Friday, October 21, 2011

Horror and Webcomics

Given the time of year, and the fact that I work in a haunted house (and am being paid to do it), I guess we should cover the topic of horror and how it relates to webcomics.

Horror is a weird genre, much like science fiction, it is more a mixture of other genres with a general theme to them.  Horror is about fear, generally, the generation of fear and the final snap that makes fear that exciting jolt many seem to love.

Horror and comics go way, WAY back.  Horror comics are even behind one of the greatest "corrupting our youth" over reactions of all time.  It took nearly 50 years to shed the results of that scare and free the comic book industry from it once and for all.

So webcomics should be able to handle horror really well, right?  Well, actually no, they can't.  At least not the way the majority of webcomics are currently structured.

Let me try to explain.  I used to set up a Halloween display every year until I moved to my current residence (I don't get trick or treaters here, sadly).  Now I never had much, really, but I structured it so what little I had went a long way.  The first thing people heard when they got on the street (within about 4 houses) was music.  Halloween music, of course, a mix CD I made using classic horror music and a few tracks I felt fit quite well.  As they got closer, they would begin to hear something else, sound effects.  I have a great CD of Halloween sound effects and right about the time they could see the enclosure where the display was, the sound effects began to leak out.

At this point they saw the graveyard, and began to see the lights from inside the enclosure.  As they got to the enclosure (I've used tarps and my porch alternatively), the music would fade back and be replaced almost entirely with the sound effects.  The CD player for the sound effects is always in the enclosure.  That's when the display came to full force.  A giant spiderweb on the wall, a skull with glowing eyes and smoking pouring out, pumpkins glowing in the dark, eyes lining the walls, spiders dangling from the ceiling, and in one corner, right next to the candy bowl, was me.

Dressed all in black, with a faceless mask and large gloves and sitting still, oh so very still.  Visitors had to know I was going to scare them, after all no one just lets people take candy.  So they came in anyway, slowly, knowing at any moment I was going to leap up.  I'd let them get closer, and closer until RAR!  Then I give them their candy and they leave.

The point of that?  All horror, all good horror, is built around a notion of suspense, the building of tension until the final scare.  Winding people up is an art in and of itself, and maintaining that tension par for the course.  Webcomics should be able to do this, but can't because of one thing that I have pounded on them for NOT doing:

They update regularly.  As in, they update once a week, twice a week or even every day.  One strip or page each update.  This allows all that tension the artist has been trying to build to be eased up between strips.

The best example of this is Flatwood, a comic that is long sense dead.  When I originally read the comic, I thought it was creepy and looking back on it, I think it was a really well done horror comic.  The art direction was near perfect for this kind of horror, unsettling being the word I used.  It also used gif images to give the appropriate "boo" factor.  The problem came after I finished the archive.  All the creepiness burned away when I had to wait a week between posts.  All the tension, the suspense of the comic was gone by the time the next update came about.  I doubt it would have worked even if it had updated daily, just too much time for the images to settle down.

The only other comic I would classify as horror that I've read is Nightmare World, and if memory served it still updated one page at a time, so it didn't quite pull off what horror comics need to do:  Update in short chunks.  Like City of Reality did for a time, whole chapter/story updates for horror comics seem to be a much better method than even the most generous update schedule.

That said, I'd love to be proven wrong.  Of course, what I consider "horror" for this article is different than what many people would think of, so I think we'll cover some ideas for horror next time.  Until then kiddies.

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