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Horror is in the Eye of the... Beholder?

damehelsing at 12:00AM, April 11, 2021

See what I did there? It’s an image of a Beholder… which normally has one giant eye right in the center of their face/body and the article is titled HORROR (the Beholder is scary looking) is in the EYE of the BEHOLDER? Yeah? No? Ok…

Seriously tho,

CONTENT WARNING there is a serious discussion below, please do what is best for your mental health before proceeding.

When we think of horror, the superstitious minds go straight towards monsters, demons, ghosts, etc. Some times for the more scientific people, it’s home invasions, PEOPLE, natural disasters, etc.
So, what is horror? This is a question I’ve been asking myself.

I, personally, don’t really know how to write horror or even really demonstrate it in a comic… which is surprising since SCORNED is labeled as a horror/fantasy/supernatural/drama comic… but I would like to think the horror is more of a subtle subgenre. It’s definitely not a main focus.

Anyway, because of my very little knowledge on writing horror, I mainly use it as a way to convey situations/imagery/discussions into things “felt.” In movies, it’s like a few jumpscares here and there, scary imagery, sounds, all that fancy stuff to really drive the feeling of fear into you.
But in comics… what do we do? Is it what we feel when we witness something in the story? Is it the grotesque imagery that is being shown to us?

Sexual Trauma discussion below!!(no images)
I used to read Lore Olympus. (it really isn’t for me) but long story short: it’s a modern take on the tale of Persephone and Hades with possibly a few embellishments and original additions here and there. At one point in the story, Persephone is assaulted by Apollo, and ever since then, seeing Apollo actually gave me an uneasy feeling. I wouldn’t really know how to describe it, besides something similar to anxiety. I did really feel distressed whenever this character showed up.
In a way, it makes me question, if this is another way to include the horror category/genre into stories.

OBVIOUSLY, no one wants to purposely make their reader feel uneasy, I think. I don’t really know. I know I want my readers to be prepared when very sensitive topics come up, whether it’s a verbal discussion or sensitive imagery, I try my best to put a warning when I think it might be mentally harmful to a viewer but I really think that these kinds of things, could definitely be considered “horror” depending on the audience.

Horror can be many things.
As the Ultimate God has said (which is really just a web-search) “horror: noun; an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust.”
So, what is scary to me, might not be scary to you and vice versa.

Arachnophobia below (no images)
Have you seen the movie “Eight Legged Freaks?”
If you have, some might agree with me that that movie is honestly kind of comedic and some people might be downright terrified of it because… well… spiders. When looking that movie up, the genre selected for it is “Horror/Sci-fi” which is a little surprising to me because I definitely would have thought comedy would have been one of the main genres. I just think it’s really funny and the spiders are kind of cute, I’ve actually been thinking about watching it again.

Fear of the invisible, xenophobia and trauma/PTSD & abusive relationships discussions below!(no images)
Have you seen the newest “The Invisible Man” movie? The 2020 one?
That movie was beautifully done. The actors were all amazing in it. Everything about that movie was excellent. Now, why am I bringing up the fear of the unknown? Okay, well first, if you haven’t seen the movie, there will be spoilers, so please just skip this section if you don’t want any spoilers.
I feel like the fear of the unknown works amazingly here because throughout the movie we get the perspective of Cecelia (the protagonist) and throughout the movie you don’t really know where The Invisible Man is because he is… invisible… but the camera is always catching these amazing angles and creating this stunning and horrifying atmosphere, it really makes me wonder, “where is he?” you might think he’s in one place but you really don’t know because we’re seeing this as if we’re Cecilia, and Cecilia has a feeling she knows where this “thing” is, but she really doesn’t know for sure and neither do we. So, if you’re absolutely terrified of the unknown or anything invisible, you would agree this movie is downright horrifying. This is just one of those movies where I feel like all they did was use the atmosphere and camera angles to make the horror aspect come out without using any horrifying imagery. Now, for the PTSD and abusive relationships side of things, if you weren’t scared by the idea of invisible people or the unknown but you suffer or know someone who suffers from PTSD (same with abusive relationships) then you probably know why this might be a major horror movie for those reasons. The Invisible Man is Cecilia’s ex who she escaped from in the beginning of the movie because he was very abusive towards her and we even see the results of her PTSD because of this, she’s scared to leave the house and at one point when she’s trying to, a man is seen jogging past her but on his way to passing by her, she’s terrified and immediately backs up to the house, the only time she felt a little safe was after learning her EX had “died” BUT then he started to torment her as THE Invisible Man, which made things 10x horrifying for her because… how do you explain this? My “dead” abusive ex is haunting me? All the things that were happening to her could be jotted down to her being crazy. Also she can’t even see him, and because he knows how to hurt her, he can do everything he did before, but now invisible. It’s honestly terrifying.

