13 Horror Graphic Novels to Keep You Up At Night
Graphic novels are basically long-form comics, in that they use panels of art to tell a story. Typically, graphic novels tell a complete narrative arc in one book, whereas comics give you excerpts of a bigger story. As a lover of art and literary forms, to say I’m a fan of graphic novels is quite an understatement. I devour them. I inhale them. I [insert another word for consume] them. To put it plainly, I absolutely love them!
Just like with my novel preferences I’ll take on graphic novels in any genre, but I typically favor ones that reside in the broad realm of horror (with crossovers into sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, and drama). Horror comics are great because not only do I get the heart-stopping fear of reading a chilling story, but I also get vivid and terrifying imagery to go along with it.
And therein lies another strength of the graphic novel. Just as writers all have their own literary flairs and penchants, now you’re discovering a diverse world of amazing artists and illustrators, all with their own art styles. Just like I’ll read anything by certain authors, now I have certain artists that I’ll read anything they work on.
So, without further ado, here are my thirteen current favorite horror graphic novels in no particular order (including shout-outs by other readers I respect and trust).
Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but a pattern: UZUMAKI, the spiral—the hypnotic secret shape of the world.
Pick a Junji Ito title at random and it probably deserves a spot on this list. However, for the sake of conciseness, I decided to go with what many people (myself included) claim is his masterpiece. Uzumaki features a series of interconnected vignettes that all involve the cursed spiral in some way (how it’s warping the town and the people in it). It’s hard to describe this book as it’s more of an experience you have to see for yourself. Absurdism, surrealism, insane body horror - all these and more are just par for the course. There are so many creative and disturbing ideas on display here. Seriously, about every 5-7 pages is an image that will haunt your nightmares for years to come
Writer & Illustrator: Junji Ito (https://twitter.com/junjiitofficial)
Deluxe edition released in Oct 2013 through Viz Media
Emmy always knew that the woods surrounding her home crawled with ghosts and monsters. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she learns that she is connected to these creatures–and to the land itself–in a way she never imagined.
Harrow County is such a great series. It manages to achieve a perfect blend of charm and terror, all wrapped up in a creepy southern gothic fairy tale featuring witches, ghosts, zombies, and other dark creatures. Emmy is an immediately likeable protagonist, and you really root for her as she fights against the evil that threatens to overtake her town and herself. Also, the art is simply stunning! Every page is filled with beautiful watercolor pictures done in a very layered and detailed process (explained by artist Tyler Crook in several online videos).
Writer: Cullen Bunn (https://twitter.com/cullenbunn)
Illustrator: Tyler Crook (https://www.instagram.com/mistertylercrook/)
Published from 2015-2018 by Dark Horse Comics
Jedidiah Jenkins is a farmer-but his cash crop isn't corn or soy. Jed grows fast-healing, plug-and-play human organs. Lose a finger? Need a new liver? He's got you covered. Unfortunately, strange produce isn't the only thing Jed's got buried. Deep in the soil of the Jenkins Family Farm, something dark has taken root, and it's beginning to bloom. This is your new dark comedy about science gone sinister and agriculture gone apocalyptic. Nature is a Mother.
Farmhand is the strange blend of eco-horror and body horror that I never knew I needed. Writer/illustrator Rob Guillory does a good job of balancing light and humorous scenes with sinister and frightening ones. Not only is the setup for the story fantastic (growing human parts from plants!), but there’s a very real family drama behind the more outrageous sequences. I truly care about these characters and their relationships to one another. The art is also attractive in a very detailed and striking way.
Writer & Illustrator: Rob Guillory (https://www.instagram.com/rob_guillory/)
Published as an ongoing series from Image Comics
Journey through the woods in this sinister, compellingly spooky collection that features four brand-new hauntingly beautiful stories and one phenomenally popular tale in print for the first time. These are fairy tales gone seriously wrong.
Through the Woods is a fun little collection of twisted tales, wonderfully illustrated by the writer herself (each story features a slightly different artistic style, which is neat). Here you can travel to “Our Neighbor’s House”—though coming back might be a problem. Or find yourself a young bride in a house that holds a terrible secret in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold.” You might try to figure out what is haunting “My Friend Janna,” or discover that your brother’s fiancée may not be what she seems in “The Nesting Place.” And of course, you must revisit the horror of “His Face All Red,” Carroll’s breakout webcomic hit
Writer & Illustrator: Emily Carroll (http://emcarroll.com/)
Published in 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books
When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they’re hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient...and hungry.
