Every so often I get asked by friends in the comic reading community for a list of my top 5 favorite horror comics. I’m a sucker for lists, and can’t help responding. Over time I’ve come to realize that even though the top 3 might stay consistent, no. 4 and 5 seem to change every time I try to answer this question. It becomes even more problematic when I try to cram everything I love into a Top Ten list. I always end up feeling guilty because as soon as I set out to compile my definitive horror picks, comic series I forgot to include invade my dreams and keep me up at night. I finally decided to put my list in writing, to set my answers in stone. Perhaps this will serve as a mental anchor that I can use to lock down my wayward thoughts and mercurial nature. Since there are too many comics vying for attention in my chaotic brain, I decided to expand this to a Top Twenty list, since that’s the only way I could possibly include everything that has shaped my love of horror comics over the years. It’s also fitting that this should serve as the 2nd post of the brand new Longbox of Darkness blog. For those of you familiar with my old posts on the now-defunct longboxofdarkness.com, you might find some old gems here, some titles that I previously blogged about, and even some favorites of your own.
Before I commence with the dreaded list that wouldn’t die, I have a few caveats to mention. Some of the choices will include groups of titles rather than a single series, as with the EC Comics entry. It is simply impossible to choose a favorite among Vault of Horror, Haunt Of Fear, and Tales From The Crypt, so I cheated and heaped them all together. I can think of at least one other entry that will utilize this same cheat. Apologies, but the list just wouldn’t stand, at least in my mind, if I didn’t allow myself these two exceptions. Lastly, I’ll be counting down to #1, so we’ll start at #20. There are many predictable and popular titles on the list, but I’m hoping there’ll also be a few that might surprise some of you.
Alright, without further waffling, let’s get this underway.
20. H.P. LOVECRAFT’S AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS VOL. 1 & 2
This is simply one of the best adaptations of a literary work the comic book medium ever. Japanese Manga artist Gou Tanabe selected one of the lengthiest of the godfather of horror H.P. Lovecraft’s novellas and managed to cram every horrific beat of the tale into two slim volumes filled with breathtaking Manga art. The characters are distinct, the monsters are incredibly detailed, and the landscapes are breathtaking to behold. As a fan of Lovecraft and horror manga, this was a no-brainer for me, and I simply had to include it. I was surprised to see it as number twenty when I compiled the list, but that just speaks to the quality of the upcoming titles. I picked up the first volume in 2019, and was blown away by its scope. I managed to get my hands on the subsequent volume the following year, and the story was wrapped up with flair and verve by Tanabe, who seems to be confident in his art and the risks he takes when adapting such a complex work of fiction.
One of the greatest strengths of Tanabe’s adaptation has to be his ability to effortlessly convey the stark terror Lovecraft’s characters experience as they trek deep into the heart of Antarctica. Arriving by ship in the South Pole, the expedition sets out to explore the forbidding continent by plane. The deeper they venture, the more pronounced the horror becomes. Tanabe is especially skilled at rendering equipment, technology, and mechanical conveyances. His attention to detail makes every panel and page a joy to look at, but this soon turns to terror as we eventually see what he can do with Lovecraft’s cosmic monstrosities. During the course of both volumes, ancient structures are unearthed, a cyclopean city is revealed, and brutal killings become as common as frostbite in that forsaken place where the Great Old Ones once dwelled. Not merely a great adaptation, but also one of my favorite horror manga series, Gou Tanabe’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS will push you to the edge of sanity, and possibly beyond.
* NOTE: Gou Tanabe also wrote and penciled an excellent collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s lesser-known tales in a Manga collection called THE HOUND AND OTHER STORIES. Definitely worth getting.
19. AMERICAN VAMPIRE
There aren’t many groundbreaking interpretations of classic horror monsters these days. It almost seems to me at times that everything’s been done before, and that creators are incessantly rehashing popular ideas over and over again. Vertigo’s AMERICAN VAMPIRE disproves this notion. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque (with an assist by Stephen King) have succeeded in adding a novel new dimension to one of our favorite classic monsters: the vampire.
