Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings

2003 - available in hard cover

Written & Illustrated by various.
Editor: Scott Allie.

96 pages

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Cover price: $14.95 USA

Since it's coming up on Halloween, this week we'll look at something from the spooky side of the street...

The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings is a comic book anthology published in hardcover...though not unreasonably priced. Featuring seven original comic book stories by various writers and artists, including some highly respected names like artists P. Craig Russell and Paul Chadwick, it has a new Hellboy story by Mike Mignola (Hellboy, a demonic paranormal investigator -- kind of a cross between Marvel's Son of Satan and DC's The Demon -- will apparently hit the silver screen next year) and a new "Devil's Footprints" story (which was a supernatural mini-series, also available as a TPB). More off beat aspects to this accretion are an actual text short story by the late Perceval Landon first published in 1908 (I believe), given a few modern illustrations by Gary Gianni, as well as an interview with a real life spiritualist.

The first thing you notice from that line up is that there seems to be a lot of care, or at least enthusiasm, put into this project (I mean, an interview with a self-styled spiritualist?!?) all in order to generate a certain thematic cohesiveness. The other noteworthy thing is how restrained the stories are: for a horror comic, in a medium long criticized for its excesses, there's very little gore. Any "mature readers" caution is warranted more for some profanity and a bit of nudity. In fact, only one story goes for a grisly, macabre ending, and it's still drawn with restraint. Instead, by focusing mainly on ghosts and hauntings, the stories can be almost...genteel. Some are definitely going for the chill-factor, but others are humorous or poignant.

The opening story, "Gone", written by Mike Richardson, and beautifully drawn by P. Craig Russell and coloured by Lovern Kindzierski, is about a deserted old house from which no one seems to return. It is blatantly meant to be creepy and works quite well for the most part, unnerving in its very understatedness. But it builds to a kind of weak ending. "Lies, Death and Olfactory Delusion", a childhood reminiscence as the narrator remembers the death of a picked on schoolmate, is by Randy Stradley and Paul Chadwick. It goes more for pathos than horror, and is among the most memorable stories for that. Another winner, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, is Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's "Stray", a humorous ghost story...about dogs.

The text story, "Thurnley Abbey", is a very traditional haunting story -- right down to its archetypal hook of the narrator being told the story by a chance aquaintance. It works reasonably well, precisely because a short story can, in some cases, cover more ground than a comic (a picture ain't always worth a thousand words).

Other stories in the collection aren't necessarily as successful, often quite slight, but none are cringe inducing awful, either. Uli Oesterle's "Forever" is moderately fun in its traditional, macabre, EC Comics sort of way involving a scoundrel and a cursed tattoo. Though Mike Mignola's Hellboy contribution, "Dr. Carp's Experiment", with the character called in to investigate a haunted house, doesn't really give you enough to decide whether or not you'd like to track down Hellboy's other adventures for those previously unfamiliar with him (like myself). "This Small Favor" -- the "Devil's Footprints" story -- involves the protagonist also called in to cleanse a home of willful spirits. And the brief "The House on the Corner" likewise relates events surrounding a haunted house, but in a style evocative of an old Ripley's Believe it or Not comic.

Ultimately, this collection of supernatural tales maybe doesn't quite succeed in elbowing itself to the top of anyone's "must have" list. But the very commitment that editor Scott Allie seems to bring to the project is appealing, right down to the elegant, almost old-fashioned, packaging. With two or three better-than-decent tales, a variety of emotional tones, good art throughout in a variety of styles, and a welcome, old fashioned restraint, it's a likeable, agreeable read.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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