One of my favorite things about the horror genre is how versatile it is. From films, television shows, books, and art, horror can triumph with the right story and the right talent. And this is particularly true for the horror comic.
It’s a very different experience for horror fans—horror comics have the cinematic qualities of movies with the immersive elements of books. The most effective horror comics take the best aspects of comic book storytelling with stunning artwork, creating unique and deeply disturbing aesthetics that suck in readers and stick with them for days afterward.
With the success of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, I’ve decided that more people need to know about the horror comic, which reboots the bubbly Sabrina The Teenage Witch series with a decidedly darker angle. And while we’re at it, let’s discuss a small portion of the staggeringly good horror comics the medium has to offer.
- Tomb of Dracula (1972-1979)
Hailed by many as one of the best horror comics of all time, Tomb of Dracula follows a group of vampire hunters who battle Count Dracula and other creepy, supernatural baddies. It’s also where kickass Marvel character Blade made his debut. After a bit of a rocky start (but always solid artwork), Tomb of Dracula hit its stride and became one of the most compelling and engaging horror comics around. You don’t have to like superheroes to like Tomb of Dracula—in fact, it’s probably best to check any superhero expectations you have at the door.
- Hellblazer (1988-2013)
John Constantine is one of my favorite antiheroes. I’ve always loved the tension between his deep cynicism and his smartass mouth and his big heart. He’s not the most impressive character regarding abilities or qualities, but he manages to get his man through his wits, guts, and sheer force of will. This combination has helped him defeat legions of demons and other supernatural and spiritual monsters, but the real horror, the truly scary stuff, is the torment and chaos that repeatedly arises from his human entanglements. It seems that whenever Constantine tries to help, he makes it way worse; but when he tries to extract himself from the equation, he exposes his loved ones to unimaginable horrors.
3. From Hell (1989-1992)
I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave Alan Moore off this list! He has such a talent for weird, creepy, unsettling horror comics (some waaaay more disturbing than others), which is on full display in From Hell, a reimagining of the Jack the Ripper story. Impeccably researched and inventively told, From Hell breathes horrifying new life into an already nightmarish tale. And there’s something about the frantic and monochrome artwork—it’s striking, stunning, and it lingers behind your eyes long after you’ve put down the book.
- Hellboy (1993-2018)
Hellboy is so much fun. What other character can inspire a collection of works combining Lovecraftian themes and ideas, Christian hell, Nazi occultism, Russian history, tons of horror archetypes, secret government agencies, and pancakes? And while the Hellboy horror comics have cool stories and remarkable artwork, their best feature is Hellboy himself. He’s been through so much, literally been to hell and back, veering between wry humor and profound existential pain. These comics offer a wide range of concepts and ideas to entertain and challenge yourself.
- Preacher (1995-2000)
As AMC’s other adaptation of a horror comic series, Preacher delves into subject matter similar to Hellblazer and adaptation Constantine. That is to say, there are loads of angels, demons, half-breeds, monsters, and all sorts of religious-supernatural fun and gore. However, because the TV show is, well, a TV show, AMC has been unable to be completely faithful to the comic book.
That’s because Preacher looooves to go there. When the story isn’t focused on protagonist Jesse Custer’s quest to get into Heaven and kill God, some INSANE stuff goes down. Serial killers, drug use, sex cults, bestiality, child pornography, incest, and so, so much more messed up stuff. And that’s not even touching the not-so-subtle commentary bashing religion (specifically Christianity). Preacher is not for the faint of heart (or stomach), and creator-provocateur Garth Ennis wouldn’t have it any other way. (Also, Mr. Ennis has undeniable talent, but I’m not sure if he’s ever been to Texas. I’d be happy to show him around!)
- 30 Days of Night (2002)
The artwork from 30 Days of Night has always creeped me the hell out. It’s so good. Truly, the art is the point here and not the story so much (though that’s entertaining as well!). This horror comic is one of the most imaginative takes on vampires in a long time, the exact opposite of vegetarian sparkly vampires or the hedonistic dandies from my favorite 80s vampires. It’s bleak and brutal and bloody, and a must-read for vampire fans.
- Locke and Key (2008-2013)
This horror comic from Joe Hill (Stephen King’s novelist son) and drawn by Chilean artist Gabriel Rodriquez isn’t afraid to get dark. Set in a sprawling mansion in Lovecraft, Massachusetts (subtle!), the story follows the children of the doomed Locke family as they discover a set of magical keys that have been in their family for generations. When they seek to use the keys to make their bleak lives a little bit better, they end up confronting the tumultuous demonic forces behind the keys, with disastrous and heartbreaking results. In addition to being a compelling family drama, Locke and Key includes a rich world of magic chock full of intriguing mythology. And it’s pretty scary, burrowing under your skin and staying there.
- Uzumaki (2013)
I could (and should) do a whole post on Japanese horror manga, but for right now, let’s talk about Uzumaki, which has some of the most disturbing and genuinely creepy art I’ve seen. It’s the story of a curse that causes a small Japanese town to become obsessed with spirals. That doesn’t sound so bad at first, but trust me, once people start going mad from the spirals, even transforming themselves into spirals in increasingly horrific ways, you might become paranoid about spirals yourself.
This is a weird horror comic in the best way. It combines both body horror and existential horror, mundane images with scenes of striking Lovecraftian-esque horror. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before or since, and if you like this, you should definitely check out more of creator Junji Ito’s work.
- Harrow County (2015)
Fans of dark and spooky southern gothic tales look no further—Harrow County is just what you’re looking for. Visually, the comic’s watercolors exhibit an insane attention to disgusting and disturbing detail, as well as a knack for capturing the tension and horror of the unfolding story. The artwork is critical here because with so many different kinds of monsters stalking Harrow County, they never seem to disappoint the reader. That’s not to say the writing isn’t great, because it is. The characters are well-developed and are allowed to get up and walk around, driving the plot without resorting to cheap scares or inconsistent motivations.
- The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2016) / Afterlife with Archie (2014) (Or anything under the Archie Horror tag)
If The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix wasn’t witchy and creepy enough for you, you should definitely check out the graphic novel. It’s much more adult than its television counterpart, delving even further into the darkness of Sabrina’s witchcraft. You thought shit went down in the show? HAH! The graphic novel pulls no punches. They’re also completely different stories with completely different themes, so there’s that.
Similarly, Afterlife With Archie is another fearless, no-holds-barred melding of iconic Archie Americana and horror mainstays. As someone who used to read the super-sweet and superficial Archie comics as a preteen, it was weirdly awesome reading about zombies overrunning the town of Riverdale. Sure, it’s not the most imaginative zombie story, but there’s a lot to be said for seeing the gang holed up in Veronica’s house as the whole zombified town tries to get inside.
Have you read any of these horror comics? Are there any I left off? Let me know in the comments!