by Wayne Markley
Halloween is just around the corner ,so there is not a better time to look at a number of great horror collections. These are from all over the last seventy years of comics and all of them are recommended for fans of horror or scary stories. Not all of these books are really that scary, but in each of them the intention is there. Some of these collection might be harder to find than others, but any of them are worth tracking down if you want a good read. What is nice about these collections is they are timeless. Halloween comes once a year, but a good horror story is great at any time.
First off there are the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror collections. There are six oversized collections so far from Harper Collins in full color collecting various issues of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror comic from Bongo. Each issue of both the comic and the trade collections are in the tradition of the TV shows that inspired them. The trades have a number of short stories (around 10 per collection) by a number of different creators each doing their own take on the Simpsons in a variety of settings and are often take offs of classic horror stories. These tend to be more humorous than the other books being discussed in this blog, but they are very entertaning and are worth reading.
Scott Synder is best known for his work on Batman, but he also wrote a great miniseries called Severed. This is a quick paced story about a kid in the Great Depression who is looking for his father and the trip takes him from New York to New Orleans and is filled with genuinely creepy moments. This book is far better than Batman (not to knock Batman) as it carries a feeling of dread throughout, from page to page, issue to issue. Perhaps his best piece of writing. Also, the art of Attila Futaki deserves special attention for perfectly capturing the story.
Locke and Key is an epic tale of a family that moves to an island in New England named Lovecraft. It will be no surprise that this turns out to be a bad choice as the family home is filled with ghosts, demons, and keys that unlock your head. Literally. There are currently five collections which collect the first five arcs of the series and there is one more issue to come out to wrap up the sixth and final arc of the series. All are written by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son, who is an excellent writer in his own right) and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez and they read better in the collections where the terror is allowed to build and the shocks are more surprising. The story over the six volumes is a classic filled with surprises and you never know who will survive and who will not with each issue you read. A great series.
The Walking Dead inspired a hit TV show so I will only briefly mention that the comic reads better in collections, ideally in the giant compendiums, where you get 48 issues on one book, as the monthly comic tends to plod at points and is a quick read. So if you enjoy the television show then try out the collections as they are different from the TV show, although you will recognize a number of the characters.
Uzumaki,or Spiral, is a manga story that is one of the few comics I can recall that actually gave me the creeps when reading it. Recently, Viz collected the whole series into one beautiful hardcover with the complete story. As with most horror, I think this works better reading it all in one sitting vs. reading monthly installments over a number of years. Admittedly, even monthly this story was creepy. The story is a slow build that seems innocent enough until… You will find reading this story will makes your skin craw and the suspense only builds till the shocking conclusion. It is hard to imagine a story about Spirals would be this spine tingling but Junji Ito manages to pull it off. Also, there is a great movie adaptation of this manga that is well worth seeing if you can find it.
Craig Yoe (in partnership with IDW Books) has issued a number of horror collections worth mentioning. Almost all of these are reprints from 1950 horror comics, mostly reprinted exactly as they were first published, including the yellowing pages. There are hardcover collections focusing on a single topic such as Zombies and a monthly comic called Haunted Horror which is a comic version of the hardcover collections (similar material but in a more economical format), and there are collections focusing on a specific artist. Three books that stand out in the artist series are Jack Cole’s Deadly Horror, a collection of horror stories by the creator of Plastic Man. Bob Powell’s Terror, a fascinating collection of the highly underrated Bob Powell’s horror work. Powell is mostly known for his western work and some work at Marvel, but these horror stories really stand out. A third hardcover collection worth looking up is Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein. Briefer did a number of different versions of Frankenstein (serious and humorous) and this is a collection of the more serious stories. These are not creepy like Severed or Uzumaki, but they are fun to read and are interesting in a historical perspective.
A book that is greatly overlooked is Dark Shadows by Dynamite. This comic really captures the characters and the feel of the 1960s TV show. It is fun to read about Barnabas Collins and his clan in brand new stories. This book does, at times, get a little long winded with stories seeming to ramble, but when they do reach their conclusions, it is very satisfying.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser explores the world of Hell and the Cenobites and is more of a drama between personalities both here on Earth and in Hell than a traditional horror comic. It still has its moments of terror even though they tend to be far and few. Yet fans of the movies will enjoy this series. Unlike the Marvel series of the same name done many years ago, this series tells one coherent story and is not a series of short stories.
Fatale is unlike any of the other books mentioned here. Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is not a traditional horror comic, but it does deserve to be mentioned here as it is easily one of the most atmospheric comic books out there. It has been called many things, but the closest is Lovecraftian Noir. It obviously has its roots in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and it is unsettling as many as Lovecraft’s stories were, but it all is set in a noir setting. Each story arc features the same female lead, but the stories bounce around time, yet each story arc is a great read with very fantastic art. Like Brubaker and Phillips other collaborations, Sleeper, Criminal, and Incognito, these are comic storytelling at its best. As with most of Brubaker’s comic books, each issue features historical articles and information that is not in any of the collected editions making each single comic a little special.
Archie (of all people) recently got into the horror market with Afterlife with Archie. So far only one issue us out and it sold out immediately, but not to worry, a second printing is on the way and a trade is due in April of 2014. While it is hard to judge a book by only one issue, the first issue by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla is very creepy and given the world of Archie, it’s a 180 degree departure from their normal fare. The story is derivative of a number of traditional horror/zombie stories but the creators make it original enough to recommend checking Afterlife with Archie out. I am interested to see where this book goes in the long term as, depending on which direction it goes, the creators can easily write themselves into a corner. I hope not, though.
This is just a small sampling of the number of comics and graphic novels out there that make for perfect Halloween reading. Also, do not forget there are also a number of special mini-comics that have been published to be given out at Halloween instead of candy. These are traditionally sold in packs of 20 for $5. Titles range from Archie Pals and Gals to Popeye to Hot Stuff and everything between. These are a lot of fun and are worth looking out for. They are available at both of Westfield’s retail stores.
As always, everything I have written here is my opinion and do not reflect the thoughts of opinions of Westfield Comics or their staff. I welcome your comments and thoughts or suggestions of other horror comics or anything else you might like to discuss at MFBWAY@AOL.COM. Next time I will continue my conversation about fun comics since I got so many complaints last time that I left out someones favorite fun book. So keep your eyes open for my next column, More Fun Comics (Sorry uber geeks, the Spectre and Dr. Fate will not be on the list).