Saturday, October 24, 2009

Suggested Halloween Reading: Comics and Graphic Novels

Well, with exactly one week to go before the big night, I figured it's a good time to run through some of my favorite, scary comics and graphic novels. As I've said many times, writing horror is hard. Writing horror for comics is even harder.

You have to deal with several issues--the first of which being the fact that the reader can actually see what's going to happen on every spread. Which means, if you really want the reader to experience a jump-out-of-your-shoes're going to have to make sure it comes after the reader turns a page.

Every spread needs to be carefully and thoughtfully laid out, and as in all horror, timing and pacing is key. With comics, there needs to be that special synergy between writer and artist to ensure the perfect, creepy pacing that will eventually lead to the perfect, creepy payoff.

Many comics have hit shelves with the "horror" tag. Very few of them actually fall into the category. Even fewer actually posses the ability to frighten a reader. So, here's a quick list of some of my favorite creepy comics, just in time for Halloween. And, while I've spoken about these books in the past (usually in a Waiting for Wednesday blurb), it's only right that I mention them again.

--In the past few months, I've written at length about the comic that many believe is not only the scariest on the stands today, but the scariest comic of all time. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, from Image Comics, features more Holy Bad Thing Happening to a Major Character! moments than you can count.

And if you're one of those people who roots for the heroes to win (um...or survive), then this book may not be up your alley. As I wrote about a little while ago, Walking Dead is just flat-out scary. It's the zombie story to end all zombie stories, and once you start reading, it pulls you in and makes it impossible to stop. Or to forget what you've read and looked at.
Creepy, horrifying, heartbreaking, and incredible, Walking Dead is the best there is, and now's the perfect time to dive in and take a bite out of this series. Many Borders Stores around the country have Halloween displays and sales, and I've noticed that they are (finally!) pushing Walking Dead pretty hard. The first four hardcover collections (each featuring 12 issues of the regular series) are out and very easy to find, so do yourself a favor and put this title on your list for the Great Pumpkin to drop off next week.

--Another book that should be at the top of that list is actually from Marvel Comics, and it features a much-beloved character of the 1970s. From their Max Comics line (which means you know it's either a. violent; b. filled with curses; c. "mature" in its art; or d. all of the above) comes Werewolf By Night: In the Blood.

This mini-series falls under the "a. violent" category, as we see good old Jack into his foes. And, yes, that's actually the name of the main character who turns into a werewolf.

Written by Duane Swierczynski and with stunning, incredibly detailed, rendered pencil art by soon-to-be-huge Mico Suayan, Werewolf is one of those diamonds in the rough that the entire industry pretty much decided not to pay any attention to.

Not so here on Exfanding Your Horizons. I mentioned this series a couple of times (though I won't go digging through old Waiting fors to find them), and I am a big backer of the book. This is old school comics horror meets modern sensibilities, and the four issue mini is a must-buy for any werewolf fan out there.

The horror is out there on the page, and it's visceral and bloody while still maintaining an interesting and thoughtful storyline. This comes highly recommended.

--Next up is something for those who prefer a more cerebral approach to their horror. There are two collections of Joe Hill's excellent Locke & Key series out in trade and hardcover from IDW. Both books can be found on Amazon for just around $16.00, and considering the fact that collecting the single issues would be more expensive, this is a steal.

Now, for those who don't know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. Hill has put out two horror books--one a short story collection entitled 20th Century Ghosts, and the other a full length novel called Heart-Shaped Box. Both were met with great critical acclaim.

Hill carries his abilities over to the graphic end of the literary spectrum, and he weaves an intricate plot around "real" and interesting characters.

The artist on the book, Gabriel Rodriguez, is one of the true masters of the comics medium. His sense of pacing and ability to draw dead-on facial expressions brings so much to this already tightly plotted and gripping series. Locke is thought provoking and creepy in that skin-crawling kind of way.

Here's the publisher's blurb for the first collection, which sums up the series quite nicely:

Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them, and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all!

Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) creates an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder, with astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez.

It's one of my favorite titles, and I've just started diving into the two collected editions. Because Hill's plot has so many layers, the story reads much better in trade, so don't be shy about jumping right in to volume one!

--Now, if you're not in the mood for creepy and scary, but you want to be in the spirit of the season, I have a horror-comedy title that should be to your liking. Released last year in trade paperback from Image Comics, Screamland is the perfect addition to any Halloween reading list.

Written by Harold Sipe and with art by Hector Casanova, Screamland tells the story of the classic movie monsters, and where they are today, many years after the height of their popularity. In the age of CGI and special effects, what happens to the classics, like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman?

Well, in this horror satire, Sipe shows you. Some of it is laugh out loud funny, some of it is cringe worthy and kinda depressing, but Screamland is another under the radar book that deserves a spot on your shelf.

If you're a fan of Ben Templesmith's (30 Days of Night) style, then Casanova's art will likely appeal to you. And Sipe's witty dialogue and sharp satire will keep you engaged in the plot.

So, there are four books to get you started. I'll be back throughout the week with more, and if anyone has a Halloween Reading suggestion, please leave a comment and let us know!

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