This is a book where New World nosferatu evolve and different species of vampires exist. The newest of these, the ‘American Vampire’, is fueled by the power of the sun and walks fearlessly in its rays during daytime. Stronger, faster, and smarter than its Old World antecedents but fewer in number, the American Vampire is feared and hunted by humans and common vampires alike. Rich with its own mythology and peppered with Albuquerque’s gritty but superb art, this series is known for jumping from era to era as it progresses through dozens of story arcs that showcase Western culture and how it has evolved along with the new vampires over the past century. The horror escalates when we as readers start to realize that the more horrifying vampire species from the past are still with us, and refuse to be consigned to the dust of history.
18. THE SANDMAN
I run the risk of being vilified for my tastes by not putting this legendary DC Comics/Vertigo series in my Top 5, or even in my Top 10, and here it is at #18. Baffling? Well, bear with me as I explain the reason. The Sandman, though one of my absolute favorite series and universally acknowledged as one of the greatest comics of all time, is nevertheless NOT pure horror. The best way to describe it would be as a type of dark fantasy that skirts the borders of horror occassionaly. It does contain many elements of horror, but then so does The Lord of The Rings. Why then include it at all? Well, for the few horror stories that it does contain, of course. And what fantastic stories those are.
Neil Gaiman was assisted by a host of magnificent artists when crafting these fine tales involving the godlike Morpheus of The Endless and his dysfunctional family of immortals, and they should be devoured by everyone. For horror aficionados, there is definitely something there, particularly during the early issues of the series. Laden with metaphor, literary references, and stories involving nightmare journeys to hell and back, The Sandman reads like a crash course in twisted mythology. It truly is a series that deserves all the praise it has garnered over the decades, and if this was my ‘Favorite Comics of All Time’ List, it would rank much higher.
Buy THE SANDMAN The Complete Series HERE or from your local LCS.
Weird Tales writer H.P. Lovecraft’s pulp mythos of The Great Old Ones and their ilk get reworked by writer Alan Moore and artist Jacen Burrows in this eminently disturbing 12-issue tale of a reporter investigating a series of inexplicable events linked to Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence. One of the greatest of all comic book writers, Moore proves his reputation is well-founded with this series as he deftly weaves numerous Lovecraft characters and tales into a single multi-faceted web of a plot that at first confuses but ultimately culminates in a burst of understanding so shocking that it makes you blanch as you read it. Along the way, a veritable Who’s Who of Lovecraft’s weird characters shows up. The series is more enjoyable if one is familiar with the Providence writer’s work, though. Published by Avatar Press, which is known for their horror titles, Providence is unequivocally the best series they’ve published to date. Believe me, there are scenes of horror in this that will make your brain scream inside your skull, leaving the echo to bounce around until you either release it or it drives you mad.
Shop Providence by clicking THIS LINK, or from your local LCS.
16. SKYWALD’S ARCHIVES OF HORROR
Launched by Marvel Comics production manager Sol Brodsky and pirate reprinter Israel Waldeman in 1970, Skywald Publications specialized in publishing horror in their black & white anthology magazines Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream. Featuring a host of talented newcomers as well as stalwart industry veterans, the magazines soon became known for their impeccable artwork and atmospheric tales paying homage to everything from the Universal Monster movies from the Golden Age of Cinema to 60s and 70s fare like the British Hammer Horror Films. A host of legendary creators contributed stories to Skywald, among them John Byrne, Tom Sutton, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Pablo Marcos, Steve Englehart, Gardner Fox, and many others. Sadly the major distributors denied Skywald’s mags much-needed space on the newsstands, and the company went bust in 1975. Today they can be found in a series of excellent reprints from Gwandanaland Comics.
