Other than superheroes, one genre has ruled the comic book world. Of course, that genre is horror, and since Halloween is imminent, we thought we’d take this opportunity to pay tribute to some of the greatest horror comics ever published. Now listen, these are just some of the groundbreaking, vitally important horror comics that have scared the feces out of readers for decades. We can probably pick hundreds of colon clenching, testicle shriveling comics to add to our ghoulish list, but these are the thirteen standouts, so don’t send us a severed head if we missed your favorite.
As a visual medium, comics are perfect for horror. From the garish scares of the Golden Age, to the groundbreaking horror of the ’50s with EC Comics, to the gothic ’70s and the experimental ’80s, comic book horror has always had a rabid following and a place right alongside superheroes. Join us as we look at horrors past and relive some of the greatest terrors ever produced by some of the greatest and sickest imaginations in comics.
13. Fatale (2012-2014)
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
How does one combine classic crime noir, period drama, and Lovecraftian terror into an ongoing comic that not only scares, it fascinates? Read Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale to find out. For years, Brubaker and Phillips crafted some of the greatest crime fiction in comics with their seminal Criminal, but in Fatale, the creative duo proved they can do high octane horror with the same panache they did cops and robbers.
Fatale centers around a seemingly undying woman named Jo who has lived for decades. Jo has the gift (or curse) to make men become obsessed with her. Jo is pursued across the decades by a Lovecraft-inspired cult that wants to use her for their own nefarious purposes. The men that fall in love with Jo become her protectors and usually meet horrific ends. Fatale is a meditation on obsession and madness that will chill even the most stolid reader to the bone, and it’s filled with subtle horrors and overt atrocities that will leave the reader feverishly turning the pages.
Afterlife with Archie (2013 – present)
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla
Despite the critical love for Afterlife with Archie, many horror mavens still aren’t buying the fact that Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang are currently starring in one of the most terrifying comics out there. But these so-called horror lovers better get with the program, because somehow, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla have found a way to stay true to the Riverdale characters while crafting a truly compelling zombie horror tale that cuts deep, raw, and bloody.
It all begins when Jughead’s beloved pooch Hot Dog is killed by a speeding car. Jughead begs Sabrina, the Teenage Witch to cast a spell to bring Hot Dog back to life, but this act curses Riverdale into becoming zombie central. This comic is not cute in anyway. All the same elements that make The Walking Dead such a monumental example of the zombie survival horror genre are on display in this masterpiece. And when a character dies, it’s a beloved figure from your childhood. And you thought the deaths in Negan’s circle hurt.
But through it all, the Archie pantheon remains true to form as Afterlife with Archie remains one of the greatest and unlikeliest horror comics of all time. Oh yeah, and if it wasn’t for the brilliance of this series, we wouldn’t have the brilliance of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which also brought us a similarly brilliant Netflix series!
11. Tomb of Dracula (1972-1979)
By Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan
Marvel is mostly known for its superheroes, but starting in 1972, a very different kind of caped figure began stalking the Marvel Universe. For years, the comics industry had to operate under the Comics Code Authority, a self-inflicted ratings administration that strictly forbade the use of undead creatures. When the Code relaxed on this point in the early ’70s, Marvel was able to delve into the dark worlds of horror, and delve it did. Marvel wanted to do horror right, so the House of Ideas looked to the classics, and terror doesn’t get more classic than Dracula.
At first, Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula comic was a bit directionless with multiple writers doing one or two issues apiece but when Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan took over, Marvel struck horror gold. For well over sixty consecutive issues, Wolfman and Colan crafted a world of gothic shadows and classic horrors, a world of vampires, bodice ripping romance, and gallons of vivid, constantly flowing blood, and it all somehow existed within the confines of the Marvel Universe.
They also introduced an extended cast of heroes of villains who would both fight for and against the Lord of the Vampires. There was Rachel Van Helsing, the granddaughter of the original vampire hunter, Frank Drake, Rachel’s lover and vampire killer extraordinaire, Hannibal King, a kindly private detective that had to live with a vampiric curse, and Blade, the vampire hunter who helped kickstart the modern superhero film craze.
