A few days ago I posted to Reddit’s Horror sub to see if I could brainstorm with other horror fans on why there were so few scary horror comics. Though we couldn’t come up with a definitive answer on why there aren't as many, there was still a lot of insight exchanged on the genre and the comic book medium.
A lot of the comments also helped me organize my thoughts on the capabilities and limitations of horror in this medium...and also how to possibly make these comics scarier.
Here's the intro to the post:
“There are tons of "horror" comics on the shelves, but when you flip them open they're more fantasy or adventure than straight horror -- examples: Locke and Key, Hack/Slash, American Vampire, Hellboy, Harrow County, ect. (I understand scary is something that's subjective, and while these books have moments that are tense or frightening, they also jump from genre to genre as well.)
I know it's a tricky medium to make something scary in. There are no sounds and there's not a lot to leave to the imagination, because it's all illustrated on the page. To me, all horror comic writers and illustrators have in their toolbox is the page turn reveal and the reader's imagination on deciphering what's going on in between the panels.
It can be done though. Junji Ito's work is the best example I can think of -- His tools are mastered and there's enough ambiguity in the stories for the readers to piece together their own conclusions in their imaginations and make them that much more horrific.
I don't think the answer is "it's just too hard to do right." I think it might be that a lot of writers and illustrators aren't used to this style of horror comic.”
This top comment gave me a couple of great ideas: “The more something is understandable, the less it is frightening, and comics let you spend as much time as you want on each image, so you can maximize your understanding of it.” They ended with, “Just in general, though, it's not a very good medium for being horrifying, in that the images are neither created in your mind nor are they fleeting and withheld from your understanding.”
This post sent me down a path of experimentation I’d like to try out-- Maybe there should be some illustrations left off the page and more focus on narrative captions and dialogue. I’ve always been in the school that comics are a visual medium, so as a rule of thumb: don’t tell the reader, show them. This is was my fundamental rule with screenplay writing and it followed over with me to comic writing as well.
I think if you begin with minimal illustrations and use narrative captions to fill in the blanks, you can allow more time for the reader to build up the dread in their imagination. I think this would be most effective in the exposition, similar to how Lovecraft first describes the settings in detailed prose, long before the reader even meets our characters or the monsters they will face.
There needs to be a way for comics to allow readers’ imaginations to add more horror to the story with their own imaginations and interpretations. I think the success in a scary horror comic might be: Tell more, keep it ambiguous, and use your illustrations to highlight reactions to the horror on the page.
There were tons of great points brought up in the discussion, so if you're interested, give it a read. I'll try to post back and expand on some other ideas brought up there soon!