Horror!

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Horror!

Postby thexeternal » March 25th, 2014, 3:17 pm

How about a general topic about horror?

What elements in a horror comic creep you out the most? What elements in a horror comic are ineffective to you, or even down right ruin the creep-factor over all?

Have any favorite horror comic titles or artists? Is there a style for horror that you like best?



I guess you could say that the purpose of this topic is paaartly for research heh! For years I've wanted to create a non-gore (or itty-bitty-gore?) horror comic, but have been kind of stuck about how to go about it. Japanese Occult folklore and myths really inspire me. I played Fatal Frame yeeeaaars ago and absolutely loved getting my pants scared off (I hadn't realized just how dark some Japanese folklore was!) and really wanted to recreate that feeling with a story of my own.

Now my own issues - I really stink at modern settings, but that sort of anachronism that comes from a character stepping into a plot far too gruesome for their own time setting is great for the genre I think!

But my strengths are very much in medieval-inspired settings. Do you think that such a setting might render any horror elements ineffective, simply because of how much realism it lacks?

On a side note, my fingers are itching to worldbuild something medieval-fantasy-Japan-esque!
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Re: Horror!

Postby avian-reader » March 25th, 2014, 5:31 pm

If you want medieval-style horror, a good place to look is Berserk. Granted that's more action than straight horror, but it has it's fair share of creepiness, and is generally a pretty grim series. A lot of the horror could be said to be in the more human aspects, such as torture and witch hunts, rather than the fantasy elements, though those can be pretty messed up too.
Spoiler! :
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Also something that might be helpful -which Berserk itself seems to draw on- is Medieval art, particularly doom paintings.
Spoiler! :
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Re: Horror!

Postby mikemacdee » March 27th, 2014, 2:16 am

If you wanna try writing horror, look at short fiction collections like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Most of those stories would make great comics. I adapted Oh Susannah! from that series of books, and had planned to do more but never got around to it.

To do good horror comics, you need to be able to do effective horror fiction first. Comics are a visual medium, but stories are a literary medium first and foremost, and comic stories need to be well-written. I've seen plenty of disturbing imagery in horror comics, but rarely a good story -- one that makes me go "G'AAH!" and not just "Ew". Junji Ito is a good example of this: his imagery is top notch, but his stories are often impossible to take seriously. I feel like he's so celebrated as a horror comic guy because of his graphics and not his content.

This is from Gyo...
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...which turns out to be about bio-weapons powered by farts.

Anyway, horror fiction is at its best when it builds a palpable sense of dread. You can make it as gory as you want, but if there's no tension or dread, it's not scary -- just grotesque.
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Re: Horror!

Postby eishiya » March 27th, 2014, 8:47 am

mikemacdee wrote:I've seen plenty of disturbing imagery in horror comics, but rarely a good story -- one that makes me go "G'AAH!" and not just "Ew". Junji Ito is a good example of this: his imagery is top notch, but his stories are often impossible to take seriously. I feel like he's so celebrated as a horror comic guy because of his graphics and not his content.
...
Anyway, horror fiction is at its best when it builds a palpable sense of dread. You can make it as gory as you want, but if there's no tension or dread, it's not scary -- just grotesque.

I think this quote is a good summary of what to focus on when writing horror stories:
Stephen King wrote:I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.

When he refers to terror, he speaks of building dread, make the reader dread (but still want to see) what comes next. Horror is the reaction to something scary, being appalled by what's happening. And the gross-out is self-explanatory.

Junji Ito's stories, unfortunately, tend to horrify and squick (the latter most often), and only a few times has he managed to build dread. I think he is celebrated because he's one of the very few artists to have struck a balance between appealing art, decent characters, and scary-enough stories. It's slim pickings in the horror manga genre, and Ito's work has the broadest appeal.

mikemacdee wrote:To do good horror comics, you need to be able to do effective horror fiction first. Comics are a visual medium, but stories are a literary medium first and foremost, and comic stories need to be well-written.

(I may have misunderstood what you meant here, please correct me if I did.)
You speak of writing and art as two separate things, but in comics, they're not. Comic stories should not be written (or even structured) exactly the same way as non-comic stories. It's important to understand what makes readers terrified/horrified/squicked, and it's important to figure out how to implement that in your chosen medium (comics, in this case). That is not the same as "writing well". A story can be well-written and well-drawn and still fail as a comic. A story can make an awful prose piece but be an amazing comic.


