Writer Helen Mullane knows a thing or two about horror comics. A producer of short horror films and documentaries, her forthcoming Humanoids graphic novel with artists Dom Reardon, Matthew Dow Smith, & Lee Loughridge, and cover artist Jock, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, is described as a “folk horror” tale that follows Nicnevin “Nissy” Oswald, a young woman who nearly becomes the victim of a god-worshipping serial killer, and explores the secret she’s been hiding that her would-be killer couldn’t have imagined.
The original graphic novel, scheduled to arrive in stores this week, is the latest in what has become a boom period for the horror genre in comics. From Hack/Slash to Harrow County, Something Is Killing the Children to Locke & Key, horror comics have become as common as superhero books (DC and Marvel have even gotten into the act with titles like Gotham City Monsters, DCeased, and Marvel Zombies). Ahead of the release of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, in an exclusive to The Beat, Mullane takes readers through some of her current favorites in the genre, with a listing of eight titles that represent the cream of the crop of the current golden age of horror comics.
By Helen Mullane
Comic books as we know them today may have evolved out of the funny pages, but since the dawn of sequential art writers and artists have used the medium to tell stories of the scary and macabre. In the UK “Penny Dreadful”s told tales of terror in Victorian London, and birthed icons such as the story of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In the states horror comics were one of the most popular genres for early comic books with publishers like EC Comics and Atlas Comics gifting us classic books such as Tales from the Crypt and Marvel Tales, until the moral panic of the ’50s and the installation of the comics code effectively left them toothless and they inevitably died a death.
Since that first horror boom the genre has been in and out of vogue, with notable resurgences into the mainstream in the ‘70s when gaudy and depraved titles such as Eerie, Psycho and Vampirella rose to prominence with sickening stories and wonderfully evocative covers. Icons of horror art like Bernie Wrightson cut their teeth on these anthologies.
And now lock your doors, bolt your windows and don’t go in the basement, because we’re living through another boom time for shuddersome stories and terrifying tales of mystery and suspense. Join us, if you dare, for our countdown of 8 of the best horror comics of the new golden age.
1. Harrow County
As charming as it is disturbing, Harrow County tells the story of young Emmy Beck, the reincarnation of a witch who was lynched by the townsfolk of Harrow some years back. She’s a fantastic protagonist, and her compassion leads the reader to reassess the haints that form the obvious antagonists of the story. The fully painted watercolour art and deep moral compass of this book makes it a classic for the ages.
2. Beautiful Darkness
When a story is set in and around the decomposing corpse of a murdered little girl, you know it’s going to take you to some truly strange, frightening places. In Beautiful Darkness creators Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cossette have wrought an extraordinary nightmare where a brutally dark heart belies the beautiful and cute art.
3. Becoming Unbecoming
From the fantastical to the grounded now with Una’s destroying exploration of gender violence. In this personal memoir we meet Una as she comes to grips with her own abuse and sense of powerlessness growing up under the shadow of the Yorkshire Ripper manhunt in the 70s. It’s an extraordinary work and one that has never felt more essential than now.
4. Through the Woods
Dark fairy tales abound in this, another dark but beautiful graphic novel. Emily Carroll tells 5 stories and although it’s not graphic, with art that hints and suggests rather than bludgeoning the reader with violence, it’s profoundly unsettling all the same.
This limited series from Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell boasts some of the most out and out frightening artwork on this list. The story of a young Muslim woman who moves into a weird apartment block with her boyfriend, Infidel intrigues with monsters that lurk in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to emerge. It’s an unsettling read, and for more than just the traditional shocks, as Pichetshote explores the islamaphobia his heroine must face in her day to day life that bolsters the darkness that comes at night.
6. These Savage Shores
This is a sumptuous period piece that elegantly uses the metaphor of vampires and monsters to express terrible truths about the British Empire at the height of its power. It’s also a love story, a tale of finding identity, and a divinely composed masterpiece of the comic book form.
As terrifying as late capitalism and as faint with heady excess as rich kids of instagram snorting custom drugs off platinum trays in private jets, Friendo presents us with a different flavour of horror. Like a new comic book 1984 for our increasingly souless era, with an anarchic fever dream tone and bright visual chaos that puts me in mind of Satashi Kon at his most unhinged.
8. Gideon Falls
It can be difficult to make a comic book thoroughly scary — without sound and movement many of the tricks horror movies have to fall back on aren’t in reach for comic creators. So when a comic book comes along that really ramps up the fear it’s an impressive feat. In Gideon Falls, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino have managed to raise the bar for the series again and again. The book has developed from an intriguing, mysterious horror yarn to a surreal, existential trip that crosses timelines and dimensions while gifting us with one of the genre’s most deeply terrifying monsters.
Helen Mullane began her career in film distribution, managing the release of major films for the likes of Studio Canal and EOne. Later she produced the feature documentary FUTURESHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD and various shorts such as the multi-award-winning NASTY. Helen currently resides in northern Sweden where she lives with 80 huskies, balancing her time between writing and dog mushing. In NICNEVIN AND THE BLOODY QUEEN, Mullane, acclaimed artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith, and celebrated colorist Lee Loughridge have created a haunting and unsettling coming-of-age horror story for our times.