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Thread: Week 51- Horror Overview

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 51- Horror Overview

    Itís Tuesday, and I have to say, the convention was a blast. Youíll have to read my blog to hear about it, though. But thatís not why weíre here. Nope! Weíre going to sit back and relax for a while, and talk about the Bolts & Nuts of horror.

    Like the weeks of superheroes we just went through, weíre going to do an overview first, and then go into particulars. Itís just not going to be as long. Promise. Sound like a plan? Then letís get it on!

    Horror. Really, it means different things to different people, basically because weíre all scared of different things. Most things donít scare me, but Michael Myers [Halloween] makes my blood run cold. Even the bad movies of his scare me. No, really. Iím afraid of Mike. Jason and Freddy? Not a thing. Throw Mike in there, and I get tingly. Let me hear the theme song, and Iím looking around for the source within four notes.

    Yes, I have a very real, visceral reaction to Michael Myers, and Iím going to tell you something: a reaction like that is not something that is easy to do in comics.

    Itís hard to scare someone in a comic book setting nowadays. Forty years ago? It might have been easier. In the Fifties? Probably even easier. Why? Because even though you had the scary movies and such, they werenít all over the media. You had EC in their heyday, scaring the crap out of kids. In this day and age, though, itís a lot more difficult to scare someone, because weíre desensitized to it. We can turn on the news and hear horror stories all day and all night long. Weíve been watching horror movies for forty years, and theyíve gotten progressively scary and gross. Weíve had shows like Tales from the Darkside, Freddyís Nightmares, and Friday the Thirteenth: The Series and more to scare us before going to sleep.

    Difficult.

    Then, there are the things that I think that are the weaknesses of comics. I think that straight novels and film easily beat comics in the realm of horror. In novels, youíre doing nothing but reading the words, without the benefit of pictures. In essence, youíre scaring yourself. In movies, we [now] have sound to help scare the crap out of us, to go along with the pictures.

    Personally, I feel that comics nowadays fall down in scaring people because of the fact that, as creators, weíre taking the imagination piece out of it for the reader. They get to see exactly what it is we want them to seeówithout the added benefit of music.

    Then, you have the old standbys of horror in comics: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, possibly aliens, Satanic magic users, and elder gods. Oh, sure, there are othersómaybe technologyís run amok or somesuchóbut thatís really about it for hoary standbys that creators pull out time and again. The traditional vampire is so well-worn that itís no longer scary, causing writers to make things out of whole cloth instead of doing research. [Yes, Iím guilty of it, too.] Werewolves arenít as well developed, but ghosts and goblins? Theyíre all over the place, and you donít have to look that hard.

    When writing horror, I urge you to do research in your given area, in order to try to find something old but new to say. Because of the difficulty in being truly scary in comics, you have to find your scares in different ways. Whenever possible, you have to appeal to the mental aspects of your readers. You have to leave as much up to their imagination as possible, in order to scare them.

    I was watching The Grudge a few years ago, and while it didnít outright scare me, it did disturb me, which is saying something for a PG-13 movie. How? Besides the ambience, besides the sound, besides the imagery, a lot was left to the imagination. If you show someone just about to be killed, and then cut away as theyíre dying, youíve left their method of dying up to the imagination of the reader.

    This is an extremely old trick that most of you donít know. Then again, Iím not reading many horror comics. Not truly horrific, anyway. The reason for that being that for generations, we created under the auspices of the Comics Code Authority. DC still operates under the code, the last great bastion that still adheres to it, since Marvel ditched the code in its entirety in 2001. Even though they use their own rating, Marvelís comics still donít reach the levels of the truly horrific that they could. They have books/characters that could reach those levels, too: Son of Satan, Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night, Simon GarthÖ The list goes on, but the company doesnít.

    Like I said, you have to do research for your horror stories. The more research you do, the more grounded your story should be when you write it. Do ghosts haunt people, places, or things? Do crosses really work on vampires, or would the Star of David work, as well? Do werewolves have any control at all? Do they go full wolf, or can they do half-forms? [I never understood The Wolf Man. Larry Talbot kills the werewolf that is Bela Lugosi, but Lugosi is in full wolf form, and Talbot never gets to change that far. AnywayÖ] Does silver work on all supernatural creatures? What else could protect you from a vampire attack? If you go and answer a lot of these questions, youíll more than likely be led down other avenues of research, and will have a more grounded world because of it.