15. LOCKE & KEY
Written by horror novelist Joe Hill (Stephen King’s progeny) and illustrated by the ridiculously talented Gabriel Rodriguez, The IDW Published Locke & Key follows the trials and travails of the unluckiest family ever as they relocate to the town of Lovecraft (red flag right there) and move into the family mansion named Keyhouse, where their recently murdered patriarch spent his childhood. The children soon discover that magic keys are lying around all over the grounds and in the nooks and crannies of their new home. At first, it’s fun playing with the keys and becoming familiar with their strange powers. What soon becomes evident, however, is that there are other forces interested in the keys and that they would stop at nothing to release the terrible evil that dwells beneath the cliffs of the sleepy town.
As the son of Stephen King, Joe Hill is a bestselling novelist in his own right, and he manages to craft a compelling story through six complex arcs filled with pathos and masterful dialogue. The characters are vivid, and you can’t help forming emotional connections with them. Because of this the horror is so much more pronounced once their lives are upended and the body count rises. An absolutely essential horror series, with some additional volumes that flesh out the main series and the world of Locke & Key nicely.
14. THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM
When modern-day Manga artists talk about those who came before, who lay the groundwork for the medium, who inspired them to make it as a ‘Mangaka’ (the name by which Manga creators are known in Japan) the name of Kazuo Umezz crops up more often than not. A vastly influential creator of horror manga, Umezz’s best series is undoubtedly The Drifting Classroom, an eerie story of supernatural displacement that sees a group of time-lost students battle for their lives against strange beings, sinister interlopers, and even against fellow classmates. Umezz’s art is cartoony (the faces of the human characters are cute and at times reminiscent of Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka’s style) but the horror conveyed through the art and the storytelling is uniquely his own. This is definitely a series that thoroughly chills you to the bone, making it a prime candidate for this list.
13. HOUSE OF SECRETS
One of DC Comics’ most recognizable horror series, the former mystery comic The House of Secrets was revived in 1969 by DC editorial to become a vehicle for suspenseful short stories with strong horror elements to capitalize on the resurgence of horror in popular culture thanks to blockbuster films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The series is known for being the first to allow creator credits to be printed (from issue #83 onwards), and for introducing DC’s seminal horror character Swamp Thing in issue #92. House of Secrets was also known for its cringing horror host Abel whose brother Cain hosted the House of Mystery, and for spectacular covers by such luminaries as Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy, and Neal Adams. When the draconian Comic Code relaxed its restrictions on printed horror in 1971, the title was able to print some truly terrifying tales that caused many a young reader to take a trip down nightmare alley at night. As a young horror neophyte in the late 1970s, HOS was an essential part of my literary diet, and will always hold a special place in my heart.
12. EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SPIRITS OF THE DEAD
What do you get when you pair the greatest writer of short horror fiction with one of the greatest horror artists in the biz? Well, you get this book. SPIRITS OF THE DEAD contains many faithful adaptations of Poe classics, all told in comic book form by the master of horror illustration, the underground comics sensation Richard Corben. Cutting his teeth on stories for Heavy Metal Magazine in the 1970s, Corben’s style suited everything from Lovecraft to Machen. He excels at drawing rural locales and pre-industrial societies or medieval settings, and especially enjoys conveying the mood of horror through grotesque imagery. This collection also utilizes color to great effect, especially in stories such as The Masque of the Red Death, and the unique settings and singular characters brought to life by Corben are veritable feasts for the eyes. A magnificent collection showcasing the work of two masters, and a must-have for any horror aficionado’s shelf.