And, of course, there was Dracula, demonic, tragic, and terrifying, a regal figure that combined the Universal Pictures monster aesthetic with modern comic book storytelling. Tomb of Dracula was a relentless thrill ride into classic horror that left Marvel fans begging for more. It was also a master class in sequential horror storytelling as Colan masterfully rendered Dracula’s world of blood and shadows in symphony of artistic nightmares. Seriously, this title was near perfection and is just waiting for a cinematic adaptation.
10. Hellboy (1993-2016)
By Mike Mignola
Has there ever been a more ever-present horror character than Mike Mignola’s legendary Hellboy? Along the way, Mignola has built an ever expanding world of nightmares to thrill and delight even the most jaded readers.
In the world of Hellboy, anything goes from baby devils, vampires, sex cults, kindly sea creatures, murderous clockwork killers and classic monsters of ever shape and size, Hellboy has covered it all. And it is all presented by Mike Mignola, a visual horror master who knows no equal when it comes to shadows and chills. In Mignola’s world, the greatest monster is the greatest hero as Hellboy protects the world from the creatures of darkness.
When things go bump in the night, Hellboy bumps back and a generations of comic book fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
9. Locke and Key (2008-2013)
By Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez
We would have totally included 30 Days of Night on this list but the series was just too darn short and the sequels were kind of lacking in potency, but rest assured, 30 Days is worthy of a mention because it set the foundation of horror that IDW Publishing was built on. And on that foundation was built a house, a house of terror and nightmares that only contemporary horror master Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez could master.
Locke and Key borrows from all eras of horror, from the gothic foundations of the genre to the Lovecraftian and Poe inspired strangeness of the early 20th century to the contemporary slasher obsession of the modern age, Hill and his artist Gabriel Rodriguez stuff it all into the never ending horrorfest known as Locke and Key, an unrelenting ride into terror that centers on the Locke family and a history of demons, murder, betrayal, and possession. Locke and Key spins its own mythology and delivers fully realized characters that must endure unimagined terrors to survive and unlock the next door of a nightmare that seemingly never ends.
8. Hellblazer (1988-2013)
By Just about anyone who’s anyone in the world of comic book horror.
Since John Constantine was introduced in the pages of Swamp Thing, this postmodern con man/mage has been your guide through the darkest corners of the DC Universe. In the original Hellblazer title from Vertigo, classic horror author after classic horror author guided Constantine’s adventure through the underbelly of the DC Universe. Starting with Alan Moore, and continuing with Jamie Delano, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey, Paul Jenkins…and that’s just the writers! A sloew of artists like John Ridgway, Dave McKean, Tim Bradstreet, Guy Davis, and dozens more of the greatest minds in comics have explored horrors undreamed of and along the way.
Through Constantine, readers have been taken to hell and back as he fought every type of killer, monster, and demon imaginable, and he did it for fifteen awesome years during his Vertigo run. These days, Constantine is weaving his dark magic around the main DCU, but in the classic and genre defining Vertigo book, the trench coat wizard set the standard for modern comic horror.
I mean for real, this is the book that had the sheer creative balls to have Constantine actually give the middle finger to the devil himself.
7. Preacher (1995-2000)
By Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Prepare yourself for some Dixie-fried mayhem, because when it comes to horror, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher is the real deal. TV fans learned about Preacher’s special brand of atrocity over on AMC, but the TV series only scratched the surface of the depravity that the comic went to. You had metaphysical horror in the forms of angels and demons, you had classic horror in the form of vampires, you had grade-A gore in the form of the Meat Man and more exit wounds than you can shake a severed limb at, and you had a special brand of extremely humorous terror that would make Sam Raimi proud. Plus, Grandma Custer might very well be the most monstrous character in comic book history and that ain’t no hyperbole.
But underneath the scares beat the heart of purely American romantic adventure that made readers truly care for the main characters. For every gag Preacher caused there probably was also a tear because it’s a righteous adventure that made the spirit soar.
Plus, it had lots and lots of poo jokes.
