The Frightening, Heartbreaking ‘Spongebob’ Horror Comic Breaking the Internet

spongebob horror secret formula

Millennials might never be able to buy a house, but we can at least remain collectively tethered by the early internet’s fascination with Creepypastas and digital lore. The early days of the internet were full of chain emails about dead girls hiding in closets and message boards debating whether Candle Cove was a real show or not. Chief among millennial interests were kids’ shows with hidden messages. Think banned episodes or lost reels, moments that pushed the boundaries so far, that they were wiped from existence, hidden deep within the annals of the early internet. One of the most famous was a Spongebob Squarepants episode where Squidward, Spongebob’s curmudgeonly neighbor, dies by suicide.

The episode, also known as “Red Mist”, was allegedly detailed by a Nickelodeon intern who, along with other staff members, was horrified by the violent imagery of the show’s alleged fourth season premiere. It’s not real, of course, but try telling that to elementary school me. Luckily, writer and illustrator Marcus Yu has kept the tradition going with the release of his webcomic The Secret Formula.

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You can check out The Secret Formula at the hyperlink here, or you can visit Yu’s Tik Tok page for some added audio, including an epilogue set to Emile Mosseri’s “Jacob and the Stone” from Minari because, for some reason, that OST is really big on TikTok. The Secret Formula is a worthy successor to the Creepypasta days. TikTok, for all the grief it gets, does platform some pretty remarkable horror creatives. Some, like creator Savannah Moss, films skits like liminal fever dreams. Others, often anonymous, release reels designed to trigger specific phobias. They often leave viewers feeling unnerved, like the content they’re watching is deeply personal, meant only to rattle them.

Yu’s The Secret Formula is more narratively driven, though like the recent crop of IP horror movies being released, he adroitly takes the most recognizable iconography from a popular children’s property and subverts it for maximum, gruesome effect.

Check out a synopsis for the comic below:

For all time, the Krabby Patty secret formula was now in Plankton’s hands, not realizing until it was too late… that some secrets were better left unheard. Knowing now of the atrocities left unspoken within the Bikini Bottom, Plankton must now do what he must to restore justice — should he be vigilant enough to retain his sanity.

There’s something to be said for an artist so adroitly turning a beloved property on its head. For some, it might appear to be the lowest common denominator. And, in fairness, I regularly agree with that sentiment—you won’t catch me in line for Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood and Honey (though I’ve heard the sequel is actually pretty good). Simultaneously, I recognize how hard it is to get anything made these days while lamenting the broader lack of risk-taking. Kids’ media as horror isn’t exactly new. So, while The Secret Formula isn’t breaking new ground, it is treading known territory with style to spare.

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The final volume made me misty-eyed. The gruesomeness of how it unfolds was shocking, indicative of a kind of care webcomics of the sort irregularly receive. Yu imbues each panel with recognizable characters and locales, though he stretches the parameters of Bikini Bottom to the most morbid, extreme ends. Rock Bottom, Karen, and Mr. Krabs all feature, subverting expectations for those familiar with the show, rendering heroes as villains and vice versa.

At its core, The Secret Formula targets a distinct kind of morbid curiosity. Coltan Scrivner, a behavioral scientist at Aarhus University in Denmark, has even developed a scale to measure such curiosity. Most people, pretty evenly distributed, possess a moderate amount of curiosity in all things horrific and weird. Some have more, some less, but most people are somewhere in the middle. It’s why true crime, despite our best societal impulses, remains one of the most popular genres out there, regardless of medium.

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The Secret Formula taps into that morbid curiosity, especially the kind horror fans likely played around with growing up. What if this show I love had been horror? Spongebob Squarepants did, on occasion, play with some horror homage. There’s the Hash-Slinging Slasher and Count Orlok. Season 8 episode “Are You Happy Now?” flirted with some pretty dour material. In the first season, Squidward is transported to a realm of nothingness, grappling with nihilism and considerable existential dread.

The Secret Formula is a natural extension of Spongebob’s most censored moments while being unique at the same time. Growing up, I regularly envisioned a merging of my favorite things, the cartoons I was watching and the terrifying horror movies I couldn’t get enough of. Horror episodes made my day and shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog were particular favorites. There’s something nostalgic, almost wish-fulfilling, in seeing a show like Spongebob rendered so terrifying with a style that remains true to the show’s canon.

While it won’t be for everyone, it’s one of my favorite internet discoveries this year. In several decades, we’ll no doubt see Spongebob grace the silver screen in R-rated glory (I reason it’s inevitable). Until then, The Secret Formula is the recipe you didn’t know you were missing.



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