Why “Less Is More” Applies To Blood In Horror Comics – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy preparing this year’s (comedy horror) Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about an important rule to remember when including depictions of blood in horror-themed comics. I am, of course, talking about the rule that “less is more”.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Less is more. There are quite a few reasons for this.

The first is simply that including ridiculous amounts of red paint or red ink in your comic just makes it look like you’re making an immature attempt to be “edgy” or “shocking”. Seriously, it may not seem like it, but drenching every page of your comic in red paint actually makes your comic less horrific.

This is because of the second reason, namely that the horror in your comic shouldn’t come from blood or gore alone. The thing to remember here is that your audience are probably fans of the horror genre. So, they’ve seen it all before and are unlikely to be shocked by lots of red paint. So, using blood as a substitute for actual horror (that comes from the characters, the story etc..) probably won’t work.

The third reason is that including blood in horror comics follows the same dramatic “rules” as including profanity in your comic’s dialogue does. Namely, the more often you do it – the less dramatic it becomes. In other words, it works best when it is unexpected. And if there’s lots of blood in your horror comic, then your audience will expect to see lots more. So, it won’t surprise them.

The fourth reason is that including less blood in your horror comic means that you actually have to have a good reason for including blood. Grisly scenes in horror comics are considerably more dramatic when there’s actually a valid story-based reason for the scene in question to be gruesome. So, avoiding depicting blood except for when it is absolutely necessary means that your comic’s gruesome scenes will have more dramatic weight.

The fifth reason is that, unlike in film, comics don’t follow time in a linear fashion. One of your readers may spend ten seconds looking at a single panel, another reader might only spend two. In films, a second takes exactly a second. In comics, it can take longer.

And, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie, then you’ll know that the grisly moments are usually relatively quick. After all, if the audience spends too long staring at a gruesome scene in a film, they’ll start to notice that “it’s a special effect“. This is why, for example, the gorier “Unrated” version of “Saw III” is actually less shocking than the theatrical version (which leaves a lot more to the imagination).

The same is true for gruesome artwork in horror comics. Literally, the only way to make gory artwork scary is to include a ridiculous amount of almost photo-realistic detail (see Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland” for some stomach-churning examples of this artistic technique). So, unless you’re an absolute expert at ultra-detailed, ultra-realistic artwork – then including too much in the way of blood etc… in your comic will just highlight any flaws in your art.

The sixth reason is that colour theory still applies to depictions of blood. If you haven’t heard of colour theory before, then read the Wikipedia articles about complementary colours and “warm” and “cool” colours. Basically, if a panel of your comic includes lots of red, then you’re going to have to alter your palette for that panel in order to accommodate it (eg: you need to include lots of green, blue, black and/or white). This also has the side-effect of making the red blood stand out more, so you don’t need to use as much of it.

The seventh reason is because it looks more “realistic”. Simply put, including gallons of red paint in your comic will make it look cartoonishly excessive. In other words, it will look unrealistic. It will look stylised and over-the-top, rather than “serious” or “dramatic”.

So, yes, go easy on the red paint in your horror comic, and it will be a better comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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