I can’t remember the last time the opening sequence of a graphic novel shocked and scared me as much as this one did. Snyder’s take on the witch genre is unique and truly terrifying. I was frightened in a way that I still vividly remember. This is partly thanks to the outstanding art from Jock (these monsters creep me right out), but also the underlying fear of being a parent whose child is in danger. From what I understand this is a story that was left unfinished, and I can’t wait for the creators to come back to it one day.
Writer: Scott Snyder (https://twitter.com/Ssnyder1835)
Illustrator: Jock (https://www.instagram.com/jock4twenty/)
Published in 2015 from Image Comics
A haunted house story for the 21st century, Infidel follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.
Infidel is what you would call a literary, genre-bending masterpiece of horror. It’s a tale of possession and paranoia taken to another level of unsettling terror due to its prescient and relevant social commentary. As you follow along with the various residents, trapped and succumbing to a lurking violent evil, you are scared. Scared because of the malevolent nature of the entity and scared because you truly don’t know if anyone will make it out alive. It’s harrowing, and you need to read it.
Writer: Pornsak Pichetshote (https://twitter.com/real_pornsak)
Illustrator: Aaron Campbell (https://www.instagram.com/aaroncampbellarts/)
Published in 2018 from Image Comics
Suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the out-set that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back. And then the murders start.
Stunning, surreal, unnerving, unreal – there are not enough adjectives to accurately describe this book and the impact it had on me. It’s both erotic and terrifying, a blend of beauty and terror that’s difficult to see but impossible to look away from (made all the more so by Burns’s stark black and white imagery). It manages to capture a specific moment in time while still feeling timeless. The social commentary underpinning the horror, the feelings of alienation in high school, the erratic emotional journey that is teenagerhood. All that mixed in with monsters, murder, and the scare of STDs; it’s safe to say this is unsettling in more ways than one.
Writer & Illustrator: Charles Burns (https://www.instagram.com/fictopicto/)
Published in 2005 from Pantheon books
In a sleepy, secluded Alaska town called Barrow, the sun sets and doesn't rise for over thirty consecutive days and nights. From the darkness, across the frozen wasteland, an evil will come that will bring the residents of Barrow to their knees. The only hope for the town is the Sheriff and Deputy, husband and wife who are torn between their own survival and saving the town they love.
30 Days of Night gives you the vicious, violent vampires you know and love, but puts them in a setting you may not have seen before. The swirling, freezing cold of winter lies heavy on every page, brilliantly illustrated by artist Ben Templesmith. I’m a huge fan of his work (something of a cross between Dave McKean and Ralph Steadman), and it’s showcased wonderfully in a backdrop of ancient evil and dripping viscera. The stakes are clearly set: a horde of vampires versus a band of small town residents who must find a way to make it through the next thirty days of darkness. Will they survive to see the light of day?
Writer: Steve Niles (https://twitter.com/SteveNiles)
Illustrator: Ben Templesmith (https://www.instagram.com/templesmith/)
Original storyline published in 2004 by IDW Publishing
The inmates of Arkham Asylum have taken over Gotham's detention center for the criminally insane on April Fool's Day, demanding Batman in exchange for their hostages. Accepting their demented challenge, Batman is forced to endure the personal hells of the Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Two-Face and many other sworn enemies in order to save the innocents and retake the prison. During his run through this absurd gauntlet, the Dark Knight's must face down both his most dangerous foes and his inner demons.
I’ve read a lot of storylines involving Batman and his various foes, but never have I read one quite so harrowing as this. Fall down the rabbit hole and enter a world of chaotic nightmares, as Batman fights his way through the dark recesses of Arkham Asylum. This story is more of an experience than anything else; a coherent narrative that’s been shattered and spliced together with sinister tools. The dreamlike quality of the story is enhanced by the stylistic vision of Dave McKean, every single panel functioning as a work of twisted, insane art. I promise you a Dark Knight story unlike any other.
