‘Gothic Tales of Haunted Love:’ Comic Book Anthology Review

In many readers’ minds, the term “gothic” likely evokes literary references to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula – elements of romance, the supernatural, and dark, foreboding tones permeate such timeless stories. During the 1960s and 1970s, such elements reappeared in the sequential art medium, being stimulated by the diminishing control of the Comics Code Authority in 1971. Jacque Nodell (Sequential Crush), in the book’s foreword, explains that gothic romance comics “were short lived, merely a blip on the radar of the mainstream comic book industry.”

DC Comics, Charlton Comics, and Marvel Comics were a few of the publishers that were releasing haunting romantic tales. Series being released featured stories and art by some of the leading writers (Wes Craven) and artists (Tony DeZuniga). At the time, Marvel was helmed by Stan Lee, so he would have made decisions on what titles were published. Although influential creators were creating stories, the genre was short-lived, and the tales eventually morphed into mystery and horror genres.

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is a collection of approximately 20 comics by contemporary creators who explore this enduring genre, which has captured the attention and imagination of readers for two centuries, while delivering modern twists on classic tales. Below are brief descriptions and reviews of each short story.

“Crush”
Janet Hetherington (writer), Ronn Sutton (artist), Becka Kinzie (colorist) & Zakk Saam (letterer)
Constance Mayhew arrives at the Harcorte House, where she takes the position of governess for the seven children of Captain Harcorte. What reads like a blending of Wuthering Heights and The Sound of Music provides an unsuspecting plot twist in the third act. Hetherington’s narrative beats propel the unfolding story along at a quick pace, while Sutton’s visuals provide iconic cues of a long-ago Victorian age. The colors by Kinzie are lush, especially on the title page. Saam’s letters are clean and easy to read. The narrative boxes and speech bubbles are well placed within the path of the reader’s eyes without obstructing the characters or their movements.

“Rose’s Heart”
Colleen Coover (writer/artist)
Coover (Small Favors; Bandette) gives a sinister twist to the damsel-in-distress scenario and, as a result, leading lady Rose is not quite what she seems. As an admirer of Coover’s art style from her work on Bandette, she does not disappoint in this short story. In addition, her color palette works exceedingly well in accentuating the air of mystery and intrigue.

“Secrets in the Silk”
Nika (story / art)
Set in Taiwan, Nika’s story proves that behind the successful designer, there’s a talented “kept” woman. The sad demise of Lee-Hwa and her ghost do not go lightly into the night. Nika’s story is insightful of a frequently silent culture in American comics, and the visuals are haunting and powerful.

“L’Heure Verte”
Femi Sobowale, Caroline Dougherty & Zakk Saam
From the subdue color palette of Nika to the rich colors of this story, two very different ghost tales emerge. Ada attends a costume party ball at a mansion, where she encounters the ghost of the mistress of the house. There is a lighthearted, flirtatious tone that is matched by the characters and the choice of colors. The chemistry between Ada and Violet is magical. As an aside, the ball gowns are gorgeous.

“Goldblind”
Hope Nicholson & Scott Chantler
Hearkening to a late 19th century snowy wilderness, this tale tells of a woman waiting patiently by the window, watching for her lover to return. The use of black-and-white drawings mingling with thick and thin line art work well, especially when punctuated with splashes of gold. There is very little text; instead, the images speak volumes.

“Minefield”
Hien Pham (story / art)
Pham narrates a tragic war story in Vietnam in which a ghost protects a young villager against Americans. Most of the dialogue is not translated; however, that doesn’t matter since the images convey the tale well.

“The Return”
David A. Robertson (writer) & Scott B. Henderson (illustrated)
Giving voice to Native Americans, this story explores the reanimation of a woman who died from a bear attack. It’s a fascinating story and the accompanying visuals are beautiful. The nighttime scenes of the sky are tranquil and the moonlight shadows evocative.

“Green, Gold, and Black”
Cherelle Higgins (story) & Rina Rozsas (art / letters)
Higgins’ narrative voice-over is poetic and riveting, while Rozsas’ illustrations and colors pop off the page. The characters are exotic with their facial paint. Some of the compositions, such as the blond woman leaning forward and looking straight into the soul of the reader, are powerful and unsettling. And the narrative bubbles unique and well placed in each respective pane.

“Ladies of the Lake”
Sarah Winifred Searle (story / art)
Set in the mid-1920s, Lady Gwyn is recently married to a husband that pays her very little attention. It is reminiscent of the Arthurian tale about the Lady of the Lake and even makes reference to gothic tales written by English writers Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe. There is a simplicity to the visuals that lends itself well to the mysterious narrative that Searle’s tells. Her choice of colors, particularly the blues, greens, and purples, are well suited and gorgeous.

