Superhero comics hold a pretty substantial piece of the comic book pie, with Marvel and DC remaining the powerhouses of the blockbuster-esque sequential form. However, some significant comic book roots can be found in the horror genre, with classics such as Eerie Comics (1947), The New Adventures of Frankenstein (1940), and Tales from the Crypt (1951) all predating the creation of many of today’s most popular superheroes, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman notwithstanding.
Horror comics have made a comeback in relatively recent years, finding a home with smaller publishers such as Image Comics, Dark Horse, and IDW. Fans have also found the frights they’re looking for from further afield, with manga production in Japan providing some truly chilling stories.
These creator-owned creations provide superstar writers and artists with enough wiggle room to really play around with the story more than continuity would allow when writing for the larger publishers. This is especially evident in horror comics, as the reigns are well and truly loosened, enough to give teams the chance to flex their creative muscles and delve deeper into their imagination when constructing a new world from scratch.
We know that what is considered scary can be somewhat subjective, as ghosts may scare some but not all readers, but there’s no denying that each of these entries contain enough nightmare fuel to warrant its place on the list.
Here are 15 Insane Horror Comics That Will Haunt You For Life.
15. 30 Days Of Night
Readers may already be aware of 30 Days of Night from its film adaptation of the same name, staring Josh Hartnett, but it may not be common knowledge that this gore-fest was first a three-issue miniseries.
The comic sets vampires against the unsuspecting townspeople of Barrow, Alaska. The vampires take full advantage of Barrow’s lack of sun for 30 days during the winter, slaughtering and feasting on the people. As the vampires don’t have to sleep at night at all, they are able to continuously terrorize the citizens of the small town, some of which are able to hide and survive due to the below-freezing temperatures messing with the vampires’ sense of smell.
The troop of twenty vampires includes a little girl vampire. Dressed in a summer dress with pigtails in her hair, she would be creepy enough roaming the snowy tundra of Alaska, but the sight of her sharp teeth and unsettling bloody smile as she feeds on one of the Barrow residents will stay etched in your brain for a long time.
Teaming up with Jock and Matt Hollingsworth, Scott Snyder crafts a haunting six-issue series where people can be pledged to supernatural Wytches in return for a boon.
Wasting no time getting to the good stuff, one of the most chilling moments in this series can be found in the opening pages of issue #1. A woman tries to escape from inside the trunk of a tree, calling for help to the seemingly empty forest. Her young son arrives and she explains that she as been “pledged to them” and pleads for him to get a rock to help her get out of the bark. Young Tim immediately bashes her face with the rock, claiming “pledged is pledged“, and hands appear from inside the tree to drag her back in.
Jock’s artistic style and Hollingsworth’s colors help craft the eerie landscape of a seemingly sleepy town, secretly marred by the these strange beings. A story of ritual sacrifice with a dash of conspiracy gives you cause to look at those around you with a suspicious eye – not to mention the trees.
It seems like small towns in America are the best settings for horror comics, and Nailbiter is no different. Imagine, if you will, that there was one town that produced 16 of the most notorious serial killers in history. Well, Buckaroo, Oregon is that town. The most recent serial killer is Edward ‘Nailbiter’ Warren, his nickname gained from his inclination to find those who chew their nails, imprison them until their nails grow back, chew their fingers down to the bone, and then kill them.
One of the scariest things about Nailbiter is that it’s not mystical, supernatural, or otherworldly. These serial killers are rooted in some kind of reality that’s close to our own, killing people in very real ways. The worst part is that Warren is free due to the justice system acquitting him from over 40 counts of first degree murder, allowing him to move back to his hometown and live out his life.
Robert Kirkman’s most recent comic to TV adaptation was Outcast. No doubt riding on the success of his first show (more on that later), Cinemax (and later, Fox) was eager to get another Kirkman product on its schedule.
Outcast is one of the more supernatural comics on our list, with God and Satan referred to heavily on both sides of the fight between good an evil. Set in yet another small town, it follows Kyle Barnes as he is constantly tormented by possessed residents, discovering he has the power to stop them.
