You know a horror story is good when it sends a chill rolling up your spine. And you know a book is good when its spine is creased, maybe even crinkled, from being read, re-read, and shared with friends (if you dare). Only the freshest volumes might maintain their pristine condition if for a brief moment. While your shelf might be filled with classic Stephen Kings and Edgar Allen Poes, there’s an undeniable strength in horror storytelling sweeping through modern comic book publishing right now.
Countless independent storytellers, all the way to the publishing giants Marvel and DC Comics, are taking stabs and slashes at delivering truly terrifying tales through the medium of sequential artwork, where what is unseen on a page can be just as effective as what is drawn out for readers. The monsters we must imagine occupy just as much real estate in our minds as those that are lovingly rendered in full ink splatter and gore. And with the current catalog of books available at comic stores, you can have it all — thrills, chills, grotesque ghouls, and enthralling evils!
Halloween season is filled with all sorts of creepy crawlies, from the most famous monster types to unfathomable eldritch horrors, and sometimes the monsters staring back off the page are the ones that look just like us. If you’re looking for fresh frights this fall, don’t miss these must-read recent horror comics and graphic novels that are destined to become well-worn classics.
The Autumnal (Vault Comics)
Writer: Daniel Kraus, Artist: Chris Shehan, Colorist: Jason Wordie, Letterer: Jim Campbell
While Vault Comics runs an entire imprint called Nightfall to showcase their horror hits, which include The Plot, I Walk With Monsters, Human Remains, among others, perhaps the most sensational of their recent releases is The Autumnal. This deeply haunting horror story takes place in Comfort Notch, a town which boasts the most beautiful autumns in America — although all the locals are deathly afraid of the trees and their fallen leaves.
The death of her mother brings Kat Somerville, now a single mother to her daughter Sybil, back home to the town which she barely remembers from childhood. As old nursery rhymes and news clippings begin to revive her memories, she quickly learns that she was better off forgetting Comfort Notch entirely. This book has rocketed artist Shehan to star status for his horror spreads, and he will soon be a part of The House of Slaughter series (a spinoff to Something is Killing the Children, featured further in this article) from Boom Studios, which has become that publisher’s #1 pre-ordered book of all time behind Keanu Reeves’ BRZRKR. No mean feat.
The Autumnal is gut-wrenching and plays in the quite frankly underutilized space of floral/botanical horror, as Kat and Sybil discover what terrors lies within the trees. Kraus and Shehan expertly build dread for the fabled figure Clementine Biddle from her first introduction in a schoolyard rhyme through everything that follows. Featuring some additional themes of domestic violence, drug use, and some sexually explicit scenes, The Autumnal is not for the faint of heart.
But if this feature still doesn’t convince you, some online retailers deemed the collected edition cover to be too scary to advertise — dare you dig into this one for yourself?
Dracula, Motherf**ker! (Image Comics)
Writer: Alex Campi, Artist: Erica Henderson
Dracula, Motherf**ker! is what happens when grindhouse horror and elevated art concepts combine in a stylish revisiting of a classic monster icon. Set in 1970s California, this graphic novel is a visually stunning approach to detective fiction and introduces readers to Quincy Harker, a crime-scene photographer who steps a little too close to the nightlife in his city. Beautiful Hollywood starlets are being slain every night, and he has to choose between sticking to the job he’s been hired for and diving deeper into the mystery of Dracula for himself.
One of Dracula, Motherf**ker!‘s biggest triumphs is its utilization of Dracula’s brides, a trio of lusty women who are ready to wrench the power back from their seemingly eternal beau. Vampire lovers won’t find the traditionally suave count in the pages of this book, which instead introduces a fascinating horror figure who exists solely in darkness — Henderson’s Dracula is all eyes, teeth, and amorphous shadow. The artwork is hypnotic and uses bold colors and almost Klimt-esque spreads to reinvent the visual language of pop culture’s traditional bloodsuckers.
While an admittedly quick read, the artwork alone runs away with your attention. The colors and splatters are loud and the plot, while streamlined, moves briskly, creating a dizzying and dazzling read as if experiencing head rush from your own pointed vampire bite.
