Robot 6

Six by 6 by 6 | Six comics that scared the $#!@% out of us

swampthing

Horror can be a tricky genre for comics. They can’t engage in the same sort of “Boo!” surprises that, say, movies like Halloween can, mainly because the pictures are all laid out for you as you’re reading. It’s too easy for your eye to jump ahead and see that the big, bad monster is going to pop out of the casket three panels from now.

But if comics can’t service that sort of immediate shock to the system (at least not very well) then where the medium does excel is in connoting dread, in prolonging tension, and in completely unnerving you. When done right, a good scary comic book can linger with you for a lot longer than your average Saw or Friday the 13th sequel.

With that in mind, JK Parkin and I came up with are six comics that at various points in our lives, had us checking under the bed or otherwise kept us awake all night. Be sure to add your own traumatic experiences in the comments section.

From 'Anatomy Lesson'

From 'Anatomy Lesson'

1. The Anatomy Lesson by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissett and John Totleben. Lots and lots has been said about Alan Moore and company’s run on Swamp Thing, most of it well deserved. Certainly it was a game changer in terms of showing what kinds of comics could be produced within the mainstream, never mind launching Moore’s career in the U.S.

What doesn’t get talked about quite as much is how truly unsettling and scary some of those stories could be. The tale that kickstarted the whole thing, The Anatomy Lesson, in particular left a strong mark on me as a young reader, as poor Swampy is forced to confront the fact that everything he believed about himself was a complete lie. I wasn’t used to such existential horror and the notion that such a realization could drive you murderously insane left me feeling a tad … upset to say the leas. To this day, the phrase “He isn’t Alec Holland. He never will be Alec Holland. He never was Alec Holland” combined with that image of the crazed monster running ever closer to the reader still rattles around in my brain.

2. An unnamed EC story by Jack Davis. This one requires a bit of explanation. One fall evening, back in say, sixth grade or so, two of my friends and I were hanging out at the local comic book shop. I started reading an EC reprint that was laying on one of the shelves. It was about a bunch of greedy real estate developers who knocked down a cemetery to pave it over as a highway. One night they’re driving on the highway and the corpses rise up out of the asphalt and come after them. The next day they’re found smooshed under the steamroller.

“What poppycock” I thought to myself, chuckling over the ridiculousness of the story as we headed home. But by that time it had gotten late. And dark. And it was a long walk home. And as my friends joked, I found myself watching the shadows, looking over my shoulders and generally feeling ill at ease. The years have passed, but I’ve never forgotten that story (though, tellingly, I’ve never tried to find it again) or the feeling I had walking home that night.

eating

3. Creepshow by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson. Let’s be clear about this: I was a huge coward as a child (still am, really). Thus, when the George Romero/Stephen King EC-tribute film Creepshow came out, I knew there was no way I was going to try to go see it. I could barely look at Bernie Wrightson’s comic adaptation! Which, of course, didn’t mean that I didn’t try to look at it mind you. I usually just kept sneaking glances and then quickly stuffing it back on the shelf. Usually when I came to that final story about the guy who gets eaten alive by cockroaches.

The great, long, red-legged scissorman

The great, long, red-legged scissorman

4. Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison and Richard Case. When Chris initially asked me to do this, the plan was that I was going to talk about The Walking Dead. Probably the issue where we meet the cannibals and get to see their handiwork , or legwork, as the case may be. But while talking to some friends about scary comicsr, I remembered Doom Patrol, particularly that very first arc that Morrison did when he took over, and in particular the Scissormen.

The Scissormen, y’see, come from a lovely little poem about a boy who won’t stop sucking his thumbs, so a tailor shows up with a large pair of scissors to cut them off.

The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

I was reading Doom Patrol before Morrison started his magnificent run on the book, and while “Crawling from the Wreckage” was a refreshing change of pace, it was also kind of jarring … they went from fighting goofy villains, participating in crossovers (Invasion) and adopting young heroes to train, to battling nightmarish creatures who speak oddly, made it rain fish and start offing people in the mental hospital where Cliff Steele meets Crazy Jane. It’s all pretty nightmarish, right up to the scene where we see the Scissormen in action against Tempest, basically cutting him out of reality and taking him prisoner. The arc was a great introduction to what the team would go on to do with the book, and I still get a little creeped out at the thought of those big faceless red guys with scissors for hands. — JK Parkin

5. The Drifting Classroom Vol. 3 by Kazuo Umezu. So in Drifting Classroom, there’s this elementary school that mystically and inexplicably gets teleported forward in time to a bleak apocalyptic landscape filled with horrible monsters. Faced with this horror, the parents all go insane and kill each other, leaving the kids to fend for themselves, Lord of the Flies-like.

But the monsters aren’t the worst part of the story. No, it’s how the kids treat each other and how they react to their situation that’s truly horrifying. Case in point is Vol. 3, where, as the older kids fight amongst themselves, the first graders decide they’ve had enough, climb to the roof screaming for their moms and dads, and then one of them decides he’s going to try to turn into a bird and fly away. AND THEN HE DOES IT.

drifting

Please don’t ask me if the kid makes it. I’m still traumatized by the incident.