    So, knowing your subject matter is first and foremost. Without that, youíre done.

    The next thing, of course, is characterization. (What about settings?) What about them? Your choice of horror venue will often choose your setting for you. Sure, vampires can be damned near anywhere, and you can have a werewolf in space [would a werewolf change if they were on a trip to one of Saturnís moons? Is it Luna, or is it something else], but if youíre going to have a hauntingÖsee what I mean? A setting will suggest itself more often than not, so Iím not overly concerned about having a setting.

    Characters, though, are going to be important. Like everything else, there are some tried and true traps that Iíd love for you to avoid.

    The damsel in distress. For the love of pant-wearing chipmunks, donít do this! Just donít. Please, put a twist on it. Oh, and while weíre at it, we all know about the connection between vampires and sex, but for the love of [insert Deity here], leave the sexy female vampire out of it. Again, just donít. Oh, and leave the Ann Rice gay vampires out of it, too.

    I also want you to leave the tortured werewolf whoís looking to get rid of the curse well enough alone, too. You cannot get more whiney than Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, so donít try. For ghosts, letís leave out the haunted houses, the possessed houses [yes, thereís a difference], and whatever else youíve seen in horrible 80s movies. I love them, too, and I know thereís a wave of nostalgia right now that everyoneís riding [when The Muppet Show is being sold on the newsstand to multiple sellouts, you know that the Thundercats canít be too far behind], but unless you have something new to say about it, letís just leave it be, okay?

    And thatís what I really want all of you to do when it comes to the scary stuff. Have something new and different to say. (You say that about everything!) Just about. Doesnít mean itís not true, though. Having that twist on it will help set you heads and shoulders above the competition. And believe me, thereís competition.

    Now, hereís the real secret of horror comics: as a writer, yours is the least important job. (Wha-?!) Sucks, I know, but really, the script is going to be the least important aspect of a horror comic. Oh, sure, you need to do all the heavy lifting for the characterization and getting into the readerís head, but the real work is going to be done by the artist. I know, I donít like it, either, but for horror comics, the artist is the real superstar.

    If your artist knows what theyíre doing, theyíll frame the stories appropriately. Lots of close-ups in order to give a claustrophobic feeling, possibly thicker panel borders, using a dry brush to give a more scratchy feeling instead of going really slick with their line, or any other technique or combination of techniques in order to bring dread to the reader. Your story helps, but the real heavy lifting will be done by the artist.

    The second member of the team thatís going to have the greatest impact on the story will be the colorist, if you choose to employ one. As Iíve grown older, Iíve grown more in love with black and white comics, especially for horror, but a good colorist will also help tell the story with mood lighting. Lots of dark and muddy colors instead of bright, clean ones.

    Lastly, the letterer will have a greater impact than normal because of font selection. How nice is that? You wrote the story, but everyone else has a greater impact than you. (The same can be said for any genre, though, right?) I donít think so. Youíre going for a very visceral reaction to the story, and the proper creative team will be even more important because of it.

    Thatíll do it for this week. Next week, weíll look more in depth into it. Homework? Go round up some horror comics and start studying them. See you next week!



  2. MartinBrandt Guest

    I'll tell you one of the hardest parts of horror now days for most. It goes beyond being desensitized as we are now. The monsters have become the heroes.

    So much time has been spent these last decades humanizing our creatures of the dark. Giving them very real logical goals. Showing their initial intent and then twisting it into something dark and perverted. Then we sympathize with them.

    This is what has helped take the horror out of horror.

    Seems these days you need to dig, you need to break the human threshold.

    The cheap way out in the last 10 years, cthulhu. So alien in its method and looks, all denizens of this cry out wrong to us. I feel it is cheap because everyone seems to use it when they need that last final push of horror.

    I was lucky growing up, vampires and werewolves were never my horror tales. They were legends I studied with much interest among all manner of things. While my friends were reading Tolkien I was reading religious texts and old folk lore. (Okay I was a twisted kid. )

    Forbes, you are right. Sometimes the best scare is the one we can't see. Like in this image:

    Sure some of you this does nothing, but I have met many people it really screws with. Mainly because they can't see it all. The imagination takes over and starts to twist up some truly horrifying images. Our minds work on the brink of chaos, in that chaos is a darkness personal to each person.