The image of creepy children in horrific settings can’t be ignored – that will literally keep you up at night. A possessed/demon child in the dark is probably the only green light for people to hit a child, and Kyle Barnes got the memo. During his first encounter with the child, Kyle wails on him before asking questions. Warranted, really.
11. From Hell
An insight into Alan Moore’s psyche is likely to be enough to haunt anyone for life, but his tale of Jack the Ripper, From Hell, has a particularly unsettling tone throughout. This can be attributed to either Moore’s writing style, the often graphic nature of Eddie Campbell’s black and white art, or the twisted lettering.
The true story of Jack the Ripper is largely unresolved, with his true identity never actually confirmed, but Moore plays with multiple theories on the matter to construct From Hell.
Moore places Dr. William Gull in the role of Jack the Ripper. Gull becomes gradually more unhinged as time passes, finding purpose for the killings of the women – to ensure continuous male dominance in society. The terrifying truth of this story is that it was a government’s secret agenda that sparked the actions of the killer, something that’s all too real in today’s world.
Supernatural noir isn’t a genre you thought you needed until you encounter Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Jo is our, not so classic, femme fatale. She has been living on the run since the 1930s, pursued by a cult of maniacs who worship gods from the Cthulhu mythos, but she largely remains unchanged, suggesting immortality.
Despite the obviously creepy horrors from the realm of H. P. Lovecraft, the sickeningly violent cult themselves are the standouts. In the first issue, readers are shown the mutilated bodies of the cult’s previous sacrifices – beheaded men, a man hanging from the ceiling with his guts cut out – and the combination of obvious visuals to the mere suggestion of gore is very unsettling. It’s the kind of fast cuts you would usually find in a thriller, but here, you have all the time in the world to pour over the pages. It’s, definitely worth checking out, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
The cover to the first issue of Colder is enough to make you cringe on sight. We see a blue skinned male, forcing his fingers up through the inside of his top lip, with the tip of his finger coming out of his eye socket and resting on his eyeball. If you didn’t shudder at the thought, then this comic may be for you.
The man on the cover is Declan. His body temperature is getting lower and lower, but he has the power to cure the madness in others, demonstrating on a man in the park who hears voices. While doing so, we are introduced to “the hungry world” – a world parallel to our own where madness dwells.
The villain, Nimble Jack, also takes his victims here so he can feed on their madness. For example, a simple agoraphobic woman is taken there and all she sees are people with eyeballs for heads, staring at her. To be honest, if that’s all you saw, you’d want to stay at home too.
8. American Vampire
Imagine vampires were real. Scary thought, right? Okay, now imagine that they can walk around during the day, and that they actually get stronger in sunlight. That’s what’s happening in American Vampire by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albaquerque, and Stephen King.
Skinner Sweet was an old west gunslinger who encountered a vampire in the 1880s, with their scuffle resulting in vampire blood dripping into his eye. This sparked what he calls a “vampire evolution”, creating a new breed of vampire that can walk during the day. He’s the first of his kind, until 1925, when he sires a struggling movie star named Pearl Jones.
While the story itself isn’t enough to keep you up at night, despite the second story throughout the first arc being written by Stephen King, the combination with Albaquerque’s visuals is enough to renew the old fear of vampires.
7. Fuan No Tane
Our only manga entry on the list, Fuan no Tane by Masaaki Nakayama, is a series of some of the shortest spooky stories you will ever read, some of which are only a couple of pages long.
Each tale deals with urban legends, the kinds that kids tell each other in school, but Fuan no Tane provides a creepy black and white representation that instills a very real sense of horror in its readers. For example, in “The Ear-Slashing Monk” a faceless person snips their scissors, causing your ear to be cut off despite being nowhere near them. Or in the disembodied head of someone appearing in your bath to watch you undress in “Peeping.”
