Friday, October 31, 2008

Recommended Halloween Reading: Comics!

Happy Halloween, folks! In continuing with our Halloween-themed celebration -- a "spooktacular," if you will -- of all great scary stuff, I thought it might be interesting to talk about some excellent horror comic books. That's right, comic books. While comics generally have a for-kids-only, superheroes-in-tights stigma, the medium actually has a long history of producing terrific horror stories. Thusly, here are a few personal favorites that are sure to deliver thrills and chills.

The EC Archives: Shock Suspenstories
EC Comics, a comic book publisher from the 40s and 50s, produced a slew of innovative horror comics -- notable, aside from how frightening they are, for introducing new techniques in art, narrative, and overall chance-taking -- before being all but shut down thanks to some very irrational fears about the effects of comics on kids. Thanks to the EC Archives series of hardcover collected reprints, these long out-of-print tales are being rediscovered. EC created several stellar titles, including Tales From the Crypt and Weird Science, which aside from providing scares, also worked as smart morality plays on racism, anti-Semitism, and more. Shock Suspenstories was no different, as this omnibus is filled with excellent horror, crime, and war stories that will scare you and make you think. But don't take my word for it; EC fan Steven Spielberg wrote the foreword to this wonderful collection. An essential piece of comic book history.

The Goon: Volume 1 - Nothin' But Misery
The Goon, a story about a hulking, emotionally scarred gangster with a heart of gold -- created, written and drawn by Eric Powell -- is one of the best comics on the market today. A mash-up of horror, crime, and comedy, The Goon contains everything cool: zombies, werewolves, 30s gangsters and tough guys, vampires, mad scientists, killer robots, and more. Powell is a supremely gifted storyteller when it comes to his writing, as he deftly jumps from the heart-wrenching to the gut-busting, and he pulls it off with aplomb. But his art is also startlingly unique, combining pencils, watercolors, and deep inks with a kinetic energy that recalls Jack Kirby. It's best to start here at the beginning, and see how Powell slowly builds The Goon's world, characters, and tone. Before you know it, you're amazed. Highly recommended.

Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel
Brian Michael Bendis is probably comics' biggest writer these days, as he has written just about every major series that Marvel Comics publishes, including Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, and the current mega-event, Secret Invasion. But I think his best work remains Torso, a black-and-white graphic novel based on the true story of the Cleveland Torso Murderer serial killer. Disturbing and dark, this comic is like a great crime novel, with a true can't-put-it-down quality.

The Walking Dead: Volume 1 - Days Gone Bye
Zombie comics have been around forever, but none have really had as great an impact as Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. Created and written by Kirkman, and presented in awesome black-and-white, The Walking Dead recalls George Romero's excellent zombie films, with a balanced focus on zombies and smart story. Telling the story of a cop named Rick, his family and others they've met along the way in trying to survive a zombie outbreak, the real brilliance of The Walking Dead lies not so much in its scare-factor of a catastrophe, but rather, in its questioning of how far are we willing to sacrifice our morals and ideals in the face of that catastrophe? No character is safe in this sprawling epic (which makes it all the more fun), and if you start here with volume one, you'll be hooked.