Halloween is here – and we decided to ask some comic creators what comics scared them. We reached out to some of the most talented names in comics, many of whom have written and illustrated some pretty scary books themselves. We had only one rule – no sarcasm, these had to be books that genuinely scared them.
Here’s what we got. Read on…if you dare.
NOTE: Expect to see the name “Bernie Wrightson” on here a lot. The man has a reputation for a reason.
(Batman, Swamp Thing, American Vampire; Co-Writer, Talon, Severed)
I was about sixteen when I discovered Bernie Wrightson's illustrated Frankenstein. I knew Wrightson's work from Swamp Thing – another immaculate work of horror I debated writing about here – but, embarrassingly, I was completely unaware of his Frankenstein until my sophomore year of high school.
I had just read the novel for the first time, and I'd fallen completely in love with it. It was one of the first books I fell for that way, one of the books that made me want to write.
What I loved about it was how deeply terrifying it was. I hadn't expected it to be so scary. The movies I loved, but charming and beautiful and spooky as they were, they weren't viscerally scary to me at that age. But the novel, Frankenstein was scary, downright horrifying.
And the reason was it was so scary had to do with the monster's humanity.
Yes, he was made from dead parts; yes he was brought to life in a darkened laboratory, in the creepiest way. But what made him frightening was that he was just human enough to sympathize with. He sounded scary to look at, yes, stitched together, but what made him terrifying was that he was coming after Dr. Frankenstein for the doctor's sins against him.The monster stalks and haunts Victor, because Victor abandoned him, because Victor was a bad father. All of this was and still is, deeply terrifying - not just to have a monster stalking you, but to have a monster that represents your own failings, your own darkest impulses, stalking you. A monster that is essentially a reflection of yourself, undead and horrifying, but shaped by your sins.
So I'm sixteen and loving this book and I go to Forbidden Planet (my local shop back then, the old downtown one in NYC), and I'm holding it, and one of the guys working there says: “Let me guess, you're here for the Wrightson masterpiece?” I didn't know what he meant, which shocked him, and so he took me down the aisle and showed me the Marvel imprint of the book.Of course, I bought it and took it right home, and if I loved and feared this book before, I loved and feared it exponentially more after seeing Wrigthtson's illustrated version. Because everything scary about the monster is right there in the art. He's grotesque, with that skullish nose and sunken eyes and lank hair, a towering ghoul.
And there's something so human in the face, something so vulnerable and sad and innocent in the way he looks through the lighted slat in the cottage, for example, that that when he becomes angry, the accusation is terrifying. Like Victor, we have forsaken him, and now he's going to burn our world to the ground and it's our fault.
Wrightson perfectly imagines the monster, and even beyond the monster, the book is a masterpiece - the way the line-work mimics old prints or woodcuts, the use of shadow, the unsettling angles, the incredible attention to detail, the way every beaker, every vial is drawn precisely, so that this rich, haunting, gothic world comes to life vividly on the page...
For me, Wrightson's work adds to the novel in every way. A masterpiece of horror on every level.
Fred Van Lente
(Marvel Zombies Halloween)
They did a Spider-Man oversized Treasury edition of Team-Ups with scary stuff ... Morbius... Werewolf by Night... but what scared me the most was Ghost Rider.
They fought this villain, the Orb, and when he took off his eye-helmet his face was so hideously disfigured underneath it scared me so much as a kid -- I must have been six or seven – that I cut out a black piece of construction paper to tape over the panel so I could read the rest of the comic without seeing that one image.Todd Farmer
(Co-Writer, Insurgent at DC; screenwriter on Drive Angry, Jason X and others)
I started late. I was a teen when I read Heroes for Hope: Starring the X-Men, which was designed to raise awareness for hunger in Africa. It was a great cause but when I got to the Stephen King/ Bernie Wrightson section... the art changed. The writing changed. It took me so completely by surprise. It was disturbing.
The words/visuals haunted me. Kept me awake at night. They changed me. From there I started reading King and grabbed as many Bernie comics as I could find. This was a defining moment in who I would later become as a writer and creator of things that go bump.Paul Pope
(THB, The One Trick Rip-Off, Heavy Liquid, and several scary stories for Vertigo)
As opposed to listing the horrible comics....let's list the top three horror comics. In reverse order....
First--parenthetically--I would want to list among the most terrifying comics, the early Dick Briefer Frankenstein comics, which are pretty gruesome, and pretty much anything by Kazuo Umezu, including Cat Eyed Boy....which is an absolute joy to read and behold.....and perhaps Basil Wolverton's Spacehawk, which I find a bit disturbing....3.) “Flies On The Ceiling” by Jaime Hernandez. Love & Rockets (Fantagraphics)
Izzy is a haunted writer who goes to Mexico in an effort to escape the Devil. The Devil follows her. Cracks in the wall talk back, crosses fall upside down, roosters stare back. Earthy and Catholic and menacing, there are flies on the ceiling.
This is one of the best. This is William Friedkin-level haiku terror spilled across a poison page from the hand of a modern master.2.) “In Deep” by Richard Corben and Bruce Jones. Recently published in the Dark Horse collection of Corben Creepy comics.
