Although most horror fans will remember 2018 as the year of Annihilation, Hereditary and A Quiet Place, film was not the only medium to produce stellar horror products last year. In the world of comics, a parade of explosive talents brought us story after story that were as dazzlingly executed as they were chillingly effective.
Here’s a breakdown of our favourite must-read horror comics from 2018.
You couldn’t ask for a timelier tale than this modern-day ghost story that draws on societal unrest and xenophobia. The plot focuses on an American Muslim woman and her multi-ethnic neighbours. It documents their trials and tribulations in an apartment building haunted by creatures that feed on racism and prejudice, stoking the flames of division between them.
All the more impressive for being the first comic written by seasoned editor Pornsak Pichetshote, it’s no surprise that this chilling tale of a divided NYC was picked up for a movie adaptation after only two instalments. Here’s hoping that the proposed film does justice to Aaron Campbell’s moody, brooding artwork.
As soon as we heard about the comparisons that the first volume of Gideon Falls was drawing to the off-kilter worlds of David Lynch and the sprawling labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges, we knew we had to get our hands on it. A conspiracy-minded outcast and a jaded priest are at the mercy of a small town’s dark secrets. A fabled black barn, unmoored in time and space, appears in the town across history, bringing death and destruction with it at each appearance.
The greatest strength of the story is how it makes its readers obsessive investigators, scouring the artwork for subtle clues as to how the stories that make up the whole are interconnected. Eventually, those readers are confronted with the enormity of Jeff Lemire’s brand of grimy cosmic horror.
One of the undisputed masters of the horror comics field, there was little chance of Junji Ito not knocking this classic tale out of the park on his first try. Ito’s adaptation is fairly faithful to Mary Shelley’s original vision, taking few liberties. His creature is subtly monstrous, enough to be disquieting while still retaining its essential humanity. After all, like Shelley, Ito wants his creature to be a mirror held up to the true monsters, and not hog all of the limelight himself.
The second half of the book is given over to a collection of Ito’s shorter tales, focusing on Oshikiri, a high school student who seems to be living in some kind of liminal space between dimensions, or is simply losing his mind. Replete with murder and surreal imagery, the stories explore high school paranoia and insecurities with Ito’s usual flair for the unsettling and grotesque.
Come into Me
From Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler and Eric Zawadzki, the team behind critically acclaimed ‘homeless noir’ The Dregs, comes a pleasingly squelchy body-horror offering with more than a touch of early Cronenberg about it. A social media parable, Come into Me tells the story of a world where the latest technological advances allow two minds to share one body. The megalomaniac tech wizard who came up with the breakthrough, however, failed to predict the effects his discovery would have on its participants long-term.
From this simple premise, a biting social satire on the vanity of the internet age emerges. With themes of body image preoccupation and the eternal search for online validation, Come into Me is not a story that falls back on shock imagery to disguise a lack of substance.
I Am a Hero
Fans of The Walking Dead may have thought that there was something a little too familiar about Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am a Hero. However, in 2018, the reissued series really came into its own, exhibiting a fresh take on the oversaturated zombie plague survival story.
I Am a Hero focuses on a mentally unhinged manga artist witnessing the outbreak in Tokyo, but in Dark Horse’s new 2018 translated issues (the story debuted in Japan in 2009), the scope of the story is expanded to portray a global pandemic and the peculiar nature of Hanazawa’s infected comes to the fore. The realistic artwork and bizarre imagery gives this series a distinctive flavour, and fans of the zombie genre will find it refreshingly lacking in clichés and stereotypical characters.
If the absence of a tight narrative structure and well-defined characters are deal-breakers for you, then it’s possible that Masaaki Nakayama’s work is not for you. Here is the official plot summary of his latest offering:
“ha…ir……hand hand and.. ..an..d……fire….. ….be…hin…d……blood……u… …sh…shadow………ahh……ow……ow…w……co…. ..bo…box……chil…dren… …straw………shears……s…sss.. ….sever…GROooOHH…. ..rah……O…gu…shi…sa….. ……….This is AERN-BBC, PTSD Radio. No tuning…necessary”
Step into Nakayama’s hallucinatory world of twisted faces and disturbing vignettes. On the face of it, it’s a selection of short uncanny tales, but with each hinting at a larger and more terrible overarching narrative.
Much like Junji Ito, Nakayama is a master of timing, with each disturbing image preceded by a page turn. In this way, he creates a rollercoaster of slowly building tension and shattering shocks. His artistic talent, particularly in the drawing of faces, makes him adept at plunging his readers deep into the uncanny valley.
Tee Franklin’s Jook Joint begins with a big red trigger warning. Confronting issues of social inequality, racism, sexual assault and domestic violence with liberal amounts of gore, this is a story that resonates with our contemporary world. Through the metaphor of the supernatural, Franklin gives voice to the marginalised and empowers the victims that society has failed to protect.
Mahalia runs a New Orleans hotspot, but when her patrons don’t know to keep their hands to themselves, she has her own supernatural means of enforcing the house rules. Counterpointing the sensual excess of the 1950’s jazz scene with shocking depictions of violence and abuse, Franklin’s story is one of anger and liberation. It’s a story that she began writing on the advice of her therapist in order to help her process past traumas, and it drips with the cold, dignified rage of catharsis.
This character-driven series features a bedraggled group of WWII soldiers holing up in an abandoned house in the woods to shelter from their enemies. The house, of course, has ideas of its own, and soon they find themselves wishing that they were facing something as mundane as German rifle fire.
Writer Phillip Sevy keeps up an impressive pace in his storytelling, and the horror here is relentless as the soldiers are confronted with manifestations of the horrors of war as well as their own guilty pasts. As a standalone thriller, The House is a fantastic foray into grinding horror that mixes some classic EC comics-style imagery with a much more modern, nuanced take on the emotional toll of combat.
A Walk Through Hell
All comics fans should be familiar with the work of the incomparable Garth Ennis, and with this latest outing, it’s clear he’s lost none of his flair for the captivating and shocking. X-Files comparisons abound in this noir-infused story, which opens with an FBI duo investigating a mass shooting in a local mall. Subtle hints that all is not as it seems permeate the investigation, and all roads seem to lead to a mysterious warehouse.
Ennis gives a masterclass in tone and pacing throughout, and the rising tension, clinical investigation scenes and terrifying visions are all expertly placed for maximum effect. The end result is somewhere between True Detective and Twin Peaks with an added spice of gore.
Certain to be at the top of most ‘Best of 2018’ lists, Upgrade Soul is currently drawing comparisons with Black Mirror, but frankly the comparison does this book a tremendous disservice. A wealthy elderly couple have the chance to prolong their lives through an untested medical procedure. The procedure goes wrong in ways that could never have been predicted, and the book accelerates towards a conclusion that will leave you questioning… well, just about everything.
Here, Ezra Claytan Daniels has created a living, breathing tale that devours genre boundaries and delivers one of 2018’s most compelling, hypnotic and emotionally devastating stories.
Perhaps not strictly a horror comic, Upgrade Soul still has some very unsettling things to say about the course of our technologically-enhanced society and the potential future of our shared humanity.