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Between the Panels: The Horror Tradition
By Lance Victor Eaton (September 2007)

Horror and comic art have been wedded since a barrage of titles from EC Comics in the late 1940s. Granted, at the onset of the Comics Code in the 1950s, the extreme gore and vileness was drastically decreased. However, now we have returned to a time in comic art when readers can really sink their teeth into a dark, edgy tale that will rattle the nerves as thoroughly as any horror movie does.

Bram StokerWhile many comics attempt to forge new territory in horror, others stick to the classics, realizing that style and presentation can augment them or provide new interpretations. Editor Tom Pomplun and the crew at Eureka Productions prove that, despite numerous other interpretations out there, they can still make the works of Bram Stoker fresh and even haunting in Graphic Classics Volume 7: Bram Stoker. The title piece of course is Dracula. The narrative is straightforward, a journal account of Jonathan Harker as he comes to know Lord Dracula and his vampyric nature. The art is drawn with a tendency towards cartoons and caricatures. While some might believe that realistic or gritty art would better match the mood of Stoker's tale, the choice here adds its own element of macabre amusement in that the story could almost be funny if it weren't so sinister.

Dracula is followed by Hunt Emerson's Vampire Hunter's Guide, with jocular tips on fighting bloodsuckers. Other stories by Stoker - including The Judge's House, The Bridal of Death, and Lair of the White Worm - round out the collection. Both The Judge's House and Bridal of Death demonstrate a more realistic and darker style that aligns with the stories. The Lair of the White Worm falls back on caricatures, but not with the desired effect produced in Dracula.

BaltimoreFollowing on the footsteps of Stoker, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden spin a vampire tale in Baltimore: or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. The story follows the soldier, Lord Baltimore, from fighting in the front lines of World War I against the Germans, back to England, and on to Romania to find the source of a terrible plague ravaging the world. Rather, people believe it is a plague, but early on Baltimore realizes it is the work of vampires, and that he alone must find their leader and put an end to the deadly menace. While not a graphic novel, the story is best considered an illustrated novel with numerous singular panels spread throughout. These do not necessarily add to the story but sometimes clarify the local geography as well as shine a light on a particular scene or aspect of the story. The drawings are by Mignola, whose work can instantly be identified from his distinct style - a style that helped make the Hellboy series so popular.

Given the brooding dark mood of Baltimore, Mignola's work adds to this dread and dismal setting. Mignola and Golden do not tell Lord Baltimore's tale directly, but present readers with three people who have been friends to the great man, getting together at a tavern after being summoned by him. Upon meeting, the three men recollect their experiences with Baltimore and the supernatural world that few others have seen. As they piece together how they all fit into Baltimore's life, they also come upon a journal that continues the account of Baltimore's journey. Baltimore's three friends recalling their experiences invokes elements of H. P. Lovecraft, while the journal entries easily remind readers of Stoker's approach to Dracula.

Nightmare FactoryFinally, we have The Nightmare Factory, an anthology of stories by Thomas Ligotti, drawn by several impressive and talented aristists. Ligotti's style and themes also pay homage to Lovecraft and other classic horror writers. But the glossy full color pages the artists apply to his stories make Ligotti's work stunning and exhilarating. From the almost violent fading art of Ben Templesmith to the painted opaque panels of Michael Gaydos, the art drives these tales. Themes and mood of the stories are masterfully executed by the artists, leaving readers fully engaged with the work. Ligotti himself provides the introduction to each one. Unlike so many introductions, Ligotti's is useful. He provides readers with background to the story but also relevant information to consider when reading. While this book isn't quite gore-free, its most haunting aspects are psychological in nature rather than actual physical manifestations of fear.

It seems that no matter how many vampires, zombies, boogey monsters - or what have you - we manage to decapitate, blow up, set ablaze - or take your pick - people still want to see more of it. Whatever the reason for our fascination with horror, these graphically illustrated novels will provide readers with a sufficient fix.
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