Dark Horse Comics wants to scare you. The company known for some of the most prominent horror comics of all time in the form of “Hellboy,” “B.P.R.D.” and “The Goon” has big plans to keep frightening its readers with other books. The Drawing on Your Nightmares: Dark Horse Horror in Comics panel at New York Comic Con featured some of the biggest names in comics horror moderated by Bloody Disgusting’s Lonnie Nadler. The panel included Christopher Golden (“Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy”), Tim Seeley (“Hack/Slash,” “Ex Sanguine”), Eric Powell (“The Goon”), Tom Mandrake (“To Hell You Ride”), Editor-in-Chief and horror line editor Scott Allie, Tyler Crook (“B.P.R.D.: Return of the Master”) and Evan Dorkin (“Beasts of Burden”) after an introduction by Dark Horse editor Jeremy Atkins who kicked things off by saying, “We at Dark Horse not only believe that comics can be fun, but also scary.”
The panel then began with a slide show presentation featuring books from many of the panelists as well as some from creators not present. Seeley spoke about his October-shipping vampire comic “Ex Sanguine” which he draws and co-writes with Josh Edmonds. He explained the comic as “a detective story meets vampire romance where the vampire’s not a total wuss.”
Christopher Golden then talked about his book “Baltimore” which he co-writes with Mike Mignola. The next installment of the series of miniseries called “The Play” debuts on November 21st and will “mostly be about Haggis, the vampire who murdered Baltimore’s family and made him kill his wife.”
Scott Allie then showed off several covers for upcoming issues of “B.P.R.D.: 1948” and “Hellboy In Hell” which will feature Hellboy in his homeland for the foreseeable future, a story that creator Mignola has been working toward for ten years. Allie also displayed artwork for “Final Night,” Steve Niles’ upcoming crossover with IDW between “Criminal Macabre” and “30 Days of Night” drawn by Chris Mitten. He also showed off a few pieces of vampire artwork from the David Lapham and Mike Huddleston adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novel series “The Strain.”
Legendary comic artist Mandrake spoke about his collaboration with actor Lance Henricksen on December’s “To Hell You Ride.” He said the story, co-written by Joseph Maddrey, is based on a story Henricksen wrote twenty years ago. Allie added that the result is, “like smashing together a Native American folk tale taken into the real world with body horror.” Noting that the story is “supernatural stuff mashed up with some really sinister science.”
Allie also showed off Richard Corbin artwork from an upcoming one-shot adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm.” “I never expected sock puppets,” Allie said. “Corbin’s really getting back to original Corbin with some pretty sexy stuff and really, really horrific stuff.” The issue will be out in November.
In addition to continuing the adventures of “The Goon,” Powell also has plans for a new Billy the Kid series hitting next week called “Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness.” “It’s pretty much like ‘Young Guns Part 2’ except it’s got more deformed people and monsters and less Bon Jovi,” Power said. “We’re also doing a little bit of a crossover in ‘The Goon’ where Billy and Jeffrey Tinsel show up in a Goon story. It’s pretty weird.”
Before turning over to some more specific moderator questions, Crook had the following to say about the next issue of “B.P.R.D.: Return of the Monster,” thusly, “Holy shit boom, that’s where the current series is headed.”
After that, Nadler dove deep into the topic of horror, asking the panelists what draws them to making horror comics. “It’s just part of my DNA,” Golden said. “I’ve written all kinds of things, but all my life I’ve said that horror people are my people.” He added that the ‘Baltimore’ books might be filled with craziness, but it’s about Baltimore’s personal nightmare. He knows that once he kills the vampire that turned his wife, his life is over. “Horror is the genre you can do anything. You can write about life, death, sex, science fiction, etc. Horror is not a genre, it’s an emotion.”
Mandrake explained that he came to horror by way of his dad who had a collection of horror books and movies, and when he found them he really enjoyed them. “In terms of working in horror, you’re wide open,” Mandrake said. “If you work in some genres, you’re narrowed down, but in horror you can be disgusting or beautiful or burning. Plus you have to hit people on an emotional level and there’s nothing harder in comics than getting your reader to connect on an emotional level.”
Seeley said, as a kid, he was scared of everything and that influenced his love of horror. “I was a creepy little kid,” the writer/artist said. “[With horror] you got to control your fear because you know it’s going to end and it’s usually things you don’t have to worry about in real life.”
