Halloween is one of the great origin stories for life-long horror fans. The prospect of getting scared for fun during spooky season necessitates an exploration of horror that makes a lot of people want to extend their stay with the genre. It’s like opening a forbidden door into a place few dare venture, filled with fears and taboos not often given due consideration anywhere else. Horror isn’t something you dip your toes in and then forget about once October 31st reaches its end. Its darkness is inviting, especially for those who chase the rewards of curiosity.
Comic books are perhaps one of the most welcoming mediums for horror. They push boundaries in ways that film can sometimes struggle with due to budget constraints. As a result, some of the most original and innovative work in the field is coming out in the form of comics, from the shockingly bloody and gory to the intricately psychological and disturbing.
While October is certainly a great month to venture into things that scare and unsettle, it’s also a great time for horror to possess the minds of new readers and entice them with the promise of longevity within its realm.
It’s really quite simple, horror leaves a mark. It’s like being bitten by a vampire or scratched by a werewolf. Reality ends up taking a whole new shape.
Here are five recently released comics that can open those forbidden doors that go deeper into the horror genre, five bloody hooks that’ll dig into your skin and pull with the strength of a thousand demons looking for new souls to play with. If this Halloween made you a new fan of horror, welcome and remember to never stop screaming.
- Dark Ride, by Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, Image Comics
Imagine a dark Disneyworld, a theme park built on horror with the same sense of scale and grandeur as that of the house of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Demons with cartoon names and rides with names like The Necronomi-Coaster dominate the landscape, aiming to scare rather than to provide a safe space for enjoyment. This is the world Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan create in Dark Ride, a comic about our perceptions of horror and the things we should always feel free to enjoy about it.
The comic centers on Arthur Dante, the story’s version of Walt Disney, and his kids Samhain and Halloween. Their theme park, Devil Land, is a horror fans dream, but it’s in a state of crisis that demands reinvention for survival. Dwindling guest numbers seem to be explained by a general lack of excitement in the things that used to scare us in the past, a disinterest in the good old-fashioned horror. Arthur has a few ideas in the can for this, most of which double down on the scares by making the monsters in the park real, giving visitors a legitimate reason to be afraid. His kids are brought in to figure it out, and it looks like a lot of blood will be spilled before they land on a firm solution. The first issue already features extensive commentary on the challenges of keeping horror fresh while still honoring what came before. It’s a unique take and one that earns its spot on any monthly pull list.
- She Eats the Night, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Abrams Books
It’s often the case that comedy and horror combine for an unsteady mix where one imposes its will over the other. When it works, though, and the combination flows harmoniously, new classics are forged in it. This is the case of Liu and Takeda’s She Eats the Night (book 1 of The Night Eaters). The story follows a Chinese family in New York City that’s come together during the Covid pandemic to support each other in trying financial times. The parents, both Chinese immigrants with a mysterious past steeped in the supernatural, have decided to help their American-born Chinese twins as they try to keep their restaurant afloat.
A big empty house that sits across the street from the family seems to be harboring some sort of haunting or curse, a detail that isn’t lost on the parents. From that revelation on, the twins’ mother, Ipo, decides to teach their kids a lesson in adversity and perseverance by making them face the horrors of the house alone. As if horror and comedy weren’t enough, Liu and Takeda also comment on the themes of family, legacy, and generational values for a story that’s as personal as it is ambitious. It’s all immaculately balanced, but it’s the story’s heart that’ll keep you turning the pages.
- That Texas Blood, Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips, Image Comics
For Chris Condon, crime and horror go hand in hand. It’s a strong and creatively defining statement, made during an interview for The Beat at New York Comic Con ‘22. His comic That Texas Blood, co-created with Jacob Phillips, is a prime example of that. The series is currently in its third arc, an homage to slashers such as Wes Craven’s Scream (by way of the Coen Brothers) that follows sheriff Joe Bob in his earlier days as he tries to keep his small Texas town safe as a masked killer starts invading homes during one of the region’s worst snowstorms. The serial murderer, called The Red Queen Killer, likes to decapitate his victims and then send the police a bloody chess piece as his calling card.
Condon and Phillips have managed to infuse a lot of horror in their crime comic, creating a blend that strengthens their reliance on one another. While the first arc deals more in neo-Western tones and ideas (and well-developed ones at that), the second one considers a bat cult that involves ritualistic sacrifice. In the latter, a Kolchak the Night Stalker-type journalist becomes a key player, making the story embrace the horror aspect of crime more freely. That Texas Blood is a brutal read that thrives on character work so that the terrible things that happen in it can burrow deeper under your skin.
- Dandadan, Yokinobu Tatsu, Viz Media
Manga is the king and queen of the comics world and books like Yokinobu Tatsu’s Dandadan are the reason why. There’s nothing out there quite as original and unapologetically bizarre as the horror stories we get from Korea, Japan, and China (its prose in particular). Dandadan certainly fits the bill, a story about a supernaturally inclined schoolgirl that meets a boy from her school who’s a UFO fanatic. Though they stand on opposite sides of the belief spectrum, their worldviews are about to get shattered as both aliens and ghosts invade their lives with sinister motivations unique to each one. The big surprise is that both sides are incredibly horny and they want to use both of students to fulfil their otherworldly desires.
Tatsu’s foray into both sci-fi and horror comes with a lot of comedy, but it’s all put in service of crafting a genuinely disturbing story that hides its terror behind laughter. Both ghosts and aliens feature nightmarish designs that can stand toe to toe with some of the scariest creatures in horror and sci-fi out there. Aliens reveal mechanical reproductive appendages that are pure body horror done à la cyberpunk whereas phantoms shed their original forms and shapes to become multi-eyed monstrosities with arms and mouths sprouting from all over their bodies. In between all that is a deep concern with the things we decide to deposit our beliefs in and how they either complement or contradict other perspectives. Also, it’s an endearing story about finding kinship among outsiders and outcasts.
- The Brother of All Men, Zac Thompson and Eoin Marron, Aftershock
Cults have a special place in horror. Even at their most supernatural or Satanic, what ultimately makes them unnerving is what they expose about humanity’s inclination to let blind faith dictate their lives. As frightening as an interdimensional being or a tentacled god can be, it’s what the cult’s followers are capable of doing in the name of their small collective that ends up (the fact a lot of them wear strange masks and white robes that can make blood splatter pop after sacrificing someone also plays a part). Zac Thompson and Eion Marron’s The Brother of All Men makes a good argument for this, a comic that’s on its way to being one of the best in the field based on the first few issues alone.
The Brother of All Men finds its cult in Canadian history, focusing on the real-life case of Brother XII and his Aquarian Foundation in British Columbia. The cult promoted an escape from the material world, from the prisons greed and corruption create (the exact things that led to the demise of the group). Thompson and Marron insert a kind of detective/noir story within that setting, placing a compelling lead character at the center of it that carries the physical scars of the First World War on his face. The comic is expertly paced, focusing on the specifics of the worldview the cult created for itself. Creepy masks and concealed glances create an atmosphere of secrecy and mistrust that make the reading experience addictive. You won’t be able to escape the mystery, its pull, or its cultists.
Now that you’re here, enjoy the horrors! Explore, see the sights, get scared. And last but not least, have a Happy Halloween!