Comics are a huge part of my life… one could say to an unhealthy degree, but I digress. From bigger-than-life superheroes to brooding noir detectives, these “funny books” (as my grandfather calls them) have shaped my tastes in storytelling from early childhood. My favorite genre of these inked adventures being, of course, horror. I know, big shocker, right?
Now, for someone who hasn’t grown up reading horror comics (or arguably comics in general), it can be a daunting task to find a good place to start. I mean, shit, there’s a lot of them! Nobody wants to waste their time choosing one, reading through it, only to find out it lacks the compelling narrative (or gratuitous levels of blood & guts, for you gorehounds out there) to be worth the money spent. Don’t worry, that’s why I’m here to help guide the way!
I’ve chosen several titles that I think are perfect for newcomers and veterans alike. Lovecraftian monsters, deranged supervillains, adorable ghosts; I tried to hit all the bases! I mean, statistically speaking, you’re bound to like one of them, right?
1. The Vessel of Terror (Written by Magnus Aspli, Art by Dave Acosta, 2011)
Out in the Arctic Ocean, the research vessel Alesia manages to capture a mysterious Magnapinna squid, an animal never before captured by mankind. The researchers, led by Maria, decide to take the specimen back to port in Bergen, Norway. However, what they bring home isn’t just a scientific wonder but also a thing more horrific than Pandora’s Box. Soon, madness creeps into the crew of the Alesia and friends become monsters.
Kicking off the list is an oceanic tale of horror that involves a group of eager marine biologists, the Plague, and a big ass squid. Sounds like a good time, am I right? This will definitely appeal to people who have a soft spot for Lovecraft, or that period in the ‘80s when all those ocean-based horror flicks came out. You know, Deep Star Six, Leviathan, Lords of the Deep… those ones. Back when all the studios thought The Abyss was going to be a horror movie, and they wanted to cash in. No? Only me? Huh…
So, it turns out this isn’t just Creature Feature where a squid goes on a rampage and kills a bunch of people. Oh no, this a tale about the two Ps: Plague and Possession. Because of the latter, I’d argue it has more in common with The Evil Dead than any sea monster story I’ve seen. It does have tentacles, though. Lots of them! In any case, I find it a solid story with some pretty decent art. Especially the squid, which looks particularly ghastly and alien (there’s that Lovecraft influence!).
This series can be found on comiXology in both issue & graphic novel format.
2. Bedlam (Written by Nick Spencer, Art by Riley Rossmo (Vol. 1) & Ryan Browne (Vol. 2), 2012)
Fillmore Press was once Madder Red, a homicidal maniac and criminal overlord who ruled the city of Bedlam. Now he’s been cured of his mania, and says he wants to help protect the place he once terrorized — but can he be trusted?
It’s a Joker story. Straight up, it’s a gory as fuck Joker story, complete with a Batman-type and a crime ridden city. I’m sure Nick Spencer wanted to pitch it to DC, but realized it was too batshit (heh) and that they’d never pick it up (at the time, at least). So, he decided to make his own characters and run with it. Just wanted to get that out of the way.
That being said, I like it way more than any Batman story-arc from recent years. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s incredibly dark… like dark dark… Garth Ennis dark. It poses the question, “What would happen if the Joker was cured of his madness (at least the violent part) and wanted to use his expertise to help the cops find criminals?” Not the most original premise, I’ll admit, but the way Spencer goes about it keeps it engaging. Each villain that comes up is unique(ly fucked up) in one way or another, and there’s enough guts to satisfy the bloodlust of the thirstiest gorehound… so if that’s you’re kind of thing, you’ll love it!
Unfortunately, it ended after 11 issues, so there’s no ending. I can see that being a deal breaker for some, but if you can get past that, then it’s definitely worth your time.
Bedlam can be found on comiXology in issue & graphic novel format, or on Amazon if you want a hard copy.
3. Nightmare World (Written by Dirk Manning, Art by Various, 2011)
A graphic novel horror anthology series consisting of 52 stand-alone genre-hopping eight-page tales of terror that, over the course of the series, weave into one giant story about Lucifer awakening Cthulhu and partnering with Lilith to initiate the second war with Heaven.
Well… with a synopsis like that, where do I begin? Let’s start by being blunt: not every story in this collection is a gem. Sad, but true. Luckily, all the stories are 8 pages long (each done by a different artist), and the good ones… are pretty damn good.