6. Afterlife With Archie
Before Riverdale, there was Afterlife With Archie. After Archie Comics finally dropped the Comics Code Authority standards, they decided to publish something that explored subject matter that was a little darker than its usual comics – death, violence, and gore.
After his dog, Hot Dog, is killed by Reggie and his car, Jughead approaches Sabrina the Teenage Witch to bring his friend back to life. Sabrina successfully brings the dog back, but as a feral demon-dog. Jughead becomes infected after his beloved pet bites him, making him the first zombie in Riverdale. Jughead proceeds to infect his friends, with Archie, Betty, and Veronica (plus a few other redshirts) escaping to Lodge Manor.
5. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead offers a slightly different approach to the zombie apocalypse, instead presenting the dead as a force of nature, the surviving humans battling something of a war of attrition against its unceasing tide. You’ve probably heard of it.
Fans of the show might not be aware that baby Judith didn’t survive the prison in the comics. She and Lori were both shot to death with a freaking rifle. That’s right, the little baby got blown away in a comic book and, even in black and white, it was one of the most gratuitously violent and gory moments in the series.
In a comic book about zombies, readers are expected to become desensitized to the hoard, but the acts of violence between the remnants of humanity having a lasting effect. The death of baby Judith was one such moment, probably pipping Glenn getting his brains bashed in to the top spot.
You know how that old story goes: you work in data entry for so long you gradually develop misanthropy and decide you’d like to kill people. No? Probably just Christine in Slasher in that case.
Christine starts to re-discover her own sexuality, finding thrills in the “knife play” videos of an online teenager called Joshua. Around the same time, Christine starts to realize she has a bloodlust within her, and she and Joshua start to fantasize about killing people in their lives. Think Strangers on a Train, if it was a psychosexual thriller between a 20-something woman and a teenage boy.
3. Harrow County
Harrow County opens up with a witch burning. We learn that Hester Beck had formerly been a healer, with the residents of Harrow County turning a blind eye to the animals dying around her, her satanic baptisms, rumors of laying with monstrosities, and the suggestion that she strengthened her powers by using babies.
The story progresses and readers are introduced to Emmy, a seemingly normal farmer’s daughter. Emmy is plagued by haunting dreams and fears of “haints” (ghouls and ghosts, according to Cullen Bunn’s uncle) and it is suggested that she will be a witch when she comes of age.
Issue #1 has a particularly creepy moment when Emmy follows a younger child in the wood through a thicket of thorns. As she travels deeper into the thorny brush, she discovers more and more blood, finding the boys skin lying like a discarded garment, still trying to talk. As creepy debut issues go, it’s up there with the most memorable.
Scott Snyder’s third entry in the list is Severed – the story of a teenage runaway and his run-in with a cannibalistic old man who seemingly has lived for longer than he should.
Jack runs away from home in search of his birth father, spurred on by a letter he received. But this letter was sent by Mr. Porter, or Mr. Fisher, whichever name he’s going by at the time, since his identity is a pure fabrication. No matter which name he uses, he is a sharp-toothed eater of children.
The whole comic is unsettling as hell, as Mr. Porter grooms his victims, offering the runaways a better life than the one they are leading, only to devour them. Jack and his friend Sam are next on his list, and they do not come out unscathed.
It’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s a dream throughout Grant Morrison’s Glasgow-set Nameless. The man with no name jumps from being trapped in a swamp to waking up in bed surrounded by men, to being pushed down the street in a shopping cart. Even the Glasgow Botanic Gardens look relatively normal at one moment only to morph into a patchwork of colors and otherworldly visions.
A series of violent acts around the world are all attributed to an entity living inside a meteor called Xibalba – people eating their families, others forcing their family to drink bleach before hanging themselves, etc. The meteor has properties connected to the occult, and so Nameless is brought in as an expert.
Morrison’s psychedelic horror comic will keep you up due to its clear flouting of the normal conventions of the sequential art form. Don’t try to overthink it. There lies madness.
What other comic books keep you up at night? Let us know in the comments!
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