11. VAMPIRE TALES
After the Comics Code relaxed its restrictions on horror in the early seventies, and with bestselling novels like Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist making waves, monsters were suddenly back on the comic book menu. Not since the heyday of EC Comics in the fifties had so many colorful fiends strode the pages of the funny books. During the sixties, only the Black and White Magazines, unregulated by the Code, had been carrying the torch of horror, particularly Warren Publishing and its imitator Eerie Publications. Marvel Comics, ever savvy when it came to the business side of the industry, decided to capitalize on the newest horror craze by expanding their line of horror titles into a series of magazines in order to compete with Warren’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella mags. After the Marvel title Tomb of Dracula proved successful in 1972, vampires were in high demand among readers, so Vampire Tales was launched in 1973 to slake the bloodthirsty appetites of fans. The anthology typically featured more risque stories with moderate profanity, extreme graphic violence, tons of sexual innuendo, and even the odd bit of nudity. As it was a magazine and unhampered by the Comics Code, writers such as Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, and Roy Thomas allowed their imaginations to run rabid. The art was provided by a veritable pantheon of talented pencilers. Among these were legends such as Esteban Maroto, Sonny Trinidad, Pablo Marcos, Tom Sutton, and Rich Buckler, and others. Sadly the magazine lasted only 11 issues and closed its coffin lids in 1975, but will always be remembered by fans as a bloody good bit of horror ephemera.
Arguably one of the three greatest horror characters in comics (you’ll have to wait for a future post before I spoil the other two, dear readers), John Constantine was first introduced in the pages of Swamp Thing Vol.2 #37 in 1985. Created by legendary comic scribe Alan Moore and artists Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben, Constantine’s distinctive look was famously based on Sting, the frontman of the band The Police. A supernatural troubleshooter with detective skills and a Sam Spade trenchcoat, John was often described as a hedge-magician – a lower-tier magic-user who specializes in trickery to get the job done. Battling everything from monsters, phantoms, poltergeists, demons, angels, vampires, serial killers, pedophile priests, and even Lucifer himself, the character’s adventures also adversely affected his supporting cast and loved ones, and a lot of the horror stemmed from this. John Constantine has become an indelible part of the DC Comics universe, and modern creators often cast him as a superhero of sorts. This, to put it plainly, is blasphemy, and needs to stop.
Possibly the longest-running Vertigo series, Hellblazer was a joy to experience and kept your spine tingling better than most modern revamps of the title.
9. FROM HELL
I’m not going to lie, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s black & white horror masterpiece FROM HELL is a difficult read. The tale is extremely complex and there is only a vague linear narrative to anchor us to the plot. Most of the pages contain tiny panels crammed together like 19th century tenements, permeating the experience of reading with a strong sense of claustrophobia. Making use of the historical events surrounding the Ripper killings in London near the end of the 19th century, Moore weaves the perspectives and experiences of a vast array of characters together in a complicated network. This might sound like a daunting book to tackle, and I have to admit that I struggled through my first read-through, but once the sheer imaginative mastery of Moore’s storytelling machinations reveals themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to untangle yourself from the lives of Mary Kelly, Annie Chapman, and Inspector Aberline. Eddie Campbell’s art is a tour de force, and every panel is packed with detail and meaning. The experience of reading FROM HELL will leave you changed. Whether for good or ill is up to you.
The greatest of all horror Mangaka, Junji Ito is a creative force and propagator of nightmares unequaled in his native Japan. UZUMAKI is undoubtedly his finest work and my personal favorite horror Manga. Ito excels at rendering beautiful youngsters who encounter horrifying monsters and twisted beings that once were human, but who’ve been subjected to Cronenberg-esque transformations by some ineffable power. Set in a small coastal town in Japan, the story revolves around the ominous threat of The Spiral, and how it has permeated the lives of the inhabitants of the small town of Kurouzu-chou. Some are driven mad, some undergo extreme disfigurement, a few resort to cannibalism, while others try in vain to escape the terrifying maze their town has become. Only a small number of characters remain sane and unchanged, providing us with unrestricted access to the horrors they perceive, and the fear that envelops them. Told in a series of short tales, almost vignettes, UZUMAKI chronicles the slow corrosion of a community and its gradual descent into a type of hell never before seen on a comic book page. An absolutely essential piece of horror fiction that cannot be overlooked.
Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY is the comic that made me fall in love with sequential horror all over again after I very briefly became disillusioned with horror comics during the 1990s. Mignola’s quirky and minimalist art with its seductive tones and masterful use of color makes scenes of striking old-world horror vivid and impactful. Rooted in folklore and myth, HELLBOY manages to tease out the old horrors of ages past, seize them by their necks, and drag them screaming into the modern age. Every story, whether part of a larger arc or a short one-off tale, is utterly compelling and unforgettable. Rereading the entire original series after a decade I was surprised how much I remembered, and how vibrantly the art still lived in my memory. Hellboy himself is a truly unique figure in fiction, but Mignola and his collaborators manage to surround him with a cast of equally memorable sidekicks who generated standalone series in their own right. As a complete narrative, HELLBOY can be consumed quickly, and you soon come to realize text and dialogue need not carry the day. The art is supremely capable of conveying atmosphere, events, and interactions that prod your imagination to create your own fanciful scenarios around whatever tale Mignola is telling in a particular issue or collection. That is a rare ability, and one much prized among comic book artists. The power of Mignola is that he combines this talent with well-researched and obscure folk tales, so much so that you want to go out and do some added research yourself; maybe even become an amateur folklorist while you’re at it. This is why HELLBOY has enchanted horror fans for three decades, and will probably outlive us all, as unique characters are wont to do.
6. WARREN HORROR ARCHIVES
The anthology horror format has always appealed to me. I love short explosive tales that burst into the mind replete with twist endings and gratuitous shocks that leave you either laughing or gaping at the final page. However, since we’re talking comics, the quality of the tale is not always enough. The art needs to deliver too, and on both these fronts – the writing and the penciling – Jim Warren’s Warren horror titles delivered. Creepy was pure horror, often focusing on tales set in ages past, but also on 20th-century gothic settings. Plotlines hinged on magic or the supernatural, but every so often a sci-fi horror tale would rear its head.
Eerie was different. It had a fair amount of classic horror tropes, but the scares usually stemmed from fantasy locales and characters or science fiction ‘what-if’-style thought experiments. Precious little gothic fare could be had, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that there was some overlap between, at times. The stories run the gamut from ghostly revenge tales to body horror and ‘science-gone-wrong’ yarns – worthy fare for any fan of horror or speculative fiction. Unlike Neil Gaiman’s Sandman tales, however, horror was always at the forefront, even in the dark fairytales of Vampirella. Unrestricted by the Comic Code Authority, the stories were often grim and visceral. The stunning black and white art and writing talents of such luminaries as Dave Cockrum, Mike Ploog, Doug Moench, Nicola Cuti, Rich Buckler, Don McGregor, Al Hewetson, Ed Fedory, Bill Black, Rich Corben, Boris Vallejo, Ken Kelly, Paul Neary, and Budd Lewis also meant that Warren publications consistently delivered high-quality content that blew their competition out of the water during the 1960s and 70s.
5. THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY
DC Comics’ anthology comic The House of Mystery is a nostalgic favorite, and that is the reason it occupies the 5th spot on this list. Story and artwise it is probably no better or worse than its sister titles The House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, and Ghosts. All I can say is that when I was a kid I owned more issues of HOM than any other title. The long box given to me by a relative on my 5th birthday (and jumpstarted my horror comic obsession) contained more than fifty HOM issues. During my childhood I read them incessantly, loving the weird Bernie Wrightson and Nick Cardy covers, the interior art and stories by a plethora of DC’s greatest creators, and the letter columns by the snarky Cain, keeper of The House of Mystery. When I eventually read the contents of that proto long box of darkness to tatters, I set out to collect some of the newer issues, eventually picking up nearly everything from the final three years of the title, 1981-1983. I gushed over the stories of I, Vampire, which starred the doomed nobleman Andrew Bennet and his eternal hunt for Mary, The Queen of The Blood Red Moon. I also loved the backup stories of the final issues, which in almost all cases seemed to ignore the Comics Code entirely. Sure, there was some bad art and disappointing stories, but the majority was good, and many were downright excellent. It is probably the title that I remember most fondly from my childhood. If it wasn’t for the inconsistency of the stories, it would definitely break the top 3. Who knows? With subsequent rereading, it still might one day.
