The masters of comic book horror

Story highlights

  • Horror is a growing genre in comic books
  • Independent companies showing that comics are more than just superheroes
  • Some writers go between horror and heroes, but others feel at home with monsters
Though horror comics aren't exactly new, their popularity is catching up with superheroes in a big way.
The success of "The Walking Dead" and IDW's recent "Locke and Key" has led more and more comics to scare.
CNN spoke to four masters of comic work: Mike Mignola (creator of "Hellboy" from both comics and screen), Scott Snyder (not just the current writer of "Batman" but the creator of "American Vampire" and the new series "Wytches"), Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa ("Afterlife with Archie") and Joshua Williamson (creator of the serial killer scarefest "Nailbiter") to find out what gets their hearts pounding.
CNN: What inspired you the most in your work?
Joshua Williamson: Mostly movies. In comics, "Swamp Thing" was very much in my head, and "Tales from the Crypt." I think about "Silence of the Lambs," Jonathan Demme, John Carpenter stuff, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." Those things really stuck in my head when I created "Nailbiter."
Scott Snyder: "Wytches" is sort of pure horror, which I love. "Wytches" is the scariest I can possibly go. This is my attempt to go as pure terror and horror as possible, an homage to the things that made me want to write in the first place, which were almost exclusively horror: books like "Pet Sematary." I'm a big EC Comics fan. There were a lot of horror comics that influenced me, like "Tomb of Dracula," "Swamp Thing."
There's a lot in its DNA. My favorite horror series is "The Walking Dead." It's scarier because of the things people are willing to do to one another and the cruelty inflicted because of this zombie apocalypse. "Locke and Key" was one of my favorite comic books and was a real inspiration in terms of how to build a huge mythology of characters you care about. The first book I ever fell in love with as a kid was "Frankenstein," and "Pet Sematary" is one of my favorite horror books.
Mike Mignola: My goal was just to draw monsters. I never really wanted to draw the real world. I created my own book just to draw the fun stuff. It was to avoid doing superheroes anymore and just do a book about monsters. I did everything I like and crammed it into one thing. So no matter what I do, it's still fun. The fact that I've been doing "Hellboy" for 20 years is a testament to that.
CNN: What makes horror work in comics?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I think when they're good and unique, they work. When there's a strong voice behind the book or when the book looks like nothing else on the shelf, it works. I think when bad things start happening to characters you truly care about, it works. And listen, I think there is something to shock value. One of my favorite comic horror series to this day remains an anthology series from the 1990s called "Taboo." It was jaw-droppingly shocking. With brilliant short stories by brilliant writers and artists -- stories that still haunt me, in a good way.
Snyder: I think the most important thing is that the things that scare you are a reflection of the characters themselves. It's terrifying because it's a reflection of the uglier parts of the characters.
Williamson: With comics, you try to come up with things that will haunt them later. With "Nailbiter," we put in things that (artist) Mike (Henderson) is afraid of. That's what comics are good at: what you don't show.
CNN: Were you a fan of horror in your younger years?
Mignola: I read "Dracula" when I was 13, and from then on, it was pretty much it. I knew that was my kind of subject matter, and from that point in, that was the stuff I wanted to draw.
Later, Marvel started doing the monster comics; they did their version of "Frankenstein" which was fantastic, and "Tomb of Dracula" -- and that, to this day, is the best mainstream horror comic ever done. I was a fan of that stuff, but it was never in me to say "I want to draw a monster comic." I wouldn't say they were an influence; they were certainly an inspiration.
Williamson: I didn't really get "Scream" -- I didn't get the meta part of "Scream" -- but in my early 20s, everyone has that one movie: I remember seeing "Psycho" in high school and loving it. I went back and watched a lot of stuff and had a new appreciation for it that I didn't have as a kid. Early horror movies were a lot more about what you didn't see. I rewatched things and became obsessed with watching documentaries about horror movies. I loved watching the behind the scenes or anything along those lines.
Aguirre-Sacasa: I've always loved horror, yes. Since I was a kid. Growing up, my mom was a big horror fan, and she would buy literally dozens of horror novels, and after she finished them, I would hoard them and read them or drawn my own versions of their covers. ... As for why people are fascinated by horror, I'm not sure. There are a lot of high-minded theories which sound good, but to me, it's the same as when people ask me why I'm fascinated by the Archie characters. The simplest, truest answer is, "I just am."
CNN: What's your favorite scary movie?
Snyder: My absolute favorite of all time is "Night of the Living Dead." I was so disappointed when it was black and white. I watched it -- and it scared me, because that night I had real panic about it. It triggered a lot of anxiety for me. I must have been 10 or 11. The thing that makes it so terrifying is, it's the first movie I saw where no one made it out alive. That movie really influenced me the most of any horror movie.
Mignola: Favorite monster movie, head and shoulders above everything else, is "Bride of Frankenstein." Beyond that, I'm really a ghost guy. I like the old school stuff, the quiet, Victorian-ish kind of creepy stuff: "The Haunting," "The Innocents."
Aguirre-Sacasa: "The Exorcist." I grew up near those steps and went to Georgetown.