Not all horror mediums function the same way. Movies have an advantage when it comes to portraying horror, thanks to the combination of audio and visual components. You see something scary, but the music builds up tension until released by a slasher or ghost jumping out. With books, the audience receives neither of these, but gains the freedom to imagine things in a way that’s terrifying to them. If a character in a book gets decapitated, the reader gets to envision how the head flies off, where it lands, how the blood spills, all of that.
Horror comics work differently. They contain the visual aspects of film, but lack the advantage of audio. There’s some space for the reader to influence the action with their imagination, but not as much as traditional books. It’s an awkward middle ground to navigate, but writers continue to make successful horror comics.
So how do they do it? What’s the trick? Here’s a couple tools horror comic writers use to their advantage.
Comics consist of words and images placed together within a frame. They exist in the same space, fleshing out the world of the comic and illustrating action, either through what we read in the text or what we see in the icons. While existing in the same plane, the way these two comic components interact can complement one another to achieve something neither could accomplish on their own.
Trigger warning: assault, violence
Spoiler warning: this post contains spoilers for Batman: Three Jokers
Batman has always been associated with a traumatic origin story. The murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents served as the inciting incident for Bruce’s crusade against crime. Since Bill Finger and Bob Kane created the character in 1939, the murder of the Wayne family fueled the Batman canon as the driving force behind Batman’s quest for vengeance and justice, leading Bruce to battle criminals in order to prevent another incident like his own.
Look at that happy dude above this sentence. Born from a couple keystrokes, they’re nothing more than a colon and half a parenthesis.
And now they’ve winked at you. Since graphic designer Harvey Ball invented the yellow smiley face in 1963, the smiley has become a ubiquitous part of our culture. At its core, however, the smiley face is not a face. It’s a couple of dots and a line, sometimes encased in a circle. These dots and lines work because humans naturally seek out patterns. We recognize the dots as eyes and the line as a mouth, and we think “hey that looks like a dude”.
It’s a pretty safe bet that when people read the comics section of the newspaper, they aren’t thinking about the theory behind the art form. They’re looking to see what whacky shenanigans Snoopy and the gang are getting into, and whether Garfield got his lasagna. But using those colorful boxes, artists can manipulate time and space on the page.
Nonfiction is more than just your outdated math textbook. And while yes, many nonfiction books are boring, there is truly nothing more satisfying than knowing that the incredible story you’ve just read is true. Here are four of my favorite graphic novels based in truth.
When I was in elementary school, the teachers permitted us to pick our books for an upcoming book report. I asked the teachers if I could write my report on the graphic novel Bone: Out From Boneville, the first in the Bone Chronicles written by Jeff Smith. After mulling the book over, my teachers decided that I would not be allowed to use Out From Boneville because it was primarily pictures.
At the time, I knew that this was unfair, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. The important part of the report was to analyze a story. Out From Boneville had a story, right? Besides, it still counted as reading, didn’t it?
Later, in high school, I found out that there was an entire course offered on graphic novels. Intrigued, I took it, and it ended up being my favorite class of my high school career. The very first thing we learned? Reasons to read comics and graphic novels. Turns out, the teacher had fought to make the course an option on the curriculum, and I’m very grateful he did.