My complaining/reacting aside, here's a neat article. Some of the "tips" aren't about creating horror stories, but most of the creation ones are good. It also speaks of using revulsion (horrifying the reader) and squick (grossing them out) to aid the terror, which is a good way to think about it.

OP: I don't think that a fantasy setting would render the horror any less effective, as long as the horror elements are something you and your readers can find parallels with. Also, who is to say that the characters in your setting have to be used to the weird stuff? Just as the monsters in our world are real but still scary since we don't encounter them in daily life, the horrors of your setting don't have to be something the characters are used to. You can step out of your life into a a frightening experience just by getting off at the wrong bus stop at a bad time. Why should characters in a fantasy setting be immune to that?

On a somewhat unrelated note: If you want to write a fantasy setting, go for it, but don't avoid writing a modern one just because you think you suck at it! If you have any interest at all in such a setting, then write one! You won't get better if you don't try.
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Re: Horror!

Postby mikemacdee » March 28th, 2014, 5:56 am

eishiya wrote:
mikemacdee wrote:To do good horror comics, you need to be able to do effective horror fiction first. Comics are a visual medium, but stories are a literary medium first and foremost, and comic stories need to be well-written.

(I may have misunderstood what you meant here, please correct me if I did.)

Yes and no. I don't mean to separate the two mediums completely as if comics don't tell stories in a distinct way -- if you're a good writer, and a good artist, but terrible at coherent sequential art, your comic will fail. Unless it's a Batman comic. Then everyone loves it no matter how incoherent it is. But I digress.

However, at the same time that comics is a medium in itself, it's also a marriage of individual disciplines that ideally should be studied on their own outside of their comic applications. In doing so, you focus on one aspect without having all the others around to distract you. I usually boil them down to illustration, literature, cinematography. Literature is where we really learn the science of building plot and character (and how dialogue works), and at the comic medium's core the science of storytelling DOESN'T change: you're telling a story with sequential art and not all-text, BUT you still need logical character arcs and motivations, you still need concise narrative and dialogue that makes sense, and you still need to understand concepts like foreshadowing, plot holes, Chekhov's Gun, and, more recently, Mary-Sue. If you only ever study comics, you'll probably do okay, but you're more likely to succeed in every area of comics if you study and practice the parts as well as the whole.

As for the other two: illustration for how to bring the characters and settings to life, and how to make the best layouts for panels, word balloons, etc; and cinematography for how to establish mood and pacing.
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Re: Horror!

Postby thexeternal » March 28th, 2014, 1:09 pm

Thank you guys for all the feedback!!

avian-reader wrote:Also something that might be helpful -which Berserk itself seems to draw on- is Medieval art, particularly doom paintings.
Spoiler! :
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Thank you for the idea, I'm in love with it! Looking at the art with my goal in mind makes it a hundred times more interesting than I found it to be in school, lol.

mikemacdee wrote:To do good horror comics, you need to be able to do effective horror fiction first. Comics are a visual medium, but stories are a literary medium first and foremost, and comic stories need to be well-written. I've seen plenty of disturbing imagery in horror comics, but rarely a good story -- one that makes me go "G'AAH!" and not just "Ew". Junji Ito is a good example of this: his imagery is top notch, but his stories are often impossible to take seriously. I feel like he's so celebrated as a horror comic guy because of his graphics and not his content.


I agree with you about Junji Ito one hundred percent. Generally, I'm really confident with my ability to write a story, so maybe this won't be as hard as I'm trying to make it. I'm not real good with the "ick" factor, but I'm real proficient with the "creep" factor haha. Guess I should do some research on the former and get up to snuff! :D

eishiya wrote:OP: I don't think that a fantasy setting would render the horror any less effective, as long as the horror elements are something you and your readers can find parallels with. Also, who is to say that the characters in your setting have to be used to the weird stuff? Just as the monsters in our world are real but still scary since we don't encounter them in daily life, the horrors of your setting don't have to be something the characters are used to. You can step out of your life into a a frightening experience just by getting off at the wrong bus stop at a bad time. Why should characters in a fantasy setting be immune to that?


Thank you for the advice. I always kind of worry that a reader can always go "Well what's scary about that magic? Magic isn't real," and pull themselves out of the moment. I didn't really stop to consider that it's really the characters that they're feeling with/for. Maybe I shouldn't worry so much about the readers lol and just go for it.

