Well, Horrorchristmas (Halloween, as some insist on calling it) may be over for another year, but just because your candy and costume (sexy Jeremy Corbyn) are being put away doesn’t mean that the scares have to end. 2019 has seen the publication of some some incredible horror comics, and here are our picks for the best of the bunch.
Fans of horror with a southern gothic aesthetic have been singing the praises of Redlands since the series launched in 2017, and its commitment to quality has remained strong into its third year.
Starting in late 70s Florida with three witches escaping from an attempted lynching, the story that Redlands offers is empowering and gruelling in equal measure. Eisner Award-winner Jordie Bellaire creates a captivating power struggle as the coven tussles over control of the town with bible-thumping zealots and bigoted policemen. The frights on offer here range from eerie folk horror tableaus to devastatingly queasy body horror sequences. Bellaire slowly teases out the troubled history of the coven, adding depth and intrigue with practiced ease.
Redlands is a series that holds its mysteries close to its chest, and Vanesa R. Del Rey’s artwork is the perfect conduit for this kind of looming horror. The characters here are constantly awash in a sea of murky shadows, and the frights, when they appear, are gritty and raw.
Snow, Glass, Apples
For many, simply knowing that another Neil Gaiman prose story was getting a graphic adaptation would have been enough to get wallets opening and cash tills ringing. To classify this as simply a Neil Gaiman production, however, would be to do a disservice to the extraordinary artwork of Colleen Doran, who elevates and transforms the tale into something that demands to be discovered afresh.
Reproduced in its entirety here, Gaiman’s original story is an enigmatic retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale. In Gaiman’s world, Snow White isn’t a wide-eyed innocent, but rather a blood-sucking monster who uses her beauty to manipulate and terrorise. Her ‘dwarves’ are misshapen familiars and the story is related by her ‘evil’ stepmother, here a much more sympathetic figure than any of the step-parents found in the works of the Brothers Grimm.
Inspired by early-20th-century illustrator Harry Clarke, Doran’s work is exquisite. Her inventive use of space means that every page is able to surprise and delight, with a beautiful flow to each image guiding the reader through the story.
Girl in the Bay
Starting off in the heady world of 1960s counterculture, Girl in the Bay is a time-travelling murder mystery with all the twists and turns necessary to keep readers hooked.
17-year-old Katherine is a typical rebellious youth, living her best life in the parties and bars of Brooklyn. However, while reeling from a bad acid trip, Kathy finds herself in the arms of a handsome stranger – and becomes the victim of a brutal murder. Waking in 2019, a confused Kathy must find and confront not only her murderer but also the mysterious double that has lived her life for her for the last 50 years.
Writer J.M. DeMatteis has crafted a story that manages to be addictively engaging with genuinely shocking twists and enthralling plot elements. Perhaps his best achievement, however, is the characterisation of protagonist Kathy. Her mixture of teenage insecurity and bravado is instantly relatable, while her internal journey is brilliantly realised.
Corin Howell’s artwork is beautiful and vibrant where it needs to be, but is also capable of great subtlety. Like the story, it has the ability to feel both grand and intimate simultaneously, and the sumptuous splash pages are ripe with tiny details that hint at deep mysteries.
Heart of Darkness meets The X-Files in this nightmarish tale of terror from Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm. A flesh-warping disease is rampaging through a Mexican village. A small scientific team must travel there to discover its source, which turns out to lurk within a complicated cave system.
Unearth is a fast-paced read that nonetheless manages to keep its central mystery obscure and intriguing. Baldemar Rivas’ clean-lined artwork is the perfect vehicle for this enigmatic tale. Each member of the team is expressive and individualised, yet there’s a coldness to the artwork that reflects the military nature of the story. He also isn’t afraid to bring the gore or the ickiness when the narrative requires it.
When I Arrived at the Castle
A girl with cat ears trudges towards an ancient castle, intent on slaying the vampire countess that dwells within. Many before have tried and perished, but will our hero prevail or succumb to the countess? The latest outing from prolific comic author Emily Carroll is an erotically charged gothic lesbian romance that blends fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland with lurid horror.
The sense of otherworldliness here is accentuated by the loose visual layout of each page. Carroll eschews traditional box panels in favour of bold splash pages of red, black and white. Although this book lacks some of the narrative heft of her previous offering, Through the Woods, it still drips with sensual menace and captivating whimsy.
The Batman Who Laughs
Writer Scott Snyder has been engaged for some time in an epic exploration of Batman as a character, and this series feels like his final thesis statement. It’s also something of a victory lap for Snyder, who seems to be bidding his version of The Dark Knight a fond farewell with a recap of some of his finest moments over the last eight years.
Perhaps the caped crusader’s most terrifying foe, The Batman Who Laughs is a twisted reflection of the man himself. Combining the sadistic insanity of the Joker with the strength and intelligence of Batman, The Batman Who Laughs wreaks havoc across the multiverse, tormenting Batman in creative and brutally cruel ways, and creating deadly shadow versions of DC heroes. Ultimately, he forces Batman to confront some of the most horrifying truths that his saga has to offer.
This series has been a masterclass in storytelling. Putting the beloved character through a true baptism of fire, Snyder deftly weaves terror, tension and brutality together into a journey that leaves Batman utterly broken. However, it is only at his lowest moment that the truth behind the legend is revealed. For fans of horror and heroism, The Batman Who Laughs is one of the most intense and affecting Batman tales ever woven.
Ice Cream Man
As beautiful as it is bizarre, this series of astoundingly creative one-shot stories never fails to unsettle and amaze. Who is the Ice Cream Man? God? The Devil? All we know is that when you hear the playful jingle of his truck, you’re in for a surreal tale of sorrow, loss and abject terror.
The mysterious Ice Cream Man, whose 50s small-town friendliness is just the wrong side of creepy, is a fantastic creation from writer W. Maxwell Prince. The series manages to homage its predecessors (any one of these tales could be a perfect Twilight Zone episode) without ever feeling dated.
The stories remain committed to a formal experimentation that keeps every instalment fresh. In a recent dialogue-free issue, we were given a customer deciding between three flavours of ice cream. For each choice, we get three completely distinct fates; three branching storylines each as surprising and unsettling as the last. Another recent story was interspersed with crossword puzzles, while the 13th issue is a visual palindrome that can be read forwards or backwards. These experiments are infinitely engaging but never overwhelm the narratives, which always have a bleeding, emotional core.
Like the finest creations of Rod Serling, we never know where the Ice Cream Man will take us, only that we may never be the same when, or if, we return.