How Gruesome Should Horror Art And Horror Comics Be?

Damned if I know - I use watercolour pencils rather than traditional paints for my paintings...

Damned if I know – I use watercolour pencils rather than traditional paints for my paintings…

Although I’ve already talked about how gruesome horror fiction should be, I thought that I’d ask the same question about horror art and horror comics today.

Since this is an article about the horror genre – I should point out that, although there are no gruesome images in this post and relatively few gruesome descriptions, reader discretion is advised.

The first thing that I’ll say is that, most of the time, just using lots of red paint or red ink does not automatically put a comic or painting into the horror genre.

A good horror comic or piece of horror art doesn’t disturb people by using large quantities of blood, it disturbs it’s audience through clever storytelling. Yes, you heard me correctly, storytelling.

Even if you’re making a stand-alone horror painting, then storytelling is still an important thing to think about. After all, if you’re going to scare, unnerve and disturb your audience then your picture has to look like it’s part of a terrifying and innovative story.

For example: you could paint a zombie covered in blood – but that wouldn’t be particularly scary on it’s own. After all, everyone has seen pictures of zombies before and most people have seen comics, movies and/or videogames with lots of blood in them before. So, your blood-drenched zombie painting probably won’t really be that creepy.

However, if you were to -say- turn the zombie into something a bit more unexpected (eg: a zombie bus driver) and show that zombie actually doing something disturbing (eg: trying to drive a school bus), then your painting will still be disturbing regardless of how much blood and guts you decide to include in it. Why? Because it tells a disturbing story.

Any blood or gore that you include in your picture should only be there to emphasise the disturbing story you are trying to tell and not as a substitute for it. Yes, it’s perfectly possible to make a genuinely chilling horror comic and/or painting without using a single drop of red paint. Likewise, it’s perfectly possible to make a boring horror painting using lots of red paint.

However, there is one major exception to this rule and it all comes down to the level of detail in your painting and/or comic panel. And this is one of those things that art, comics and animations can do – but movies, videogames and novels can’t really do.

One of the interesting things about gruesome horror art is that it can often be far more graphic than it’s more “realistic” cinematic equivalents.

Why? Because artists can include a lot more grotesque detail in a drawing or painting than a film-maker can do in a special effects prop or a novelist can do in a few sentences. Not only that, even the most gruesome image in a film might only be seen by the audience for a few seconds, whereas a painting or a comic panel tends to be viewed for a lot longer than this.

So, if you’re going to scare your audience based on gruesome images alone, then you have to make sure that those gruesome images are as detailed as possible. You have to make your audience wince with revulsion by showing them literally every tiny detail that you can.

If this all sounds slightly confusing, then good examples of this technique can be found in a comic called “Return To Wonderland” By Raven Gregory (et al) or in the manga adaptation of “Battle Royale” (which somehow manages to be three times gorier than the original film, despite only using black and white drawings).

Likewise, some good animated examples of this technique can be seen in a film called “Dead Space: Downfall” and, if I remember correctly, in an anime series called “Deadman Wonderland”.

So, to sum it all up, coming up with a disturbing story for your comic and/or painting is far more important than whether or not it’s gruesome. But, if you can’t think of a good story, then you can still make your gruesome horror art look disturbing by including a ridiculous amount of detail.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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