In the world of comic books, the horror genre contains some of the absolute greatest series fans can have the pleasure of reading. Maybe it's because of how catch-all the designation “horror” is, or how extensively some of the medium's best writers (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Robert Kirkman) have all explored the horror genre. Whatever the reason, readers can remain thankful that there are so many great horror series in the world, from campy '50s horror anthologies to post-apocalyptic zombie survival stories.
With Halloween nearly here, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the most famous horror series out there, and put together a definitive list of the greatest horror comics to read this October.
“The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman
It seems wrong to try and pigeonhole Neil Gaiman's legendary Sandman series into just one genre. In point of fact, throughout its 75-issue run, the series touches upon almost major genre out there, ranging from horror and fantasy to superhero and science fiction. Originally conceived as a dark fantasy/horror hybrid centered around the Lord of Dreams, Morpheus, the series details Morpheus's various travels after a 70-year-long absence from his realm, the Dreaming, as well as focusing on the numerous strange characters that he meets along the way.
While Gaiman planned the series as a horror comic, he managed to move beyond simple genre classifications in the course of the series, using his comic to tell fantastic stories full of imagination that covered the entire scope of DC comics. It's a fun series to read, engulfing fans throughout its numerous story arcs and creative and imaginative issues. Of course, fans can see an excellent adaptation of the first story arc on Netflix, with hopefully more to come.
“Afterlife With Archie” by Roberto Aguirre-sacasa and Francesco Francavilla
Archie Comics has long been associated with family-friendly entertainment. Afterlife with Archie completely changes that, targeting a more mature audience and exploring some unsettling themes like realistic violence, occultism, and adult language.
When Jughead Jones asks teenage witch Sabrina Spellman to resurrect his deceased cat, he accidentally triggers a massive zombie outbreak. The task falls to some of Archie Comics' most famous characters (like Betty, Veronica, and Archie himself) to find a way for Riverdale's residents to escape their zombie-infested hometown.
The first title launched under the new Archie Horror comic book line (which also includes other horror-based titles like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Vampironica), it's a fun, imaginative comic book, and one that is able to be appreciated by regular Archie fans and those unfamiliar with the series' universe.
“Locke & Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
As ambitious and far-reaching a story as any of his father's novels (horror icon Stephen King), Joe Hill‘s Locke & Key might be one of the most popular horror comics of the past two decades. The basis for Locke & Key revolves around the Lockes, an upper-mid-class family from California who move into their father's former mansion in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. While exploring their new home, they soon discover numerous magical keys that allow them to travel to new dimensions, soon learning that some keys unlock doors that weren't meant to be opened.
Hill's already impressive penchant for horror stories and detailed prose translated well into the comic medium, with artist Gabriel Rodriguez able to illustrate all of Hill's signature macabre imagery. Over its 30-issue run, the two managed to explore various timelines, historical periods, and sub-genres of horror, ranging from cosmic horror reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft to real-world violence. There's something in Locke & Key that will scare every reader, all the while providing further proof as to why Joe Hill is and continues to be one of the best minds working in horror today.
“Torso” by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko
In the past, famed comic writer Brian Michael Bendis had made a name for himself working with Marvel superheroes, writing now-classic Marvel comics like the “House of M,” “Secret Invasion,” “Age of Ultron,” and “Secret War” storylines.
While his superhero work may be more well-known, Bendis' work on comics outside the superhero genre remains interesting as well, such as his 1998 comic series, Torso, written in collaboration with Marc Andreyko. Torso provides a dramatized account of the infamous serial killer, the Cleveland Torso Murderer (also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) in the mid-1930s, as well as the efforts of law enforcement agents (including celebrity lawman Elliot Ness to bring him down.
In essence, Torso fuses David Fincher's Zodiac with The Untouchables, with a little bit of Alan Moore's comic about Jack the Ripper thrown in for good measure. Though the main narrative is a fictional account of the killings and the police efforts to stop the killer, many of the key details of the case and the persons involved remain the same, making for a chilling look into one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in American history.