6. Sandman (1989-1996)
By Neil Gaiman and some of the greatest dream makers in comics
Yeah, we know what you’re thinking, “But Den of Geek, Sandman is fantasy, not horror!” And to you we say, read the Doctor Destiny in a diner story (from Sandman #6 to be precise) and tell us this series isn’t horror. If I was a librarian, I too would shelve Sandman under fantasy, but there are just so many potent scares in this unforgettable series that it had to make our list.
From Doctor Destiny to the dreadful Corinthian to a hotel convention for serial killers, Neil Gaiman and a host of artistic partners delves into some very dark places as the Sandman saga unfolds. For real, issue #6, the one with Doctor Destiny, is one of the single most horrific comics ever published. In many ways, Gaiman and friends redefined horror in Sandman even if horror was just one of the genres played with over the course of the series. Because after all, where there are dreams there are nightmares, and in Sandman, readers were shown some nightmares that can never be forgotten.
5. From Hell (1989-1992)
By Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
One of the most visceral, thought-provoking, and chilling comics of all time, From Hell is the speculative and meticulously researched tale of the origins of Jack the Ripper. Other than being one of the greatest horror comics of all time, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell is also perhaps the greatest historical comic of all time as it paints a vivid picture of the era in which Jack did his bloody work. The attention to detail makes the horror all the more lurid as Moore and Campbell create an absolutely perfect treatise on how to historically educate readers while scaring the shit out of them in the process.
This is one horrific comic made all the more terrible because many of the details of the atrocities that lie within these pages are absolutely true, even though much of the story itself is fictionalized. From Hell delves into the mind of madness and creates a chilling retelling of things so horrible that they can’t possibly be real…but they are. Sleep tight with that thought in mind.
4. Creepy (1964-1983) Eerie (1966-1983)
By So many madmen, lunatics, and mad scientists
EC Comics may be the most famous horror publisher of all time, but Warren Publishing raised it to the next level of atrocity. Back in the day, Creepy and Eerie were the magazines your parents didn’t want you to read. Both magazines took an unflinching yet often times darkly humorous approach to horror. The black and white magazines really allowed the many Warren artists to darkly shine as visual masters like Neal Adams, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Johnny Craig, Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, John Severin, Angelo Torres, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, and Wally Wood all were at their blood curdling best as they produced a metric ton of horror stories that delighted readers and horrified parents. Issue after issue, Creepy and Eerie pushed the boundaries of good taste as the body count mounted.
The black and white legacy of Warren spawned many copycats, and even Marvel got into the black and white horror game in the ’70s. While Marvel did some awesome work, its output usually paled in comparison to the cheeky and bloody madness of Warren’s output.
3. The Walking Dead (2003 – Present)
By Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard
Now here’s a little comic you may have heard of. There hasn’t been a bigger comic book success story in the 21st Century than The Walking Dead. When Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore first introduced this world back in 2003, it barley registered on fans’ radar. After all, did the industry need another black and white horror book? It turns out the answer was yes…yes, it needed The Walking Dead in a big way.
Since the publication of the first issue of the adventures of Rick Grimes and the rest of the survivors, The Walking Dead has become one of the biggest cultural touchstones in the world. The Walking Dead reinvented horror comics and presented a tale where anything can happen to anyone at any time. No character (or reader) was safe from a world that has died and continued to rot before our very eyes.
First artist Tony Moore than artist Charlie Adlard brought this horrific world to life and presented some of the most gory splash pages in the history of comics, where readers would be forced to endure some of the most potent bodily atrocities ever to be rendered on a comic page. The book’s formula is simple: introduce characters, make fans fall in the love with them, and then rip them from our hearts. This same technique has translated to two TV shows that maybe you’ve seen.
2. Swamp Thing (1973- present with so many horrific stops in between)
By Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Martin Pasko, Alan Moore, John Totleben, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Nancy A. Collins, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle, Scott Snyder, and holy crap, so many more
Let’s just say it, Swamp Thing is responsible for modern comic horror. In the Bronze Age, Swamp Thing was a standout icon amongst the tons of horror characters introduced in an era that truly embraced the shadows. After all, Swampy was created by two masters of the horror comic, Len Wein and arguably the greatest horror artist in comic book history, Bernie Wrightson. But that was only the beginning.
