Tag Archives: horror comics

Review: Stray Dogs: Dog Days #1

Stray Dogs: Dog Days

Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner’s Stray Dogs not only stands as one of the best horror comics of the year, but also one of its most emotional. Forstner’s Disney-inspired illustrations and Fleecs’ clever scripting choices helped craft a story about a pack of dogs living with a serial killer who brings back the pets of those he kills with a very delicate sensibility that values character development over gratuitous suffering.

The trend continues with the newest chapter of the series titled Stray Dogs: Dog Days, which looks at each individual dog’s story to explore their connection with their owners and what was lost when the serial killer took them away. There’s not a single page that won’t make you want to burst in tears, but there’s also not a page that isn’t treated with the care it deserves to get the most out of it.

Dog Days is presented in a kind of anthology format, which each segment getting a few pages of story before moving on to the next one. The chapter breaks are particularly clever. They show the “Missing Dog” poster with a picture of the dog accompanied by a few bits of info on their temperament and how best to approach them if you see them.

The concept isn’t just clever, though. It’s a part of the storytelling and speaks volumes about the dogs’ current status, especially when you remember they’re actually living with the man that killed their human companions.

Stray Dogs: Dog Days

While the stories all share a deep sadness between them, there also some truly frightening details that magnify the serial killer’s presence. One in particular finds its horror in a dog trying to barter with another dog for a ball he wants to play with. What he offers in return is chilling and downright unsettling. And yet, the dogs don’t fully grasp the gravity of what’s being exchanged, playing into their unique perspective on life and how naturally innocent they are in their view of it.

The Disney-inspired style retains its power here and is still effective in subverting genre conventions. The contrast between it and the subject matter itself is a thing to behold and may even help the story hit harder. Where the visuals to change entirely, Stray Dogs would become a completely different book and reading experience.

Dog Days #1 signals a return to darkness for the pups of the main story. The segments included in this story aren’t there to be crowd pleasers or alleviate the sadness. That said, the bond the dogs create within the pack is still given its time to shine and points to the light these animals bring to life even when it’s at its most terrifying. I can’t wait for issue #2, even though I dread knowing what each dog went through once the killer steps into their lives. Despite that, Stray Dogs is still a world I want to spend more time in.

Story: Tony Fleecs Art: Trish Forstner Colors: Brad Simpson
Art: 10 Story: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy, read, and hug your dog…and also maybe invest in home security (just in case).

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Early Review: Stray Dogs: Dog Days #1

Stray Dogs: Dog Days

Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner’s Stray Dogs not only stands as one of the best horror comics of the year, but also one of its most emotional. Forstner’s Disney-inspired illustrations and Fleecs’ clever scripting choices helped craft a story about a pack of dogs living with a serial killer who brings back the pets of those he kills with a very delicate sensibility that values character development over gratuitous suffering.

The trend continues with the newest chapter of the series titled Stray Dogs: Dog Days, which looks at each individual dog’s story to explore their connection with their owners and what was lost when the serial killer took them away. There’s not a single page that won’t make you want to burst in tears, but there’s also not a page that isn’t treated with the care it deserves to get the most out of it.

Dog Days is presented in a kind of anthology format, which each segment getting a few pages of story before moving on to the next one. The chapter breaks are particularly clever. They show the “Missing Dog” poster with a picture of the dog accompanied by a few bits of info on their temperament and how best to approach them if you see them.

The concept isn’t just clever, though. It’s a part of the storytelling and speaks volumes about the dogs’ current status, especially when you remember they’re actually living with the man that killed their human companions.

Stray Dogs: Dog Days

While the stories all share a deep sadness between them, there also some truly frightening details that magnify the serial killer’s presence. One in particular finds its horror in a dog trying to barter with another dog for a ball he wants to play with. What he offers in return is chilling and downright unsettling. And yet, the dogs don’t fully grasp the gravity of what’s being exchanged, playing into their unique perspective on life and how naturally innocent they are in their view of it.

The Disney-inspired style retains its power here and is still effective in subverting genre conventions. The contrast between it and the subject matter itself is a thing to behold and may even help the story hit harder. Where the visuals to change entirely, Stray Dogs would become a completely different book and reading experience.

Dog Days #1 signals a return to darkness for the pups of the main story. The segments included in this story aren’t there to be crowd pleasers or alleviate the sadness. That said, the bond the dogs create within the pack is still given its time to shine and points to the light these animals bring to life even when it’s at its most terrifying. I can’t wait for issue #2, even though I dread knowing what each dog went through once the killer steps into their lives. Despite that, Stray Dogs is still a world I want to spend more time in.

