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 realized 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 cram everything I love into a Top Ten list. I always feel guilty because as soon as I set out to compile my definitive horror picks and comic series I forgot to include invading my dreams and keeping 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 too many comics are 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, you might find some old gems here, some titles 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. Some choices will include groups of titles rather than a single series, as with the EC Comics entry. Choosing a favorite among Vault of Horror, Haunt Of Fear, and Tales From The Crypt is impossible, so I cheated and heaped them all together. I can think of at least one other entry to utilize this cheat. Apologies, but the list 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. Note that in Part 1 of this herculean effort, I’ll be listing #20-16.
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. As a Lovecraft and horror manga fan, this was a no-brainer for me, and I had to include it. I was surprised to see it as number twenty when I compiled the list, but that 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 convey the stark terror effortlessly. Lovecraft’s characters experience as they trek deep into the heart of Antarctica. Arriving by ship at the South Pole, the expedition plans 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 that everything’s been done before and that creators are incessantly rehashing popular ideas repeatedly. Vertigo’s AMERICAN VAMPIRE disproves this notion. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque (with Stephen King’s assistance) 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 sun’s power 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, 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 risk 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 occasionally skirts the borders of horror. It contains many horror elements, but then so does The Lord of The Rings. Why then include it at all? Well, for the few horror stories it contains, 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 everyone should devour them. For horror aficionados, there is definitely something there, particularly during the series’ early issues. 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 were my ‘Favorite Comics of All Time’ List, it would rank much higher.
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. A veritable Who’s Who of Lovecraft’s weird characters appears along the way. The series is more enjoyable if one is familiar with the Providence writer’s work. Published by Avatar Press, known for their horror titles, Providence is the best series they’ve published. 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.
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 and 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, including 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.
That concludes Part 1 of the colossal comic book countdown of LOD’s favorite horror comics. Stay tuned for Part 2!