Horror themed comics go all the way back to the earliest appearance of comics, making the genre as old as the medium itself. While the popularity of horror comics has waxed and waned over the years, the last three decades have seen a powerful resurgence in the genre. Some trace this modern era of horror comics to 1984 when Alan Moore took over writing the rebooted Swamp Thing franchise with his Saga of The Swamp Thing series, but the real starting line for this modern era has to be the debut of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series in 1989. Featuring a brilliant story, and mind-blowing art, The Sandman series became a measuring stick against which modern comics of all genres would be judged.
Though horror author H.P. Lovecraft died penniless and in obscurity, he and his writings have since taken on a larger than life aspect. Scholars and fans now mention his name alongside Poe’s as one of the visionaries of the horror genre. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, a subgenre of horror connected to or inspired by the mythology, themes, and lore created by Lovecraft in his fiction, has influenced an ever expanding circle of writers and artists from his contemporaries in the early twentieth century, to the present day.
The comics and sequential art medium has not been beyond the slimy tentacled reach of Lovecraft’s unspeakable horrors. Many of Lovecraft’s short stories have been adapted into graphic novel form, and his works have served as inspiration for original stories by some of the medium’s best writers and illustrators. In the last decade alone, hosts of Lovecraftian horrors have spilled out from the pages of comics and graphic novels to haunt the minds of readers. Here, in the order in which they first began publishing, are 4 Lovecraftian horror comics sure to torment your dreams:
Alan Moore’s The Courtyard / Neonomicon (Avatar Press, 2003, 2010 – 2011)
Alan Moore – Writer (original story, The Courtyard) Writer - Neonomicon. Antony Johnston – Writer (adaptation, The Courtyard). Jacen Burrows – Artist
Based on a 1994 short prose story by Alan Moore and adapted by Antony Johnston, The Courtyard tells the story of Aldo Sax, an FBI agent with amazing deductive skills investigating a series of gruesome murders that appear at first to have little connecting them. The trail leads Sax to Club Zothique, a nightclub, and to the bands The Ulthar Cats and Yellow Sign. As Sax tries to put the connections together between the bands, the club, a mysterious drug named Alko, and the murders, what he uncovers may cost him his sanity.
Neonomicon, written exclusively by Moore, and illustrated by Burrows, picks up where The Courtyard leaves off. Sax, once the FBI’s brightest star, has fallen into disgrace, and the case he had been working on has been picked up by a pair of new agents, Brears and Lamper. The two will have to summon every ounce of courage and intellect they have to pick up the trail where Sax left off. The trail of drugs, sex clubs, and the occult they find will lead them to uncover horrors neither could imagine, and from which neither may survive.
The Courtyard and Neonomicon were both published serially, with The Courtyard in two parts, and Neonomicon in four, but both are being combined together in a new hardcover edition due out from Avatar Press this November. While reportedly written as a quick gig to earn Moore some much needed cash, this series represents Moore at his absolute best. The stories are gritty and compelling, tackling head on themes that crept in the background of some of Lovecraft’s writings, namely sex and race. Many of Lovecraft’s stories involved cult rituals involving humans being forcibly bred with creatures from other dimensions. One need look no further than “The Dunwich Horror,” for an example of such a story, but the acts are only hinted at. For a conservative gentleman like Mr. Lovecraft, sex was one of the many ‘unspeakable acts’ cultists and others performed in their worship of strange and blasphemous gods, and would not be discussed openly even in writing. Moore has no qualms about such things, and agents Brears and Lamper advance their case through attempting to infiltrate a sex cult.
Issues of race were also subtly present in Lovecraft’s writings, particularly “The Horror At Redhook”, one of his New York tales, and Moore takes racism head on, introducing into his protagonist Sax, some controversial biases.
What emerges is a gritty urban mystery, with supernatural elements in the classic Lovecraftian mode, and one of the finest series to come from Moore in a number of years.
Lovecraft (Vertigo/DC Comics, 2003)
Hans Rodionoff – Writer (original screenplay) Keith Giffen – Writer (adaptation). Enrique Breccia - Artist
In Lovecraft writer Hans Rodionoff constructs an interesting premise: What if H.P. Lovecraft’s stories of horrific entities from beyond space and time were not just stories? What if they were real and the only person standing between them and their annihilation of our world was Lovecraft himself? It’s a fascinating premise that in order to pull off, Rodionoff had to dig deep into Lovecraft’s personal history, blending the facts of his life into a seamless fiction where Nightgaunts and other terrors are real, and the fabled city of Arkham is right around the corner.