Squad (Greenwillow Books)
Writer: Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Artist: Lisa Sterle
Squad is a vibrant graphic novel that’s one part Heathers, one part Ginger Snaps, and all-too-relatable. Well, except for the part where the most popular girls in high school are secretly werewolves who feed on older male students to overcome their lethal hunger. But when new girl Becca is preoccupied with fitting in, how far will she be willing to go to impress her new friends?
This earnest exploration of growing up and finding yourself touches on real teenage troubles like finding the right dress for prom, grappling with your budding sexuality, dealing with sexual assault, and trying to prove to your parents that you’re a responsible young adult. Plus, the supernatural lens of werewolf pack dynamics lends an additional layer of death and depth to this story. Tokuda-Hall’s script is bubbly and brutally honest at times, while Sterle (known for her work on Witchblood for Vault Comics as well as the popular Modern Witch Tarot Deck) infuses the characters with palpable visual emotion and a killer sense of style.
Centering on a queer woman of color, Squad features themes of accountability, conformity, and responsibility, and asks who the real monsters are — the predators, or the not-so-innocent prey they feed on? This original graphic novel makes for an engrossing read for anyone looking to enjoy some grounded monsters without too much of a terrible scare. And if you’re still hungry for more, the book just got picked up for a television series adaptation by Picturestart and Lionsgate Television.
The Silver Coin (Image Comics)
Writers: Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Thompson, Ed Brisson, Jeff Lemire, Artist/Letterer: Michael Walsh
One of the more uniquely formatted entries on this list, The Silver Coin is actually an anthology series in the same vein as American Horror Story or Hulu’s Into the Dark. This means that every individual issue is a completely new story, with new characters and themes. The only thing that remains the same is the presence of the cursed titular coin which seems to crop up throughout the centuries, as far back as Pilgrim times all the way through the year 2467, making metaphorical and physical monsters out of the people who pocket the strange object.
Michael Walsh illustrates every issue, but each new writer brings their own style and approaches well-known tropes with a unique perspective. Particular standouts include Chip Zdarsky’s opening issue “The Ticket,” which broaches the issue of selling out versus selling your soul when it comes to rock and roll, and Kelly Thompson’s “The Girls of Summer,” which revisits the all-too-familiar summer camp slasher in a whole new perspective.
The project proved so successful that it will extend for another volume, featuring more writers like Ram V, Vita Ayala, and others teaming with Walsh’s seemingly unstoppable ability to twist and bend panels into pure dread. For now, The Silver Coin Vol. 1 collects issues #1-5 for your reading displeasure — no cursed currency needed!
DCeased (DC Comics)
Writer: Tom Taylor, Artists: Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano, James Harren, Colorist: Rain Beredo, Letterer: Ken Lopez
We’ve never been great at math, but apparently when you add a virus to the Anti-Life Equation, it equals a zombie apocalypse. DCeased is a hit miniseries that has gone on to spawn even more spinoffs at DC Comics, thrusting fan-favorite heroes into an apocalyptic battle for survival. Narrated by Lois Lane, the book chronicles how quickly the world fell to this corrupted force unleashed by Darkseid after DeSaad completed the Anti-Life Equation, half of which was being housed in Justice League member Cyborg’s body. When combined with its other half, an unexpected element of corruption sneaks through Cyborg’s defenses, but by then, it’s too late.
After Cyborg is rescued from Apokolips and brought back to Earth, he connects to the internet, which immediately transmits the virus to every person within range of a wireless device screen. Billions of zombified Anti-Living immediately become feral and start to destroy the very fabric of civilization. Our parents may have been worried that too much screen time would turn us into zombies, but DCeased takes that concern extremely literally. What follows is an imagining of how various heroes and villains would react to the chaos — can Superman save the ones he loves, and how will Batman remain uninfected in a Batcave full of computers?
Some of the aforementioned spinoffs include DCeased: Unkillables, which is focused on Deathstroke and Jason Todd as they navigate the world of the Anti-Living, and DCeased: A Good Day to Die is about Mister Miracle and Big Barda as they track down Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, John Constantine, Mister Terrific, and others in pursuit of a cure. DCeased: Hope at World’s End was an anthology series of shorter stories, and a sequel called Dead Planet was released earlier this year. This series also released a celebrated collection of variant covers referencing iconic horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Conjuring, IT, and more.
