Seven Costumes of Comics: Horror Creatures

I’m a huge fan of the SyFy Channel’s reality show Face Off. As a child, I’d watch a show on weekend mornings called Movie Magic which introduced me to the world of special FX makeup and has led to a fascination with practical effects used in film. There is an amazing amount of artistry and engineering that goes into every makeup seen on Face Off. Creators must design and execute the concept while maintaining realism and believably.

Vancouver Film School Makeup Design by Katie Middleton via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Vancouver Film School Makeup Design by Katie Middleton via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Halloween gives amature creature designers a chance to express themselves and explore now artistic styles. A quick search in YouTube and you will find thousands of tutorials to turn yourself into a deer, sugar skull or creepy doll with only makeup. Others use Halloween to hone more specific skills including creating elaborate, full face prosthetics requiring life molds and hundreds of hours of prep work.

In creating many of these costumes, creators draw inspiration from all sorts of objects and source materials.

uzumakiUzumaki by Junji Ito exemplifies body horror and the creative process involved with horror character creation. In Uzumaki, a coastal Japanese town is cursed by spirals, once you see a spiral, you begin a slow descent into madness. What starts off as a simple fascination slowly expands into full blown horror, all based on the spiral shape. The curl of the eardrum, a mosquito’s retracted mouth, and a snail all serve as inspiration for horrific psychical transformations as the spiral consume you.

The art of Uzumaki is truly horrifying in the black and white manga style, and uses that style to explores a lot of themes. Comprised of many short stories following a young woman named Kirie, and how her family and friends are affected by the curse. For a wonderfully creepy way to keep the Halloween horror spirit alive after tonight, stop by your local comic book shop or library tomorrow and check out Uzumaki.

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Seven Costumes of Comics: Zombies

Mike Morton "Zombie" via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Mike Morton “Zombie” via Flickr CC BY 2.0

I have a particular affinity for zombies. When I was an undergrad, I had the opportunity to introduce Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, an expert in the zombie field, for our University Activities Committee. In his honor, I dressed up as a zombie, rubbing myself with mud so I would look fresh from the grave for the meet and greet.

Like many of the other creatures from the list so far, zombies explore a fascination with death and rebirth. Historically originating from a magic ritual, many contemporary zombies are a result of fallout, radiation, and other natural and unnatural causes. Some are fast, some are slow, some crave brains and others are simply looking for love.

It is the flexibility of zombies that makes them a great insert into many pre-existing worlds. There have been Marvel Zombies and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, finding their own way to seamlessly integrate these creatures into established stories. They also lead to a lot of creativity for creating costumes as anyone, fictional or not, and from every time period, could be a zombie.

afterlifeOne example of this seamless integration is Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla. Archie is having a renaissance lately. Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ run on Archie and Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s Jughead have reinvigorated the Archie franchise, but they ran on the coattails of the success of Afterlife with Archie.

After Hot Dog is hit by a car, Jughead begs Sabrina the Teenaged Witch to bring him back. A novice witch herself, Sabrina does her best to cast an expert spell, but something goes wrong. Being banished to another dimension as punishment, Riverdale descends into a post-apocalyptic nightmare. When this book arrived in my library, a middle aged co-worker said, “Look at what they are doing to Archie now?” so it isn’t for everyone. But if you are willing to give zombies a chance and love the Archie aesthetic and good old fashioned Americana, Afterlife with Archie is the perfect combination of horror and nostalgia for the holiday season.

Seven Costumes of Comics: Vintage

Vintage and historical Halloween costumes are extremely popular. From poodle skirts to flapper dresses, medieval knights to Egyptian pharaohs,  we relish the one day a year we can dress up in the attire of a different time. It is the best way to embody the feeling and attitude of those from the past.

Because this topic is so broad, I’m going to focus on a genre of comics: vintage horror comics. Many comic book readers and non-readers alike can name the big two comics creators; Marvel and DC. But there were many comic book publishers before the Comics Authority Code which explored a variety of topics and are now considered vintage classics.

I’m going to highlight a few of my favorite vintage comics, some horror, some not, which can serve as inspiration for anyone looking for last minute costume ideas.

four-color-fearFour Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s offers many non EC comics from the pre-code era all in one place. From Zombies to Femme Fatales, Four Color Fear will provide you countless hours of “I can’t believe they published this” and “oh my goodness” moments.

young-romanceYoung Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comicsyup, Simon & Kirby, of Captain America fame, made their bread and butter writing non superhero titles. When people argue that comics are not for women and never have been, I point out the numerous romance titles geared towards women from the 40s and 50s. Look no further than Young Romance for vintage inspiration for hairdos, wardrobe, and speech patterns.

