lovecraft (great name), Massachusetts after their father’s gristly murder. Here they find Keyhouse, a house in the family’s name that holds an incredibly dark past riddled with secrets. The house is filled with magic keys, each one complete with its own neat trick. But for every door they unlock, every question they answer, a hundred more riddles are proffered. The keys’ powers are wonderfully creative, while some give you full control of shadows, others give you the ability to see inside your own head and manipulate your memories and feelings. This mystery that Keyhouse shrouds itself in would be the best character in the book in its own right if it weren’t for one of the best antagonists in recent history: the demon Dodge. It is a manipulative, sadistic personification of evil. Hill shows off his dad’s skills as the books are filled with plenty of moments drenched in dramatic irony; get ready to scream at the page as you turn them (it doesn’t work I’ve tried.) There have been countless moments where the book has made me anxious and visibly tense while reading it. The series wraps up at the end of the month. Do yourself a favor and catch up before then.
Revival
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Publisher: Image
Creative Team: Tim Seeley (writer) Mike Norton (art)
Number of issues to catch up on: 14
We end this list with the most recent addition to the stands. The series is billed as a “rural noir” set in snowy Wisconsin. We follow officer Dana Cypress as she tries to solve the answers raised on “revival day” an event that saw the dead brought back to life. Not in a rising-from-the-grave-zombies sense, more of a reanimated and angry recently deceased The small-town-in-the-midst-of-a-harsh-winter aesthetic screams Fargo, and it works as a perfect backdrop to the incidents that put the tiny town on the map. Revival is a thick story with lots to tell. Every issue peels back another layer, only to reveal many more questions and characters behind it. These conditions leave the reader feeling claustrophobic. As the story expands the world seems to shrink, and characters connect. I cannot wait to see what happens next. That’s always a good sign. Pick it up here
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