4. EC COMICS’ ARCHIVES OF HORROR
Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear. Legendary titles all.
The Cryptkeeper, The Old Witch, The Vaultkeeper. Horror hosts extraordinaire.
Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Will Elder, Jack Kamen, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Al Williamson, Graham Ingles, and even the incredible Ray Bradbury and Frank Frazetta. Creators without peer.
Many of EC’s stories have attained legendary status because they broke new ground and dared go beyond what other comic companies in the 1950s deemed the impossible, but what Harvey Kurtzman and Al Feldstein saw as just another hurdle to be crossed. Sure, there were other comic companies out there, churning out lurid horror and tales of murder. Their quality was lacking. At EC the quality was always top notch, the humor topical, the characters memorable, the twists unforgettable, the art superlative. Without EC Comics, the landscape of the entire horror genre, not merely that of horror comics, would not exist as it does today. Their stories influenced countless creators, not least among them folks like George A. Romero and Stephen King. They left an indelible mark on the psyches of a generation and shaped the future of horror because of it. For that, EC deserves our gratitude and our praise.
3. WEIRD WAR TALES
It’s cliche to say war is hell and to utter the words ‘the horrors of war’ these days, but both phrases still ring true. Just imagine what the experience of war would be like if some malevolent god were to amplify the soul-numbing fear and suffering generated by a conflict between two nations/city-states/tribes, etc. by introducing a supernatural element, usually in the form of a ghost or a monster, into the mix. With all the regular blood, pain, and death that soldiers have to face, how could they stand it if they have to contend with creatures their bullets and bayonets can’t harm, creatures that make the enemy seem paltry by comparison? This storytelling formula would boost the effect of war’s horrors to an unimaginable degree, don’t you think? Well, that is exactly what DC Comics’ WEIRD WAR TALES did, and did so extremely well. The legendary artist Joe Kubert produced a huge amount of the covers and quite a fair bit of interiors for the series, while writer Robert Kanigher wrote scores of stories along with a host of other talented DC scribes. Most of the interiors were done by a swath of notable DC stalwarts – Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, Sonny Trinidad, Tony DeZuniga, Gerry Talaoc, Nestor Redondo, Alex Niño, Ernie Chan, Bill Draut, E.R. Cruz, Marshall Rogers, Joe Orlando, and many others. The series made use of the anthology format, and stories often jumped between wars of different eras, though the majority of tales were set during World War II. As a history nut and war story junkie I was enraptured from the very first moment I picked up an issue. To this day WWT remains my favorite horror anthology title, and that will probably never change. When the Creature Commandos were introduced to the title near the end of its run, the series went from 10/10 to an 11 for me. Even four decades later, there’s still nothing I like better than to spend a Sunday afternoon paging through old back issues. Weird War Tales is always on top of the stack.
Shop for WEIRD WAR TALES back issues on Ebay or at your local LCS.
2. THE TOMB OF DRACULA
The very first horror comic I bought with my own hard-earned birthday cash was Tomb of Dracula #70, which just so happened to be the final issue. The ending of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s epic story blew my mind, and I immediately wanted more. So I started to hunt in the many convenience stores, corner shops, second-hand bookstores, and flea markets in and around the small town of Randfontein RSA, where I grew up. It took me 12 years, but I finally managed to track down all the issues of this seminal series, making it one of the very first complete runs I would own.