Ever fall in love with somebody? Ever imagine you are stuck on a tiny raft with them after the boat sinks and the one you love can't swim? And then the seagulls and the sharks start coming around?
This is one of the most horrifying stories committed to comics because it is so small scale, so personal, so close to home.1.) Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show by Maruo Suehiro.
My vote for most terrifying comic ever, since the main character is so vulnerable and innocent and undeserving of her fate. An orphan girl is married off to a perverted carny who runs a circus of freaks who are themselves all thoroughly sadistic and otherwise spiritually twisted.
This is a vision into a bleak, existential world of sex and sadism and performance and hunger by the inventor of what is rightly called “sick manga.”Ted Naifeh
Nothing scares me anymore, except bills. But I spent my tweens in a state of almost perpetual anxiety. There were rooms in the house that filled me with dread. Unfortunately, one was my bedroom.
What started off my worst spiral of terror was an afternoon reading Bernie Wrightson’s brilliant Creepshow adaptation in the Borders at my local mall. Creepshow seems hokey now, but children don’t see hokeyness. I saw a masterful symphony of horror in every richly shadowed page.
The thing in the crate was the worst, directly accessing my internal “under-the-bed” monster and giving it hideous shape. The story’s crescendo was the thing biting a woman’s face off, an image that kept me awake all that night, and haunts me to this day.Evan Dorkin
(Beasts of Burden)
When I was ten or so I was bed-sick and my friend Michael Kemper lent me two books, the first hardcover comics collections I'd ever seen. One was the Fireside Batman collection. The other was the Nostalgia Press EC Horror Comics of the 1950s, which was an anthology of EC crime, shock and horror stories by some of the best cartoonists of the era – Davis, Wood, Krigstein, Craig, Frazetta, et al.
It scared the crap out of me and stayed with me a long time after I read them. I had no idea comics like that even existed, and the excellent art and cheerful gallows humor made it all the more disturbing to me.These were comics made by maniacs designed to give me nightmares: A baseball game played with body parts. A body displayed in a butcher's case. Vultures plucking a man's eyes out. A vampire restaurant. A cannibal story narrated by the ghoul's house. A child-abuser killed by murdered kid's teddy bear. Blood, gore, insanity, downbeat endings...compelling, repelling, disgusting, exciting.
It might seem slightly quaint now to some people, but it absolutely freaked me out and was a bit of a comic book game-changer for me, along with Mad, Love & Rockets, Weirdo, et al. Nothing's quite like your first “good lord, choke!” comic book moment as a kid.Duncan Fegredo
(Hellboy, many Vertigo books)
Steve Ditko's Dr Strange stories often freaked me out. The concept and visuals for Eternity, coupled with the idea of being separated and lost from your physical body, I found compelling and disturbing in equal measure.
On a more personal note my first read through of Peter Milligan's script for Face was pretty horrifying, not least because I was going to have to draw it! If you haven't read it I'd urge you too seek out a copy – witty, provocative and quite chilling, it's still one of the books of which I'm proudest.Kevin Grevioux
(I, Frankenstein, Screenwriter/Actor, Underworld)For me, the scariest comic I remember reading was an old story originally from Tales From the Crypt #46, a reprint issue by Graham Ingles. It was called “Tatter Up!” It was about a conman who married an old woman for her money.
From what I remember, the old woman used to find old clothes for this “rag man” who used to come by her house every day to collect them. And when the husband killed her after not being able to find her money, the rag man came by seeking more rags, but mysteriously knowing what the conman had done.
When the husband tried to shoot him to keep his secret, the bullets went right through the rag man because he was literally made out of rags. The rag man then killed the conman with his raggedy hands and face while they both had these horrific looks on their faces.
What was scary about it for me were the expressions that Ingles drew on the characters faces. They were exaggerated so well they made you feel every emotion the characters seemingly felt. I had nightmares for weeks after reading that story!Joe Hill
(Locke & Key, many scary novels and short stories including Heart-Shaped Box and Horns)
Good horror can evoke emotion across a broad spectrum of feeling, ranging from “gotcha!” shock, to revulsion, to anguished sympathy, to a dreadful species of awe. Stories that produce that last reaction are particularly interesting (to me).
There is something terrifying but also transcendent about the bigness of the universe and the idea that humanity is no more than a small candle flame in the chill and the dark... a flame that could be huffed out in a single laughing breath.
That delicious, disquieting sense of wonder seized me when I read Alan Moore's run on Saga of the Swamp Thing, beginning with the very first issue, “The Anatomy Lesson,” and in some ways has never let me go. I felt it throughout The Sandman, a surreal carnival of story, where the juggler is tossing whole worlds, and the clowns eat children, and the ringmaster is reading poetry while the lions stalk the shadows.
Sandman and Swamp Thing do their jobs so well they will never be out of print, as long as people still care about the comic book form. To those, I would add a third narrative, less well-known but equally chilling and inspiring: Black Hole by Charles Burns, an exploration of adolescence, disease, and deformity that would make David Cronenberg sick.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Halloween! Sleep well tonight…if you can.More Halloween Horror Fun at Newsarama:
- Spooky Stories: 10 Comics to get in the Halloween Spirit
- Visit Gaming's Haunted Houses for Halloween
- Free FULL Issue: Kirkman/McFarlane's HAUNT #1