Friday, October 10, 2008

The Breadth of Horror

Something I like a lot besides super-heroes is horror. Been reading a bunch of it lately and I'm discovering something interesting. Most of the horror you see in movie theaters has a certain sameness about it; mostly vengeful ghosts and axe-killers. Books and graphic novels expand and explore the genre and its possibilities with much greater breadth.
For example, maybe you've heard of Death Note (by Obah and Obata), the manga that's been adapted into just about every other medium possible. Have you seen the movie version? The anime version? Read the novel? Well, let me tell you, I can't imagine any of them beating the original manga for a sense of originality and suspense.

In Volume One, we're introduced to gifted student Light (the English translations often give the characters some bizarre names) who stumbles upon the Death Note, which was dropped mistakenly (?) by a Shigumi Death God. All you need to do with the book is write down in it the name of a person whose face you can picture and that person drops dead of a heart attack. Now Light is not you average sort and he decides he's going to create a new world using the power of the book. So, when criminals throughout the world start inexplicably dropping dead of heart attacks, an international police force calls upon legendary detective L to solve the case. Thus begins a 13 volume opus that tracks the cat and mouse game between the two brilliant players with the power of life and death hanging in the balance.

On top of floating death gods and the fascinatingly unbalanced character of Light himself, top it off with the cleverly Sherlock Holmesian-deductions of brilliant detective L (he determines that the untraceable killer is a Japanese high school student within a day of coming on the case) and you've got much more than your standard scare-fare here. Part of the real joy is watching the battle of wits between the two and the truly unexpected twists and turns. Since the whole tale runs 13 volumes, there is no shortages of surprises, and I personally guarantee that the story will keep you unsure of what's coming next up to the very end.

Now, if you're looking for something truly bizarre in your horror, you will find nothing better then The Nightmare Factory (by Moore and Harris, but based on the short stories of Thomas Ligotti). There are four stories here, all by different teams contributing artwork that is fittingly strange. These are stories filled with sinister winter festivals, disappearing theaters, rotting insane asylums and a girlfriend who can unravel reality. You simply cannot get further from the sameness of recent horror movies than this thing (along with the prose stories they're based on), which are about as non-standard and non-conformist in their ideas as I've ever seen.

Honestly, these stories touch horror at its eeriest and most disturbing, filled with unexplainable, inevitable and encroaching dread from beginning to end. A second volume just came out recently, titled The Nightmare Factory Volume 2 (also by Moore and Harris based on Ligotti). I haven't read it yet, but if you do, let me know what you think.


Michael Northrop said...

Hi guys,
I'm not sure this is the right place for this, exactly, but the good folks at Crowe's Nest ( nominated Guys Lit Wire for the I Heart Your Blog award. Part of the process is letting you know, and, well, now you know.

Keep up the great work!

Jesse Karp said...

Thanks, Michael, we're honored. I tell everyone else.