Thank you guys again for all the advice, I really appreciate it!


Just to keep the topic fresh, what are some things you've always wanted to see done well in a comic of this genre? Whether they are things that you see often (just done poorly) or are things that you haven't seen yet at all?

I like the occult aspect but sometimes I find it to be done a little cheesy. I know it's out there, I know it's just a matter of looking! But often times it feels like the author didn't even do their research. Or they did all of their research on some ancient geocities page that a 16-year-old made about "black magic" with the fiery spinning pentacle gifs around every link.
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Re: Horror!

Postby HABE » March 28th, 2014, 1:28 pm

thexeternal wrote:What elements in a horror comic creep you out the most? What elements in a horror comic are ineffective to you, or even down right ruin the creep-factor over all?

As a visual medium, a horror comic usually depends on cool imagery (and it need not be gory, for example: this ). Horror-comic artists also need to be able to draw effective backgrounds. Pages of talking head won't cut it.

And there's nothing like the inappropriate use of chibis to ruin the mood in any comic, but that goes double for horror.
thexeternal wrote:Now my own issues - I really stink at modern settings, but that sort of anachronism that comes from a character stepping into a plot far too gruesome for their own time setting is great for the genre I think!

But my strengths are very much in medieval-inspired settings. Do you think that such a setting might render any horror elements ineffective, simply because of how much realism it lacks?

The gothic romances that birthed the horror genre had plenty of medieval settings, such as the abbey catacombs and tales of the ghostly "bleeding nun" in The Monk, the knights and haunted forest and water spirits in Fouque's Undine, Coleridge's demonic vampire Christobel, the awesome evil sorcery in Beckford's Vathek, and the various hidden castle rooms and boundless crypts found throughout the literary landscape. So if you prefer those kinds of settings, you're in good company.

However, if by medieval, you mean generic Dungeons and Dragons, with cliched fantasy elements like spellcasters and elves and dragons, you're in for a challenge. (But then, anyone who tries do anything worthwhile with that stuff anymore is inherently in for a challenge.) Old '90s Ravenloft sourcebooks make a good case for showing it's possible though.
thexeternal wrote:On a side note, my fingers are itching to worldbuild something medieval-fantasy-Japan-esque!

Isn't there an abundance of that already? What would you add, and how would you do it differently? What's lacking out there that makes you itch to join in?
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Re: Horror!

Postby mikemacdee » March 28th, 2014, 9:19 pm

I would advise trying something in a modern setting. For one, challenging yourself. For another, modern readers will be more frightened by something that happens in their own time period. I can appreciate a spooky story about a nineteenth century farmer's wife who kills her husband and is then terrorized by his revenant. But a story set in 2014 about a dude who gets on the "wrong" elevator and ends up in the land of the dead will hit closer to home with me.
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Re: Horror!

Postby SamOwen819 » June 22nd, 2014, 7:22 pm

Personally, my favorite horror is of the psychological variety. Is there really a ghost trying to eat my face, or am I going crazy? I find this kind of horror more effective for me than your classic hack and slash, probably because I spent a good portion of my adolescence questioning my sanity. I relate strongly to main characters who are probably suffering from mental illness-- or so we think until the demons kill them!!!

I think just writing a relatable character does a lot of the work for you. The least successful horror stories, I find, are the ones where I don't care about the characters. Why would I be terrified if the killer stabs a cardboard cutout? I might be rooting for the killer at that point (go on! Get the poorly written protagonist! Do it! Do it!) But if I feel like I could potentially be in the main character's shoes, then it's scary! A good relatable character makes me think about what I'd be doing in the same situation-- and the answer is usually cowering in fear like a useless twit.

So that's my two cents. Solid stories are important, but useless without relatable characters. Good luck!
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Re: Horror!

Postby Kiyomi Nakamura » June 23rd, 2014, 5:37 pm

There are many different sub-categories to horror. Horror comes in all shapes and forms and varieties. Personally I'm close to gothic-horror. It's the right amount of scary for me without, as used above, "squick"-ing me out. Things like Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, and Kouta Hirano's Hellsing are what I pull from the most.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark's uncanny valley illustrations was a little much for me. The horror that comes with humans looking disfigured, malformed, rotting, or mutilated is just too much for me to handle. This goes for a lot of Japanese horror that I've seen in general. Can't stomach it. The stories are fine, but they're a ghost story sort of horror. You know what I'm talking about? They have their own specific feel and are mostly about ghosts.