Story: Tony Fleecs Art: Trish Forstner Colors: Brad Simpson
Art: 10 Story: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy, read, and hug your dog…and also maybe invest in home security (just in case).

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Night of the Ghoul #2

NIGHT OF THE GHOUL #2

It’s hard not to think about classic horror films when reading Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla’s Night of the Ghoul. I was reminded of the original 1951 The Thing, the 1964 film The Last Man on Earth (an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend), and even a bit of the black & white Universal monster movies. Not necessarily in terms of plot, but rather in terms of the dread that permeates through them. The comic just lives and breathes that kind of Fifties and Sixties horror that relished in making its characters slowly march towards their doom as they search for some impossible truth. It finds its life source in the creepy atmosphere those movies developed as well, the kind that builds up the mystery to heighten the horror at its core.

Night of the Ghoul is all of that and more, a vehicle for fear that establishes a kind of lineage of dark things that honors what came before it but also aspires to insert itself in the continuum. Snyder and Francavilla are tapping into some deeply unsettling things in their comixology series, ready for some serious mythmaking along the way.

Issue #2 digs just deep enough to expand on the legend of the Ghoul, a kind of proto-monster that transforms into the things other people are afraid of. The film researcher is making progress with the horribly disfigured director of the lost film he uncovered, the lost but now found “Night of the Ghoul,” but every new bit of information gathered points to a discovery of forbidden knowledge captured in celluloid, making the very act of watching it quite dangerous (an idea that reminded me of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, about a rare movie that captures the torture of a majestic being).

NIGHT OF THE GHOUL #2

The story’s dual narrative structure continues to build upon itself with key cuts in the narrative that show scenes from the “Night of the Ghoul” movie. These sequences offer more hints as to the actual content of the cursed film and the monster that lies within it. Francavilla is putting a lot of care into these segments, capturing a very genuine feel for the black & white horror he’s clearly inspired by, a quality that tends to make its presence known across his body of work.

Snyder’s script stands as one of his most focused and one of his most measured. There’s a real concern with style and structure that helps keep the story from going off the rails. Horror movies from the Golden Age (1910-1960) tended to focus primarily on the larger meanings behind their hauntings, on how they reflected upon society or a deeply seated fear on a collective level. Night of the Ghoul carries itself as such, at least two issues in. The mystery is carrying the story and its implications are what will keep readers hooked in as more gets uncovered.

Night of the Ghoul is a well-oiled machine made by two masters of the craft. Horror runs deep in its DNA and it understands the inner working of it in intimate detail. The comic is well on its way to becoming a horror comics classic. If it holds steady, it’ll become a story I’ll be recommending to readers interested in expanding into the comics medium for their horror fixes.

Story: Scott Snyder, Art: Francesco Francavilla
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and subscribe to a streaming service that features old horror movies.


Purchase: comiXologyKindle

Review: The Conjuring: The Lover #3

The Conjuring: The Lover #3
The Conjuring: The Lover #3

The Conjuring: The Lover #3 has finally put its main character, Jessica, on a straight path to the source of her haunting, and things are getting diabolically tense. The third entry of this horror series seems to be eyeing its endgame quite closely and is thus moving its pieces towards a terrifying finale where evil might actually prevail should Jessica not find a way to rid herself of the mysterious Satanist behind it all.

The Lover has been an immensely fun ride. It thrives on a sense of claustrophobia by keeping the focus close on Jessica and how the thing that’s haunting her further isolates her from friends and any chance of complete salvation from the situation. Issue #3 ramps up the haunting, isolating the character to the point of constant oppression, tricking her friends into believing her behavior stems from good old-fashioned madness.

In this sense, the story reminds me even more of the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), in which a female college student struggles with behavior that her family thinks can be attributed to demonic possession when the evidence more directly points to mental illness (based on the true case of Annaliese Michel, who underwent 67 Catholic rites of exorcism that ultimately led to her death).

While the comic leaves less space open to interpretation as to the origin of Jessica’s haunting, it nonetheless resorts to similar storytelling elements to show just how this haunting disconnects someone from the world. It’s been a steady build to this since issue #1 and it’s paying off quite well here.

The Conjuring: The Lover #3
The Conjuring: The Lover #3

Garry Brown’s art is especially effective in portraying Jessica’s own sense of dread as she gets pulled away from the people that can help her the most by the person enacting the horror that’s latched on to her. Each panel feels claustrophobic, enclosing Jessica deeper within her environment. At points, it feels as if the panels themselves are attacking the character, pushing into even more uncomfortable spaces.

