Sunday Scares #1: Graphic Novels

We blinked and it’s October!

You may already know that I like spooky things. So, I thought that for today and the next three Sundays, instead of my weekly #SundaySofaSojourns I will list a few of my favourite creepy things to celebrate the season – nay, the Mood – that is Halloween.

If you’re thinking “Well this year is already horrific enough as it is without adding zombies into the mix” then it might interest you to know that watching films / reading fiction / engaging with the horror genre has been found to be useful in this Covid-19 era. A recent study concluded that “exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.” (You’re welcome!)

This week, I’m listing down three of my favourite horror graphic novels.

In my view, the graphic novel as a medium adds another layer of immersion to any story. It works especially well for the horror genre – to see a shock of bright red or dark moody hatchwork complement the black-and-white text next to it amps up the scare factor for me by several notches.

Creepy Post-it artwork by John Kenn

Here are three of my picks…

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1) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.”

Through the Woods has five original stories, not counting ‘An Introduction’ and ‘In Conclusion.’ I like that Carroll’s stories are mostly about women — a lady trying to uncover the terrible mystery of her sprawling, dark manor and her husband with red-stained lips in A Lady’s Hands Are Cold; three sisters dealing with a bruising winter in the unsettling mystery of Our Neighbour’s House; a lonely girl whose mother’s cautionary tales saved her life as she uncovered her pretty sister-in-law’s hidden secret in The Nesting Place; and the sinister story of two brothers in His Face All Red (also published in full on Carroll’s website – check it out. Don’t miss Out of Skin and The Prince & The Sea too).

Opening panel in His Face All Red. (Source)

‘In Conclusion’ had a Red Riding Hood-like character narrowly missing the wolf in the forest, and expressing immense relief as she tucked in for the night. Suddenly, she hears something speak:

“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again & again…” said a shadow at the window. “…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…

But the wolf …the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.”

Add the jet-blacks and blood-reds colouring her eerie yet haunting art, her spindly elegant handwriting, the oppressiveness of her snowy landscapes, lonesome houses in the woods, and the nostalgic Victorian and 1920s fashion — and Through the Woods ticks all my horror-loving boxes.

2) Trese series by Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo

“When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.”

I would not be exaggerating when I say the Trese series is a rare and very welcome find for me in the graphic novel medium, let alone the horror genre. There’s hardly any Filipino representation out there, as far as I’m aware. (If you know of others, please let me know in the comments.) Bonus points for having a strong and independent woman as the lead character.

In the Trese series, we follow Malate club owner and police consultant Alexandra Trese and her trusty hitmen the Kambal. Trese gets called in to cases that involve the supernatural.

The characters in Trese are as old and familiar as childhood, but with a modern twist – helpful nuno sa punso (who now live in underground sewers instead of soil mounds), well-off tikbalang who’ve upgraded their usual balete tree home to a Makati penthouse, a typhoon deity who watches over an exclusive urban village (as long as the residents made the right sacrifices).

The settings are also recognisable: Manila South Cemetery in Case 6: The Outpost on Kalayaan Street, also considered home by many poor squatter families in makeshift houses (“… and some find themselves joining the dead all too soon”); a crowded MRT train in Case 13: An Act of War, and gritty Manila in Case 1: At the Intersection of Balete and 13th Street from the first Trese book, Murder on Balete Drive.

Trese, redrawn for the US market. Source: Comics Beat

There’s even a nod to local urban legends, for example the snake-like creature that supposedly stalked people in Robinson’s Galleria in the ‘90s (remember that?) in Case 7: Embrace of the Unwanted, which is set in the fictional Robertson Mall.

If you’re looking for a highly engaging and modern introduction to Philippine myth and folklore, I recommend reading Trese. I heard that Netflix will adapt it as an animated series this year. I can’t wait.

3) Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito

“Spirals… this town is contaminated with spirals…”

Ito is the first artist that comes to my mind when I think about how artwork complements the story in graphic novels.

In Uzumaki, the phenomenon is never explained fully. Kurozu-cho, a small fictional town in Japan, is haunted by a pattern: the spiral (or uzumaki in Japanese – Naruto fans would know this 😉). Spirals start to manifest itself in everything – townspeople start to become obsessed with it, hair independently shapes itself into spiral curls, pregnant women gorge on spiral-covered mushrooms with alarming consequences.

As a pitch, the plot sounds utterly ridiculous: “Town is cursed, driven mad, and ultimately fucked over by spirals.” Err, say what?

But Ito’s artwork makes all the difference. It manages to mesmerise and be deeply uncomfortable at the same time, and is peak form in Uzumaki. It’s my favourite of his many works because the story builds, with all the seemingly unconnected short chapters starting to make sense as the main characters hurtle towards the end. (Watch out for Chapter 8: The Snail. I could not get the imagery of the snail people out of my head for days.)

You’ll never look at a spiral the same way again.

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I’ll stop at three so I still have some to talk about for next October haha. Hope you enjoyed this list. Till next week! 👻

Think critically dear readers,

23 thoughts on “Sunday Scares #1: Graphic Novels

  1. When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions….and where the daga na nasa kanal ay lumalabas…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! I suppose just being “morbidly curious” (as defined in the study) helps. 😊 I wouldn’t suggest watching A Nightmare on Elm Street back-to-back-to-back tonight unless you want to haha!

      Like

    1. Mars hindi pa! Okay ba? 😁 Always on the lookout for new horror book recommendations 🖤. Binabasa ko ngayon yung “The Drifting Classroom”, medyo late na ako to the party hehehe.

      Liked by 1 person

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