Rafael Grampa cover art Vertigo comic The Unexpected.
Zombies, Lovecraft and a serial killer: comics for Halloween
- by Ryan Ingram (with additional reporting by Shawn Conner)
Halloween is just around the corner, and that means so is All Hallow’s Read. If you haven’t heard yet, it’s a new-ish idea where everyone gifts spooky horror books to our loved ones because Neil Gaiman tells us to.
Video - Neil Gaiman explains All Hallow's Read:
It’s already my favorite day ever. And to make it a success this year, here are some recent creepy comics that are perfect for the haunting season.
Daybreak (Drawn & Quarterly) - All the staples of a classic zombie lit are present in Daybreak, but it’s what cartoonist Brian Ralph does on the page that makes this deceptively simple story rise above the mass of stale zombie tales out there, as it creeps right into the dark corners of your brain.
The story unfolds at a six-panel-per-page layout, with the viewpoint coming from an unnamed narrator, trying to survive in a zombie-filled wasteland along with the assorted weirdos he encounters in the apocalypse. The first-person perspective sucks you in, giving it an almost video game-like feel. As you meet other survivors and survey the damage around every corner, things build to a totally unsettling ending.
Ralph’s style is unique for the horror genre, too, sort looking like if James Kolchaka’s playful pen mutated with Anders Nilsen’s ability to create detailed poetry out of horrible destruction.
Zombie apocalypse! A page from Brian Ralph's Daybreak (Drawn & Quarterly).
The Unexpected (Vertigo/DC) - The Unexpected is very much a mixed bag that lives up to its title. This one-shot anthology could be considered the comic book equivalent to rummaging through a filthy pillowcase the morning after a blackout drunk night of trick-or-treating through the worst neighborhood in the world. But in a good way.
There’s nothing’s really holding the one-shot together thematically, but who needs any of that when you’ve got a twisted crop of writers and artists, including Dave Gibbons, Jill Thompson, Farel Dalrymple, Brian Wood and Emily Carroll?
Things get off to a good start with Rafael Grampa’s intense cover, featuring the most psychotic night at the drive-in theater ever. From there, the short stories jump from old-timey magicians, to ultra-smart dogs, to a zombie that wears make-up. One of the stories even includes a completely convincing portrayal of the total collapse of North America. Proceed through The Unexpected with caution.
Neonomicon (Avatar) - Jacen Burrows might be the only artist to say he’s drawn stories from three of comics' most prolific writers; Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, and Alan Moore. What’s even crazier is that as grindhouse publisher Avatar Press’ go-to penciler, Burrows gets to bring to life ideas that aren’t fit for publishing anywhere else, and gets to draw the messiest, ugliest ideas from the some of comics most notable writers. Which brings us to the Neonomicon, Alan Moore’s revolting, tentacled, love letter to H.P. Lovecraft.
When one too many clues in a FBI case start pointing towards the gothic writer’s Cthulhu mythology being real, two investigators follow a group of sketchy cultists underground and - before you can say “humuk hrry’ll-ngng glaaki ygg” - they’re faced with the maddening reality behind Lovecraft’s writings.
Neonomicon has some deeply unsettling scenes that creep over every line of common decency - it mixes Lovecraft’s terrifying mythology with some of the grossest, most twisted sex stuff Moore has ever committed to page and Burrows' unsettling panels. Neonomicon probably would have sent an uptight, prudish Lovecraft off his rocker even more.
Green River Killer(Dark Horse) - Throughout Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway is depicted as history’s most bumbling, forgetful, and oddly helpful serial killer. For one of the Pacific Northwest’s most notorious mass murderers, he appears to be the furthest thing from the hissing Hannibal Lecter level-genius usually depicted in movies. It’s this very real portrait that plays just a part in making Green River Killer a completely compelling true-crime graphic novel with, sadly, all too-real chills.
Following three decades of investigating of the Green River Killer through the eyes of Tom Jensen - one of the primary detectives on the case - the mystery at the core of the story is a double-headed one. It’s discovering if Ridgway truly is a psychotic mass killer just as much as it’s about finding out if Jensen, the determined, obsessed cop, can become a real detective, cracking the case after a career of desk-jockeying data entry, consoling victim’s families, and being witness to gruesome horrors.
Written by Jensen’s son, Jeff Jensen (a reporter for Entertainment Weekly), the story builds expertly to a tense confrontation between the detective and the killer that provides moving and powerful resolution to both questions. Jensen shows tact in his writing, following his father as a wholly sympathetic and relatable man sucked into a hellish obsession. Green River Killer tackles some horrible real-life horror without being exploitive.
The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror (Bongo) - Each year, Bongo (which also publishes The Simpsons, Futurama and related titles) commissions stories from some of the most interesting comics creators (and sometimes outsiders; see this year's "Marge of the Dead" with a script by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's) this side of the mainstream. This year's ish includes a very clever entry by Jim Woodring, the certifiable genius/loon who is responsible for the character and series Frank. Woodring's "Harvest of Fear" includes two shorter stories done in the style of old EC horror comics and is a sheer delight for comics fans. It's even kind of creepy, too.
Jim Woodring meets Bart in the latest issue of The Simpsons' Tree House of Horror.