As has been the case in the previous two entries, this issue contains a back-up story featuring a haunted item from the Warren’s Artifact Room, and this issue’s tale might be it’s best yet. It looks at the now infamous Accordion Monkey and it’s written by Tim Seely with art by horror master Kelley Jones and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

It’s a tale that has a 1970’s horror vibe to it in that the inner workings of the haunted object contains a healthy dose of madness, violence, and insidiousness. The horror put on display has no qualms painting a bleak picture for those involved and it savors the idea that darkness tends to have a better chance at prevailing in cases such as this.

The Conjuring: The Lover #3
The Conjuring: The Lover #3

Seely’s script is tight and smartly gruesome when it needs to be, but Jones’ art is what seals the deal on this one. It’s a great reminder of why Jones deserves to be among the best horror illustrators in the business. It feels classic EC Horror to an extent, but it looks to be more than just an homage to horror’s past. It truly is a treat getting this story right after a solid entry of The Lover.

Things aren’t looking so good for Jessica and the next issue is shaping up to be an intense encounter with the dark forces that have decided to torment her. We can only hope the Warrens make a surprise appearance to save the day, but the way things are going, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the case.

Story: David L. Johnson-McGoldrick & Rex Ogle, Art: Garry Brown Color: Jordie Bellaire
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy and always have a friend that believes you see ghosts.


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Review: Goosebumps: Secrets of the Swamp #1

GOOSEBUMPS: SECRETS OF THE SWAMP #1

It’s easy to admire how Goosebumps approaches YA horror, especially in pursuing dark stories without the intention of dialing down the evil behind them. This is the case with the new mini-series set within its universe, Goosebumps: Secrets of the Swamp, where three girls find themselves in the middle of a battle between werewolves and wolf-hunters. With this setup, writer Marieke Nijkamp and artist Yasmín Flores Montañez kick-off a story that updates the classic Goosebumps formula with a strong and diverse cast along with familiar monsters offering new scares.

The story follows Blake, an expert gamer looking to pass the summer beating high scores online. Her aunt, whom she is staying with, tries to get her back into the real world with hints and clues as to the myths and legends of the town of Fever Swamp. Horror starts to creep in with this revelation as Blake meets Lily and Cara and tales of swamp monsters start circulating between them.

Flores Montañez and colorist Rebecca Nalty do wonders with the setting. Fever Swamp looks vibrant and colorful but dangerous as well. There’s something about a swamp setting that screams blood and monsters and the art team does a great job of capturing it in all its terrifying glory. Colors seamlessly transition from lighter into darker variations of themselves and in the process help carry the storytelling as it moves towards all-out horror.

Goosebumps: Secrets of the Swamp #1
IDW

The characters’ facial expressions make them feel instantly relatable given they’re so storied and alive. By the end of this first issue, I felt as if I had been reading these characters for a long time. It speaks volumes to Flores Montañez’s ability to bring life into the comics page and the characters that inhabit them.

Nijkamp’s script is expertly paced and allows the story to unravel without heavy exposition dumps. Nothing is explicitly and definitively explained, allowing for a grander sense of the unknown to settle in. As the monsters of the swamp start coming out of the dark, we get the sense that they’re carrying stories with them that don’t conform to the classic trope of ‘good vs. evil’.

Secrets of the Swamp remarkably offers a lot of story in each panel. Details that range from the text on a character’s shirt to the way they move and even how their hair is styled all play into the uniqueness of each character’s identity. This comic feels well lived in. It makes sure readers come back to its world to further uncover its mysteries.

Goosebumps: Secrets of the Swamp #1 is a strong start to a YA horror story that can set a good example as to how to get the most out of the genre. The creative team for this comic is in perfect synchronization and it shows. Stay with this comic. There’s a lot of horror to be had with the promise of more to come.

Story: Marieke Nijkamp Art: Yasmín Flores Montañez Colors: Rebecca Nalty
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy, read, and then visit a swamp (just not alone)
.

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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The Rise And Fall Of Horror Comics

Source: wikipedia

Horror comics have had it rough.

For a few years they were at the forefront of the comic book industry, pushing the envelope with the stories they told, and influencing some of the most recognizable names in horror over the past five decades. From the late 40’s to the mid 50’s, horror comics essentially printed money for their publishers.

It would not, it could not, last.

There is some debate as to the first horror comic; Prize Comics #7 began an eight page feature adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,  causing some to label it as the first true horror series. There were other adaptations during the early to  mid 40’s, one of which was Gilberton Publications Classic Comics #13. Printing a full adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Classic Comics #13 is the earliest known comic book dedicated purely to horror.

Comic book cover shows a bald, robed man moving toward a frightened woman on the floor in a strapless dress. Her hands and feet are bound. Price of the comic is listed as 10 cents.

