Friend of the podcast, Thom Burgess, has graciously reviewed some comics for us. Check out his comic Malevolents and watch the trailer for his feature film project Ghoster. Follow Thom on Twitter as well!
Comics and horror stories have a long standing history together dating right back to classics such as Tales from The Crypt and the Twilight Zone. Being able to portray the horror of a story both in illustrative and text form is a unique and hugely exciting medium to work within. Offering both freedom to explore the building fear. Leading the reader to panels which hang on potential cliff hangers, and horrible reveals. But at the same time the limitations of ink and paper – challenging just how to build that dread.
It’s certainly been an inspiration to my work with the Malevolents series, along with following an anthological styling. Something within the context of a series I’ve always found hugely alluring. Being given the option of a new story and characters (occasionally with some common threads of horror) which in my opinion makes for an altogether more interesting scale of story to engate with. Something which has worked fantastically on the small screen with cult classics such as the Twilight Zone and Hammer House of Horror and most recently hit shows including Inside No.9 and Black Mirror – and has no doubt inspired many writers since.
For me a great horror comic should convey that suspense with a dash of shock reveals and an ending that leaves you feeling thoroughly unsettled. Visceral ‘schlock’ and blood splattered pages shouldn’t be a necessity, and a great horror story should leave you with that air of horror which stays with you long after you’ve turned that final page. Ideally leaving those last panels indelibly imprinted in your mind.
So it seems only right to delve into my choice of some of the best horror comics/graphic novels – ranging from pages of disquiet, panels of unsettlement to far more horrific endings.
THE ENIGMA OF AMIGARA FAULT
Written and illustrated by – Junji Ito
A notorious comic which has been doing the rounds for a while now. Amigara Fault beautifully sets the tone for a tale of ancient horrors luring innocents to their doom. (With an ending panel that really will leave you unsettled).
Set in the surrounds of the vast Amigara mountain (translated as ‘Empty Shell’) Two strangers find themselves brought together when something odd is discovered after a violent earthquake. Uncovering something strange within the mountain itself. As they ‘delve’ deeper into the mystery they find they’re not alone in their pursuit…nor in their increasing unusual interest in the mountain…
As a story, Amigara isn’t a huge read. It plays out like a short film, keeping you hooked into the mystique behind the ancient horror of the mountain right until the bitter end. It’s also bewildering to think Junji Ito both wrote and illustrated the story. A huge talent and the passion behind the tale translates perfectly into his stark black and white images (no greys here) – amplifying the desolute setting and feeling of ‘loss’.
I’m still stunned this hasn’t been adapted to TV or Film. Both would make for a superb retelling of the story – and truly you’re left both shocked and eager to find out more after the climax. The fact the happenings remain mostly unexplained leaves it all the more chilling.
ESCAPE FROM JESUS ISLAND
Writer – Shawn French Illustrator – Mortimer Glum
I found Jesus Island a while back when Mortimer Glum’s terrifying artwork appeared on my Facebook news feed, and was eager to find out more. Clive Barker rightfully described the comic ‘as almost like seeing a hyper-intense Italian movie for the first time’ and you can absolutely see why. It’s probably as close as you’d get to a Giallo film set within the pages of a comic book. Something which has to be said is no mean feat.
Following the story of an extraction team sent by the Vatican to sort out the situation at ReGen Corp who’s succeeded in her quest to clone Jesus. Resulting in the twins Jesus and Yeshua, both with the full powers of Christ (but with the latter being hell-bent on bringing the apocalypse) then you know you’re in for one hell of a story.
For anyone who’s glimpsed but a few panels it’s no secret that EFJI is phenomenally violent. But more than pure visceral violence the builds to the monstrous attacks and the feeling of things ‘hunting’ the protagonists from the shadows makes for a thoroughly engaging read. With some panels artwork that literally ‘leap’ out at you.
Shawn is a fantastic writer, and there’s clearly a huge world here to delve into – something which he’s really pushed with it’s sequels. Once you’ve picked up this series there’s no putting it down.
PORCELAIN : A GOTHIC FAIRY TALE
Writer Benjamin Read – Illustrator Chris Wildgoose
Arguably not strictly horror although Porcelain is a fantastically twisted fairy tale, with a reveal that will leave you feeling as thoroughly chilled as ‘porcelain’. Being a fan of Wildgoose’s illustrations and catching early previews when it first released I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, and in fact still often come back to it.
To not give too much of the story away, Porcelain covers the story of ‘Child’ who is forced into breaking into the Porcelain Maker’s garden. Once inside, she encounters a world she never knew existed. With wonders beyond her imagination and a dark secret she’d come to realise….
Though not filled with horror, the sense of unease throughout the story is prevalent and the dark secrets behind the Porcelain Maker’s creations (and their subsequent uncovering) will leave you unsettled and wanting more. Read’s writing is truly captivating. Setting a world that feels like an off kilter version of ‘Oliver’. The cliffhanger panel sequences also keeping the reader firmly in the grip of the story, who’s pace towards the climax of the book is truly breathtaking. If you’re a fan of Penny Dreadful or similar Victorian Gothic you’ll love it.
If ever there was a graphic novel that was destined for being developed for the big screen it’s Porcelain.
Writer Alan Moore – Illustrator Eddie Campbell
Undoubtedly one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. One which has been listed in countless top 10s worldwide. It’s no shock to see From Hell here too. I’ve long loved Moore’s work. Being a huge League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen and V for Vendetta fan. His storytelling is simply incredible and accompanied by the illustrations of Campbell makes for something very special indeed.
Moore’s own fictional account of Inspector Abbeline’s pursuit of one of history’s most notorious killers is truly fascinating. Integrating a variety of real life events and characters throughout Jack’s reign of terror over London’s East End. Which altogether makes the fact what you’re reading is loosely based on true events all the more disconcerting.
Coupled with Campbell’s portrayal of cold, harsh Victorian London brought to life by his furious line work really makes the novel stand apart and amplifying the tone of panic and horror to the tale. On top of a silent ferocity to each page. The landmarks themselves are stunningly recreated. Black is used to great lengths to really portray the dark shadowy areas of the Ripper’s stalking ground.. There’s also a fascinating sense of an encroaching ‘darkness’ both reflected in Moore’s writing and in Campbell’s art.
It’s a vast read, but one I’d absolutely recommend. It’s an absolute horror masterpiece.
BONGCHEON-DONG GHOST (web comic)
So admittedly not a printed comic or graphic novel, it would be wrong to not include at least one of ‘Horang’s viral web comics as part of this list. If simply for the fact it’s unquestionably horrific to any first time viewers.
Well known for his ‘scroll down’ horror-web comics which have been circulating on the internet for years, Horang successfully combines elements of the supernatural with horror (with unquestionable nods to ‘The Ring’ and ‘The Grudge’ ) to great (horrific) effect. The short stories each capture that feeling of someone relating a truly chilling ghost story to you, one which you’re unable to shake from your memory once attempting to sleep making them both intriguing to read-and hard to truly get out of your system.
For me Bongcheon-Dong Ghost is Horang’s finest work, utilising a simple setup for some truly unnerving jump scenes. Ones which I’ll freely admit literally made me gasp in surprise – and actually left me with chills down the spine.
The fact Horang uses the medium of portraying the comic on the web, lulling you into a false sense of comfort before deciding to take things even further has to be applauded. When the scares come they hit the hardest. For me it’s a rare delight and something that should most certainly be checked out.
By Thom Burgess