Author Top 5s - Jason Franks's Top 5 Horror Comics

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

We're still sticking with the horror theme today as we've got Jason Franks, fellow Melbourne author, comic writer and all-round good guy on to let us know his top 5 horror comics. Jason, you're up.

Horror is probably the biggest genre in Anglophone comics outside of the superhero mainstream, and has been so since the 1950s. From EC to Warren Publishing, from Steve Bissette's pioneering Taboo anthology to Alan Moore's early work at DC, from the Vertigo renaissance of the 1990 to today's market, where the Walking Dead and Attack on Titan are massive cross-media and phenomena, horror has always stood a bit taller in comics than it has in other media.

With so much history there are a lot of books to consider when trying to noodle out a list of essentials, but these are my five favourite horror comics. You should read them all.

5. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various. 

This is the book that got me reading comics. Sandman is an extended mediation on the nature and importance of dreams, and Gaiman's imagination proves quite vast enough to fill such a huge canvas. Brimming with literary allusions, the Sandman builds its mythology from every kind of horror story: serial killers, ghost stories, black magic, and demons, both personal and literal. Gaiman and his collaborators work all of these into a single coherent tapestry and it is a masterpiece. 

4. Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Garth Ennis takes on the church and the old west in this book about Jesse Custer, a fallen preacher who is gifted with the Word of God. Accompanied by his hitman girlfriend, Tulip, and the Irish vampire, Cassidy, Jesse makes it his mission to find God and hold him accountable for the state of the world. He is pursued by an undead gunslinger, the Saint of Killers, and the ruthless Herr Starr, who represents a mysterious organization known as the Grail. Oh, and then there's Arseface, a teenage boy who tried to kill himself like Kurt Cobain but succeeded only in blowing his own face off. Preacher is violent and blasphemous and depraved and hilarious. Steve Dillon is one of the best storytelling artists in comics, and while his style is not at all showy there are few who can match his ability to make his characters act. This book sits at #4 on this list of horror comics, but it's perhaps my personal favourite comic in any genre.

3. Hellblazer by various

The magician/con artist John Constantine graduated from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing to his own title and damn if it wasn't the best horror comic on the shelves for a very long time. My favourite stories are from Garth Ennis' run (yeah, him again), which is also the longest stint any writer has served on the title. In Garth's hands John takes initiative, rather than simply reacting to whatever supernatural danger crops up each month; running a confidence job on the rulers of Hell and masterminding the downfall of the angel Gabriel. But it's Constantine's conflict with the National Front--and ordinary bunch of racist assholes--that provides the moments of purest horror. Skip the movie; read the books.

2. From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

It's difficult to argue that there has been a more talented or influential comics writer in the English language than Alan Moore. I believe that From Hell, Moore’s account of Jack the Ripper, is his masterwork in the medium. I cannot imagine this comic illustrated by anybody but Eddie Campbell, whose textured, nervous artwork and crystal-clear storytelling give the book exactly the atmosphere it needs. The effect is visceral: the squalour of the victims’ lives, the stench of the London air, the terror of the Ripper's awful deeds lies thick on the pages. Rather than being a whodunit, this book is more interested in laying open the Ripper's crazed intellect and it does so with surgical precision. From Hell is perhaps the most important comic on this list and you should read it, regardless of your interest in the horror genre.

1. Uzumaki by Junji Ito

I have already identified the comic on this list that I consider my favourite. I’ve identified another which I think is the most important. So quality is it that that makes Uzumaki my #1 horror comic? Easy:

Uzumaki is fucking terrifying. 

Despite the prevalence of the horror genre in the medium, it is extremely difficult to imbue a comic with the pants-shitting terror that a good horror movie or novel is capable of inducing. This, I think, is because comics afford the reader more control of the pacing than they have of stories told in prose or film. In comics, unlike in film, the reader can suck in the images as quickly as they like. In comics, unlike in prose, the reader can follow the story without having to read every line. But none of this matters in Uzumaki.

Junji Ito controls your reading experience with utter mastery. He draws you out with suspense, twists you up with psychological horror, and then he obliterates you with perfectly executed visual shocks. Coupled with a genius for storytelling and a vision that is both original and unpredictable, Uzumaki is just not like anything you've read before. There is nobody who does pure horror comics better than Junji Ito, and Uzumaki is his finest work.

Jason Franks writes comics, prose and source code. His first novel, BLOODY WATERS, was short-listed for the 2012 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel. He is the writer of the graphic novel THE SIXSMITHS and the short story collection UNGENRED.  Franks is currently working with artist Paul Abstruse on a horror comic series called LEFT HAND PATH.