Almost everybody loves a good scare. Is it any wonder that horror has become one of the most successful and beloved genres in media? While most everybody is familiar with horror literature, television, and cinema, there is a rich world of horror comics waiting to be discovered, for those who are willing to look. However, many people are turned off from trying comics because of the market’s superhero saturation. So I have compiled a list of ten great horror comics that have nothing to do with superheroes. Sadly, this disqualifies many great horror titles put out by Marvel and DC Comics, like Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, House of Mystery, Adventure Into Fear, and Tomb Of Dracula.
My general rule of thumb in making this list was that if, at any point, superheroes were involved in a main storyline of a particular horror comic, then it was disqualified. I believe that I have made a list that properly represents classic, modern, and foreign publications. I have also included three legendary manga horror titles. We can debate all we want about the differences between Western comics and manga. But they are both methods of storytelling that utilize sequential art. And, really, I was going to get complaints whether or not I included manga anyway. So, without any further ado, here are the Top 10 (Non Superhero) Horror Comics, presented in chronological order from their first publication dates.
10. Tales From The Crypt
First Published: October 1950
Kicking off this list is one of the most infamous, reviled, and beloved horror comics in history. Tales From The Crypt was a bi-monthly horror anthology, that was published in the early 50’s by EC Comics. The comic was hosted by the now-iconic Cryptkeeper, who acted as a guide for readers in between stories. The stories were shockingly violent, bloody, and graphic. In fact, the explicit content almost destroyed the comic book industry. In 1954, Fredric Wertham’s Seduction Of The Innocent, a book that claimed that violent comics promoted juvenile delinquency and the corruption of minors, Tales From The Crypt was one of the primary targets. The backlash resulted in the title’s cancellation, along with its two sisters, The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror. Although it was shut down, Tales From The Crypt remains, to this day, one of the most influential horror publications in the medium of comics.
First Published: 1964
If EC Comics accidentally almost killed the horror comic genre, then Warren Publishing helped save it. After the foundation of the Comics Code Authority, which essentially censored all depictions of graphic violence and illicit acts in comics, Warren Publishing released Creepy in 1964. Much like EC Comics’ horror titles, Creepy was a horror anthology, with a host character named Uncle Creepy. But unlike, say, Tales From The Crypt, Creepy was released as a newsstand publication in a magazine format. This allowed Warren Publishing a loophole to avoid the Comics Code Authority. Creepy would also be instrumental in helping promote new talent like Neal Adams (who helped revitalize DC Comics in the late 60s and 70s), Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spider-Man), Gary Morrow (co-creator of Man-Thing), and Archie Goodwin (one of the most influential writers and editors in comic history).
8. The Drifting Classroom
First Published: 1972
Nicknamed the Godfather of Japanese Horror Comics, Kazuo Umezu helped horror manga develop its own aesthetic apart from its Western contemporaries. One of his seminal successes was The Drifting Classroom, a story about an elementary school that mysteriously disappears, along with its students and teachers. The school is actually transported to a strange wasteland in what seems like another hellish dimension. The comic centers on one of the students, a sixth-grader named Sho Takamatsu, as he and his friends try to survive this terrible new world. Monsters, plagues, and madness pit the survivors against each other. Will anyone survive? Will anyone find out the truth about what happened to the school? You’ll have to read and find out. The Drifting Classroom was so popular that it was adapted into a live-action movie in 1987, and later into a television drama.
7. Dylan Dog
First Published: October 1986
A magnum opus of European horror comics, Tiziana Sclavi’s Dylan Dog is an ongoing series that has been published since 1986. Following a “nightmare investigator” named Dylan Dog operating out of London, the comic follows his case files against the nasty things that go bump in the night. Accompanied by his sidekick, a delusional Groucho Marx impersonator, the two investigate the supernatural, and occasionally fight against the evil Dr. Xabaras. Long unavailable in the States, Dylan Dog has recently been released by Dark Horse comics, and become the subject of an American film adaptation entitled Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.