Now onward to horror in comics. Mainly because I don’t wanna make this article too long by listing movies :P

So, applying horror in comics. When I review the two movies I listed, horror, just like beauty, is subjective. It really does depend on the viewer. Growing up, I used to be scared of vampires, I honestly was afraid a bat would come in at night, turn into a grown human (gender is irrelevant) and kill me by sucking my blood. Now, I’m not scared of it, but that doesn’t mean the vampire genre isn’t terrifying. Some times it really is about what goes on in the story and not so much what is at the surface.

Now to explain my own personal way of applying horror.
I said earlier that SCORNED is listed as a horror comic (along with 3 other genres) but when I thought of applying the horror genre, I mainly applied it because of the sensitive imagery and topics that could and will come about, not so much for the fact that 1. it’s a supernatural comic, 2. there are potentially scary creatures in it. It really wasn’t so much for what was the on the surface but the deep discussions inside the story, which there are many of. Of course this doesn’t mean someone won’t think that the creatures look horrifying or there are disgusting images.

Such as here: Encavmaphobia/Traumatophobia/possible Pyrophobia discussion below!(one image is used)

I personally thought I did a really bad job at conveying burning skin, but apparently some readers thought I did an excellent job. This is where horror could be applied as horror is also “an intense feeling of disgust” – or if you’re absolutely terrified of getting burned/injured, this might be horrifying to you.
And then of course the subject of trauma that a lot of my characters went through and still suffer PTSD from.
The reasons I listed SCORNED for horror could also be listed for drama, but because of the more serious and occasionally horrifying underlying points, I think it definitely qualifies as horror too. Not to mention, it does have vampires, witches, werewolves and other creatures which would be deemed horror as well as supernatural, but I’ll try to explain my reasoning a little better below!

What is the difference between horror and drama?
I personally think drama has a relationship with horror. Drama, I think, has more to do with realism and the realism in comics is that some situations, especially realistic ones are possible, the result of this traumatic experience could be horror, what comes from drama could be horror and what comes from horror could be drama. I think drama can be used to describe characters and their feelings/motives while horror is the result or the scenarios in which these characters are given and put inside of.

How do you know when to mark your comic as having a horror genre?
You should only really mark it as horror if you know there will be many discussions or scenes of horror. If your comic is mainly humorous, think slice-of-life, but some times it gets serious and possibly to a point of causing stress to a reader, you don’t need to mark it as “horror” but you could definitely give readers a heads up if you want to but if this is a strong, reoccurring theme, then maybe you might want to have it listed as the 2nd genre.

If I revisit the topic of Lore Olympus, would I consider that comic a horror comic? No, I would definitely say the genre is drama but the event that happened in it is horrifying enough to cause stress to readers and the feeling/events is reoccurring enough to say it has the aspect of horror in it but as far as I did read, it’s definitely not a horror genre. It’s a drama/romance with some horror tied to it.

But once again, it does seem horror is subjective, so it really is up to you to decide.

I’m not a master of genres nor did I study them extensively, so my knowledge on genres is really limited to what I look up, to try to understand what my own personal stories could fall under. So, if you have more knowledge or opinions/examples and you wish to share, please feel free to do so! If you disagreed with everything I wrote, that's okay too! You can freely share why you disagree.

