Horror Comics – No Such Thing?

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There’s a fascinating essay posted over at Steven Grant’s weekly Permanent Damage column today.

In it, Grant argues that the comic medium isn’t well-suited to horror and that there are hardly any horror comics at all.

Don’t dismiss this. It’s an interesting argument and Grant (as usual) has well-thought-out arguments to back his position.

Grant’s argument is essentially that many comics labeled as horror are actual works in other genres with trappings of what we think of as “horror.? Some of the comics are adventure stories, some are macabre jokes, some are survival stories.

The only kind of horror that comics, lacking true movement as they do, can achieve, he argues, is an existential horror: there is no meaning in the universe or that God is essentially evil.

Horror only exists in stories where all characters are victims and there’s no way out, he says.

These are pretty interesting points.

I’m not sure he’s entirely right, though. I love Grant’s take on what makes good horror (the guy thinks deeply about these issues across genres), but I think he’s drawing his definitions too narrowly.

Grant asks, early on, how we define horror, but then doesn’t exactly do so. He indicates that evocation of fear plays a big role in his concept of horror.

And that’s fair enough, but I don’t think the evocation of fear is the only way we can define horror. That confuses the issue with terror, and the genre is horror after all.

It’s a little pedantic maybe, but Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines horror as:

“painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay? and “repulsive, horrible, or dismal quality or character.?

Sure, fear is there, but so are a lot of other feelings. And notice how intense they are. Fear. Dread. Repulsion. These are extreme emotions.

So, more than just eliciting fear, horror needs to elicit a dark emotional response. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be fear or revulsion or a sense of the uncanny, though all those things would be nice. It just has to do something dark and strong.

Of course, the problem is that most works of horror are just no good. Most of them are pale imitators, thin repackagings of other works.

But the great works of horror – Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, Takashi Miike’s Audition, Brad Anderson’s Session 9, to name a few – do more than just scare you. They chip away at your sense of the solidity of your world view. They fill you with dread. They repulse you.

These works all pull us into dark worlds and make us look at the darkness within ourselves. And that’s horror.

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