Superheroes may have the biggest share of the market when it comes to comic books, but horror isn’t far behind. It makes sense, because horror is a very visual form of storytelling, something integral to the comic book format. Thanks to a rise of strong independent publishers in the ‘90s and ongoing, horror comics have had a major renaissance in the past few decades and shows no signs of slowing down. This means that getting into horror comics can be overwhelming, there’s literally hundreds of ongoing series to choose from. If you want to get into comics, where do you start? Though there’s countless other graphic novels, comic books, and manga delivering amazing horror stories, here are just a few essentials that make for a great entry point into the world of horror comics:
This Dark Horse comic series, created by Cullen Bunn and artist Tyler Crook, is set to conclude in June this year, which means you don’t have to worry about getting to committed to an extensive, ongoing series like The Walking Dead’s 180 issues and counting. A coming of age story by way of Southern gothic fairy tale, Emmy learns that she’s connected to the monsters that live in the deep, dark woods on her eighteenth birthday. She’s the reincarnation of a powerful witch executed on the day she was born, and the townsfolk want to kill her too. So she must connect with the monsters and embrace her dark powers to survive. It was announced in 2015 that Syfy planned to adapt this comic book to series, and while no new details have emerged since, it’s a safe bet that this one will be translated to screen, big or small, sometime in the future.
Afterlife with Archie
The idea of a new show on Netflix about Sabrina the Teenage Witch may not seem all that exciting if your only frame of reference is the family-friendly ‘90s sitcom. But if you’ve read The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with art by Robert Hack, then you understand just how dark and horrorific Aguirre-Sacasa takes the character. But before that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote Afterlife with Archie with artist Francesco Francavilla, a zombie apocalyptic take on the plucky crew of Riverdale. Betty, Jughead, Veronica, Archie, and even Josie and the Pussycats have to deal with gore, violence, dark magic, Cthulhu, and zombie brutality. It’s much better than it sounds, trust me. Aguirre-Sacasa gives it a ‘70s horror aesthetic with plenty of moments that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud.
Locke & Key
Written by horror author Joe Hill with art by Gabriel Rodriguez, this short six-volume graphic novel series is an absolute must-read. The story tells of Keyhouse, a gothic New England mansion with doors to otherworldly secrets and portals, and the Locke family, who relocate to Keyhouse after the devastating loss of their patriarch. It’s dark and every bit the Lovecraftian tale it promises, but what really makes this one special is Rodriguez’s stunning art and Hill’s ability to create complex characters you fall hard for. There have been numerous attempts to adapt this series over the years, but it’s finally happening soon via Hulu with Andy Muschietti (Mama, IT) tapped to helm the pilot. So hurry up and read this series to prepare.
Junji Ito is a Japanese horror manga artist with a distinct art style that’s both hypnotic and terrifying. Often referred to as the David Cronenberg of manga, his art and storytelling is as compelling as it is visceral and repulsive, and much of his work has received Japanese film adaptations. Though Tomie is one of his most popular series, start with Uzumaki, a three-volume series that follows a city plagued by a supernatural curse involving spirals. Yes, spirals. It’s weird, it’s surreal, and it’ll get under your skin. Uzumaki received two video games and a live-action film adaptation in Japan.
A six-issue series written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Jock followed the Rock family as they moved to a small New Hampshire town following a bullying incident. They want to start over, but realize there’s evil lying in wait in the woods just outside of town. As the title indicates, it’s a horror series whose lurking evil is witches. These witches aren’t your average run of the mill witches, though, but petrifying creatures made even more nightmarish thanks to vivid art and coloring. A somewhat bleak, but compelling family drama merged with a horror story that declares its brutality in issue one, it’s an addictive read.
Created by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson, with art by Henderson, this six-volume series centered around Buckaroo, Oregon, a small town that birthed 16 of the world’s worst serial killers. It’s a mystery that FBI agent Charles Carroll wants to crack, but when he goes missing his friend Nicholas Finch comes to town to find him and must team up with Edward Charles Warren to get to the bottom of things. The only problem is that Warren is more aptly known as Nailbiter, a serial killer that earned the moniker from chewing off his victims’ nails and part of their flesh. Graphic murder and a captivating mystery makes this one hard to put down.
This ongoing series by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta is completely different from Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Trading bleak zombie apocalypse for the horror atmosphere of demonic possessions, Outcast follows Kyle Barnes, a man cut off from society after a lifetime of loved ones falling prey to possession. His need for answers leads him to uncovering a world-ending plot, and very little beside himself and a priest to stand in the way. Genuine scares and complex villains makes for a far more interesting narrative. Kirkman keeps things interesting by making his primary villain ambiguous; is he actually Satan? Or maybe God? This comic received a series adaptation on Cinemax that premiered in June 2016, and the second season is finally set to air in July. The bad news is that the long wait meant the options on the cast have long since lapsed. At least there’s still the comics.
A creator-owned series from writer Garth Ennis and artist Jacen Burrows, the story follows survivors dealing with a pandemic that causes those infected to carry out their most evil thoughts. It makes for one of the most depraved horror comics ever. Seriously twisted stuff that makes you question the sanity of the writer fills the frames. Incest, rape, cannibalism, bestiality, self-mutilation, maiming, murder, and any other debauched acts you can think of; Crossed has it. The volumes of Crossed are printed irregularly, and not always with Ennis and Burrows at the helm. Sometimes it’s Simon Spurrier and Fernando Melek, or sometimes it’s Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade among others, but it’s always truly disturbing. While many other comic series may see adaptations, this one would be an extremely tough sell.