6. The Bully by Junji Ito. I’ve saved the best for last. Most of Ito’s horror manga have a delicate black comic touch, doling out just enough humor to balance out the bleak awfulness of whatever situation the Ito’s victims find themselves in.

Not this one. And there’s no supernatural elements here either. The Bully is about a mean little girl who constantly picks on a younger boy at the local playground, upping the ante constantly until he actually gets badly hurt. Years pass and the children, now grown up, meet again, fall in love, get married and have a son. Then one day, the husband mysteriously disappears. The wife struggles on as a single mom until she suddenly realizes that he never loved her, that this was his revenge upon her for the terrible treatment he received from her as a child. And then she starts to smile. And she goes to put her make up on …

(remember to read right to left)

bully

And I’ll stop there. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling that final image except to say it still haunts my dreams.

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Comments

23 Comments

kudos on the Creepshow entry. That book scared the living crap out me as a kid (and you scanned the best story, the crate, Love how the protagonist shoved his shrew of a wife into the crate).

Im a big fan of Junji Ito and have to say im a bit ashamed for not knowing about the bully. Definately have to check this one out.

Tom Fitzpatrick

October 31, 2009 at 2:52 pm

YOU GUTLESS WONDER! ;-)

You should BE ashamed to even admit your gutlessness.

Dug the Swamp Thing and Creepshow mentions.

Tom Fitzpatrick

October 31, 2009 at 2:53 pm

And the Doom Patrol mention too.

The Whorrison fan that I am.

nice to see swamp thing on the list for that issue scared me along with the one where Arcane took over abbys husbands body as a fly . and i would also want to add the issue in sandman where dr. destitny is sitting in the diner testing Morpheuse ruby that issue still creeps me out .

Another ex-coward here. I saw Creepshow last year and that movie would have scared me shitless years ago. Still pretty horrifying, but I can handle it (somewhat) now.

My dad had told me once how when he was a kid he saw original Invisible Man with his friends one night and he ran all the way home scared that the Invisible Man would catch him afterwards.

I’d mention a few scenes from Black Hole, because the art in that thing is just downright creepy.

I was just thinking about Creepshow a cople of days ago. I couldn’t remember what it was called. It is the one with Ted Danson and the afair + beach + tide, right?

It was the meteorite+green body moss story that stuck with me.

Why did my parents let me watch that in grade 4???

“Just tell it to call you Billie!”

umm can anyone spoil me about bully???

interesting…thanks for the thrills! ;D

Hope it’s alright if we add our own.

The first Aliens b&w series from Dark Horse. I can still get stoned, crawl under my covers, reading it with a flashlight and get serious shivers. Very cinematic and very scary. The later series… not so much.

Don’t forget Jim Woodring’s run on Aliens.

There was that story by chester brown in taboo 1,I think,with the rabbit and the owl,disturbing stuff.

Hello
The most scared I’ve been by a comicbook was scalped … and the drugs.
Eliot

Some of the best horror is firmly based on the truth. And seldom can you get scarier IMO than Nakazawa Keiji’s Barefoot Gen, especially the first volume. Nakazawa in the 1970s had a style very much influenced by Tezuka Osamu (Astroboy, among others). Now imagine that style, as it is used to tell the story of the Hiroshima bombing, as filtered through the eyes of a six-year old child.

You saw scenes of horses in panicked agony as they burst into flames; people walking, their flesh hanging in shreds from their arms, little girls, their eyes melted from their sockets, head to toe in glass shards. And add this to the knowledge that the author saw all this, as a six-year old boy.

I first read that chapter in Fred Schodt’s Manga Manga book in the early 80s, and later bought I Saw It! (Nakazawa’s autobio on the bombing), then the 4 original translated volumes. Nearly 25 years later it still shakes me to read it (the whole series is being released now).

Kanak: Words can’t even approach doing it justice. You really need to see it for yourself.

Mention also deserves to be made of several issues of Gaiman’s Sandman back when he was writing it as a straight forward horror comic: both Passengers and 24 Hours (issues 5 and 6). The resolution of the relationship between Dr. Destiny and Nurse Rosemary was chilling because it was so sudden and completely logical at the same time and 24 Hours was one of the few stories in any medium that kept me up at night as an adult due to the very disturbing way in which it builds up the characters while simultaneously tearing them down.

I would have to add two to this list. The first is the Walking Dead issue where the General (or whatever the eye-patch guys name is) storms the prison where the main characters have been living. That issue really shook me up. Also, I’d add Miracleman vol. 3, where Kid Miracleman comes back full force. The manner in which he comes back, as well as the way Miracleman ends it was really disturbing to me.

Sandman #25 by Gaimen in the storyline Season of Mists, regarding the young boy in the boarding school being tormented by the ghosts of the bullies, and the demonic headmasters is one of the greatest horror stories ever produced. An absolute must read. And there are a ton of Constantines that I can’t remember the number.

i went mad finding the last page of bully. now i (nearly) wish i didn’t find it… truly truly scary. especially at 4 A.M.
and reminded me something of Go Nagai’s Devilman, does someone agree?

ps. i’m going to sleep (it’s night here in italy), i hope that picture doesn’t haunt my dreams too… and i’m not that easy to scare

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