For Allie’s part, he remembers being terrified of the Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” remembering he was “scared, but psyched about how scared I was.” He loved that feeling and sought it out through watching horror movies.
“I wasn’t aware I was doing horror books, I thought I was making books for toddlers,” Powell quipped before passing the mic off. For Crook, he came to horror comics after realizing he likes to connect emotionally with art and that being scared is a good way to achieve that.
“A lot of what I’ve written about in ‘Beasts of Burden’ is my own fears and things that disturb me,” Dorkin said. “I think with horror comics you can’t really scare anyone.” He went on to say that you can gross people out with gore, but that only works if you’re young. Dorkin also explained that he’s not a fan of most modern horror because it’s so referential to the movies that came before.
The next question from Nadler was about how the creators can get scares without relying on jump scares or sound cues.
Golden said he relies on great artists. “In a weird way you can’t even rely on an image to create the emotion of horror,” Golden said. “Maybe you can rely on an image to create the image of disgust, but in a horror comic you need the story and the image to create that emotion of horror. You have to feel horrified by something. It’s a delicate balance. If I ever achieve it, it’s purely by accident.”
“It all comes down to storytelling,” Mandrake said. “It’s all about timing and the use of blacks and whites. It’s involving the reader with the emotional context.” He added that things aren’t scary in comics if you don’t care about the characters.
Seeley said, “Mary Shelley didn’t have sound effects and Bram Stoker didn’t have jump cuts. It’s all about how they make you feel.”
“The art isn’t bound by realism like in film,” Allie explained. “You can distort and stylize reality. All these artists up here bring a different vibe to their stories. They can create atmosphere, some guys in comics can’t create atmosphere at all. If you can do that, you can get the reader in a head space where they’re ready to be scared.”
Powell questioned whether you could actually scare anyone with a comic. “You can’t scare someone with a comic because it’s a still image,” he said. “You can disturb them, but you can’t scare them. Horror is atmosphere.”
“One of the things that really helps is making sure the stakes feel very real,” Crook added. “The characters need an emotional stake so the readers will have one.”
Dorkin agreed with Powell. “A comic book can not scare you unless you fold it up like Ripley in ‘Alien,’ but it can stay with you,” he said. “Never underestimate the page turn, that’s our jump scare.” He also agreed that you need to have some feeling for the characters. “You have to care, not know what’s next. It’s not just the monsters, it’s the people.”
With the subject shifting to the idea of characters being so important to the genre, Nadler asked what it takes to create such a person in their books.
“You’ve got to have the character exist the same way the story exists, it has to make sense,” Golden said. “The horror of who Baltimore is builds, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see him change. We will.”
Seeley said, “You want to make a character that, for whatever the situation is, you’re sympathetic enough for them that you feel for them.” He said it’s not good enough to use the common slasher movie idea of unlikeable characters that you’re just waiting to see die. “You have to go even further in horror, they have to be characters I like, but that I’m also concerned for.”
Allie noted that empathy and likability are two different things. He compared it to TV shows like “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” where you don’t have to actually like certain characters to like the show. “I’m so fascinated by them that I want to know their story.” He said it’s the same way for horror comics.
“Because I’m doing an ongoing book with two characters that people realize I’m not going to kill off — because I need to pay my bills — it’s kind of hard to build suspense,” Powell said. “When I do something where you feel you can connect to the Goon, it’s not really a horror story, like in ‘Goon: Noir.'”
Dorkin took issue with Powell’s point, saying he felt the Goon and Frankie have developed into real characters that the audience cares about. “You’ve even made the Zombie King interesting,” Dorkin added. “We don’t know that you’re not going to kill your characters. People were bummed when Hellboy died. You sell yourself way too short.”
Dorkin then spoke to the larger point of likable or understandable characters. “You don’t have to understand the characters or know anything about them,” he said. “I’ll say ‘Evil Dead 2’ and you’ll go, ‘Oh yeah.’ If you go as ape shit as possible it doesn’t matter. With horror it encompasses everything. Hellboy’s an interesting character, he doesn’t say a lot but we all know what he’s like.”
Dorkin ended the panel by saying that the scares can be just as big by pulling away in the style of filmmaker Val Lewton. “Sometimes we tell and don’t show,” he said. “Jill [Thompson] and I are always pushing and pulling about what to show and what not to show.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on all of Dark Horse’s horror titles.