 

living-mummyThe EC Comics Library, there is no doubt that Entertaining Comics (EC) was the powerhouse of horror comics during the first half of the twentieth century. With classic titles like The Living Mummy, Grave Business,  and Forty Whacks, EC published a wide range of horror titles. Plus, with the Fantagraphics reprints, many obscure titles are available once again. They often say that horror reflects the fears of the subconscious of the time they were written and EC comics is a living testament to post-war fears and anxieties.

Seven Costumes of Comics: Vampires

burne-jones-le-vampireVampires, or the undead, are some of the oldest creatures in many mythologies. They may have different characteristics, appearances, origins, and ways to meet their final demise, but they do have one thing in common, they play on the fear of the immortal unrest those with a spirit must face.

It’s all those differences that make the vampire as a Halloween costume so unique and creative. From Anne Rice’s Victorian vampires to the Goth kids with fangs, vampire costumes leave much to the imagination.

Plus, if you’re going to have a Vampire in your group, why not have a Van Helsing or a Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the crew as well (have I mentioned before how much I love buffy_season_1Buffy?!)?

There has been a resurgence in vampire comic books lately with Scott Snyder’s American Vampire and the adaptation of The Strain, but I am going to highlight a slight older book for today’s costume inspiration. Steve Niles’ and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night is not only a unique take on the vampire trope but also a beautifully crafted story about what it means to live and die.

30-days-of-nightBarrow, Alaska is so far north that every winter 30 days go by without a single ray of sunlight. While many people flee Harrow for a brighter spot in the sun, few, like Eben the local policeman, stick it out in the land of the midnight sun. But this year, the residents of Barrow will ask themselves who benefits the most from the lack of sun and when will their rampage of destruction and devastation end?

If you enjoy horror comics, you should check out both Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s other work. What is great about 30 Days of Night is how well Niles minimalist writing style and Templesmith dark, muddled art work together to tell a seemingly simple story.

Bon Appetit with some vampiric Halloween reads!

Seven Costumes of Comics: Ghosts!

ghost
“Ghost” by Jordi Carrasco via Flickr

What are ghosts? Many ghost hunters on television and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have very different opinions about what a ghost is, and what their intentions are. Some in the spiritualism movement believe that the spirit evolves beyond death; while others believe that ghost are the residual energy of those who experience immense violence during their life. You can hear stories of mass hauntings at Gettysburg and small sightings of beloved pets shortly after their passing.

 

I think it’s the reason the ghost is a popular Halloween costume. They can be cute and harmless like Casper the Friendly Ghost, or terrifyingly inspired by gruesome deaths. Plus, it’s an easy last minute costume for those of us last minute costumers who are willing to give up a bed sheet or two.

In some cultures, the spirits are connected to the land, in others they are tethered to the corporal body.  Some honor their dead though monuments, while others dispose of the body by returning it, and their spirit, back to the earth without a trace of their existence remaining.

harrow-county-coverDark Horse Comics has many horror titles under their belt including Hellboy, the October Fraction, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Cullen Bunn and Tyler Cook’s Dark Horse Comic Harrow County brings a new voice to the idea of ghosts and the spirit or essence of a living creature. Emmy lives with her father in the countryside of a Southern Gothic town in the 1920s experiencing an idyllic pastoral lifestyle. As her 18th birthday quickly approaches, bizarre things begin happening around the farm. Animals behave oddly, a hollow skin crawls out from the forest, and Emmy is the only person who can communicate with the ghost, goblins, and creatures of the town.

The ghosts/monster designs by Tyler Cook are haunting yet elegantly beautiful and the humanity is present in every creature in the book no matter how gruesome or horrifying. It takes delft writing and illustrations to create a balance between the malevolent and benevolent characters and every character has a different ratio of good and evil inside of them.  What’s nice about Harrow County is that while it is a book for mature readers, the graphic horror is not inaccessible to those who do not enjoy the gory aspects of horror comics.

Head on out this Halloween and reflect on what you’ll do with your afterlife.

