As adults, we rarely get picture books. Most authors would prefer to keep their books free of art in an attempt to keep each individual version of their vision alive in the minds of their fans. But comic books and graphic novels are the exception to this. Often written with very specific visions in mind, the main misinformation people seem to have about comics is that they’re for kids. I will tell you now, to think that is to undermine the impact of the medium. Also, in thinking that, you are denying yourself some truly amazing stories told in incredibly original ways. Take, for example, these five graphic novels I am about to tell you about. They present horror to you in a way in which you have never seen before. They pull you in to their horrors with each progressive frame. A world where the written word and the illustration go hand in hand to tell a cohesive, and often times nightmarish, story. Come with me, my REMlins, as I tell you about the five scariest, creepiest, and best horror graphic novels I have ever read.
Black Hole is not only one of the greatest horror graphic novels I have ever read, but one of the greatest graphic novels I have read, period. It was written and illustrated by Charles Burns, and took the man a whopping ten years to complete. While this may sound staggering, spend five minutes with Black Hole and you can see why. The scratch board art style is one of the most engrossing visual deliveries of a story, ever.
Black Hole is about a venereal disease that infects teenagers in one region of Seattle during the seventies. This is no regular venereal disease, though. This one, sometimes referred to as “the bug” turns the people infected with it into visual monstrosities and mutants. Imagine that, a sexually transmitted disease where you could spot it just by looking at someone? Would make the whole sex thing a little easier, but also, more daunting.
What makes Black Hole work so well, besides the fact that the art and story are amazing, is the fact that it all works as a not-so-veiled allegory for the inner conflicts we all feel as we journey through adolescence. How we all feel like ugly mutants at one time. How we all feel like social outcasts at one time. Black Hole takes that, and amps it up in ways you cannot imagine. It may all sound simple, but something about this book burrows into you and stays there long after you finish. Rumor is David Fincher bought the rights to make a movie. Let’s cross our fingers.
I guess the best and worst part about this is that I found The Drive-In in a discount bin of a comic shop for a buck. No idea why a book this fucking good would be delegated to a bin that had issues of Plastic Man by the dozen, but such is life.
The Drive-In is about a group of people who are at a drive-in (you know, those places from the 50′s and 60′s where you could see a movie from your car) when a strange comet arrives, and seems to bring with it an unending night. Over time, tensions rise, people start getting primal, and the most fucked up version of Lord of the Flies you have ever read unfolds. Think of the insane survival of The Walking Dead, and ratchet up the insanity and gore by about ten, and you have an idea about The Drive-In. Written by Joe R. Lansdale, and generally, if you see this guys name on something and you like the creepy and bizarre, grab it.
The final thing I need to say about The Drive-In won’t make any sense to those of you haven’t read it, but “The Popcorn King”. All bow down before the popcorn king. Just trust me on this.
Uzumaki is fucked up. Like, as you can tell from that pic, REALLY fucked up. It is about a small village in Japan that end up getting obsessed with spirals. While that may sound like a stupid idea, it helps to know the sacred power of spirals, but the book is scary even without any prior knowledge. While you may know nothing about spirals, it is very much a “thing”, and as much as most people look at it as a good thing, in the case of Uzumaki, the spirals are bad.
Like, REALLY bad.
It starts simple enough, with a few people seeing spirals and seemingly getting put under a sort of spell by them. But by the end, there are spirals in the sky, and a fucking boy has turned into a giant slug (one of my favorite moments from any horror comic, ever), and a girl’s head opens up and swallows one of her eyeballs. It is manga, so it is batshit insane, but the jarring art style of writer and illustrator, Junji Ito, makes for some moments that you will never un-see, if they are only in print form.
Uzumaki has been made into a film, and as you can imagine, it is fucking nuts. It works much better as a comic, but just for the sake of the article, here, the trailer to give you an idea:
Uzumaki is like Tim Burton meeting David Lynch and eating some LSD with him on Halloween.
30 DAYS OF NIGHT
Forget about the substandard (yet still good) movie with Josh Hartnet, and focus on the original comic book. 30 Days of Night might be the single best concept behind a vampire story ever. Some vamps get akin to the long periods of darkness in Alaska, and decide to go up to one particular town to feed. 30 Days of Night focuses on the sheriff of that town as he tries to come to grips with the vampire epidemic before everyone on the town dies or turns.
As much as the story itself is amazing, HUGE PROPS to Ben Templesmith’s remarkable art style, which is what really helped sell the book. Each frame of his art just oozed effective creepiness, with an insane, washed-out look that no other horror book can come close to touching. Also see ANY OF Templesmith’s other work, as he is one of the most beloved names in horror and sci-fi comics right now. Welcome To Hoxford is another great example of his work, and almost beat this entry out for this position.
Werewolves versus prisoners. Um, fuck yes to that!
LOCKE AND KEY
Written by Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill (pay attention to that name, horror fans), Locke and Key is a game-changer in terms of horror and fantasy comics. Also, unlike the other entries on this list, which are very much open and shut stories, Locke and Key is not quite over, with one volume left to round out the series.
Locke and Key is about a family from New England (represent!) who move into an eclectic mansion after the patriarch of the family is killed by one of his students. The house itself has different doors, with different keys, and each key and door seems to have an entirely different power. One door can turn you into an animal. One door can turn you into a ghost. One door can be used as a portal to different places and times. More than horror, this a fantasy, with some real horrific elements. To say Locke and Key is good is to sell it short. I look at it as the modern equivalent of an Alice in Wonderland, if Wonderland was created by, well, Stephen King. Trust me, Joe Hill has already trumped his Dad for talent. Look no further than Horns, Heart Shaped Box, and Locke and Key for proof of that.
Also, NEED to shoutout the thick lined art style of Gabriel Rodriguez. The art style he imbues on Locke and Key is the main thing that initially drew me in. It is a world quite unlike anything ever committed to print, and he is a big part of that. Want more proof, I will leave with some:
Okay kids, so what is YOUR favorite horror comic book of all time?