Short & Sweet: Halloween Candy! Five Creator-Owned Feminist Horror Comics
Chris Roberson and Mark Allred
Even though it’s got a zombie leading lady and lots of brain eating, iZombie doesn’t really feel like a typical horror comic. It’s less gruesome darkness and more spooky fun, sort of like a comic version of the Monster Mash. The story is all about Gwen, a dead girl who “lives” on by eating the brains of the recently dead along with her ghostly friend and her buddy, a were-terrier. There are big mysteries afoot, but the heart of the story is Gwen’s attempt to have some sort of life after she’s, you know, already lost her life. She philosophizes and struggles with her need to eat brains but it never dips into angst for angst sake, which is all too common in horror stories. Basically, fun pop-art horror with characters you actually like! Who could ask for more?
Courtney Crumrin, volumes 1-6
Courtney is a little, blonde, bat-hairclipped girl, living with her old, grey (this is a joke about morality) Great Uncle. He’s magic. She’s magic. Naifeh comes off Gloomcookie to create a complex and ethically ambiguous teenager and her rather worse guardian. Their relationship is clearly evoked: they love each other. And they both like to treat people well. But they are not nice, and neither are the magical beings who inhabit the woods around their house. There are six volumes of Courtney’s story, the last having come out this August; like Harry Potter, they’re one full coming of age epic. Mistakes and sins from early volumes follow Courtney to the end, and if I were a gambling man I’d say volume six will guarantee you a good, satisfying, life-living cry.
Can I just second Catie’s pick, too?
After Strangers in Paradise, I’ll read pretty much anything by Terry Moore. I love his art, his characters, and how wildly convoluted his stories get, but I admit it took me a little while to try out Rachel Rising. Horror stories just aren’t my jam, y’know?
But I was wrong. Ignorant and wrong.
Rachel Rising is two parts horror, one part mystery, and one part bizarre, dark buddy comedy. It follows the titular Rachel, who rises from her own shallow grave a few days after being brutally murdered. In the course of her attempts to find her killer and have an approximation of a normal existence, she uncovers a centuries-old secret that has her whole town under a curse, discovers she’s not the only reincarnated soul walking around her small town, and befriends (?) Zoe, the little girl with the big knife.
(Jack is big. Jack is sharp. Jack is perfect.)
Bodies drop in just about every issue, and even if some of them rise back up again, Moore’s murders aren’t for the weak of heart, or stomach. Manson is a town locked into winter, drawn in stark black and white, where damned souls walk the streets and pretty much no one can catch a break.
Like most Moore works, the cast is heavily skewed towards female characters. In fact, there’s no male main character at all. The closest we come is Earl, a tertiary character who rarely speaks (although he does seem to have a somewhat creepy obsession with Rachel’s best friend Jet — YMMV). Rachel solves her own mysteries, with the help of Jet and her Aunt Johnny, shrugging off fear of the unknown, the mystical, or fragility, and using her strengths, both old and new, to protect both herself and the people she loves.
Oh, and there are witches, and a centuries-old demon with a particular disdain for human life.
The comic is graphic, disturbing, and darkly funny; the art is serene, stark, and beautiful, and Terry Moore’s hit it out of the park again.
— Laura H.
Liliko, a Japanese fashion model, is an object of desire and envy to millions. But Liliko’s beauty is the result of highly experimental (and unethical) full-body plastic surgery, and as Liliko’s once white-hot career approaches its expiration date, her body begins to break down. Liliko fights tooth and nail to hold onto the empire she’s built for herself, but she spirals into a dangerous madness that threatens the people around her. And what exactly is her connection to a series of grisly suicides throughout the country?
Helter Skelter is a dark, unsparing critique of celebrity culture, and of impossible beauty standards that literally kill the women trying to obtain them. There are no zombies or werewolves here, but Liliko is a fascinating man-made monster who switches from beautiful to cruel in a few strokes of Okazaki’s pen. Okazaki’s manga is also a rare female foray into body horror, a subgenre usually dominated by male artists. (Think of the crumbling bodies and unraveling minds in David Cronenberg’s films, for example.) Helter Skelter won the Grand Prize at the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2004, and was adapted into a feature film in 2012.
Mermaids! We all know mermaids, right? Those beautiful, ethereal friends to singing crabs and shipwrecked princes. How about mermaids as fanged, deadly sea monsters? Those are the mermaids swimming throughout Rumiko Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga, and what’s more, consuming the flesh of a mermaid will grant you immortality. That is, if you’re lucky enough to survive the extreme physical transformation.
Yuta is one of the few “lucky” ones, a fisherman who became immortal 500 years ago, but now seeks a cure for his long, lonely life. Instead he finds Mana, a young immortal girl raised by a mysterious village of creepy old women for a sinister purpose. Takahashi is mainly known for her action comedies (Ranma ½, Urusei Yatsura), and Mermaid Saga is one of her few serious horror stories. It can be jarring seeing her typically “cute” looking characters involved in scenes of horrific, gothic violence, but Mermaid Saga is full of striking imagery like a woman rising from her unmarked grave in a poppy field, or Yuta fighting off attackers with an enormous harpoon jutting out of his chest. And the uninhibited, unflappable Mana is a fantastic antidote to some of the more brooding, angsty immortals in horror fiction (Yuta included).