Okay, just to get this out of the way, off the bat, or however else I can say it, Dark Lady: A Horrifying Anthology is typically not something I would ever have picked up and read, because I’m not the biggest fan of horror. For some reason though, something compelled me to pick the anthology up, and so last weekend I decided to read a couple of pages to check out Dark Lady‘s contents.
I finished it in one sitting.
Look, I may not be a horror fan but I do love comics, and this anthology has some truly great comics within it’s covers. Hellcat Press published it in black and white as a cost saving measure, but I think that with the nature of the stories within, adding colour would be more likely to detract from the aesthetic of the book and the individual stories. The art work as a whole has a raw, almost brutal truth to it, that you can’t help but appreciate. There are some stories that feature art that’s a little more polished than others, but the variance of styles and polish only adds to the cohesive feeling of Dark Lady.
While there isn’t a weak link in terms of the stories within this collection, there are some stories here that are absolutely fantastic. Obviously the ones that stand above and beyond for me may not be the same ones that you’re going to love, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find something for you in here.
I was pleasantly surprised by the complete lack of gore for gore’s sake, too. Some of the best stories here were more on the psychological (or sociological) side of things. I don’t want to single any story out in particular, (but I will) however I couldn’t honestly write the review without praising Lindsay Moore‘s The Procedure. I’m not going to go into detail about the story, but it is a powerful piece of literature that deserves your attention. The five pages of the prescription alone are worth you picking up Dark Lady, but to say that this is by far and away the best story in the book wouldn’t exactly be true. Yes, it’s the one that stayed with me after I put the book down, but there are several that I enjoyedalmost as much as The Prescription that combine to make Dark Lady one of the best anthologies I’ve read in a long time.
Even if you’re not a fan of horror comics, this is still an anthology that you really shouldn’t ignore.
Stories contributed by Katie Cunningham, Mehitabel Glenhaber, Caroline Juang, Hanna-Pirita Lehkonen, Jennifer Lewis, Lindsay Moore, Lisa Pearson, Maria Photinakis, Casey O’Neill, Aya Rothwell, Kelly Smith, Grace Vibbert, Marie Vibbert
Edited by Lindsay Moore Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy
Hellcat Press provided Graphic Policy with a Free copy for review.
Hellcat Press is a small publishing company devoted solely to producing horror comic anthologies. It was founded in 2014 by Lindsay Moore and Steve Fulghum. Their first anthology, the incredible Dark Lady, was published in October of 2015, and features ten short horror stories written and drawn entirely by female creators. Alex had the opportunity to have a chat with Lindsay about getting the first of many yearly anthologies published, the powerful story she contributed herself (The Procedure) and what’s next for the independent publisher Hellcat Press.
Graphic Policy: Firstly, thank you very much for your time. Dark Lady has been out for a few months now, how has the feedback about the project been from the creative community?
Lindsay Moore: I think feedback’s been positive. I’ve sold Dark Lady at a handful of conventions (Hartford Comic Con and Rock & Shock). The reaction there was very positive — lots of people were intrigued by Dark Lady and the overall idea of an all-female horror comics anthology. Whenever I do a show or convention, I like to meet my neighbors. I like talking to other creative types and see what they’re selling. Who knows, maybe we’ve got a similar product and we can help each other out?
All my neighbors at Rock & Shock were guys who were selling their own horror comics. Everyone there was a die-hard horror fan, and the majority of them were glad to see a woman who was not only interested in horror, but was trying to get something new and different to the masses. Like I said, horror’s a male-dominated genre, and sometimes you have to dig around to find something that wasn’t written by a white guy. (Not to knock white guys — they’ve done a lot for the horror genre — but variety’s a good thing, so let’s see some every now and again.)
Anyway, all the horror fans and creative types I’ve shown Dark Lady to have been enthusiastic about it. The response has been very positive.
GP: I understand that you ran into a bit of misogyny when pitching the project initially. You mention in the forward to the book that that was a crushing experience; is there some satisfaction now that Dark Anthology is out to the masses?