This entire article is really my opinion and not a statement of facts, please make sure to do your own research when figuring out what genre your story is tied to!

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Andreas_Helixfinger at 12:24AM, April 12, 2021

I guess what I really am looking for in horror is not so much tension, as fascination and the bizarre. I think those are alternative fields that horror can be played out upon. I don't think horror always has to be about tension. Horror can just be outworldly and disruptive of what we think we know about the world. That in of itself can be horrific because it toys with our underlying anxieties and uncertainties, rather then trying to make us tense up, holding us suspended in that basic "ready to flee or fight" mode. Its the kind of field I think that famous creepypasta "The Russian Sleep Experiment" (My favourite creepypasta) plays of off. That we think we know ourselves, but we don't, and the truth about the world around us and/or within us is far more disturbing then we would ever think it to be.

Corruption at 11:38PM, April 11, 2021

For me, I see the root of fear being caused by lose of control. The fear of the unknown is caused by not knowing the dangers there or how to control it. Fear of change involves not being able to control things. Fear of clowns? Come on: corpse like pale skin, large painted mouths, larger then the kids they chase with toy weapons on occasion while acting unpredictable? Need I say more? One the fear is established it can continue when the person has some control as a conditioned response, or trauma. People fear death as they can't control it, but imagine stuck with the fate of Tithonus, aging always, but unable to die? The less power someone has, the more they fear other things

hushicho at 1:39PM, April 11, 2021

Too many people, I think, just imagine that horror is achieved through lots of death and a downbeat ending. That could not be farther from the truth. You don't have to have any death, and the ending can be happy or at least satisfying. If you can't manage horror without leaning on lazy jump scares, meaningless death, and unsatisfying resolutions, just don't write horror.

hushicho at 1:25PM, April 11, 2021

I'm honestly very disappointed at Lore Olympus for doing that. That's tacky and questionable. I didn't appreciate the grotesque burn image either, though, if I'm honest. Many have stated that revulsion is at the core of horror, but that's not always accurate either, and it really does depend on the person, which I think was at the crux of your article. Horror is something very dependent upon the perspective of the audience, more than anything else. I find demons fascinating and attractive, but I'd say many people probably are terrified of them. Then again, the less someone knows about something, the more anxious they tend to become about that thing, because they simply don't know what its bounds and limits are, if it even has any. Mystery and lack of information can be very, very frightening.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 4:04AM, April 11, 2021

I think it's okay to have a laugh in a horror story now and then because it eases up the mood a bit, which I think is necessary to still have a good time while experiencing the horrific bits. Too many horror films and horror video games I think tries TOO hard to keep that atmosphere of dread going and it just becomes exhausting in the end. It's just no fun, I think, to be on the edge of your seat constantly while waiting for something to come jumping at you. Same goes for the storytelling. I consider my comic "Idfestation" to be horror, even if it is outright wacky a lot of times, because it is still dealing with a horrific subject that is going to become more clear down the line. There's also gonna be a topic about compulsion towards extreme self-harm later (Which I'll put up a disclaimer at the beginning about. Altough I will try to humour that a bit as well. Sort of a Masao Kakihara meets Fester Adams kind of thing^^) But this is more of a take on how I think "I" should do horror.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 3:46AM, April 11, 2021

I'm going to have to post this in several parts. Once again, a very good article. This is a topic that's actually been a lot on my mind lately. And it sort of brings me back to when I was pitching a story for the DD Horror Anthology. Looking back now I'm actually really glad that my pitch didn't make it into the anthology, because after reading the script a few more times I realized "the way I've written this is a bit too dark and depressing even for me and I don't think I want this to be published anyhow". It kind of made me realize that horror, as much as it is supposed to be a scary experience, it is also meant to be an entertaining experience, in a way. There is definitely a fine line I figured between "Wow! That was a cool, scary thing I just made" and "Um! This is too much and I don't wanna do this anymore" to figure out as storyteller I think. Which is why I've personally dedicated myself to always try to walk the line between humour and horror in making my comics.

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