“Ice Cream Man” by W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo
Not to be confused with the 1995 slasher of the same name starring Clint Howard, this underrated Image horror comic is unlike anything else in its field. It has a simple premise: the anthology comic follows different characters in every issue, all of whom share one thing in common–they've all had some sort of unusual encounter with an omnipotent ice cream man, who may be a god, a demon, an alien, or a monster disguised as a human being.
Such a simple premise alone doesn't do this amazing series enough justice. Each comic has an experimental format, some issues featuring no dialogue, some written through prose, some moving backward, and so on. Prince's characters manage to cover a wide array of broken, disheartened individuals, from unstable, substance-abusing EMT workers to a man losing all of his memories to dementia (one of the more heartbreaking issues of the horror comic).
Anthology comics always make for great reading material, but Ice Cream Man offers more than that, exploring many existential issues that plague people in life, such as our estranged relationship with family and our individual hopes, fears, and weaknesses.
“Hellboy” by Mike Mignola
With the exception of a few select characters, new superheroes have a tough time accruing the same popularity as household names like Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman. With the in-depth horror-based world of his fictional universe, however, Mike Mignola managed to overcome that obstacle, establishing his most famous creation, Hellboy, firmly in the world of pop culture.
Mignola's horror series follows Hellboy, a kind-hearted demon and an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a government organization tasked with fighting off supernatural monsters that threaten mankind's existence. Partnering with hyper-intelligent fish-human hybrids, unstable pyrokinetics, were-jaguars, and ectoplasmic spirits, Hellboy and his fellow agents at the B.P.R.D. battle demons, Nazis, witches, and other occult-based creatures attempting to destroy the world.
Through Guillermo del Toro‘s later film adaptations starring Ron Perlman (and to a lesser extent the underwhelming 2019 movie starring David Harbour), the character of Hellboy has become more and more well-known among large-scale audiences. However, his initial appearance in Mignola's first series remains a modern-day classic among comic book fans, with fantastic stories rooted in folklore, 1940s pulp adventure magazines, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror.
“The Tomb of Dracula”
The basis for this 1970s Marvel series follows the descendant of Dracula, Frank Drake, and his companions, accidentally resurrecting his ancient ancestor, unleashing the Count's evil into the world of '70 Europe.
There's no single easy description for Marvel's horror series, The Tomb of Dracula. Some issues of the comic are good, some are very good, and some are just decent, others bearing dated dialogue or panel descriptions that make for some pretty stiff reading (although, given the time it came out, that flaw is understandable). The quality of the comic largely depends on the particular issue's writer.
However, for anyone looking for a cheat code of sorts to get their hands on the best stories The Tomb of Dracula has to offer, look for the issues written by comics legend Marv Wolfman, with his Tomb stories seen as some of the greatest the comic ever put out. With Wolfman in charge, he steered the once-choppy series into a clear direction, crafting a story that developed the gothic tone of Stoker's original novel and introduced quite a few new elements (like his famed vampire-hunter, Blade).
“The Walking Dead” by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Calling Robert Kirkman's fan-favorite series, The Walking Dead, one of the most successful comic series ever published, feels like an exaggeration. The series provides the basis for an award-winning AMC adaptation, two spinoff series (Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond), an acclaimed video game, four webisode series, and multiple novel tie-ins.
Over the course of nearly 200 issues, The Walking Dead follows a diverse group of survivors battling hordes of the undead after a zombie apocalypse has ended civilization. In its main storyline and through its black-and-white presentation, it reads like one long George A. Romero film, yet Kirkman still manages to craft a fully realized story and lengthy list of characters.
The genius of this series might lay in its ambition: throughout the dozens of story arcs, the characters are uprooted and forced to move all across America, the focus turning less on the dangers from the zombies, but rather from the other survivors they face off against. It's a stark, often brutal series, full of memorable characters and both Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard's wonderful artwork.
“The E.C. Archives: Tales From the Crypt”
Two titles have become synonymous with '50s horror: Hammer Horror and E.C. Comics. In the early '50s, E.C. underwent a massive transformation from Educational Comics to Entertaining Comics, producing a line of comic book anthologies centered around science fiction, Westerns, war stories, crime, and perhaps their most successful line (apart from Mad magazine): horror stories.