    As a writer I think it is our job to tap into that darkness. You can only know your own though, so it is about the build up here. Leave the rest to them.

    I can't wait for the next article Forbes. I promise you, no sexy vampires or cursed whiny wolves.
    Last edited by MartinBrandt; Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 08:52 PM. Reason: image was far too large and I can't spell for crap.



  3. Dungbeetle Guest

    Good stuff.

    I was going to rant about horror as allegory but I'll leave it for now. Cthulu mythos can definately be a cop-out, especially seeing as what made the original Lovecraft works scary was that usually the protagonist and probably the reader would have had traditional Christian morals and the ultimate revelation of elder gods or whatever the story was about completely gave their world view the acid bath treatment.



  4. Sliverbane Guest

    Ooo, scary

    The damsel in distress. For the love of pant-wearing chipmunks, donít do this! Just donít. Please, put a twist on it. Oh, and while weíre at it, we all know about the connection between vampires and sex, but for the love of [insert Deity here], leave the sexy female vampire out of it. Again, just donít. Oh, and leave the Ann Rice gay vampires out of it, too.



    I also want you to leave the tortured werewolf whoís looking to get rid of the curse well enough alone, too. You cannot get more whiney than Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, so donít try. For ghosts, letís leave out the haunted houses, the possessed houses [yes, thereís a difference], and whatever else youíve seen in horrible 80s movies. I love them, too, and I know thereís a wave of nostalgia right now that everyoneís riding [when The Muppet Show is being sold on the newsstand to multiple sellouts, you know that the Thundercats canít be too far behind], but unless you have something new to say about it, letís just leave it be, okay?
    I agree on most of your points...but I like the gay vampires, gay demons...etc. LOL (I'm in to that) Oh, are you using gay to refere to something 'stupid'? I...still like the gay vampires. Mind you, the story/universe that they are in makes all the difference! Just to clarify I LOATH anything by that togladyte ass-hat Meyers. I'm not a fan of Rice novels either. And the Underworld movies make me want to punch someone. I just like/love Stuart Townsend. Ha!

    As a reader of the Hellraiser comics I have seen prime examples of the things you mentioned: Clever lettering, scratchy dry-brush techniques, bizarre coloring methods. They worked. Some of the Hellraiser stories were very haunting...sometimes down right creepy. Some of the art looked like old washed out photographs, other looked as if they'd been scrawled by a dieing man on parchment with his own blood. Very effective.



  5. AdamH Guest

    Ann Rice gay vampires? Not a big fan of. I'll read other stuff by here, but I'm not touching those books. Meyers we aren't going to get into because...there's honestly not a column large enough to put all of my thoughts down in about the "Twilight" phenomenon. The Underworld movies, yeah they're bad, and they're not good, but they're entertaining enough to put on when you don't want to think about anything too heavy.

    I agree on the leaving out of the sexy female vampire, eventhough it's becoming a common staple in vampire stories, fan-service/eye-candy at best.

    I'm a big fan of Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. Those shows had short stories with a twist of an ending that made you think but also frightened you.



  6. Dungbeetle Guest

    Best vampire appearance ever is in Preacher where Cassidy, being onehundredandsomething years old, meets a newly sired vampire who lives up to the whole stereotype and ends up hating him.



  7. StevenForbes Guest

    Yes, Silverbane, I meant "gay" as in the modern sense of the word: effeminate men. That's who Anne Rice writes. I like the books up to a point. (Still haven't gotten past Black Farm, and I've started it three times. How long can someone go on about a friggin' cameo? For over 200 pages, apparently...) Anyway, we all know you're kinda warped. No worries.

    And I do agree with you, Were-Lock. The monsters HAVE become heroes at best, or sometimes anti-heroes of a sort. The biggest, shortest evil-lution was Freddy Krueger. He went from scary killing machine to funny jackhole in the space of three movies. The next few were him making more bad jokes, and then they finally tried to reclaim him with New Nightmare, but it was basically window dressing. We'll see how scary the new movies will be after the first one.

