Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
I’ve been a horror fan since I was probably too young to be one. My love affair with the genre began one night when I was around seven years old. My older cousin was watching me while my parents were out for the evening. He wanted to watch Stephen King’s IT and didn’t think it was a good idea for me to watch it with him, but I idolized him and wanted to be cool, so I begged to be allowed to watch it. Not wanting to listen to me whine, he relented.
As a result of his decision to let me watch IT with him, I had nightmares about the film for years, gained a strong fear of taking baths (IT comes up out of the drains), and began to feel a newfound love and admiration for the horror genre growing within me. I had no idea at that time that such a traumatizing experience could be so damn fun.
Turns out, it’s fun to be scared. Your heart races, the adrenaline pumps, and after pushing yourself to ride that crazy roller coaster, watch that super scary movie, or walk through the local haunted house, you feel rewarded. It feels good to push yourself beyond your boundaries. You get a fun memory out of the experience and a weird kind of high. You earned that dopamine, damnit!
It’s been 25 years since I first saw IT and while film has always been the primary media format I’ve enjoyed horror through, it’s not the only show in town. Thanks to my mother, I grew up reading a lot of Stephen King, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, and a whole host of other weirdos. I also read a lot of comics growing up, but it wasn’t until about 10-12 years ago that I started to find horror comics that I enjoyed with relative frequency.
It began with Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and later grew to include 30 Days of Night and Locke & Key. Then I really started to notice the horror comics start pouring in around 2010, American Vampire being one of the standouts.
Today, thanks largely in part to the growing popularity of creator-owned series, horror comics are everywhere — and it rules. Within the last year alone, I’ve read three series that were utterly fantastic, and each of them freaked me the f--k out in their own special way. So since we’re in the month of October, with Halloween and horror in full swing, I thought I’d tell you about these three series and why you should be reading them.
Written by Pornsak Pichetshote
Illustration by Aaron Campbell
I’ve never been big on ghost stories — they’re probably my least favorite flavor of horror. Then Infidel happened and everything changed. I first heard people raving about the book earlier this year, and the premise grabbed me right away — not because of ghosts, but because of real-life horrors like racism and xenophobia, horrors that are deeply relevant to our society today.
For me the best kind of horror stories are the ones that create fear for the audience through environment and circumstance that aren’t positioned as the protagonist’s primary adversary. A great example of this is The Descent –– a group of women spelunking become stuck in a cave after a ceiling collapses and one of them is seriously injured. That’s bad enough by itself, but then s--t really hits the fan when they find out they aren’t alone. Infidel has you feeling uncomfortable because of the xenophobia and bigotry that gets in your face within the first few pages. If you want to read the story, you can’t avoid it. And no, Pichetshote isn’t shoving a political agenda down your throat. He’s making you confront something uncomfortable and real that occurs every day in America.
Enter Pakistani-American Aisha Hasan, a young woman living with her boyfriend and his young daughter in his mother’s city-based apartment building. Her boyfriend’s mother hasn’t always approved of her being of Middle Eastern descent and the peace in the house is shaky to say the least. Juggling three radically different relationships under one roof is hard enough, but it’s even worse when your home is haunted. The entities haunting Aisha’s building feed off xenophobia, anger and all things negative. Add a culturally diverse building to the mix and we have ourselves a problem.
When you finally do see the ghosts, Aaron Campbell ensures you have a strong understanding as to why this book is so scary. His artwork presents horrifically deformed humanoid creatures that make the many tense moments pay off in a truly disturbing climax.
Written by Scott Snyder
Illustration by Jock
Wytches is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now, but for whatever reason it just kept ending up in my sidecar. That was until I saw the Wytches: Bad Egg Halloween Special announcement. After reading the synopsis I got in my car, drove to my local comic shop and bought the Wytches TPB. Yesterday I devoured half of it on my morning commute (almost missed my train stop as a result) and finished the rest of the book on my lunch break. So yeah, you could say I enjoyed it.
The story drops us in on the Rooks family after they’ve recently moved to the small town of Litchfield NH, for a fresh start and to put a traumatic event behind them. As with the majority of New Hampshire, their small town is surrounded by woods. Unfortunately for the Rooks, these woods are anything but ordinary. In fact, they house an ancient race of evil humanoid creatures that feast on, you guessed it, human flesh.
But before you make it to the evil monsters, there’s family drama to deal with. There’s Sailor Rook, an anxious bullied teen. Charlie Rook, her troubled struggling artist father; and Lucy Rook, a wheelchair bound nurse, struggling to find worth as she processes her recent handicap. As this damaged family struggles to put itself back together, all hell breaks loose in the form of the wytches. But surprisingly enough, they aren’t the most sinister force at work here — that honor rests with humanity. Because these wytches don’t eat unless we feed them.
Jock and Matt Hollingsworth do plenty in the art department to add to the reader’s horror-filled experience. I loved Jock’s design of the wytches. No two were alike and it was a struggle to get a clear view of one, which added another layer of mystery, which in turn added fear. When you’re watching a monster movie and you only catch glimpses of the monster and never a full shot, it’s always way scarier because don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with. Jock uses that technique to great success. Hollingsworth masterfully deepens and enriches with his colors throughout, and the back of the TPB treats readers to a look at how he manages to make watercolor splatters look so damn cool.
This is a deeply personal story for Scott Snyder. The seed for Wytches was planted many years ago when he was just a kid. It slowly grew in the dark, sucking nutrients out of his childhood trauma, growing tall on the terror he’s experienced as a parent, and budding flowers from watching his children deal with trauma. Wytches is that plant in full bloom. It takes what most people find the greatest comfort in — their family — pries their eyes open, and forces them look at the ugliest parts, buried deep down under the dirt.
Aliens: Dead Orbit
Written and illustrated by James Stokoe
Aliens: Dead Orbit is the best story to come out of the franchise since Aliens was on the big screen. For those of you new to the Alien franchise, don’t worry, you don’t need to have any preexisting experience with it to enjoy the story. This is a story for every horror fan to enjoy.
Our tale follows engineering officer Wasclyweski as he works aboard a fuel depot space station two hundred plus years from now. At the story’s start, Wasclyweski or “Wassy” is alone, but we soon learn that it wasn’t always that way; he used to be one of six crew members. What happened to the rest of the crew? If the cover image isn’t enough of a hint for you, one of the deadliest creatures in the galaxy makes its way aboard the space station and it doesn’t exactly go well for the crew. Wassy has to survive alone against a perfect killing machine without any weapons to defend himself. Oh, and the space station is rapidly running out of oxygen and the structure is falling apart around him.
This is a story that doesn’t require words to be told. Dark Horse could have sent this to print without any of the lettering and people would’ve still raved about it. Stokoe’s artwork is just that damn good — it carries the plot on its back without breaking a sweat. There are stretches were ten pages will flip past, not a single word of dialogue spoken, and you’re still fully dialed in to what’s happening.
I’m fairly convinced Stokoe put this book together whilst an IV was plugged into his arm containing a mix of manga, the 80s, and the brain material of James Cameron. The guy just completely nails it. Claustrophobia, anxiety, and dread are perfectly combined to create the smothering tension filled environment that Alien is revered for. Add in Stokoe’s hyper-detailed, dark, gritty and manga-like artwork and you have yourself a horror masterpiece.
As I said in my review of issue #4, “whether or not you’re a fan of Alien, you should be reading this comic. It’s like a good rollercoaster: it’s over quick, but it’ll push your stomach into your throat and scare the s–t out of you.”