It starts with a cold-blooded murder. The first story in the new anthology from Bedside Press, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, makes it very clear that this book is not messing around. In “Crush” by Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie and Zakk Samm, a young woman arrives at a seaside manor, excited to start her new job as a governess to too many children. She’s swept up into the arms of their gruff, burly dad, and the caption tells us that “her life will never be the same.”
But our heroine isn’t a Jane Eyre, destined to help him towards moral reform. She has no patience for his bad behavior. And as a black woman from Bermuda, he makes it clear that she doesn’t even register as a prospect to him. If anything, her destiny, if this were a typical gothic romance, is more likely to be Bertha Mason-Rochester, locked in the attic while her shiftless man romances the new governess. But this book starts with a murder — and not hers.
“Crush” hits you like a sucker punch, unsubtle and hard, for all that you didn’t see it coming. And it sets the tone for the book perfectly: Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is a fantastic collection of spooky, sexy, creepy and tragic gothic romances that uncompromisingly center marginalized people. There are no frail heiresses exploited unto death by their overbearing husbands here — in this anthology, which embraces gothic romance and skillfully subverts it at the same time, they bite back.
Publisher Hope Nicholson said that she wanted to do an anthology celebrating, and possibly reviving, the short-lived gothic romance comic trend of the 70s, “but less white and less straight.” By that measure, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is an undeniable success. It perfectly captures the essence of gothic romance — less happy endings, more creeping romantic dread and surprisingly happy hauntings — while opening it up to audiences who have rarely seen themselves represented in the genre. And while our protagonists find themselves in supernatural danger, and sometimes die, their personhood and agency is never sacrificed for the sake of a good scare or sweet twist.
But more than merely succeeding at what it sets out to do, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is simply a success: in its 200 odd pages there are no bad stories or misplaced pinups; no unfortunates shoved in to make page count. I didn’t love every story in it the same, but neither did I dislike any of them. H. Pueyo and Dante L.’s “Fazenda do Sangue Azul” and Amber Noelle and Allison Page’s “My Heart Still Beats for You” are perfect romantic ghost stories, one of which made me cry (I’m not telling — that wouldn’t be fun). S.M Beiko and M. Kobabe’s “A Heritage of Wood” and Katie West, Ray Fawkes and Zakk Smith’s “What’s Best” are beautiful, unusual pieces: airy comics that build uncertainty and dread without any of the tricks common in horror comics. Instead of being crammed into dank, dark spaces, these stories unfold slowly in full view of the sun.
If your ideal Valentine’s Day is more spooky than sappy, and if dark magic, bloody murder, and love beyond death sound like a good time, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is the perfect comic for you.
Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is available now digitally, and on sale in print on April 25 through Renegade Arts Entertainment.