    Horror's going to be something of a fun trip. Then, we'll talk about strawberry shortcake, and possibly children's comics. Then maybe we'll zig back over to superheroes, and then zag to morality tales in modern comics. Then we'll talk about science fiction outside of the superhero setting, how nuanced slice of life comics have to be, and then go over how stripped down short stories have to be. (Basically, all of this is to drive Silverbane crazy by avoiding fantasy like the plague...)

    And next week....Next week is my ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! Well, technically, I guess this week was, because of the introduction, but still! Next week marks fifty-two consecutive weeks of B&N! Wow! I'm pretty stoked!



  8. MartinBrandt Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Sliverbane View Post
    I agree on most of your points...but I like the gay vampires, gay demons...etc. LOL (I'm in to that) Oh, are you using gay to refere to something 'stupid'? I...still like the gay vampires. Mind you, the story/universe that they are in makes all the difference! Just to clarify I LOATH anything by that togladyte ass-hat Meyers. I'm not a fan of Rice novels either. And the Underworld movies make me want to punch someone. I just like/love Stuart Townsend. Ha!

    As a reader of the Hellraiser comics I have seen prime examples of the things you mentioned: Clever lettering, scratchy dry-brush techniques, bizarre coloring methods. They worked. Some of the Hellraiser stories were very haunting...sometimes down right creepy. Some of the art looked like old washed out photographs, other looked as if they'd been scrawled by a dieing man on parchment with his own blood. Very effective.
    The thing with Underworld is that this was never about horror. It has no resembalances to horror at all. It is pure action joy ride. It just so happens what used to pass for monsters are now our villains and heroes of the story. Even then they humanize them so much, be they vampire or werewolf, it doesn't matter what they are doing any more.

    Now Hellraiser, Clive Barker in general, that is usually good horror.

    Throw some fantasy in there, Clive Barker wrote one of my favorite novels that was part fantasy part horror. It is called Weaveworld. Of course we are talking comics here, but still if you are looking for a good horror/fantasy read check it out.



  9. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenForbes View Post
    (Basically, all of this is to drive Silverbane crazy by avoiding fantasy like the plague...)
    Silverbane isn't the only one waiting, you know. :mad: Putting off fantasy to talk about Strawberry Shortcake? If you weren't better than halfway across the country... >shakes fist<


    Horror is tough. Sometimes I wonder if it works at all in comics (I haven't really seen it work well, but then I haven't read a lot of horror comics either). In my experience, horror only works if it's deeply character driven or suspense driven (ideally both) - and those both work best (maybe only?) with a slow burn. And while I don't mind a slow burn comic, I seem to be in a minority.

    And then there's the "once" effect (at least for me). Michael Myers really creeped me out, too... once. But the sequels did nothing for me. One of the myriad of creepy little kid movies, I've forgotten which one, weirded me out a little... once. The people with deformed bone structure, crawling around like spiders, really made my skin crawl... once. The scare only works the first time, and then it has to be a completely different scare (or the same scare ramped up, but that can get old quick too). I'm sure I'm an extreme case of this effect (after all there are tons of repetitious horror movies out there, raking in money), but I still think there's only so many times you can yell, "Boo!" and expect anyone to jump.

    Horror (well, let's clarify that - good horror) probably requires more creativity and innovation than any other genre. Honestly, the thought of trying to write horror kind of scares me.



  10. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by madelf View Post
    Silverbane isn't the only one waiting, you know. :mad: Putting off fantasy to talk about Strawberry Shortcake? If you weren't better than halfway across the country... >shakes fist<
    Not Strawberry Shortcake, but strawberry shortcake. See the difference? (Besides, I'm hungry.)

    Anyway, fantasy, when I get around to it (sometime after the Obama administration), should be longer than horror, but not as long as superheroes. There are just so many interesting things to talk about before fantasy that it's not even funny! Lepers, giraffes, how paint is made, how to make crepes, the first telescope, how the early Church fathers tried to repress science, electromagnetism...and if we really MUST talk comics, we can talk about color guides, the four color process, RGB vs CYMK, balloon placement, logo design, coming up with good names for your series, where and how to look for work, professionalism, and all kinds of other things that are more important than talking about fantasy.

    So, it's coming. Eventually.



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