The most interesting aspect this series has is its method of storytelling. Basically, all the shorts take place in the same world and give pieces to the puzzle that is the overarching narrative. It’s a cool way to go about it, and I admire the writer’s creativity.
As far of the stories’ content goes, it’s all over the place. I’m talking about Cthulhu, Lucifer, superheroes, Sherlock Holms at one point, fairies, merfolk, children’s television and the brainwashing effects it has on kids (allegedly), El Chupacabra, cryptids, aliens, and a lot more I can’t think of right now. It’s incredibly easy to just pick up and read when you have some free time you don’t mind wasting.
You can pick up all four volumes (or a complete omnibus) on comiXology.
4. Eldritch! (Written by Alex Alexovich, Art by Drew Rausch, 2011)
Anya Sobczek is a snarling science major with an arm full of Darwin tattoos. Her brother, Owen, is a sulking introvert in a coven of teenage occultists. The Sobczek siblings have always been brutally competitive, but now that Owen’s blood has started bubbling with ancient tentacled abominations, their rivalry is about to enter a vast new dimension of cosmic terror!
Going into horror-comedy territory now! And who better for the job than one of the artists from the hit show Invader Zim?!…to be quite honest, I was never a fan. I don’t know, just couldn’t get into it. This, however, is my jam. The bee’s knees, even!
Something about the art style meshes perfectly with the story’s Lovecraftian tones, at least for me. The characters are just so… ugly. Not all of them, just the ones that are meant to be (which is most of the cast). And for some reason, that’s just really appealing to look at. The over-expressive nature of the designs definitely makes it feel cartoony, but the juxtaposition it has with the horrific monsters and gnarly events is just… compelling… no, wait… delightful. Yeah, that’s a better word for it.
The story is just as solid as the art. The characters are fun (if a bit one dimensional, but I’m willing to let it pass if you are) and the humor definitely hits more than misses. When it comes down to it, it’s just a fun read. Also, lots of body horror, which is always a plus.
You can find hard copies of the series on Amazon. It used to be on comiXology, but it doesn’t appear to be there anymore. Bummer.
5. Sanctum (Written by Xavier Dorison, Art by Christophe Bec, 2015)
A Lovecraftian and claustrophobic SF thriller set underwater. After receiving a distress call from another submarine off the Syrian coast, the crew of the USS Nebraska search a series of massive caverns, where they discover a 70-year-old shipwrecked Soviet sub, whose crew died under mysterious circumstances. While investigating this enigma, the Nebraska’s away team discover a massive underground sanctum dedicated to Môt, the ancient Ugarit god of death. Now, the crew must find a way to escape the death god’s prison without freeing him to wreak destruction upon the world.
I’m noticing a trend going on here… almost like I LOVE a certain CRAFT of story… ha ha… I don’t need your pity.
Anyway, another underwater horror story! This one is particularly good, if a bit slow. Remember those ‘80s ocean horror films I was talking about? Yeah, this definitely feels like one of those, except a bit grander in scale. Plenty of atmosphere, a healthy amount of otherworldly terror, a sprinkle of madness, and (surprisingly) no tentacles! I know, blew my mind, too!
Turns out, there’s a prequel series and a manga remake as well. Just found that out when I was doing my research. No idea if they’re any good. Maybe I’ll find out someday and let you know!
You can pick all 3 volumes on comiXology.
6. Erma (Written & Art by Brandon J. Santiago, 2014)
Erma is like any other normal child. She goes to school, plays with friends, and even spends time with the family. It just so happens that she is the daughter of a ghostly spirit and tends to use her haunting abilities for everyday antics, whether for better or for worse.
Definitely a change in tone compared to the other comics on this list. This is just wholesome, feel-good content dipped in a nice coating of horror imagery… and you can bet your bloody guts that I love every single bit of it. It’s a celebration of the horror culture in the style of an old Peanuts comic strip. How cool is that? Very. Final answer.
It starts off with just one-shot stories establishing Erma (the titular little ghost girl). However, it quickly dives into longer narratives, and begins to flesh out a creative world that just a joy to see. If you need something to get your spirits up a bit, take a gander and enjoy its charm!
You don’t have to buy this one! It’s a webcomic you can read for free online. Check it out on tapas.io!
There you go! Six comics to help get you started! Well… I’m hoping at least one of them tickles your fancy. If not, there’s plenty more comics out there I want to talk about, so hopefully I can get another list out at some point! Until then, Ciao!