The spookiest day of the year is getting closer and closer – time to pull out seasonally-appropriate reading material! Whether you’re a hardened horror buff or prefer counting vampires to the blood-sucking kind, we’ve got something for you. This list is made up of limited run series, so you can pick up one volume without committing your life to reading a lengthy comic. Let’s start by looking at the stuff that’s best categorized as “spoopy,” for people who like Halloween but also like sleeping at night, and finish up with the stuff that’ll make you think twice before turning off the light….
This is my go-to for Halloween comics recommendations. It’s set in a Noir-trope city called Monstros where mobsters rule and monsters are ghettoized. The eponymous Frankenstein Mobster is made up of the corpses of some mobsters and the (formerly) only good cop on the force, Terry Todd. His daughter Terri and former partner Janus (secretly a monster himself) have to team up to solve a case involving missing monsters – and what do the disappearances have to do with the lucky talismans that have popped up all over the black market?? There’s nothing to be scared of here at all, really – it’s goofy fun with a lot of heart. All of the Halloween beasties you could want are in this comic, from mummies and vampires to goblins and sea monsters. Plus mobsters! It’s B-movie heaven.
Mark Wheatley is on in full form, never missing the opportunity to make a pun, and coloring the whole thing in oranges and greens. This is a great comic to check out if you like the spirit of Halloween, but don’t much enjoy being terrified.
In addition to having the best title of any comic in 2013, this monster-fest is total jam. A werewolf pack acts as the New Orleans mafia, and the alpha werewolves are about to have a baby. A witch with precognitive powers tells them that their son will not be born a werewolf, and fearing impeachment, the alpha puts a hit order out on the witch and her small coven. Barnabus Black, a demon trying to get back into heaven, is instructed to protect the witches against vampires, sorcerers, demons, and ninja corpses. Like Frankenstein Mobster, this comic has got some Noir trappings, but it’s not for the squeamish – swearing, nudity, and some wild comic book violence earn this one a comfortable Mature rating. Juan Ferreyra has an unbelievable eye for design – his depiction of gore is visceral and intense, but almost beautiful. Despite some cheesecakey postures from its lady characters, I could spend days staring at the artwork, drinking in all of the details. As far as the writing goes, even when the comic gets intense and the hero starts to brood, Victor Gischler injects humour into the proceedings. If you can handle graphic gore (and can imagine how that and “fun” could go together), I highly recommend giving this one a shot.
This is a weird one. Despite being set in the Archie Comics universe, this is a no-holds-barred zombie survival story. Jughead’s dog is hit by a car, so he asks Sabrina the Teenage Witch for help. She brings Hot Dog back to life, but he comes back… different. The zombie virus spreads like wildfire through Riverdale, so we see a number of familiar characters die horribly. Since this universe is already well-established, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t waste time introducing characters, and he can use a few simple panels to sell an emotional beat that would take pages to set up in a less familiar setting. Further, Aguirre-Sacasa adds some other adults-only content like weird incestuous subtext between Cheryl and Jason Blossom, so maybe keep this one away from the kids. Art by Francesco Francavilla maintains the clean simplicity that we expect in an Archie comic, but with color and framing choices that make it clear this is a horror comic. A genuinely tense and effective zombie apocalypse story, this is not the Archie from your childhood, but it’s an interesting new take that’s perfect for this time of year.
We’re getting into the real scary stuff now – this is the only comic that’s ever made me jump. That might be surprising though, for anyone who’s familiar with Namor and his scaly booty shorts. This comic isn’t about the King of Atlantis, exactly; the focus is on a scientist/adventurer who makes a living disproving urban legends. After a crew goes missing searching for Atlantis, the skeptic boards a submarine to prove that Atlantis and its protector are a myth. The submarine crew feels differently, however, and the story becomes science vs. superstition in as dark and claustrophobic and environment as you could hope for. Peter Milligan pits characters against each other, and the tension comes from the interpersonal relationships more than the looming threat of a being of whose existence we’re never really in doubt. Esad Ribic’s art is eerie and surreal; his watercolors and lack of hard lines give a feeling of intangibility, and murky shadows abound where anything could be lurking. Namor is barely in the comic, but he’s positioned as a much more frightening figure than we’re used to, and Ribic’s art reflects that masterfully. This one is less Halloween than the preceding entries, but it’s very spooky, and I guarantee Namor like you’ve never seen him.
If you’ve never read any of Emily Carroll’s unsettling webcomics, you should do that immediately and then order a copy of her book. Carroll’s work is incredible, but not easy to categorize. She draws inspiration from folktales and fables, where the weird and unexplained occur for no discernible reason, and her horror isn’t as straight-forward as the others on this list. She plays with form, eschewing traditional page layouts and panel structures for something much more expressionistic. Her art sends your imagination into overdrive, since it’s more suggestive than representational and Carroll doesn’t spell everything out for the reader, creating a hugely immersive experience. Relying on atmosphere more than traditional plot structure, these tales lack the story beats that can make horror stories feel stale and predictable; Carroll slowly draws you to the edge of your seat and leaves you there.
Carroll uses the graphic form to its fullest extent with these eerie, disquieting tales, and I always find it impossible to shake the sense of dread after I finish reading any of her stories. Through the Woods includes her famous web comic “His Face All Red” and four new stories, and I highly recommend picking the book up in hardcover because it is beautiful. Just absolutely stunning. These stories could easily become annual Halloween reading for their incredible atmosphere and spectacular artwork – if you’re feeling brave.
What are your favourite reads around Halloween? Let us know in the comments.