After Wein and Wrightson weaved their dark swamp magic, Swamp Thing became a character on the fringes of the DC Universe. Swampy had a cult following, but he never really hit the big time. In the ’80s, DC revived Swamp Thing and when British wunderkind author Alan Moore took on the writing duties of the title, comic book horror changed forever. All of a sudden, the old EC Comics formula was broken as Moore began to explore the truly forbidden. Sex, drugs, and taboos were all explored in an era where Super Friends still aired on Saturday morning TV.
Moore pushed the boundaries of the medium and of what his editors would allow by presenting page after page of mental and psychical atrocity the likes of which mainstream comics had never before endured. Through his work, Moore invented the Vertigo aesthetic and forced comics into a new age of thoughtful darkness. These comics set the stage and so many others like Rick Veitch, Nancy A. Collins and Mark Millar, to name but a few, followed in the bearded Brits footsteps each taking Swamp Thing a bit further into the unexplored darkness of imagination. And all the while, Swamp Thing was the readers’ guide to terrors undreamed of.
Who can forget the reimagining of Anton Arcane and the Un-Men, the horrific rebirth of the Floronic Man, or the beautiful relationship between Abby Arcane and Swamp Thing? All these moments became burned into the souls of brave readers who endured the vile swamps of the DC Universe and found some of the greatest literary horror of the late 20th century.
1. Tales from the Crypt/ Vault of Horror/Haunt of Fear (1950-1955)
By Many Masters of blood curdling Mayhem
In the first half of the 1950s, one comic company ruled the roost when it came to vivid horror, and that company was EC Comics. EC published three horror comics that changed everything, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and the granddaddy of them all, Tales from the Crypt. Within these pages, readers found soul searing adult horror tales that still have a nightmarish impact on a readers over 65 years later. These tales often took the form of cautionary stories of revenge and irony in which a character who committed a malfeasance of some kind was hunted and forced to endure a deliciously unthinkable ironic fate.
Some of comics’ greatest creative talent contributed to these books. Wally Wood, Al Feldstein, Harry Harrison, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, and many more all dug deep into the darkest parts of their imaginations to deliver some of the most soul piercing tales of mayhem ever produced in any medium. There can be no doubt that the story structure of these tales influenced TV shows like The Twilight Zone and also had a huge impact on the young minds of future geniuses such as Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, John Landis, and so many more.
EC also introduced the concept of the horror host in these pages. The Crypt-Keeper, the Vault-Keeper, and the Old Witch would each introduce a tale in every issue. EC horror became so popular that a widespread movement to ban and censor comics to prevent juvenile delinquency was a direct response to the gore laced covers of EC horror comics.
Other than the introduction of Superman, Batman, and the Marvel Universe, no single comic had a bigger cultural impact on the mainstream world than Tales From the Crypt and the other EC horror publications, and it was all because some of comics’ greatest creative minds made it their business to scare the shit out of readers again and again and again.
Bonus Undead Entry!
Adventure Comics: Spectre (1974-1975)
By Joe Orlando, Michael Fleisher, and Jim Aparo
It may have only been ten issues, but the Spectre strip that ran in Adventures Comics #431-440 redefined superhero horror. Legend has it that after DC editor Joe Orlando was mugged, he decided to bring back the Golden Age hero The Spectre to become a symbol of hellish vengeance on Earth. With Michael Fleisher and the great Jim Aparo, Orlando plotted ten issues of visceral mayhem.
The unstoppable Spectre would hunt, stalk, and punish killers, thieves, and rapists, usually by transforming these scums of the earth into inanimate objects. Who can forget when the Spectre transformed a crook into paper while morphing himself into a giant pair of scissors? Many of these clever yet horrific demises would inspire some of the Freddy Krueger kills in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series of films.
Orlando and Fleisher brought the narrative nightmares, but it was Jim Aparo’s clever and surreal layouts that made this short lived series a classic of the Bronze Age. Before the Adventure Comics run, the Spectre was an almost forgotten footnote, but after this team conducted their ghostly symphony of nightmares, the world was reminded just how truly scary a comic can be.
I mean, for real, in one issue, Spectre turns some poor schmuck into a candle and melts him, how fucked up is that?