At the Long Beach Comic Con over the weekend, there was programming to cater to just that. At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, the panel “Fanbase Press Presents: Things That Go Bump in Horror Comics” brought together writers and artists that specialize in horror sequential art to talk about their craft and what horror means to them. Moderated by Michele Brittany, (Horror in Space: Critical Essays on a Film Subgenre), the panel included Bryant Dillon (Something Animal, Identity Thief), David Lucarelli (The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade), Dave Crosland (Invader Zim), and David Gallaher and Steve Ellis (High Moon).
Digging into what made each creator tick, Brittany asked them how they got their interest into horror, what their definition of horror was, and then followed it up with specific questions about their work. Dillon got into horror via his fascination with things with really sharp teeth: starting with sharks and dinosaurs to the xenomorphs in Alien, and even the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dillon confessed that he got into comic books not through superheroes, by from the Dark Horse line of Alien comics in the '90s. To him, horror is a reflection of what we fear, but also a reflection of our values via a horror story’s protagonist.
Something Animal and Identity Thief are two horror-centric graphic novels in Dillon’s repertoire. Dillon had dabbled in other mediums, such as theatre and film, and Something Animal initially was a short film, before the comic book incarnation overshadowed it. Both comics have an emphasis on isolation, a feeling that was important to get across to the readers. For Dillon, his hope is that within the art of both graphic novels, readers will re-read and see something different each time.
Lucarelli had always been into tales of the dark side, with Scooby-Doo being the gateway. When he was young, there weren’t that many horror comics available, and it wasn’t until the '80s that saw the reprinting of classic horror comics and the arrival of Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing. In regards to horror in comics when compared to other mediums, Lucarelli loves the misdirection aspect that can be found panel to panel and embraces comics that are black and white. He feels his comic, The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade, was a reaction to the Twilight depiction of vampires, and he wanted to go back to the original idea of what one was. His story is based on a real historic event in Glasgow where a large group of children went hunting for the Gorbals Vampire.
Crosland got into horror by virtue of being born shortly before Halloween and by having a mom that was huge into the genre, especially Peter Straub. He mused how she would go into a store and leave him in the car, and he would swipe her copy of Stephen King’s It from the glove box to read. He even stayed home from school during the fourth grade at the insistence of his mom to watch Aliens. For Crosland, horror is anything that is both inexplicable and unstoppable, such as mother nature.
Crosland is currently working on Oni Press’ run of Jhonen Vasquez’s Invader Zim comics, a continuation of the original cartoon series that aired on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s. Originally hired to do covers, Crosland transitioned to being able to do his own story and interior art, as well. Crosland has not seen the original animated series, so he approached Zim as a pure slimy, horrible entity. His goal with Zim, since it is horror aimed at kids, is to scare – but not terrify.
Ellis noted from the interactions of the panel so far that folks seemed to go back to their childhood to find their origins of horror. He said he had grown up in a Catholic home around the time of the '70s when films such as The Omen and The Exorcist were subverting religion. He noted that this horror was linked to a corruption of personal innocence, that there was something inside you that you can’t control. His gateway to horror in comics was through Frank Miller’s Elektra, whom he emphasized as having gone through some horrible things.
As Ellis loves visceral horror, Gallaher had approached him about working on a wild west comic, High Moon, which focuses on werewolves. Gallaher confessed to having a hatred for both the western genre, as well as for horror. He had grown up Southern Baptist, so what the horror he was surrounded by was the fear of being sent to hell. Much later in his life, he had a goth girlfriend who introduced him to horror films, of which he felt sadness for their characters who got maimed and killed. It wasn’t until he was in college and taking film courses that he was exposed to the likes of Blade Runner and Terminator, where he got to see the historic context of important films and infer a better appreciation for the genre. For Gallaher, he likes to look at horror on the human level and notes that horror is a reflection of societal norms. In their High Moon comic, both Ellis and Gallaher wanted the reader to empathize with the story and realized the art in such a fashion as to grab the reader and really pull them in.
The panel was truly insightful in the ways that these creators view and interact with horror and their goals at depicting different stories in the sequential art medium.
Bryant Dillon’s graphic novels can be found at www.fanbasepress.com.
David Lucarelli’s comic can be found at www.cvhb.net.
Dave Crosland can be found at www.davecrosland.com.
Steve Ellis can be found at www.steveellisart.com.
David Gallaher can be found at www.davidgallaher.com.
Michele Brittany can be found at www.michelebrittany.com.
Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.
Panel photograph courtesy of Nick Diak