Seven Costumes of Comics: Serial Killers

I was born and raised in Wisconsin and there is something about the state that just feels like home. It could be the rolling corn fields or that one-of-a-kind Midwest nice everyone always talks about that makes it feel so welcoming. But, the Diary State is also home to real life nightmares embodied in abandoned industrial towns, urban legends springing to life, and horrendous murderers.the_texas_chain_saw_massacre_1974_theatrical_poster

From Ed Gein, the Mad Butcher, body snatcher and fabricator of human flesh to Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal with 17 deaths to his name, these Wisconsinites have provided the template for many modern movie serial killers. Leather Face, Norman Bates, Freddy Kruger, and Jigsaw draw upon these real life murderers for inspiration and continue to fuel the human fascination with the macabre and morbid.

It’s one of the reasons that people continue to don a hockey mask or industrial jumpsuit at Halloween and why our next costume to comics is the serial killer.

Two years ago, Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson released Nailbiter, a new Image title which is still a continuing series. Buckaroo, Oregon is home to sixteen of the world’s worst serial killers. Each killer has their unique style and modus operandi; The Blonde, a woman sick of men’s catcalling and only too happy to silence them forever, and The Book Burner, responsible for the arson of two libraries and five murders, and a personal affront to my sensibilities as a librarian and decent human being. The main plot of Nailbiter is about an NSA agent who comes to Buckaroo in search of a friend who was investigating Buckaroo and Edward Warren, the Nailbiter, a murderer who is known for biting the finger nails off of his victims. But, when the investigator goes missing, the FBI and NSA will stop at nothing to discover the truth and reasons behind the Buckaroo Butchers.

nailbiterNailbiter is not only a gruesome horror comic, it is also a story that deftly examines interpersonal relationships and how people to change over time. Sharon Crane, the sheriff of Buckaroo and high school sweetheart of Warren, must assist the authorities out of duty but has lingering feelings for Warren. FBI Agent Abigail Barker, sent to look for the missing agent, begins to absorb some of the Buckaroo vibe after staying in town for too long. And Nicholas Finch, our main character, is an NSA agent whose job it is to make people talk through any means necessary, heads to Buckaroo after his friend Eliot Carroll tells him he needs his help solving the Buckaroo case.

What is it about Buckaroo and why do people continue to live there? Is it something in the air or the water that continues to make serial killers? Nailbiter is an in-your-face study about why we are fascinated with serial killers and why people continue to dress as our most notorious killers, real or fictional, for the scariest night of the year.

Seven Costumes of Comics: Witches!

halloweenFall is my favorite season. I love it as the nights grow longer, the colors start to change outside and the smells remind me of a world slowly working its way towards hibernation. The falling acorns, the crunching leaves, the bare skylines all lead up to my favorite holiday, Halloween! And I’m not even one of those people who like Halloween for the inevitable reality that there will be discounted candy. I like Halloween because you get to be someone else, even just for one night.

And, isn’t that the reason most of us like reading anyways, to experience new adventures and points of view? It’s also one of the reasons many people enjoy doing theater and, to a smaller extent, dressing up for Halloween. Of course, none of us want the result of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Halloween where costumes transform people into those characters, but there are some pretty standard costumes which we see every Halloween.

So, for the seven days leading up to Halloween, I’m going to review one comic which exemplifies a specific Halloween costume troupe.

I’m going to be starting with that hooked nose, warty, sometimes green (apologies to all those practicing out there) witches!

Pez witches
“Pez Witches” by ronsrandomstuff via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Witches are a mainstay for many trick-or-treaters; it’s a coming of age for many children. Pointy hats, wigs, and green face paint are often passed from sibling to sibling. If you look at any costume website, you’ll see Salem inspired and Samantha Bewitching costumes and Harry Potter inspired cloaks.

You must check out Nicola Scott’s artwork even if Black Magick isn’t your cup of tea, she’s currently working Wonder Woman and other superhero titles. Her art style is a unique sort of muted realism, faces and figures are extremely sharp but the shading adds a sophisticated matte-ness.  Most of the coloring is black and white with every shade of grey imaginable, adding only hints of color for emphasis, creating an eerie and depressing mood.

Cover for Black MagickGreg Rucka is a legend in the comic book world writing Batwoman, Lazarus¸ and Gotham Central. Black Magick is his first independent comic that I’ve read, and I am enjoying the relationships developing between characters and discovering where the power is between people. While the characters are rooted firmly in the here and now, a cell phone rings during a woodland ceremony, the back matter explores the world of Black Magick in relation to the history of witches, giving a historical retrospective into Rowan’s family’s long line of witches. Told from the perspective of a medieval witch hunter, the journal entries bring additional depth to the actions of our contemporary witches.

So whether you’re dressing up as a witch this year or are reminiscing about your 3rd grade, homemade conical witch’s hat, Black Magick weaves the perfect spell for a spooky Halloween read.