As a day after Horror Month treat, here’s Grahame with one more scary insight to close out the month.
Confession time: I’m not really that big into being scared. I feel the same thrill afterward, when a writer or director has built up the fear and released it into the wild, followed by the mild euphoric rush when it’s all over. But, I’m not going into horror for the fear–I’m usually going in for the stories.
Which means I’m not usually one to seek out horror comics. Previous evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. That said, if you were to skim through my collection, you might be tempted to call me a liar. Which is your business, and we will settle this at dawn like gentlemen.
What I really love, even more than the being scared, is a well-built universe. And one of the things that horror stories–and horror comics especially–do really well is build a universe in which its monsters coexist.
I’ve loved Mignola’s Hellboy character ever since watching Del Toro’s film adaptation. Reading the books has only strengthened that affinity (the film is only rarely better). Even though I haven’t reached this point in the mythos, I got excited when reading Sean T Collins’ retrospective over on Grantland. I recommend the whole piece, but in a nutshell the point is this: Unlike Marvel and DC’s universe-ending storylines (Secret Wars, Crisis on Infinite Earths, etc.) there is no stopping the apocalypse for Hellboy and his companions. The world is ending, and they’re doing what they can to minimize the damage.
The universe they inhabit is a delicious mishmash of H.P. Lovecraft, Bible-inspired tales of hell, urban legend, myth, and ghost story. It’s the kind of universe where Nazis can raise a demon from hell, whom they intend to serve the Lovecraftian elder gods entombed on the edge of space, and no one bats an eye when this demon breaks free from their grasp and wanders the world fighting European and Asian concepts of dragons. Mignola’s art lends itself well to this world, with simple colors and lines that give a slightly cartoonish feel; he’s got an art style that can make his titular hero a samurai in one story, and a hard-boiled PI in another.
You can feel safe with Hellboy. He’s a monster fighting monsters. The stakes are different than, say, if your main protection was a chain-smoking Sting lookalike. Like Hellboy, a lot of the monsters that John Constantine fights are ones from tales you may recall, and some aren’t. The world of the Hellblazer (and his later more nominal incarnations) is a more human one. You spend more time in the hero’s mind, trying to make sense of the world in which Constantine lives.
I am disappointed in the cancellation of another DC series, Gotham by Midnight. The first few issues were illustrated by Ben Templesmith, whose work I really love (and I find to be a charming fellow). This was a horror comic in a similar vein as Hellboy and Constantine, with the characters fighting a mix of monsters from the Batman canon, original ones, and those pulled from ghost stories. The main hero was Jim Corrigan, who you may also know as The Spectre, and he surrounded himself with a team of paranormal specialists who worked with him and his Gotham City PD partner to solve mysteries the regular police would miss.
One of the reasons the horror comic medium lends itself well to this kind of world-building is its serial nature. I admit to having a somewhat cursory understanding of the comic industry, but I believe part of the goal is for your character to complete something within 5 or 6 issues, but still have enough to come back for 5 or 6 more each time. Which means the world has to be fluid enough to allow for this kind of mythological expansion.
Before I go fully down this path, I will fully disclose my man-crush on Neil Gaiman. That out of the way: The Sandman is the kind of series that really beautifully exemplifies what I’m talking about. The main character, Dream, goes by many names throughout the series, including the Greek god Morpheus, and still somehow bears a loose resemblance to the character whose pulp detective series inspired him.
Gaiman built a world rich enough that he could revisit it and tell a compelling story some 25 years later. In it, you have witches and the Greek Fates, and an alien culture responsible for the death of all things–concepts included.
As I said, I come to check out the worlds that are being built. I’m reading books like Escape from Jesus Island not because I want to watch mutants tear people apart (although it’s a bonus) but because I’m curious to see what an island populated by warped clones of Jesus might look like. I read Wytches to see how that world expands. I am immensely curious to see where western-horror-(ish) Pretty Deadly takes its unique worlds.
Every time one monster is defeated, I wonder what else was lurking near its lair all along…