LM: It has been immensely satisfying to see Dark Lady in print. I initially pitched the idea to the Boston Comics Roundtable — which I’d been a member of for nearly seven years — and I was shocked at the misogynistic reaction. What made it even worse was the response when I complained about it. I had both men and women basically telling me that I was over-reacting and blowing everything out of proportion. I also had a lot of people tell me not to talk to anyone about it because it would make the group look bad. The basic response was, “yes, we treated you like garbage, now get over it and don’t you dare tell anyone about it.” So, seeing Dark Lady in print — and seeing a positive response to it — has been amazing.
I’d also like to point out that every other man I have talked to about the anthology has been interested or enthusiastic about it. The only people who trashed the idea were the ones I had known and had thought of as friends.
Excerpt from Aya Rothwell’s “Chickadee!”
GP: What was your (former?) friends’ reaction to Dark Lady? Have you spoken to them since that meeting?
LM: I really haven’t talked with any of my former friends since Dark Lady was printed. I talked with one guy who was at that particular meeting (this was Mr. “What If I Write About a Female Character?”); I gave him a copy of Dark Lady in exchange for feeding my cats while I was out of town. He didn’t say much about the anthology itself, but he did mention that “people probably felt excluded” when I pitched the idea as an all-female anthology.
I won’t lie or try to dance around the subject; I’m not going to say, “oh, no, I wasn’t *excluding* anyone, I was just [insert lame excuse here].” Yes, men were excluded from this anthology. Men (especially straight white men) have contributed a lot to the horror genre — and that’s not a bad thing. I took a class in college called “The Literature of Horror” — aside from Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire” and some short stories by Clive Barker and Wildy Petoud, we only read books by straight white men. Don’t get me wrong, we read some very good books, like The Exorcist and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”…but we only experienced horror from one point of view. The purpose of a class like The Literature of Horror is to introduce the students to new perspectives and broaden their horizons and, although I did read some great books, I wasn’t introduced to anything new. I was experiencing horror the way I’d always experienced it: as written by a man.
There are a lot of really amazing horror authors who don’t fall into the “straight white guy” category. They’ve got unique voices, but they aren’t always heard…and sometimes it’s because there’s a guy shouting “MARY SHELLEY” over them as they try to talk.
I didn’t say any of this to Mr. “What If I Write About a Female Character?” I thanked him for feeding my cats, got my keys back, and left.
GP: In terms of the anthology itself, I really love the black and white colouring to the pages; was there a conscious decision to publish black and white stories, or was it more of a happy coincidence?
LM: It was a conscious decision to do black-and-white. I couldn’t afford color. I still can’t. “Simply Sinful” is also going to be in black-and-white.
Excerpt from Jennifer Lewis’s “Toothless”
GP: The story you contributed to the anthology, The Procedure, can you tell us a little bit about where the inspiration for that came from?
LM: I was writing The Procedure amid the whole Gamergate thing, but there were really a myriad of influences for it. Gamergate was sort of background noise. In fact, when I was workshopping the script, one of my friends told me that I should change the setting from a comic book store to a video game store. She was very adamant and kept telling me that the problem of sexism was so much worse in the video game world. I mentioned that I’d also seen it in the comic book world, but she sort of dismissed it and kept pointing to Gamergate.
I think several things prompted me to write The Procedure I remember someone on Facebook posted about that badly done Milo Manara Spiderwoman cover, asking for opinions on it. I chimed in to say something silly like, “how can she fight crime with an atomic wedgie like that?” and someone else jumped in and told me that I was not allowed to criticize Milo Manara because he’s “an artist.” This guy was very passionate and was telling everyone that Manara was a master and that we therefore weren’t allowed to criticize his artwork. I thought that was a hot load of BS right there. I mean, every “master” produces stinkers. I was miffed (and mildly amused) that I was being explicitly told not to criticize a stranger’s artwork.
Then there was this god-awful Teen Titans cover that drew some well-deserved criticism from Janelle Asselin. I’m no graphic designer, and I know nothing about art, but the cover’s just bad. It’s cluttered. There’s so much random crap crammed onto that cover, I don’t know what to look at. Plus, you have to take into consideration that text will have to be added to the cover. There’s just no space for it. And there’s the elephant in the room — Wonder Girl’s breasts are bigger than her head, they’re prominently on display, and she’s underage. Asselin received rape and death threats for pointing out that the cover was badly drawn. I remember reading an article about it and scrolling through the comments; this one girl had stated, “well, I don’t have a problem with the cover AND I’M A GIRL.” I’ve noticed that you get that a lot when some really sexist artwork pops up — someone’s always saying, “I’m cool with it AND I’M A GIRL,” but what they really mean is, “HEY, LOOK AT ME! I’M THE COOL GIRL! I’M NOT A COMPLAINER! LIKE ME!” It comes across as desperate, and it just reinforces the idea that it’s unacceptable for women to express themselves.