Then you have slasher films that's just a lot of gore and no real story. The only one I really like is the Chucky Series. Past that we end up in the realm of mutilation again, or just really super poor writing... People killing people is the thing here.

Psychological Horror is a nice one. Like Deathnote. It's horror with it's own scary traits but there's practically no blood at all. The thing about psychological horror is that you have a person, an average person, could be anyone, and it turns out they're murderous or just flat out out of their minds behind closed doors. It leaves you with that feeling that anyone you pass in the street could be that way. You also have Hannibal which runs you around with mysteries who is this guy? How do we catch this guy? (same thing in Deathnote too really) And trying to pin the mass murderer who is RIGHT THERE down. Hannibal is about my limit though, as it has a lot of body mutilation... but it's the story that keeps me really interested.

I brought up gothic-horror. This is tricky to do in the modern era as the best of this genre were written between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The two examples I have deal with more "monsters" than anything. Phantom of the Opera has a disfigured man living in seclusion, but he's still human and still has human needs, wants, and desires... but because of being locked away his logic is twisted and so he has no regard for human life really. A human who has dehumanized other humans is a scary thing, ya feel? Where as Dracula has a monster that used to be human. The best kind of monsters are the kind that have very little attachment to humanity. We just can't wrap our heads around intelligent (human or otherwise) beings having no regard for other human life, or having normal human inclinations for good and such. (That's also why Smaug is such an awesome Dragon, same principal). Like I said though, Dracula was formally human, but most of it is gone. You find Monsters are more into... carnal desires?... blood lust, love of killing, love in general (somehow fits into the category). If monsters want something, they go for it, and not hell or high water can stop them (eg: dracula after mina/ erik after christine) until of course, hell or high water stops them. These monsters don't generally kill without reason though. Sorry I have so much to say on this category, this is the one I love the most.

there's the Horror that is essentially just whatever gross creepy thing you can come up with... some depraved thing that you build up that makes you shudder and "ugh" and whenever you think about it it just screws you up for a while. There's this one about a bunch of holes being found in a cliff side and a bunch of people come to see it, just to see it or because they saw a hole shaped like them on the TV or something and came to find it. and many people who find their hole feel like it's meant for them and they get inside it and start sliding along down the path never to be seen or found again... until they find other holes at the other end of the mountain, not human shaped just different elongated weird shaped cracks. e_e I'm still screwed up over that one.

Finally, if you got this far, I hope you did, you have horror like Attack On Titan, which is set in a more mid-evil setting despite being in the future somewhat. This brand of horror has unintelligent monsters. These are monsters for monsters sake. As opposed to intelligent monsters the horror of these come from the fact you CAN'T reason with them. They just don't understand. They're very animalistic. They rampage and destroy with no rhyme or reason. Your only option is to kill them, hide, or die. Meanwhile everyone you know and love is probably either dead or are going to be.

There are other ones that I've forgotten, I'm sure. but here's some main ones. You've gotta find the horror sub-section that you like the most and then work with it. Time setting can be whatever you want. Some are just more challenging than others. I'm writing a modern gothic-horror, that's a little tough when pulling from examples from the 1800s. But if Attack on Titan is any indication you should be able to do a more mid-evil type horror without a whole lot of difficulty. Make the story YOU would want to read. That way your heart and passion is in it. Readers will see that and they'll flock to it. :) Even though you're writing for an audience you still have to write for you, or else it comes out looking like a school term paper and that's no fun for anyone. Writer or the reader.

Good luck to you! :D
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Re: Horror!

Postby Spacepegasus » July 1st, 2014, 12:01 pm

I would say to hell with realism, a good work should make you feel like you're there no matter where it's set or how far it stands from the reader's day-to-day lives, but you should pick a setting that works with the story you want to tell rather than default to what you think is the most comfortable to work with.
I like horror that's kind of alien and surreal, stuff that isn't necessarily trying to scare you or make you jump but creates an unsettling atmosphere through strong imagery and interesting motifs, like Black Hole, The Shining (movie, not book) or Hannibal (series, not movie... or book). I like the idea of cosmic horror.

mikemacdee wrote:Literature is where we really learn the science of building plot and character (and how dialogue works), and at the comic medium's core the science of storytelling DOESN'T change: you're telling a story with sequential art and not all-text, BUT you still need logical character arcs and motivations, you still need concise narrative and dialogue that makes sense, and you still need to understand concepts like foreshadowing, plot holes, Chekhov's Gun, and, more recently, Mary-Sue. If you only ever study comics, you'll probably do okay, but you're more likely to succeed in every area of comics if you study and practice the parts as well as the whole.