Wolvenheart (Mad Cave Studios)
Writer: Mark London, Artist: Alejandro Giraldo, Letterer: Miguel Angel Zapata
While more supernatural than horrific, Mad Cave Studios’ Wolvenheart is jam-packed with monsters and mayhem as the story travels through time and features a number of fictional and historic figures duking it out against the likes of Dracula and his undead legions. For fans of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen who always felt they needed more werewolves and vampires to fight, you’re in luck.
In the world of the series, Wolvenheart is an organization of time-traveling slayers led by the fearless Van Helsing, who believes that everyone has two wolves inside of them (representing good and evil) and the one you feed is the one who wins. He and his agents stand against Dracula and his ruthless bride Elizabeth Bathory, who is aided by the depraved Dorian Gray and others who blend the lines between fact and fiction. The star of the series, a dhampir named Sterling Cross, is a charming lens through which the readers can experience the high-octane antics and intrigue of managing monsters throughout the timestream.
Wolvenheart Vol. 1: Legendary Slayer is available now and collects issues #1-7 of the series. The second arc begins on October 27, 2021 and boasts new characters like Joan of Arc and a vampirized Romeo and Juliet — whose tragic ends were only a beginning thanks to their newly undead status. But if Back to the Future taught us anything, it’s that time travel can have some serious consequences.
Stray Dogs (Image Comics)
Writer: Tony Fleecs, Artist: Trish Forstner, Colorist: Brad Simpson, Letterer: Tone Rodriguez
What do you get when you cross All Dogs Go to Heaven with Silence of the Lambs? Well, you might just get the runaway hit comic Stray Dogs, which is already set for adaptation by Paramount Animation. This shock success story may be the cutest murder mystery you’ve ever read, with artist Trish Forstner perfectly capturing the innocent artistic style of our favorite cartoon adventures starring dogs — think Oliver & Company or Lady and the Tramp — in perfect contrast to the slow-burning dread laced throughout the unique script.
When Sophie the dog is adopted by a mysterious man in a secluded farmhouse, she quickly realizes she doesn’t remember how she got there or what happened to her previous owner. Thrown into a large pack of other former street dogs, she begins to suspect something sinister might be going on behind the doggy door. Fleecs excellently uses canine senses as well as a lack of short term memory to expertly amp up the terror to leave readers wondering, “Who’s a good boy? And who isn’t?”
Combine that winning formula with the horror movie homage variant covers covering an entire range of films from Scream to Suspiria and it’s no surprise Stray Dogs went straight off the leash into multiple printings. A completed volume collecting all five issues of the main series is available now (and more short anthology stories from the world of Stray Dogs will be coming soon). However, if you’re sensitive to some implications of animal cruelty, you might want to sit and roll over to another option on our list.
Something is Killing the Children- Boom Studios
Writer: James Tynion IV, Artist: Werther Dell’Edera, Colorist: Miguel Muerto, Letterer: Andworld Design
Another runaway hit, Something is Killing the Children (often abbreviated to SIKTC) does draw some casual similarities to Buffy the Vampire Slayer — a town where kids tend to go missing is beset by monsters that only a mysterious badass blonde can fight back against. But don’t go in expecting the fun of Sunnydale, because the shadows of Archer’s Peak are teeming with full-on nightmare fuel. Good thing Erica Slaughter’s on the job.
Originally set to be a limited series, SIKTC was met with feverish demand from fans and is now going beyond its planned three volume run and is even launching the aforementioned spinoff The House of Slaughter. The further arcs and spinoff are set to expand on Erica Slaughter, her handler Aaron Slaughter, and the mysterious Order that made Erica into the monster hunter she is today. In fact, hunting monsters is all she does, bearing the costly weight of violence because it’s all she knows. (Apparently, membership into the House of Slaughter includes those snazzy teeth masks.)