“Fazenda do Sangue Azul”
H. Pueyo (story) & Dante L. (art)  
The heavier inks and muted colors add to the eerie ghost story set in an abandoned mansion outside of Rio de Janeiro in the late 1960s. Hernanes is inspired by his surroundings and begins writing about the unfortunate events related to the house, which seem to call the ghost Luka from the spiritual realm. Pueyo creates a spellbinding romantic story between the two men, which is captivating. Dante’s illustrations blend the old (art nouveau) with the contemporary (1960s hippie) that is fanciful and matches well with the creative panel layouts where diagonal lines are used. The typewriter text and segments of typed pages give a nice flavor to the visual experience.

“A Heritage of Woods”
S.M. Beiko & Maia Kobabe
Beiko and Kobabe explore the Slavic folklore story of Leshy, a forest spirit, and two women who seek out their happiness. Only married for a short time, Mirin is drawn to the forest near her home. She is conflicted that her marriage does not provide the happiness and love she craves. The watercolor form provides constant movement of the larger-than-life presence of the forest, which is pervasive on each page. Using predominately black and white with highlights of tans/browns convey san earthly and timeless feel to the visuals.

“Lovers’ Moon”
Chris Stone (writer) & Danielle Bethel (art)
Stone explores the gothic element of a woman who is pursued by two suitors; however, in this tale, the woman would rather not choose either man, but her father is pushing her to make a decision. Ava takes matters into her own hands, with tragic results. Stone sets up a nice twist to the story, while Bethel’s illustrative style masks the darker tones that exist below the surface.

“Mistress Fox”
Megan Kearney (story/art) & Derek Spencer (color)
This was a delicious story of a woman who created an elaborate ruse against her newlywed husband. Kearney sets a riveting quick pace at the breakfast table at Fox Hall and establishes a credible character in Mistress Fox. The panel composition is well done, and the colors blend nicely without distracting the reader from the narrative.

“My Heart Still Beats for You”
Amber Noelle & Allison Paige
Instead of evil arising from a donated body part like in the silent film, The Hand of Orlac (1924), in this tale, Gabriel receives a much-needed heart transplant. Learning the identity of the donor is a bittersweet moment.  

“One More Cup”
Barbara Guttman (story / art)
Reminiscent of Stoker’s Dracula, the reader knows that the bird man Andreas that Nakti encounters one day on her balcony has an ulterior motive. His charm sucks in Nakti and while she will not invite him in, the reader watches on as Andreas patiently awaits his opportunity to turn Nakti to one of his kind. Guttman’s artistic abilities excel during the transformation of Andreas from bird to man as well as her attention to detail of the changing appearance of Nakti as she falls for the charming Andreas and then her own transformation.

“Ouroboros”
Svetla Nikolova (writer) & LAB (art)
The cycle of life and death are explored in this beautifully illustrated story. The transitions between muted and vibrant colors convey romantic tones. Nikolova’s poetic language channels the haunting tragic nature of the gothic tale. The bigger panels open up the world of the lovers, so the sacrifice each character makes is not lost on the reader.

“I Am the Song”
Cecil Castellucci (words), Willow Dawson (lines), Beck Kinzie (colors) & Zakk Saam (letters)
This story explores the cycle of a relationship between two people that share the passion of music. Each person wears their feelings in different ways, which shifts as the relationship transitions through the stages as the arrive at their breakup. The lines and panel layouts are bold and loud, just like the music heard at a rock concert, as are the colors. The animated musical notes are playful and at times, dangerous and sharp. The narrative text and sound art are clean and easy to read.

“What’s Best”
Katie West (writer), Ray Fawkes (art) & Zakk Saam (letterer)
World War II is over and in Ontario, a mother believes her daughter is with the wrong man. She takes steps to push her daughter to a more appropriate suitor. The wispy watercolor art style solicits an easygoing tone, but darkness is hidden under the pastel layers of civility and culture. A wrong step peels back the veneer and exposes the darkness underneath.

“The Promise”
Sanho Kim
This is a Korean folktale that has been published before in Charlton Comics’ Ghostly Tales. A ghost story, like many of the stories contained in this volume, proves that reneging on a promise to a ghost has deadly consequences. Regrettably, the quality of the illustrations are pixelated and some details are lost as a result.

“Grave Misfortune”
Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris
Billed as a “a gothic quiz for ladies who find themselves trapped in haunted castles, cursed mansion, and lonely manors,” readers who take the quiz will learn how grave their situation is in their own gothic tale. The questions and answers are in keeping with gothic expectations and prove to be an entertaining diversion.

The collection finishes off with a gallery of artwork from some of the stories included in the volume. Additionally, there are illustrations dispersed in a few locations, similar in tone to the cover of the book. The introduction by Nodell documents the historical context of the Gothic Romance and gives a foundation to the modern stories in the volume. For readers who enjoy Gothic tales and modern interpretations, or are looking for an introduction into this genre, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is a fantastic beginning text.  


Creative Team: Hope Nicholson (editor), S.M. Beiko (editor), Leslie Doyle (cover art), S.M. Beiko (layouts)
Publisher: Bedside Press
Click here to purchase.

 

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