6. From Hell
First Published: 1991
Though not technically a horror comic, Alan Moore’s stellar piece of historical fiction, From Hell, is one of the most chilling and unnerving comics ever written. The comic is about the infamous Jack the Ripper murders, that took place in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. Moore based the comic on Stephen Knight’s theory that the Ripper murders were carried out by Queen Victoria’s royal physician Sir William Gull, in order to cover up the birth of the illegitimate child of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. This theory has been disproven several times, and even Moore has come out in opposition to it. But Moore’s thoroughly exhaustive research into the Ripper murders helped create one of the most compelling examinations of not just the crime, but of Victorian England. From Hell is not for the faint of heart. It contains extremely graphic depictions of sex, and grisly re-enactments of the murders. But for those with the stomach for such things, From Hell is one of the most rewarding entries on this list.
5. Dragon Head
First Published: 1995
Post-apocalyptic scenarios are a common plot point in horror manga. One of the most prominent examples is Minetar Mochizuki’s Dragon Head. The story begins with Aoki Teru returning, along with his class, from a field trip in Kyoto onboard the bullet train Shinkansen. But suddenly the train is caught up in a massive explosion. When Aoki awakes, he finds himself the sole survivor of his teachers and classmates. Even worse, he is trapped in a giant tunnel blocked by rocks at both ends. After escaping from the tunnel, he finds that the world has been devastated by some kind of calamity. Now, much like in The Drifting Classroom, he must join with other survivors to navigate the ruins of mankind.
First Published: 1998
Perhaps the most revered modern horror manga creator in Japan is Junji Ito. Widely admired both in Japan and abroad, Ito has created his own characteristic take on the horror genre, where more traditional monsters are replaced by unexplained phenomenon, uncontrollable cosmic forces, and cruel twists of unavoidable fate. Perhaps his most famous work was Uzumaki, a series that followed the small Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho and its obsession with spirals. Now, a town beset by spirals may not sound very scary, but Ito uses this odd development to explore ideas of madness and social deterioration. Eventually, the inhabitants of Kurôzu-cho begin to twist into strange spirals themselves…
3. The Walking Dead
First Published: October 2003
Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead helped revitalize the zombie genre in comics. Like many other zombie apocalypse stories, The Walking Dead follows a group of survivors trying to escape the mindless hordes of the undead. The comic starts with Rick Grimes, a police officer from Kentucky, who must travel to Atlanta to find his family. One of the trademarks of The Walking Dead is the concept that nobody, and I mean nobody, is safe. Important characters get killed off constantly. It creates a genuine feeling that no character is truly safe. Combined with Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard’s stunning black-and-white artwork, The Walking Dead has exploded in popularity, to the point that it has been adapted into an award-winning AMC television series of the same name. The show has been a smash hit, and recently returned for its third season.
2. Locke & Key
First Published: February 2008
Almost everyone interested in horror literature has heard of Stephen King. But how many of you have heard of his son, Joe Hill? Hill has already begun to establish himself as an author in his own right, thanks in no small part to his phenomenal comic book series Locke & Key. The comic is actually a series of six-part minis, that explore the sinister Keyhouse estate situated in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. As different occupants come to live there, they find strange doors, peculiar keys, and terrible, vengeful spirits. Hill has done an absolutely marvelous job at creating a whole history surrounding Lovecraft and Keyhouse. In addition, all of the minis have been collaborations with the excellent artist Gabriel Rodriguez. Locke & Key is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in horror.
1. American Vampire
First Published: March 2010
The most recent series on this list, American Vampire is the brain-child of Scott Snyder. He is one of the fastest rising stars in the comic industry, in large part due to this series, and his run on DC’s Batman and Swamp Thing. The series operates off the premise that there are different species of vampire in the world. In the 1800s, a new species of vampire, an “American” vampire, is created. The first “American” vampire was Skinner Sweet, an outlaw from the Old West who lives through many different eras of American history. The first five issues of American Vampire were a joint project between Snyder and horror icon Stephen King. But now Snyder has taken complete control of the series. Along with Brazilian artist Rafael Albuquerque, Snyder has created one of the freshest, and most endearing, takes on modern vampire lore.