Source: wikipedia

However the first horror comic with original content is widely recognized as Eerie Comics #1, by Avon Publications cover dated January of 1947 (but the comic was actually published at the tail end of 1946). This volume of Eerie Comics never had a second issue, but it was relaunched in 1951.

Horror comics enjoyed some popularity on the newsstands, but it wasn’t until 1950 when EC Comics came on the scene that the genre really exploded with EC’s “trifecta of terror”: The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, and Crypt of Terror – which later became Tales from the Crypt.

The stories in the above comics, and the others that would follow, are bloody, gory, gruesome, macabre, sinister, and, at times, silly. They were truly horrific comics, but for some they were absolutely wonderful, and their influence on game-changing artists and writers can’t be overstated. Stephen King and George Romero, both hugely influential men on their own, created the film Creepshow as a love letter to the comics that influenced them as children. Alan Moore, one of the most acclaimed comic book writers of the past few decades, has a character reading an EC Comics-like story at a newsstand throughout the main story of Watchmen. Years later, HBO would develop a very successful anthology television show that ran from 1989 to 1996 based on the content of many EC stories published in during the 50’s, turning the Cryptkeeper into a household name.

But the golden age of horror comics of the early to mid 50’s would not last.

With the fallout from Fredric Wertham‘s book Seduction of the Innocent, and the Comics Code Authority (CCA) that resulted, horror comics, hit hard than any other genre, were virtually wiped out over night. Jobs were lost, publishers nearly went out of business, and the face of comics changed forever. Horror comics were everywhere, until suddenly they weren’t.

To say horror comics vanished over night isn’t strictly accurate. The essence of the comics stayed alive despite the CCA’s best efforts. James Warren of Warren Publishing would produce black and white horror comics, but published as a magazine, they were exempt from the CCA’s rules. By publishing these stories in a magazine format, Warren paved the way for other publishers to produce horror comics magazines.

Horror comics, like any good villain, wouldn’t stay down forever.

Although the Comics Code Authority spelled the end of horror comics for many years, we are currently experiencing a resurgence in horror comics – in a large part, perhaps, because the CCA has been entirely abandoned by publishers. The  old EC Comics, those classically macabre stories that are finally making their way into reprinted volumes that for fans of the genre are an unparalleled look into the past. Modern comic books like The Walking Dead, American Vampire, and 30 Days of Night are only a handful of the titles that are carrying the torch of influence that can traced back to the golden age of horror of the early 50’s.

While perhaps not as popular as they were 60 years ago, when they accounted for almost a quarter of all comics published, horror comics have been making a steady return to prominence in the comic book world.

That’s not a bad thing.

Review: Grimm Tales of Terror #3

grimm tales of terrorFilling a void in the modern comics industry is Grimm Tales of Terror, an anthology series from Zenescope that offers self-contained, one issue stories. Whether or not it fills that void well is an open question, however. The latest issue, plotted by Joe Brusha and Ralph Tedesco, written by Meredith Finch, and drawn by Milton Estevam, #3, is bad. The story in this issue, tagged “Don’t Turn On the Lights,” follows a few college women and their scares with a serial killer. The book follows an interesting mystery layout, having the reader constantly guess whodunit, but it fails in execution. Boring and confusing attempts at red herring and a light misogynist streak taint any fun to be had with this simple horror comic.

The idea of a one-off horror story is a great one, especially in today’s arc-filled storytelling. The comic is reasonably well-written, meaning that it is constantly intriguing to read. A lot of time is spent on certain, shady characters with what I assume to be the intention to trick readers into thinking they may be the culprit. These keep things interesting, even though this can sometimes feel like irrelevant fluff. Distracting to a lesser degree is the uncomfortable portrayal of women, with clear stereotype (Loves chocolate? Check. And Gucci bags? Check. Getting money from “Daddy”? Check.) and often pointless and gratuitous appeals to the male gaze. Perhaps there is some charm to be had from sleaze in horror stories, but it can certainly be done better than this.

The art work is technically proficient, offering ample expression and storytelling. When the book calls for a character to be frightened or menacing, they certainly look frightened or menacing. It isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing, however, with dull coloring from Marcio Freire and little to no stylistic flair. It’s not an attractive book.

With all of the book’s failures and successes, everything ultimately comes crashing down at the climax, when the killer is revealed. The reveal is arbitrary and lazily-done, with no clues alluding to it and nothing natural to it. The idea behind this series has promise, and there were some things to like about this issue. It’s not tough to get through, but it consistently disappoints, leading to the biggest disappointment of all in the ending.

Story: Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco, Meredith Finch Art: Milton Estevam
Story: 4.0 Art: 5.0 Overall: 4.0 Recommendation: Pass

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Zenescope provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review