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The Vault of Horror: London Horror Comic, Twisted Dark and Something Wicked

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Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press, self-published and altcomics. Every week we provide a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.

This week’s column has a darker theme as we look at three horror-based anthologies in the shape of the latest issue of John-Paul Kamath’s London Horror Comic, Neil Gibson’s trade paperback collections of Twisted Dark, and from cross-genre comics specialists FutureQuake we have the most recent edition of their multi-creator offering Something Wicked. As ever, prices quoted are those given at point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders and postage and packaging costs.

London Horror Comic #5
John-Paul Kamath (writer) Drew Moss and Dean Kotz (artists)

Just under a year ago in this very column I spoke to John-Paul Kamath about his work on his critically-acclaimed comics series London Horror Comic in an interview that you can revisit here. It’s a book that can proudly brag about laudatory soundbites from the likes of Garth Ennis, J.M. DeMatteis and comedian Stewart Lee, and one that boasts incredibly slick production values that put the self-covered antics of certain significantly bigger publishers to shame.

One of the great draws of each issue of LHC to date has been its accessibility. The book’s audience has been able to pick up any given number and enjoy a totally self-contained reading experience.  London Horror Comic #5 continues in this vein but Kamath does experiment a little by opting to focus on longer stories rather than the quick shock, high impact tales of earlier issues. It’s a creative decision that pays dividends giving the author greater time to spend on characterisation, expanded space to develop his ideas, and for a sense of tension to build more powerfully over the course of each individual entry.

There’s something of a theme to this issue focusing, as it does, on issues surrounding relationships of both the romantic and platonic kind. A certain morbid humour runs throughout all of Kamath’s work here but in some of these tales it takes on an overt and slapstick face while in others the wit is dark, and while not exactly subtle, it is more subdued. This highlights one of the more obvious strengths of John-Paul’s storytelling: his ability to work largely within the boundaries of one genre and yet to present work of significantly different tone and style within those confines.

That’s very much in evidence here with a couple of offerings with a far grimmer atmosphere and two others which adopt a blatantly comedic air. ‘The Game’ is a fun piece on the perils of vampiric internet dating but of the two palpably humorous strips on offer here I thought ‘He Said, She Said’ was the most memorable. Revolving around a disastrous date between a teenage zombie and one of the Gorgon-like Medusa sisters, it plays on their differing perceptions of the event some time later when the pair are coincidentally caught up in an armed robbery on a small convenience store. There’s some cracking dialogue on show here, clever plays on horror standards and even what appears to be a teasing nod to an old X-Men set piece.

‘Dead Love’ is the first of the issue’s ostentatiously macabre tales, dealing with a coroner who likes to take her work home with her in a rather grotesque way. The final story ‘Friends’ is the most sinisterly themed of the work on display here; a tense account of inadequacy and jealousy when two old childhood chums meet up many years later. It’s by far the most disturbing yarn in these pages and leaves the reader feeling considerably chilled by its conclusion.

The issue is rounded out with another thoughtful editorial essay from Kamath discussing the realities of small press publishing and the creative process. At this stage, five issues in, long-term readers will be well aware of just what a dependable read London Horror Comic is but John-Paul Kamath’s able fusion of hilarity and the horrid continues to mark this comic out as a deserving 21st century heir to the legacy of the Warren and EC traditions.

For more on London Horror Comic check out the site here. London Horror Comic #5 is available for purchase on the online store here priced £4.00 where you can also download an 11-page PDF preview.

Twisted Dark Volumes 1 and 2
Neil Gibson (writer), Anthology – Various artists

Neil Gibson’s Twisted Dark is, admittedly, less an anthology of horror stories and more one that basks in a terror of a more psychological variety. The stories Gibson weaves in these two trade paperback-style volumes are, as the title suggests, often bleak in subject matter and, particularly in the first volume, constructed in such a way that they look to catch the reader out with unexpected late plot developments. If you’re looking for the deliberately over-the-top theatrics of the average EC comic or a DC-style House of Mystery-type book you won’t find that in every tale here. While there’s the occasional moment of shlock horror Gibson’s tales are usually far more subtle, embodying an effectively creeping sense of dread that is really quite disturbing at times.

             

The great problem I have here, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, is that in discussing the clever plots of some of these shorts in any great depth I risk ruining the stories themselves for any potential new readers. Suffice to say that there are a number of reasons these black and white offerings are as atmospheric and incisive as they are but if I had to pick just one I would say that Gibson is frighteningly perceptive at realising some of our greatest contemporary fears: entrapment in menial work, the sinister homogenisation of society by new technology, modern slavery, media manipulation, and the all-pervasive phenomenon of social media all take their turns in a parade of highlighted 21st century nightmares.

That’s not to say there isn’t a variety of storytelling approaches here though. In fact the diversity of the work on offer in these two volumes of Twisted Dark is quite remarkable, crossing genres as freely as it does. Some, like ‘Smile’ and ‘Munchausen’s Little Proxy', will truly shock you while others, like ‘HMTQ’ turn expectations solidly on their head. What all of them have in common, however, is a keen understanding of the art of the short story form and suitably moody black and white artwork. Gibson has a mischievous skill in misdirection but he’s also adept at crafting a truly satisfying complete tale. Disconcerting and unsettling, this is powerful and memorable material.

For more on Twisted Dark visit the website here. You can buy both volumes by following the links here.

Something Wicked #8
Anthology – Various creators

From the FutureQuake Press stable of books that encompass sci-fi, manga and 2000 AD-related anthologies comes Something Wicked, a collection of horror shorts that combine the best traditions of Golden Age horror comics classics but with a knowing, contemporary wink at the reader. Unlike the previous two comics I’ve reviewed this week Something Wicked doesn’t have the guiding vision of one creator behinds its contents, instead serving up a gruesome mix of disparate approaches to the conventions of the genre.

Of the shorts on show in #8 there’s something very eerie about Lizzie and Conor Boyle’s ‘The Ship’ featuring a ghostly vessel that sails up the Thames seeking vengeance. This one in particular has a distinctly EC vibe with its themes of just and fitting retribution on the guilty. That walking ideas factory Andi Ewington, whose graphic novel 45 and follow-up BlueSpear from Com.x (which I reviewed here and here at Broken Frontier), provides a clever twist on the tired zombie cliché in ‘Aftershock’, while Dirk Van Dom’s Lovecraftian ‘Five Minutes to Midnight’ is a well-paced romp of apocalyptic cults and elder gods with suitably dark visuals from Tim Ki-Kydd. And I was rather taken by Liam Kavanagh and Gary O’Donnell’s claustrophobic ‘The Globe’ with its echoes of a memorable EC story ‘Model Nephew’ in 1953’s The Haunt of Fear #22, except with a snow globe taking the place of a ship-in-a-bottle.

Admittedly, some of the material here is perhaps a little rawer and less polished than the other titles I’ve reviewed this week but that’s a reflection of an anthology that provides a venue for creators honing their craft. A grisly grab-bag of ghoulish ghastliness, Something Wicked provides a fitting supernatural turn on the “Future Shock” format.

For more on the comics available from FutureQuake visit their website here. Something Wicked #8 is available from the online store here priced £3.50.

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Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.

If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at andyoliver@brokenfrontier.com for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.

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