For the longest time whenever I would tell people I make comics, and I mean this happens in any kind of storytelling, people always follow up with: “what kind?” by which they mean what pee-established genre that they understand and have reference to do you work in. And for awhile, I didn’t really know how to describe what I do. But the last year or so I’ve come to see myself as a part of horror—every comic I’ve made to this point is in some way attached to horror—and I don’t know why that took me so long to understand and embrace, but that’s what I’m running with going forward. Steve Niles watch your back.
But so what does that mean to me? Why horror? When I say Horror, and when I say I’m interested in it, what does that mean? Because there’s a lot of different connotations with horror, some good, some bad—though I mean, I don’t really have sophisticated judgements that are going to tell you torture porn horror is somehow lesser than art house maya deren horror films. I mean, who really cares about that?
No, what interests me about horror is a few things. First I am interested in it’s perversion of reality. The slightly askewness of horror, where what appears slightly normal in one light, in another light is completely grotesque. Horror is the nightmare that you wake up from that you can never explain in summary to someone else why it was terrifying. It is the sublime manifestation of the sub-conscious mind. It’s the mind hacking of reality. It is pure aesthetic mind diamond shards—blood coming out of your ears—that kind of thing.
For me, horror is a deeply personal experience as well. My relation to horror comes from a molotov cocktail of clinical depression, body dysmorphia issues related both to being transgender and being a woman, coupled with a very strict religious upbringing. The horror of my body betraying me was something I understood from the get. The horror of sin and shame—the demons that are created through repression rather than expression. The paranoia of living under the wrathful all knowing eye of a god you are told explicitly hates you. For the bulk of my life, I’d say I was at war with both my mind, and my body. Which actually made me a very late comer to horror.
As a child it was very difficult for me to deal with terror. I couldn’t watch more than a few minutes of something like The It without being unable to sleep for days. And with everything else going on, I just ran away from that feeling, because it was too intense to deal with.
But as I’ve gotten older and more used to the intense trauma of living in my own mind—I’ve been more interested in exploring the things that bother me, or cause me to feel the sublime.
It’s from this that my comics come. I would say even my line is a horror line. The way I draw people expresses that war with the body that I feel everyday. And that trippy dream logic of my work that is less concerned with plot or characterization and more interested in the power of aesthetic is also an expression of this.
In this way, I think porn comics and horror comics are very much of the same genre. When done well, I think you are talking about a comic that is more about hitting an atmospheric point than a particular plot point. To create something on the page that is of the hidden mind, and to create awe in the reader. So I study porn comics, the surrealists, fantasy illlustrators from the 20s, and the horror comics of people like Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson.
Which gets me into Richard Corben and Jan Strnad’s Ragemoor—which the image above is from(long ass irrelevant intros like what). This was one of the more affecting books I read this year. It’s one of the few true american horror books I’ve read that are contemporary, and aren’t somehow attached to Mike Mignola. Stuff like Walking Dead, 30 Days and Nights—and the legion of copycat books they’ve launched—are very good in their own right—but they have a particular obsession with characterization and low-level shock—that I mean—at this point you also see in mainstream superhero titles like Blackest Night. It’s not bad. But it’s not what I’m going to remember for years and years.
When I think of the movie Alien, or an HR Giger painting—that is imagery that is beyond characterization and plot—it is moments that are going to terrify me into my dreams. The drawings of Alfred Kubin have this kind of quality as well. Ragemoor is in this camp. Richard Corben is in this camp.
Richard Corben is the guy who when he finally dies, everyone is going to suddenly talk about how great he was, and what a singular entity his art was—so on and so forth—THE GUY IS STILL ALIVE NOW! He’s still knocking out amazing comics. Let’s celebrate him NOW! Corben is one of the true masters of horror in american comics. The way that he morphs moments and bodies into the grotesque is on a level that makes Cronenburg look like a stepford wife. You can look at an image from just a panel in a Corben comic and feel horror flying off the page—without a single drop of context or prose.
Fortunately Ragemoor is also pretty well written and concieved. This is a dark twisted story that is relentlessly dark. It’s appropriate that it is in black and white and grey—because color in this book as seen on the covers—would just look a little silly by comparison. Ragemoor is a dirge of shadows and grotesques. It clutches you in the lizard brain with icy claws that never relent.
There were so many moments reading Ragemoor where I left the narrative in like some weird out of body type experience, and just fell down this demented staircase of stomach churning horror. This comic is just an endless procession of the horror sublime.
The two most striking images for me, and I think it’s appropriate to discuss a horror comic in these terms, were the lizard panels from above—where that lizard has this like leathery skin—where I was actually like rubbing the page while reading it just to make sure that this wasn’t some sort of dark magic demon ready to lunge off the page. And the expression—those dark eyes—the way the blood is colored—it is terrifying to me to look at. The other image occurs toward the end of the book, and it involves the fate of the lone female character in this book Anoria. Like lesser artists have concieved of this idea—but the way Corben pulls it off—everyone else is just playing in the grotesque—Corben is living in it.
If there is a flaw with Ragemoor incidentally—it’s that even a cursory feminist critique of the book would absolutely rip it apart. And while I can sympathize with the fact that everyone in the book is messed up and doomed and grotesque—and I can caveat some of what happens to Anoria with that none of it is done for tittiliation—and you are supposed to be horrified for her. But we’re still looking at a woman who has no agency, who is raped off page twice, and whose only crime by comparison to the rest of the characters in the book is being poor and not white—oh and the one time she actually has sex with someone she wants to have sex with—she and her lover(also not white) are immediately punished. But I am also not certain that Strnad and Corben haven’t considered this—because the way I think it comes off is somewhat self-conscious of itself—and willing to present this problem which is almost a genre trope in horror for you as the audience to discuss.
The problem you have is that in this genre of story—a lot of the power of ragemoor comes from the complete lack of hope or redemption for everyone involved. So how do you introduce agency for this woman, when really no other character is allowed agency once they are trapped in Ragemoor. The castle controls all, and everybody is ostensibly subservient to Ragemoor. So maybe it is impossible to give her character agency without turning it into a story with a hero and an arc that is obsessed with that. Our main character as it stands is kind of the lunatic villian of the book—which I think really works. And I think there is an implicit criticism of the male hero’s notion of ownership over the female supporting character’s body here that is extremely feminist—and quite appropriate given the current fake fan girl culture of misogyny within the comics industry.
So maybe there is just disapointment in that the horror that would happen to this woman in the comic would be rape—considering it pretty much always is rape. And I mean I should point out, it never explicitly states that she has been raped in the book—but I think the way Corben and Strnad frame what has happened to her certainly implies that.
So at any rate—I think the book has kind of fascinating gender politics going on it—which marks it as a book in 2012 vs. say 1975.
But I mean, I like those complications. It kicks off an interesting dialogue—that I mean isn’t too dissimilar from the strengths of say the Alien films.
But that stuff is a sideshow too. If that’s all the book was about, I wouldn’t care about it that much. With Ragemoor you are talking about a book of pure unfettered raw horror aesthetic by one of the true masters of the medium—with a writer who knows how to put Corben through his paces—without getting in his way. As a collaboration I think Strrnad and Corben do reach that wonderful spot where you can tell they are comfortable working with one another—and they are to the point where they are bringing out the best in one another—and in an industry where it’s oftentimes just random people working with random people to pay the bills—anytime you read a true collaboration, it’s like coming up for air after almost drowning.
Ragemoor is a shot across the bow of comics. People should pay attention to this work. So many wack ass weak attempts at fake horror in movies, in comics, in television—action movies with fake fangs—This is the realness. That ether, that shit that make your soul burn slow. Everything else you are reading is adult diapers.
So get with it.