It just so happened that I had some tattered issues of TOD before buying issue 70, but they were inherited and in such a state as to render most of them unreadable. That didn’t matter though, because back then back issues were easy to come by, at least in South Africa. Surplus comics from the States would be shipped over to SA in boxes, and some comics in there were often years old. Different stores received different comics from years past. I once walked into a corner store selling two spinner racks full of only early 1970s Charlton Comics. When I stopped by the following month it was back to selling Marvel and DC again. Some boxes literally lay unopened in storerooms for years, or until the spinner racks needed filling up. I know this, because I once asked a store clerk to go in the back and check if they had any issues of a particular title I wanted after he told me how they received their comics. Suffice it to say, he was not amused, and promptly told me to get lost. But let’s get back to Tomb of Dracula, shall we?
In the titular novel from 1897 Count Dracula never had an actual presence, save for what we learned of him through the diary entries of the various human characters, all with vastly different points of view. Rather than a character, the Count is presented as a type of near-incomprehensible force that rips apart the lives of the mortals arrayed against him, until he is defeated by a combination of tenacity, knowledge, and luck. The comic book series retains all these elements, but adds character to the brew. The Dracula from Marvel Comics is arguably one of the greatest villains ever to appear in fiction and, because of this comic, in four-color print as well. He is frequently murderous, supremely arrogant, nigh-omnipotent, but at times also sympathetic and charming. He evolves further when pitted against the unique personalities opposing him – the team of vampire hunters that swore to destroy him once he awoke in the 20th century: Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Taj, and last but never least the wheelchair-bound Quincy Harker. All are fully realized people; all are essential cogs in the wondrous machine of story that Marv Wolman so elegantly weaved for us, assisted in no small part by the magnificent and atmospheric art of the late great Gene Colan. The series even contains a crossover with Doctor Strange, my favorite Marvel Comics character, so what’s not to love?
1. SWAMP THING VOL. 1 & 2
I saw Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing with my family at our local drive-in theater when I was 6 years old. At my insistence, we went again the following weekend. I became so obsessed with the film that my dad eventually tried to shut me up by buying me some Swamp Thing comics. The issues available on the spinner racks at the time were from Volume 2 of the series, written by Marty Pasko and drawn by Tom Yates. It featured stories that were very mature compared to what I had been reading, but I ingested them all eagerly. The art was eminently disturbing, and the villains either cadaverous, crazed, monstrous, or all of the above. I was lucky enough to find the first issue, and then (with the financial support of my generous parent) managed to collect the monthly issues as they became available. My battered old long box had some of volume 1’s issues, even a few Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein ones, and I voraciously read and reread them all. An old second-hand bookstore in a neighboring town yielded a near complete run of the first 24 issues of volume one, albeit in terrible condition. Still, they were readable and cheap.
So, at the tender age of seven, I became a Swamp Thing nut. Alec was my favorite comic book character, bar none. He even eclipsed Doctor Strange and Morbius over at Marvel (my two favorites before Swampy came around). It wasn’t just the fact that he was a monster, and I was a monster kid. Pasko and Yates did the character proud, and when they left, Alan Moore, Steve Bisette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch rocketed the him to new heights. Swamp Thing was already my favorite comic before Moore started his groundbreaking run, but he made it into a monthly obsession, a fix I needed badly. As the years passed Moore and his artistic collaborators kept delivering, and each issue was better than the one that came before. The series gave us the likes of John Constantine and turned Anton Arcane into the most terrifying antagonist ever seen in print. Body horror, psychological horror, mythological horror, sci-fi horror… you name the sub-genre, and Swamp Thing had it. I wish I could say that Tomb of Dracula was a close second, but it isn’t even in the same ballpark. Alan Moore did something innovative, beautiful, and nasty with horror in the pages of Swamp Thing that remains unequaled to this day. But don’t take my word for it. If you haven’t sampled it yet, take a look. Trust me, it’ll change your life.
And that’s the list, folks. Can I call it definitive? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. There are a lot of new horror titles out that deserve praise, and might one day bump one of the series mentioned above off the list. For now though, this is what I’m sticking with.
Feel free to mention your own favorites. Don’t feel obliged to count down from twenty; five or ten will do. Your comments are always welcome, horror lovers.
See you in the funny pages!