Welcome to part II of The Longbox of Darkness’ Colossal Horror Comic Countdown, where we list the 20 best horror comics of all time (at least, by LOD’s estimation). If you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet, you can do so HERE. We covered #20-16, so for this post, we’ll look at the next five titles on the list. They contain some truly hair-raising entries. There should be something for everyone – haunted schools, strange old mansions, houses filled with unimaginable dreams, classic tales of gothic suspense, and finally, vampires. Lots and lots of vampires. So stick around, strange travelers, as we once again explore the cobwebbed corners of the Longbox of Darkness…
15. Locke & Key
The brainchild of horror novelist Joe Hill (Stephen King’s progeny) and the ridiculously talented illustrator 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, playing with the keys and becoming familiar with their strange powers is fun. What soon becomes evident, however, is that other forces are interested in the keys and 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 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 laid 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 horror manga creator, Umezz’s best series is undoubtedly The Drifting Classroom. It is 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 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). Still, the horror conveyed through the art and the storytelling is uniquely his own. This series 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 could 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 essential to 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 like The Masque of the Red Death. 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 industry’s business side, decided to capitalize on the newest horror craze by expanding their line of horror titles into a series of magazines 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 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. A veritable pantheon of talented pencilers provided the art. Among these were legends such as Esteban Maroto, Sonny Trinidad, Pablo Marcos, Tom Sutton, and Rich Buckler. Sadly the magazine lasted only 11 issues and closed its coffin lids in 1975, but fans will always remember it as a bloody good bit of horror ephemera.
And that wraps up Part II of LOD’s favorite horror comics. We hope you enjoyed these five entries. Leave a comment below, and if you feel up to it, list your favorite horror titles, and we can compare tastes. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Part III. Until then, I’ll catch you in the cemetery, dark ones.