Writer: Grant Morrison (https://twitter.com/grantmorrison)
Illustrator: Dave McKean (https://www.instagram.com/davemckeanhourglass/)
Published in 1989 from DC Comics
Wormwood is an intergalactic, inter-dimensional, immortal, happy-go-lucky larval worm-thing with a liking for fine stout, strippers, and most of the other vices planet Earth has on offer. Oh yeah, and he wears corpses like suits. Follow along as Wormwood, his robotic drinking companion Mr. Pendulum, and his new hire Phoebe take on demonic beings nesting in humans, nasty leprechauns, and the revenge of the Brotherhood of the Calamari.
If that brief synopsis doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will. And if it sounds insane the actual story is even more bonkers. This is more of trashy horror comedy than outright horror, but it’s unique enough to deserve a place on this list. As mentioned previously I’m a huge of Ben Templesmith’s art style, but here I found his writing to also be delightfully twisted. The Wormwood series is a dazzling intermingling of the violent, the grotesque, and the entertaining, and I highly recommend it.
Writer & Illustrator: Ben Templesmith (http://www.78squid.ink/)
Published from 2007-2009 by IDW Publishing
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both. Young Maika risks everything to control this link, placing her in the center of a devastating war between human and otherworldly forces.
Monstress lays out an epic tale of warring factions, racism, classism, violence, and monsters. The art is simply gorgeous, and the storyline is intricately plotted with complex characters and heart-racing events. As I read I got hints of Shadow of Colossus, Skyrim, Bloodborne, and Saga – though this is certainly a series that stands apart from the rest. This may fit best in the fantasy genre, but there are very real elements of horror, including
Writer: Marjorie Liu (https://www.instagram.com/marjorie_liu/)
Illustrator: Sana Takeda (https://www.instagram.com/sanatakeda_art/)
Published as an ongoing series from Image Comics
This Eisner-nominated anthology mini-series brings the best of Clive Barker's Books of Blood short stories to the comics medium. Barker's work is brought to a stunning visual realization by comics' greatest artistic talent. Collected here are such horror classics as "Skins of the Fathers", "Human Remains", "In the Hills, In the Cities", "Down Satan", "How Spoilers Bleed", "The Madonna", "Pig Blood Blues", and "The Midnight Meat Train" . . . just to name a few.
Simply put, this collection is great. There’s really no other way to describe it. You already know the stories are going to be chilling and entertaining because they’re adapted from one of the masters of horror. But then you add in the artistic talents from various creators in the industry and it makes the stories that much better. Another cool aspect about having various artists means that each story in the collection has its own style and feel to it. They’re all good, but I think “In the Hills, In the Cities” and “How Spoilers Bleed” are my two favorites.
Writer & Illustrator: Various
Published in 2002 by Checker Book Publishing Group
The lives of a reclusive young man obsessed with a conspiracy in the city's trash, and a washed-up Catholic priest arriving in a small town full of dark secrets, become intertwined around the mysterious legend of The Black Barn, an otherworldly building that is alleged to have appeared in both the city and the small town, throughout history, bringing death and madness in its wake. Rural mystery and urban horror collide in this character-driven meditation on obsession, mental illness, and faith.
Writer Jeff Lemire enjoys adding elements of the strange and uncanny in his stories, but this is his first move into outright scares. Gideon Falls is a delightfully bizarre combination of psychological thriller and cosmic horror. And as always from Lemire the writing is strong, from a fantastic opening hook to a narrative full of twists you will never see coming. Not only is the story gripping, but the art by Sorrentino plays with the medium in a way I’ve never seen before in comics, providing another layer of disorientation and immersion. It’s a perfect example of how art can compliment and even elevate a story.
Writer: Jeff Lemire (https://twitter.com/JeffLemire)
Illustrator: Andrea Sorrentino (https://www.instagram.com/andreasorrentinoart/)
Published as an ongoing series from Image Comics
Locke & Key
- “As far as graphic novels go, LOCKE & KEY is the gold standard by which everything else should be measured. Elements of horror, entwined in a complicated family drama, this is Dark Fantasy at its best. The artwork is brilliant-bringing Joe Hill's vivid imagery to life” (@mother.horror)
- “When reading it for the first time I fell into the illustrations. I felt like a kid again discovering comics for the first time; I was mesmerized and completely absorbed!” (@kamis_korner)
- “You're dead to me if you don't include Nailbiter” (@teamredmon)
The Nightmare Factory
My Friend Dahmer