Like many others on this list, the series has been picked up for a television adaptation by Mike Flanagan, the writer responsible for everyone’s current favorite drama Midnight Mass as well as The Haunting of Hill House. Collected volumes 1 and 2 are currently available as well, with deluxe hardcovers and a third volume to follow in the near future. SIKTC is one of the most buzzed-about books Boom Studios has ever published, and if you’re still asking yourself, “Well, what is killing the children?” we dare you to take a look for yourself…
Contagion (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Ed Brisson, Artists: Rogê Antônio, Stephen Segovia, Mack Chater, Damian Couceiro, Adam Gorham, Colorists: Veronica Gandini, Andrew Crossley Letterer: Cory Petit
Distinguishing itself from the well-loved Marvel Zombies series, Contagion is a five-issue adventure taking place in an apocalypse a little closer to the world of The Last of Us, where an ancient bio-weapon escapes its containment in K’un-Lun and quickly devastates Marvel’s New York. Adding to the danger, the magical barrier keeping the virus inside the city and away from the rest of the world is quickly crumbling. Originally released in five successive weeks with a rotating cast of artists, this miniseries proved to be a sleeper hit among readers and is now available in one collected volume.
Contagion stands out as a strong street-level story for Marvel, as most of the heavy-hitting super heroes find themselves quickly succumbing to the Urchin (the bio-weapon’s name), with its mold-like influence rapidly assimilating Captain America, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, most of the Fantastic Four, and even Luke Cage. What follows is a dire attempt at survival by the remaining uninfected like Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Yu-Ti, and Moon Knight, in a narrative that gives some often-sidelined characters time to shine when things look rough.
Despite the superficial apocalyptic similarities to Marvel Zombies, this adventure stands apart for horror fans — if you haven’t had your fill of pandemic stories just yet. While not excessive (this is a Marvel comic, after all), be forewarned that some of the fungus-like infections can look pretty gnarly depending on how much weird science you can stomach.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Archie Comics)
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Artist: Robert Hack, Letterer: Jack Morelli
No one ever expected Archie Comics to dive so successfully into the realm of horror, but after the exuberant reception of Afterlife with Archie, everyone’s favorite Teenage Witch took a turn towards the darker roots of magic. While many of the residents of Riverdale and Greendale have all seen some eerie reimaginings (including Vampironica and Jughead: The Hunger), Sabrina’s spine-chilling story gripped fans and summoned a dedicated reader base despite several hiatuses under the Archie Horror imprint.
Come her sixteenth birthday, Sabrina Spellman is made to choose whether she will fully dedicate herself to the art of witchcraft or abandon it in pursuit of a mortal life. Raised by her aunts Hilda and Zelda, she is guided through the strict laws of witches as set by the Church of Night. The adorably catty Salem fans might remember from the original sitcom television series has morphed into a voice of reason for the girl, once a mortal man who impregnated a witch but refused to marry her, leading him to search for redemption in his cursed feline form. Throw in Madam Satan, a former flame of Sabrina’s father, and the Devil himself, and this series more than lives up to its foreboding title.
Many fans might be more familiar with Netflix’s recent adaptation of the series, which follows a good deal of the lore established in the comics but also takes some independent strides to distinguish itself as well. Both the comic and live-action adaptation were created by Aguirre-Sacasa, meaning the creative vision is pretty consistent no matter which version you’re enjoying. For dedicated readers waiting for the next steps in the long-suspended “Witch War” story arc, be sure to check your local comic store as the series comes back from the dead this month.
So, there you have it — witches and zombies, werewolves and vampires, and every creeping creature in between! These are just a few of the incredible horror comics available on shelves at your local bookstore or comics retailer today, so we encourage you to check them out and trick or treat yourself to a good scare this Halloween.
If you’re looking for even more comics conversations, recommendations, or just a community to share your reads with, be sure to join Sideshow’s very own Local Comics Society Facebook Group, hosted by The Comics Haul with Amy and Paul. Visit side.show/yourlcs and dive in. Hope to see you there!
There’s a chill in the air. The leaves tremble in a skeleton dance and shadows seem just a little darker. Channel the spirits and revel in Sideshow’s Spooktacular 2021 — a celebration of all things sinister, scary, and downright spooky.
Join us from October 25-31 by visiting side.show/spooktacular and don’t forget — Sleep is for the weak!