I was at Boston Comic Con years ago and was talking with this guy about (what else) comics. He was talking on and on about how much he loved Frank Miller’s Sin City, and when he finally asked my opinion, I gave it. I said that I thought that the issues were repetitive and that the plot-lines were lackluster. I also threw in a snarky comment about how all the male characters are bundled up in coats, hats, scarves, gloves, etc, and the women are running around nearly-naked — I mean, it’s always nighttime and it’s always raining in Sin City, these women should all have pneumonia because they’re inappropriately dressed.
This comment seemed to set the guy off. He launched into this tirade and flat-out told me that comics are for guys. “It’s a guy thing, a guy fantasy,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘guy,’ “and you know what? Guys like looking at pretty girls. Comics are for guys. If you don’t like it, just get out.” Then he called me a dyke. Up until I’d expressed my opinion, he had been perfectly nice. He’d been polite and charming and had even asked about going out for coffee sometime. Once I opened my mouth and said that I didn’t like something that he happened to like, it was like a switch flipped inside his head. Not only was I not worth talking to anymore, I needed to be berated and yelled at for daring to have the “wrong” opinion.
This happened years ago, but I still see this “comics are for guys, the guys are being very nice by letting you read them, so don’t you dare complain” attitude. And I’ll say right here and now — not every guy does this. It’s a select few of bad apples who ruin the bunch. But those bad apples can be genuinely threatening (just ask Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu).
And lastly, I wanted to do something with body horror and a smidge of gore. All the other horror comics I’d written prior to The Procedure featured implied or off-panel violence. I wanted to try something new.
So, in a very roundabout way, The Procedure came from a couple of bad comics-related experiences and some interesting observations.
Excerpt from Caroline Juang’s “Word of Mouth”
GP: Switching I understand you’re planning a second anthology, Simply Sinful, that will be accepting submissions from all genders. Do you have any plans to do another all-female anthology down the road?
LM: Absolutely. I have a few other themes that I’m pretty excited about, but I’d love to do Dark Lady Returns at some point. I’d also like to put together an all-queer horror anthology.
GP: What have you learned from Dark Lady that’ll help make putting Simply Sinful together a bit easier?
LM: I’ve learned a lot. I work in textbook publishing, so I went into Dark Lady with a some knowledge about deadlines and stuff like that. But in putting Dark Lady together, I also learned a lot about communicating with artist-types and providing feedback. In textbooks, you don’t try to alter the content of the book you’re working with. You just tell the author to get it to you on time. With something more creative, though, you’ve got people asking for input and feedback, so you have to make the time to really review their work. Sometimes people want to know if something they’ve drawn is acceptable, or if their story needs improvement. It’s really all about scheduling and time-management.
Also, advertise the hell out of your product. I knew that I’d have to do all the advertising for Dark Lady on my own, so that was a bit of a stumbling block. I can’t just post on Facebook and say, “well, someone will notice that and reach out to me” (although, to be fair, that happened a few times). I’ve got to be the one to reach out and say, “hey, my project is similar to what you talk about on your webshow/podcast/blog — would you be willing to help me promote it?” I have met some really great people while working on Dark Lady, and I’m in the process of building up a little PR network.
GP: Finally, if it came down to a choice; pirates, aliens, ninjas or cowboys?
LM: That’s a tough one. Can I say “samurai” or is that cheating? When you think about it, they’re kind of a combination of cowboys and ninjas…
GP: I really appreciate your time, Lindsay, thanks!
Hellcat Press are currently accepting submissions for the next horror anthology Simply Sinful, and if you’d like to contribute you can do so here. The deadline has been extended until March 1st, so you’ve still got a little over month to get your stories in. Dark Lady can be purchased directly from Hellcat Press‘ website here.