Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dark Horse Comics: Drawing on Your Nightmares

This fall, Dark Horse Comics is rolling out a new line of horror books.  That's a big deal for horror fans, because horror comics are actually pretty rare.  Bloodshed is not difficult to find, but I'm talking about a particular breed of horror that is subtler -- more poignant, more perverse, and more intelligent.  Editor-in-chief Scott Allie is at the center of this horror line and he sums it up like this: "Horror stories aren't just about the willing suspension of disbelief - though this may be the genre that requires the most from the reader in that regard.  At least as important is the willing surrender to the mood of a horror story."  Atmosphere is everything, and that's what many of these new comics are aiming at.  Things started really heating up this week, with the premiere of new miniseries from Mike Mignola, Eric Powell and Tim Seeley... 

Believe it or not, Mignola's Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense has been around for almost twenty years now.  In fact, the creative team behind B.P.R.D. is gearing up for their 100th issue -- to be released on Halloween.  What this proves is that Mignola has created his own successful mythos... one as intricate and compelling as that of any superhero comic.  Perhaps more to the point: He has created a horror mythos as intricate an compelling as that of his idol H.P. Lovecraft, who inspired Mignola's love for period horror.  In a recent interview with Wired magazine, he says, "I really think H.P. Lovecraft changed horror literature radically, and it kind of put the final stake in the traditional vampire, and suddenly all werewolves and things got kind of quaint, and it became much more abstract, and I like some of that stuff a lot, but I also like a simpler world. You get much past the ’20s, ’30s, you know, I just don’t have that much interest in the modern world. I like fog and wagon wheels and guys on horseback."

B.P.R.D.: 1948, which hit the shelves yesterday, is period horror.  It takes place in the aftermath of World War II, and gets right to the core of the B.P.R.D. brand, as Mignola explains in another recent interview with Comic Book Resources: "That idea of people not being in control -- that's the constant theme of B.P.R.D. People are trying to gain control, and you just can't control what's going on so efforts to gain control only make things worse."  What's scarier than the real-world threat of world leaders with their fingers hovering over the nuclear war button?  It's into that milieu that Mignola once again drops his team of heroic outsiders.  Series writer John Arcudi and artist Max Fiumara ably support him here.  Issue #1 has two visual segueways that left me in awe of the storytellers, plus a genuinely poignant cameo with "cute and funny" Hellboy, and a showstopping Lovecraftian monster.... all good evidence that this is still a vital mythos.  (And editor Scott Allie promises that things are going to get even better after the centennial.)

The first issue of Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz's new series, Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness, has a completely different tone... but that shouldn't come as any surprise from the man who gave us The Goon.  Hotz's artwork has dark brooding atmosphere to spare, but what really amazes me is how the storytellers balance that with such smart, nuanced humor.  What Powell and co-writer Tracy Marsh are able to do with the implied space between two panels is a testament to the unique storytelling opportunities of the medium.  (Just check out the first two pages, below...)  Their comic asides ("I'm gonna eat me a horse someday!") and Hotz's visual characterizations ("It has two heads!") are brilliant.  That's a big word, but I'm using it anyway.  The Goon (next issue: November 14) is easily one of the best ongoing series around today, and Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities prove that Powell still has plenty of ideas left.

Incidentally, if you're interested in seeing The Goon on the big screen, you should pledge your support to David Fincher's Kickstarter project, which aims to combine the talents of Clancy Brown and Paul Giamatti in a CGI adaptation.  Still need convincing?  Check out their "proof of concept" trailer...

"The Goon" Movie Proof of Concept Trailer from Goon Kickstarter on Vimeo.

The third Dark Horse comic that I picked up this week was the inaugural issue of Ex Sanguine, a new series from writer/artist Tim Seeley and his co-writer Joshua Scott Emmons.  Seeley is probably best known as the creator of the Image horror comic Hack/Slash.  I was especially excited about this one because I love that Dark Horse is taking chances on original horror.  Horror movie fans are always griping that all filmmakers do anymore is churn out sequels and remakes to old franchises.  From a business perspective, it's easy to understand why... A sequel / remake / reboot / reimagination is easier to market.  At the end of the day, it's simply a safer investment.  But the flip side of that coin is that viewers aren't as easily scared by monsters and madmen that we are already familiar with... so a lot of us go home feeling a bit disappointed. 

In a recent interview with Comic Book Resources, Tim Seeley described Ex Sanguine as "Dexter meets True Blood" (but implored readers not to be dissuaded by the "Hollywood pitch").  The truth is that there's some impressionistic storytelling going on here that works as well as the most memorable moments from those series.  Memories and fantasies float in and out of the minds of the characters, giving the whole story a seductive, dreamlike quality.  Based on the last two pages, I have a feeling that this quality will be gradually heightened over the course of the miniseries, so I'm very excited to see where things go from here.  

Honestly, I only have one quibble with Ex Sanguine... and it's based entirely on the too casual use of a famous T.S. Eliot quote.  But Seeley and Emmons are certainly not the first to go there, and we can chalk it up to a personal pet peeve.  I should probably note, however, that the Eliot reference made me realize that good comics work for me the same way that good poetry does.  I usually start by reading quickly, essentially daring the writer/artist to make me stop in my tracks and examine a line or panel more closely.  Once that happens, I have to go back and start from the beginning, and then I experience the whole story in a slightly different light.  That's what happened while I was reading Ex Sanguine, so I have to declare this first issue a success.

Dark Horse has a lot more nightmares on the way.  Another new series that I'm really looking forward to is Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra's Colder, due on November 7.  The first cover by Ferreyra (who also recently created a promotional "jam piece" for the fall horror line) is so deliciously twisted that I've been staring at it for weeks and it still gives me the creeps.  A little further out, Mike Mignola returns to the series that made him famous, with Hellboy in Hell (12/5/12), and Steve Niles brings his two biggest franchises, Criminal Macabre and 30 Days of Night, together in Final Night (12/12/12).  The crossover is going to be truly epic, as Niles promises that it will represent the no-catch, no-bullshit ending of one of the two series.  (I already know which side I'm betting on.)  Dark Horse will also be releasing To Hell You Ride (12/12/12), the original miniseries that I co-created with Lance Henriksen and Tom Mandrake.  There's a preview of our first issue in B.P.R.D.: 1948 #1, and Scott Allie gives us a nod in the letter column, saying, "This one is weird, guys.  Perfect for Hellboy fans..."

I know I'm biased, but from what I've seen and heard, I can assure you that ALL of these series are worth pre-ordering.  If you are so inclined, here are the relevant links:

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