So you say you've read and re-read every issue of The Walking Dead? You've seen every episode of the show's first season and now you don't know what to do with yourself until season 2 premieres in the fall? Well you've come to the right place. There's a world of great horror comics and graphic novels out there, just waiting to be discovered. So if you're ready to try something new, or at least a new version of something old, check out my recommendations for the five horror graphic novels you need to read, after the jump.
Rick Geary – The Beast of Chicago
Rick Geary's comics often prove that the best way to be funny is by not trying to be funny. The Inkpot Award-winning artist has a dry, droll wit that perfectly balances the round, cartoonish figures that fill his pages. Nowhere is this on display better than in his nine-volume A Treasury of Victorian Murder, published by NBM. Each book takes as its subject a different real-life serial killer (or, in the case of The Bloody Benders, a family of killers). They range from the obvious (Jack the Ripper) to the obscure (The Case of Madeleine Smith), but my favorite is The Beast of Chicago, the story of the murderous career of Dr. H.H. Holmes – whose custom-made house was designed with enough dungeons, hidden doors and death traps to put a super-villain to shame.
Richard Sala – The Chucking Whatsit
Richard Sala's work has been influenced by everyone from Charles Adams to Chester Gould (the creator of Dick Tracy), but unlike that of many artists, it never feels derivative. Instead, Adams has carved his own niche as perhaps the most twisted but brilliant cartoonist working in comics today. His most famous character is Peculia, a danger-prone barefoot nymph who starred in Sala's long-running comic book Evil Eye. But his most satisfying graphic novel to date is The Chuckling Whatsit (published by Fantagraphics Books). Labyrinthine in its complexity and endlessly imaginative in its designs and characterizations, it tells the story of Broom, an unemployed writer who gets mixed up in a murder plot and the Ghoul Appreciation Society Headquarters (GASH), whose membership boasts more creepy eccentrics than the collected works of Edward Gorey.
Thomas Ott – R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004
The black-and-white scratchboard art of German comics creator Thomas Ott is without peer among today's comics artists. That Ott can also tell one helluva fun horror short story is almost icing on the cake. His work's been compared to the classic EC Comics of the 1950s, but Ott's stories are wordless, which showcases his moody, evocative illustrations all the better. This omnibus volume (published by Fantagraphics) collects his three out-of-print albums (Tales of Error, Greetings from Hellville and Dead End), and includes eight previously uncollected stories, along with an afterword by rock musician Martin Eric Ain, a.k.a. Martin Erich Stricker of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. I've never read a Thomas Ott tale that was anything less than fantastic. Highly recommended.
Jill Thompson – Scary Godmother
Unlike the other books on this list, Scary Godmother is for all ages, and it isn't exactly scary. But don't let that give you pause – it's sure to appeal to any adult who enjoys Tim Burton movies or still likes dressing up for Halloween. Rivaling Jack Skellington as the unofficial mascot of our favorite holiday, the Scary Godmother (modeled after Jill Thompson herself) lives in a town populated by vampires, werewolves, mummies and countless other old-school creatures. Thompson cut her teeth working on Wonder Woman for DC Comics before tackling an acclaimed run on Neil Gaiman's Sandman (her work fills the Brief Lives graphic novel). But Thompson's best comics, and her most personal, can be found in this Dark Horse hardcover, collecting the four stand-alone Scary Godmother albums in all their water-colored wonder. It's pretty much the perfect Halloween present.
Lorenzo Mattotti – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
If there's one book on this list that best shows what horror comics are capable of it's this volume by Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti. Mattotti's worked in a variety of different genres, and illustrated plenty of New Yorker magazine covers and Cannes Film Festival posters. But my favorite of his works is his adaptation – scripted by Jerry Kramsky – of Robert Louis Stevenson's horror classic. In fact it's probably the best adaptation of Stevenson's tale I've encountered in any medium, certainly better than any film version. Mattotti's vivid colors and expressionistic designs flow across the pages like a rainbow river of paint, bridging the medium of comics with that of music, and capturing every tone, every mood from that of pure innocence to the satanic.