I wouldn't say this is science (or call this "literature" instead of just "narrative", but that's a nitpick). If you want to create a coherent and accessible story, it's good to keep these things in mind and you need to know the rules before you break them, but you don't "need" any of these things to write a good book, or to make a good comic. There are many ways to approach art, horror especially can work really well if it's alienating and doesn't make a lot of conventional narrative sense, like David Lynch, many experimental horror games and... perhaps Junji Ito? I haven't read much of his stuff but I know he's kind of a cosmic horror guy and that the horror comes from things being bizarre, as much as gruesome. It depends on the type of horror you like/want to make, in the end, it's very versatile.

(I kinda wanted to die on that hill for a bit since most people here seem to be on team Stephen King, haha.)

eishiya wrote:My complaining/reacting aside, here's a neat article.

The one about horror and humour is so true! Both are about pulling the rug from under your reader's feet, "you thought it was A? It really wasn't, now what are you going to do?". Love them both~
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Re: Horror!

Postby Jeremy Ray » October 12th, 2016, 10:57 pm

Modern horror is generally the worst, and the pinnacle of the worst modern horror is modern vampires. Although modern horror can work if it is plausible, like a horror story where the protagonist is a child and the monster is an adult authority figure who rapes them. Stuff that really happens. Putting a werewolf in a modern setting is too much for me.

Alien is one of the best horror movies ever, and it's more fantasy than scifi. It may have seemed scifi at the time but today how plausible is it that the future will really look like what they show in Alien? Much of our technology is already ridiculously more advanced. Good luck impregnating a robot, facehugger.
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Re: Horror!

Postby JoKeR » October 13th, 2016, 7:42 am

Jeremy Ray wrote:Alien is one of the best horror movies ever, and it's more fantasy than scifi. It may have seemed scifi at the time but today how plausible is it that the future will really look like what they show in Alien? Much of our technology is already ridiculously more advanced.

I would say it depends also on things which can happen in the meantime ...Look at the dark ages of the medieval time.
Millenniums-old Knowledge was destroyed in this time and set humanity back very close to before Egypt empire's heyday. The Egypt medics could perform brain surgery. The Arabs knew more about the human anatomy and astronomy then everyone else. The Greeks had a very good grasp of the human mind and psyche.

And we tried to fight the bubonic plague with a bird mask and phlebotomy. :? ...and burning witches.
We could already exist on other planets right now but we had a huge gab of development and retrogression in the meantime.

I say, the real horror is humanity and its stupidity. A werewolf in a story would only make it less frightening.
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Re: Horror!

Postby darkenergy » October 16th, 2016, 8:32 pm

What's really important to me is that there is no place to run and things will never be okay again. I majored in biology, gore doesn't bother me (although sticks under fingernails, yeurk - note that this isn't exactly the same as 'horror').

I will say that I think horror comics are more challenging than literature because, depending on the story, you can't just leave up the details of the monster to the reader's imagination. I enjoy Junji Ito's stuff because it's so out there - and it's worth looking at his non-horror comic, 'Yon & Mu', to see how his weird imagination is also effective with humor.
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Re: Horror!

Postby tentacletomato » September 10th, 2017, 6:11 pm

I'm trying to do horror, though I'm not sure how far I want to go with it yet. What I like in a horror is vagueness. I don't mean make it incomprehensible, but a bit of what adds to paranoia and uneasiness is when loose ends don't tie up into a nice bow. When you want answers to what's happening to you, but to no avail. With a bit of mystery, your mind has to fill in the blanks, and most of the time, your mind turns to the worst case scenarios.

Tropes/horror sub genres that probably terrify me the most would have to be stalking and home invasion, which go hand in hand. Being a night-owl, sitting in the dark does let my imagination to overreact. Imagining a shadow that moved, the room being too silent, and taking note of when you're in a vulnerable position. It's too real for me! Stalkers can be meticulous and screw up your life from the shadows, sometimes, they don't need to technically do anything illegal, and you can come off as the crazy one. It's a slow isolation process. I dig the movies that give you that feeling of helplessness, even if you do everything right, your life isn't in your control.
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