10 Great HORROR Comics, From Golden Age to Now

<i>By <a href=http://twitter.com/TroyBrownfield>Troy Brownfield, Newsarama Columnist</a></i> <p>Horror and comics go together like Halloween and John Carpenter. Unfortunately, though, the two have often had a contentious relationship, not necessarily of their own design. <p>At one point, horror (and crime) comics were easily the most popular genre on the racks. Then, pressures both public and political nearly drove them away before they came roaring back in the '70s. Today, comics rooted in horror elements exist at almost every publisher, and show no signs of going away again. Now, let's look at 10 of the greatest horror comics ever on this most appropriate of days. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>


Very rarely can a three-issue mini-series help put a publisher on the map. But <b>30 Days of Night</b> did just that for IDW in 2002. Written by Steve Niles and with art by Ben Templesmith, the series was an unabashed, unromantic take on vampires. Rooted in a premise similar to "Comes the Dawn" ( a 1995 <i>Tales from the Crypt</i> episode, itself based on a story from <i>Haunt of Fear #26</i>), <b>30 Days</b> places the action in Barrow, Alaska, where waiting for daylight is a much, much harder proposition that you might expect. <p><b>30 Days</b> was made into a film in 2007, but its largest legacy lies in comics, where it has continually spun off mini-series and specials since its inception, with an ongoing series launched earlier this month. We put it here because the hook, while not 100% completely new, still felt fresh and pushed the vampire mythos in a different direction that it had taken in the previous two decades (or since).


The lady from Drakulon has a shot at the list based on lineage alone, created as she was by Forest J. Ackerman, editor of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and Trina Robbins. Some quick to attribute Vampirella's longevity to a couple of, well, obvious attributes, but the fact of the matter is that there's been an enormous armada of talent that worked on the character over the years as she journeyed between publishers and various titles. <P>Consider this: you had editors like Archie Goodwin and Louise Jones. You had artists like the vastly underrated Jose Gonzalez (not to mention those Frazetta covers). On the writing side, you've had the likes of Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore.


Who knew? That is, who knew that when John Constantine first showed up in the pages of Alan Moore's run on <i>Swamp Thing</i> that he'd get his own book, let alone STILL be headlining it years later? As of this writing, the series is on issue #284 with no signs of stopping. It's a success built on attitude, wreathes of cigarette smoke and hard-headed anitheroism. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the book has been written by some of the best in the business, including Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and many more. <p>Constantine also had the distinction, like several other entries on this list, of being adapted into film. Though, frankly, the less said about that, the better. What is worthy of mention is that, even as <b>Hellblazer</b> continues, JC himself has recently crossed back into the mainstream DCU and has a role in <i>Justice League Dark</i>. Again, who freaking knew?


This Hideshi Hino manga might not be as well known in the Ssates as the work of artists like Junji Ito, but man, is it horrific. Essentially a tour of hell by a deranged painter, the <b>Panorama</b> works so well because of disturbing imagery and an implacably eerie atmosphere. <p>This writer first encountered an early version of this volume years ago at a Waldenbooks in a mall in Terre Haute, Indiana, of all places. But it stuck with him. Track down a copy (it's been in and out of print over the years) and it'll stick with you, too.


Some might carp, but very few series use horror tropes as effectively as Hellboy. The pancake-loving paranormal defender has fought all manner of beasts throughout his comic tenure with a rogues gallery that runs through various levels of fairy tales, folklore, and thoroughly modern villainy. <p>Obviously, Hellboy's very appearance gives him at least one (cloven) foot in the horror canon. Did you know that a portion of the Western European (and thus, later, post-Plymouth America) derives its image of "The Devil" from The Horned God, which was a goat-like fertility deity? That iconography also pervades the wonderful Shuck comics by Rick Smith and Tania Menesse.


Jhonen Vasquez's seven-issue series and attendant collection remains one of the best-selling comics that, frankly, a lot of mainstream fans have never heard of. In fact, part of its inclusion on this list stems from its word-of-mouth reputation and the fact that it managed to break beyond the boundaries of conventional fandom. <p>If you've never read it, you're missing out. This is the tale of young serial killer Johnny C., a guy given to killing anyone that irritates him. Inasmuch as that's epic wish fulfillment for a lot of readers, Johnny also possesses a weird sort of morality, actually expressing contempt for the crimes of others, struggling to contain the monster in his wall, and protecting his friend Squee. <p>Granted, it's not for everyone. But it's wickedly inventive, creatively rendered by Vasquez, and a classic of its time that manages to be both widely known and underground.


Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Alan Moore (again). Stephen Bissette. Rick Veitch. And the list goes on. Like Vampirella and others, <b>Swamp Thing</b> has drawn enormous impressive creators into its orbit. Over the course of five distinct volumes since 1971, <b>Swamp Thing</b> (and/or <b>Saga of the Swamp Thing</b>) has been one of the most important horror-related titles in comics. <p>Apart from being the aforementioned launch pad for John Constantine and essentially being ground zero for what would eventually become Vertigo (yeah, <i>Sandman</i> gets the credit, but <b>Swamp Thing</b> was here first), <b>Swamp Thing</b> has proven that there's always room for smart writers to reinterpret familiar characters. When he first appeared, Swampy was noted for his similarities to Man-Thing or The Heap. With years of stories from remarkable talent on all versions of the title, no one says that now.


Does this one really need an explanation? <p>OK . . . moving on.


In its own way, <b>The Walking Dead</b> has been entirely about disproving conventional wisdom. It's been said that a book can't continually grow its audience. It's been said that zombies are a non-sustainable narrative device. It's been said that a black and white book can't cross over. You know what? It's also been said that people can be flat-out wrong. <P><b>The Walking Dead</b> defied expectations by becoming a legitimate hit with fans and critics. As single issue sales crept up issue by issue, the collections began to make a larger impact. Powered by the writing of Robert Kirkman, visually realized by (initially) Tony Moore and (since issue #7) Charlie Adlard, the book takes readers on a harrowing tour of a post-zombie-apocalypse America. The series still continues to shock as good people do bad things and beloved characters meet terrible fates. <p>Despite its success (and even more odds-defying, the success of the television series based on it), <b>The Walking Dead</b> refuses to compromise.


How can this not be number one? It helped establish Marvel's horror titles, it starred the greatest supernatural villain in all of literature, it featured fantastic Gene Colan and Tom Palmer art, and its primary writer was named <i>Wolfman</i>. <p>70 issues of '70s horror excellence, and one of the best comics in the history of the genre.

10 Great HORROR Comics, From Golden Age to Now

Date: 31 October 2011 Time: 07:59 PM ET