Three Twisted Ways To Make Your Horror Comic Disturbing (And Why They Work)

...And I don't mention Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny" at all! Except for just now.

…And I don’t mention Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny” at all! Except for just now.

Even though all of the horror comics that I’ve made during the past year have ended up being dark comedies rather than anything genuinely disturbing or frightening, I thought that I’d look at the subject of disturbing horror comics today.

In other words, I’ll be talking about horror comics that don’t look like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE ] "Diabolical Sigil - Page 4" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE ] “Diabolical Sigil – Page 4” By C. A. Brown

Even so, I’ve read at least a few horror comics which I found to be genuinely disturbing (such as “Return To Wonderland” by Raven Gregory et al, “A Game Of You” by Neil Gaiman and a couple of the “Battle Royale” manga comics).

So, I was kind of curious about how these kinds of comics ended up being disturbing and, more importantly why they are so disturbing. After thinking about it for a while, I came up with a few tips that might come in handy:

1)Hyper-detailed gore: In most horror movies, when something gruesome happens – you’ll probably only see it for a couple of seconds at most. Not only is this sometimes because of film censorship, it’s also because special effects in horror movies don’t always stand up to scrutiny if viewed for more than a few seconds.

Likewise, if you only see something gruesome in a horror movie for a second or two, your imagination has to fill in the rest of the details and you’ll probably remember the scene in question being more gruesome than it actually was.

However, you can’t do this in horror comics. The story of your horror comic progresses as quickly or slowly as the reader wants it to. So, if you want to shock your audience with something gruesome – then you have to draw everything in an almost medical level of detail. But, why?

Generally speaking, ultra-detailed art is absolutely fascinating. If you see a photo-realistic drawing of something or an intricate technical diagram, then you’re probably going to want to look at it closely because you know that you’ll probably miss something if you just look at it for a second. In other words, hyper-detailed images pretty much invite viewers to take a closer look (you can probably see where this is going…).

So, if a gruesome part of your comic is hyper-detailed, then your audience are initially going to be curious about it for the split-second before they realise that they’re looking at, say, a drawing of a disembowelled corpse. Then they are going to feel repulsed, but also still curious about all of the small details that the artist has included. And it’s this tension between curiosity and repulsion that makes hyper-detailed gruesome images in comics so shocking.

2) Fake fanservice: In case you’ve never heard of “fanservice” before, it basically refers to when comic creators add something mildly risqué to their comic in order to titillate their audience.

The classic example of this is how superhero and fantasy comics that are primarily aimed at straight men are sometimes filled with busty heroines who wear skintight and/or revealing clothing. It may be totally impractical or unrealistic in the context of the story, but it’s there to appeal to straight guys (and bi people too).

If it’s aimed at you, fanservice is a little bit of extra added value. It’s fun and it’s something that makes the comic a little bit more memorable. If you know that a comic contains your type of fanservice, then you’re probably going to be a little bit more interested in checking it out. In other words, it’s something that catches your attention and sticks in your mind (again, you can probably see where I’m going here…).

You probably have to be a bit careful here, but if you can create something which looks like fanservice from a distance but actually turns out to be something horrific/repulsive upon closer inspection (eg: classic examples include things like a grotesque zombie in a revealing outfit, a stunningly handsome serial killer etc…) then you can seriously freak out some members of your audience.

Again, this technique works because it creates a tension between curiosity and revulsion. For half a second, some of your audience will be *ahem* interested – only to suddenly realise that they’ve been interested in something really disgusting.

However, and this is probably fairly obvious, this technique will only work with part of your audience. After all, different people have different interests. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

3) Imagination: This is probably the oldest trick in the book (this book to be precise), but you can make your comic about twice as disturbing by leaving a few of the really disturbing parts of your story to your audience’s imaginations.

All you need to do is to include a few small details (eg: creepy sounds, vague descriptions in the dialogue, something happening slightly “offscreen” etc…) and let your audience think of the rest.

Yet again, this works because it creates a tension between the audience’s feelings of curiosity and their feelings of revulsion. They’re curious enough about what happened to try to imagine it for themselves, but they’re also repulsed by what they’re imagining.

Likewise, because you haven’t actually shown the disturbing event in question, your audience will probably think that you thought that it’s too disturbing to show. As such, they’re likely to imagine it being far more violent/disturbing/horrific than you actually intended it to be.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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