October 31, 2010

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My Favorite Horror Comics

Wrapping up the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Though I tend to be a pretty big fan of horror manga, I find that I'm far less attached to horror comics. I recently gave up on Essential Werewolf by Night, for example, because it was just so overwrought with angst and filled with unremarkable villains that I kept finding myself bored about halfway through each issue. Maybe it's because of the tradition of the comics code or maybe it's just that I didn't read any of the horror series when I was younger, but I find most of the 1970s horror boring.

I do like what little of the pre-code or early code horror I've read, but those collections rarely show up in the library and are often extremely expensive. I didn't finish Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 1 just yet, but man Ditko packs more interest in 5 pages than Marvel was doing in 20 in those 70s horror retreads.

As a result, this list is shorter than you'd expect it to be. I'd love recommendations for horror comics that I might like, both old and new.

I mentioned in the manga list that I find that horror is a tricky thing to get right and that personal taste varies widely. Some of you reading this might be quite fond of the Marvel horror line. I'm not impressed so far. On the other hand, while I can't get enough of the Goon, his crude nature likely turns quite a few readers off. As with the manga list, this is a very personal set of opinions and yours may not be the same as mine.

But hey, why not have a look and see for yourself, eh? Either way, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I read this book before I was doing reviews, but one of my favorites is a Roy Thomas-Dick Giordano collaboration that almost never got finished. Their adaptation of Dracula is a stunning work that is hands-down one of the best adaptations I've read in comics form of anything. Thomas does his spectacular job of turning a novel into a comic and Giordano's visuals bring the story to life, being just shadowy enough to capture the mood while not distorting the action. I'm sure this is out of print, but for fans of the classic monsters and comics, this is very much worth finding and owning. I'm glad I stumbled into one a few years ago.

You don't have to be Marvel, DC, or any other big publisher to make a good horror comic. Rafer Roberts' Plastic Farm is a perfect example of this. He's crafted an epic story involving a cast of creepy, interlocking characters who you'd never want to meet in a darkened alley. A set of seemingly unrelated incidents blend together as the narrators draw you further into a world of madness. With Roberts at the helm, a vast crew of artists tell the tales, many of which are just unpleasant enough to get under your skin. This is well worth taking a flier on, as I never miss a chance to mention.

I don't think it needs any help from me, but I'll make a pitch for Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead, something I've read but haven't taken the time to give a comprehensive review. I've only written down thoughts about Volume 1, and so much has happened that I'm almost afraid to look and see how wrong I was. The series starts out pretty slow and follows almost stereotypical zombie story lines. I was just about to give up when Kirkman managed to kick me in the teeth at the end of the first book. While using a lot of familiar ideas, Kirkman finds ways to bring a fresh angle to the proceedings, not the least of which is to show that in reality, all the things that keep people alive in zombie movies/books shouldn't work out as well as they often do. He's not afraid to kill people or make life worse for the characters, and I greatly appreciate it. If you haven't read it yet, give the books a shot before the TV series starts. Just be warned that Walking Dead is about the bloodiest comic book I've ever read.

Should Neil Gaiman's Sandman be on a list of favorite horror comics? Well, here it is! Though Gaiman used all kinds of stories to weave some amazing tales over the years, there was definitely no shortage of horror elements, whether in small doses or entire arcs. The Corinthian's tale is something that still brings chills when I think about it. Gaiman's dealings with hell also fit the horror theme, as does the opening storyline with Dr. Destiny, the most hero-centric of the Sandman tales. I always point back to Sandman for those who aren't enamored with Gaiman, because while he does repeat themes often, Sandman is where he did it best.

Hell is also the setting for a lot of Alan Grant's run on The Demon. These are not the best comics in the world, feature entirely too much of Lobo, and suffer from some of the 1990s problems of a lot of comics of their time frame. However, Grant's use of Etrigan's rhymes are clever, the artwork is often of a very high quality, and I love the ties back to Merlin. I don't think they ever put any of these comics out in trade, so you'll have to find them in back issue bins. Try a few and see what you think.

Dark Horse has a good eye for horror, as their manga line shows. So it's no surprise they've got the last two spots on my list. First up is the before-mentioned Goon, by Eric Powell. I've read everything released in trade form, and Powell's foul-mouthed gangster is easily the guy having the most fun of all the horror characters on this list, at least for most of the run of the series. The Goon takes all the things we use in horror comics and throws them on their ear, usually in the grossest way possible. It's a lot of fun if you don't get sickened easily. I wish the lighthearted tone had stuck with this series from beginning to end, but even with that minor gripe, it's still one of my favorites.

Rounding out our list is Hellboy, Mike Mignola's irreverent demon child who turns against his path to aid the mortal world against all things supernatural. One could make an argument that Hellboy enjoys his life more than the Goon, but that's a debate for another day. Mignola mixes his stark use of black and shadow with the bright red protagonist to create stunning visuals that for the most part carry on even when Mignola is only the writer. He draws on all sorts of occult, mystic, and folklore sources to keep Hellboy (and his friends in the BPRD) as busy as possible. The story and art alone would sell me, but to top it off, Mignola's scripts are witty and clever, filled with a lot of great dialog that ranges from the serious to Hellboy's desire to "screw it" and just kill the bad guys. If I could only recommend one thing on this list, it would be Hellboy. I'm even springing for the fancy editions, I like this series so much.

That's it for this year. See you next October for more Halloween fun!