While most comics of the 1940s and '50s were produced with a younger audience age in mind, E.C.'s horror comics, presented under the publications Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, aimed at a somewhat older audience, containing horrific tales infamous for their twist endings. Presented by a ghoulish “host” (either the Crypt Keeper, the Vault-Keeper, or the Old Witch), the horror titles produced under E.C. proved popular, but ceased publication after increased pressure from concerned parents, eventually resulting in the ultra-restrictive Comics Code and the end E.C.'s fan-favorite horror tiles.
While E.C. Comics might have died an early death, many of its most famous stories saw wide success and a larger, more appreciative audience with republished collections like The E.C. Archives: Tales from the Crypt. These collections feature stories from some of E.C.'s most well-known writers and artists, illustrating how influential said stories were upon younger readers like Stephen King, George A. Romero, and John Carpenter, to name just a few.
“House of Secrets” and “House of Mystery”
Similar to the above-mentioned E.C. horror comics, DC Comics started to realize the potential market for horror-centric material based on the success of Tales from the Crypt. Recognizing this, the company launched a similar line of horror-based comics under the names of House of Secrets and House of Mysteries. Presented by a Tom and Jerry-like version of Cain and Abel, the two comic books featured stories within the horror, fantasy, and mystery genres.
Publication of the comic began just after the implementation of the Comics Code, meaning that many of the stories that appeared in Secrets and Mystery might not be as gory or disturbing as those that appeared in The Haunt of Fear or Tales from the Crypt. The two comic lines still boasted some very well-written horror and fantasy stories, with some as good if not superior to some of those that appeared in E.C.'s horror comics.
Published from from the 1950s to the early 1980s, the two comics introduced the fan-favorite superhero, the Swamp Thing. Later, it also earned a distinct place in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, with both the House of Secrets and the House of Mystery becoming physical locations present in The Dreaming, and Cain and Abel becoming recurring supporting characters in Gaiman's comic series.
“Chew” by John Layman and Rob Guillory
A comic as disgusting as it is enjoyable, Chew has also proven itself capable of transcending genres, fusing horror, comedy, and crime together into one flavorful combination.
Tony Chu is a talented F.D.A. agent with a rare power. Possessing the ability to receive psychic impressions from every meal he consumes, his superhuman powers come in handy on the job. Using these strange talents for good, Chu sets out to solve various crimes – although his powers force him to consume human victims’ remains.
While no one can deny that Chew doesn’t always make for the most appetizing read, John Layman and Rob Guillory’s cult horror comic has been met with consistent critical acclaim from readers and critics, making it one of the more popular Image Comic series in recent memory.
“Providence” by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow
Winding down his historic career in the comic book medium, Alan Moore focused on his remaining few titles before lapsing into retirement. These final works included his horrifying collaboration with Jacen Burrows on the chilling comic Providence.
In the late 1910s, New York reporter Robert Black embarks on an assignment to learn more about a mysterious book that’s said to drive whoever reads it insane. Venturing across New England, Black encounters numerous unexplained sights and figures, all of whom seem connected to an eccentric young novelist named H.P. Lovecraft.
Continuing the story and narrative universe Moore had begun with his work on Neonomicon and The Courtyard, Providence acted as a fitting swan song for the most cherished writer in the comics industry. A love letter of sorts to Lovecraft, its ability to weave in many aspects and stories associated with Lovecraft’s mythos is worthy of celebration.
“The Goon” by Eric Powell
Another notable achievement in comedic horror, The Goon feels like a humorous version of Hellboy, satirizing many of the classic horror monsters Mike Mignola’s fabled hero spends a significant amount of his time battling against.
In an anachronistic version of the 1930s, the burly brawler known only as the Goon and his mouthy sidekick Franky go head to head with various monsters and sci-fi villains, including zombies, cannibalistic hobos, evil robots, Skunk Apes, and an army of airborne communist octopuses.
With its obvious comedic undertones, The Goon makes for a welcome break from the typical horror fodder flooding the comic medium. Despite its abundant humor, the comic also incorporates a fair share of potentially off-putting elements, such as its graphic violence and a generally downbeat atmosphere.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).