Many of the key turning points in Lovecraft’s life are here in this story, but the reasons behind the events take on a dark and terrifying turn in this fictionalized account of his brief and tragic life. References to Lovecraft’s fiction abound in this story, making it a treat for fans of his work, even if they might know little about his personal life. Even those who have never read a word of Lovecraft will appreciate this exciting story of one man’s battle against terrors only he can perceive.
Locke & Key (IDW Publishing, 2008 – Present)
Joe Hill – Author Gabriel Rodriguez – Illustrator
The Locke & Key series is among the most compelling of current horror series. The Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, along with their mother, are rebuilding their lives in the wake of a home invasion that tragically claimed the life of their father. The four surviving family members move to Keyhouse, the old family estate in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. There, the children attempt to come to terms with what has happened while exploring the mysterious house and the surrounding property. Bode, the youngest of the three children, discovers that Keyhouse takes its name from the strange keys that seem to be hiding everywhere throughout the property, each bearing strange magical powers. Using the Ghost Key, Bode is able to transform into incorporeal form and float around the Keyhouse estate. In this form, he makes contact with a malevolent entity living in the well house. That entity, known as Dodge, has evil plans tied to the Locke family’s past, and their hope for a future.
Each story arc of the series has been collected into a separate volume, with four volumes currently published. The first four collected volumes of the series are:
Welcome to Lovecraft Head Games Crown Of Shadows Keys To The Kingdom.
A fifth story arc, titled Clockworks, is currently under way in single issue form. Clockworks, goes back in time to Revolutionary-era America, to tell the back story of the Locke family, and the origin of the mysterious keys. The third issue in the story arc is set to be released on October 26th.
The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles (Boom! Studios, 2011)
Michael Alan Nelson –Writer Johanna Stokes – Writers Christopher Possenti – Artist
The Calling is a modern take on the archetypical Cthulhu Mythos tale. A secretive cult with powerful connections is trying to summon the Great Old Ones (the collective nickname for Lovecraft’s pantheon of deities), and a group of average people are thrust into a struggle to try and stop them. It’s a tale that hundreds of hack writers have attempted to write over and over again with the same lackluster results.
The writing team of Michael Alan Nelson and Johanna Stokes however, have taken the stock formula and added some sexy modern details. Terrorist plots, corrupt pharmaceutical giants, and greedy ad men, mix with the shadowy cultists and mysterious figures whose appearances spell doom for those who are called by them. Insert into this mix pharmaceutical salesman Clayton Diggs, who is searching to find how his sister, who is in an insane asylum, could possibly be connected to a terrorist attack on a cruise ship, and what you have is a taut mystery adventure with just the right amount of Lovecraftian horror.
This list barely skims the surface of the Lovecraft-inspired comics out there. Some others of note that I did not have the opportunity to read in their entirety include:
Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (IDW Publishing, 2004 – 2008)
A space worm inhabiting the body of an animated corpse is more interested in beer and broads than in the otherworldly baddies he and his unusual entourage encounter.
Mnemovore (IDW Publishing, 2005, 2011)
A champion snowboarder recovering from a horrific crash fights to protect her friends and family from demonic forces only she can see.
The Miskatonic Project (Transfuzion Publishing, 2008)
If the X-Files took place in the 1920s and were run out of a small university in Arkham, Mass, it would be The Miskatonic Project.
Poe & Philips (Arcana Studio, 2010)
Though in reality separated by nearly a generation, this interesting tale imagines both figures as not merely authors of horrific tales, but investigators/fighters of the paranormal, who once worked together on a case. A fun though improbable premise.
The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft (Image Comics, 2010)
The fabric of reality is coming undone thanks to the discovery of the fabled Necronomicon, and the struggling author H.P. Lovecraft has been cursed by the blasphemous tome. Every night Lovecraft sleeps, the worst of his horrific nightmares become reality.
Paul J. Comeau is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Razorcake, Maximum Rock N’ Roll, Verbicide Magazine, Knee-Jerk Magazine, and dozens of other publications. He does not have the droids you are looking for, but can still be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.