When you think chilling and thrilling horror stories, the mind naturally leaps to horror movies. Historically, that’s where we’ve been scared the most with classics like Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. As a genre, there’s really no other that gives its audience such a visceral and physical reaction to what’s happening on screen than horror. More recently, horror TV shows have been making a dent in the psyche of fear-lovers thanks to the renaissance of television storytelling and the space given to longer, creepier narratives (hello Channel Zero). Maybe a smaller portion of the populace would think about horror novels: after all, that’s where it started. Mary Shelley first showed us that anything a grown man can do, a teenage girl can do better with Frankenstein and similarly Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has endured just like Frank. In more recent modern pop culture, Stephen King has become the undisputed king of the horror novel with his son – Joe Hill – doing a pretty fine job of running defence with titles like NOS4A2, Horns and The Fireman.
But what about horror comics? Combining the literary prowess of a King or Hill text with the visual assist of your favourite horror movie or show, horror comics are the underrated MVP of the genre. The breathtaking 30 Days Of Night was the kind of book that you heard talked about in hushed whispers when it debuted in 2002: it was like a badge of honour. If you knew about it and appreciated its artistry, then it immediately gave you an entry pass into a cool(er) section of the comic book community. Insanely effective with its sparse dialogue and abundance of sweeping imagery, it’s not really a surprise that it was adapted into a feature film of the same name starring Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. Maximising on the feeling of isolation so well captured in Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s source material, 30 Days Of Night is one of the best and most original horror movies of the naughts (yeah what, I’ll fight ya). It was also a financial success and spawned a direct-to-DVD sequel we shall not discuss here for fear of reprisal (it’s bad, like, really really bad). One of the other big horror comic titles to make the leap – albeit not as seamlessly – from shelf to screen was Locke and Key. Where 30 Days Of Night was minimalistic, Locke was loaded. Every panel and every page was packed with detail that depicted both hidden and visible horrors. It was a tale of terror that spanned a family legacy and it’s no shock people wanted to make it more mainstream, with a pilot going into production starring, er, Jesse McCartney of pre-Bieber singing boy heartthrob fame. That pilot wasn’t picked up for series but it did screen at Comic-Con in San Diego in 2011 to, surprisingly, wide acclaim for lovers of the Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez series.
And that’s just the tip. What Stephen King is to horror novels, Scott Snyder is to horror comics with the trifecta of Severed, the long-running American Vampire and insanely creepy Wytches. Throw stalwarts of the genre like Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Hellboy, Blade and the hugely successful The Walking Dead into the mix and the ranks swell. Then there’s the new kids on the block – Andrew Constant’s Torn, Nailbiter, Harrow Country and, heck, even Green River Killer. The ideas are rich and plentiful, with The Walking Dead not the only one of these horror comics being mined for material: Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Black Magick is being developed for TV by the same folks who did The Magicians (which is now heading into its third season). The question is, are horror comics the final frontier when it comes to terror? When we’re let down by horror movies and horror TV shows alike, are horror comics the warm (albeit bloody) blanket we wrap around ourselves for comfort? Hell to the yes, they are. And while other mediums keep getting stuck in ruts or bogged down with genre formulas, at least we’ll still have horror comics as the medium willing to push boundaries the furthest.
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz.