When I was young, my father gave me a number of old comics. I can’t remember most of them, but I do know that, among the tales of brightly colored heroes and fantastic adventures, there were a handful that stood out.
They were horror comics. They had names like Worlds of Terror and Weird Tales – and they were. They were odd, they were strange. They were occasionally vaguely unsatisfying, and they were always unsettling. I did not much care for them – though I read them all. I read most anything I could get my hands on, and so even though I far preferred the superhero tales – where the good guys won, and the endings were always agreeable – I read the Weird Tales nonetheless.
Years later, I don’t remember the slightest about the other comics – but the horror tales stayed with me. Given how terrible my memory normally is, even being able to recall a handful of scenes from those stories is a great feat – and a testament to the fact that, unlike everything else in that collection, they alone left a lasting impression.
But alas – those sort of comics faded away. Public criticism of comics – especially ones with potentially disturbing content – resulted in their departure, and the return of the superhero genre. I imagine you could find similar tales in the underground comic scene, but that would be a challenge, and finding them in modern work is even more difficult – even among webcomics, notorious for delving into any and all genres available.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
I was told about Split Lip a few months ago, but I only just got around to truly looking at it in depth. It is precisely what I was told it was – a monthly horror webcomic, with a new self-contained story each month, featuring a different artist for each story, all written by Sam Castello. When I finally read it, though, the startling thing was what else it was – it was just like the horror comics I remember reading all those years ago.
Strange. Occasionally unsatisfying. Always unsettling.
Some of the stories are psychological thrillers, some feature more supernatural horrors. With others, the line between the two is entirely unclear. Sometimes the endings are outright horrible – with others, merely bizarre. But they all manage to hit that punch of strangeness and terror, just enough to send a little chill running up the spine.
Costello writes in just the right tone to keep the reader off balance. He manages to track down artists from all over the world, each with their own style – but always a style that fits the story perfectly. Always a style that captures the almost surreal imagery infusing the story.
Surreal and disturbing, yet filled with curious and creative ideas – perhaps that is really what defines this brand of comic. Having clever concepts that draw you in, even as they are unsettling enough to push you away. It isn’t about outright scaring the reader – it’s about trapping them in that state between repulsion and interest. In fact, there’s something of a horror story in that concept alone, isn’t there?
Costello and his cohorts certainly get it right, story after story, month after month.
The Third Friday the 13th Webcomic Horror Award goes to Split Lip, without a shadow of a doubt.