While scrounging for questions to answer I came across this one from Kevin Cullen, our Head of Content and Scheduling:
How do I make A SCARY COMIC?!
-your pal, kvin
Full disclosure: I’m not sure if Kevin was being serious but I’m going to answer as if he were (also, I have no other questions to answer).
I love horror stories. Like, a lot. Stephen King is my jam, I play every Silent Hill game, and devour each trade of Walking Dead that hits shelves. Anything can be scary so long as it elicits fear or dread in the viewer/reader. The problem? People have differing thresholds and triggers.
The fear threshold—the point at which rationalization or reason gives way to fear—has a lot to do with atmosphere. Can you immerse the reader to such a degree that they forget the danger is imaginary? It’s an easier thing to do in movies than books or comics. With movies, you have a single focus, movement, light, and sound—a close analog for how we experience reality. With books, the threat is conceptual because the format is text. No matter how intense the narrative, the reader won’t feel in danger because their senses don’t register it. That’s why the threshold for fear is higher.
Comics have the advantage of pictures (sight) but lack sound. Because they consist of images in sequence, it’s possible to see what’s about to happen—which naturally removes any element of surprise! If anything, this makes print comics worse for telling horror stories than a book. You’re limited to page turns as the only place for material that will shock the reader, something you need to be able to control when making a scary comic. Digital comics don’t have this problem. The reader can only see what’s on-screen at a given time, so startling moments can happen whenever needed. Once freed of the “budget” of paper the only limit to the format is your imagination.
So that’s one part of it. The substance of your comic is a much larger issue. What triggers fear? Universal themes like death, loss, alienation, pain, danger. Some fears are highly specific to certain people (rats, dogs, clowns, zombies) so there’s no real one-size-fits-all answer. It’s a matter of instinct and preference on some level.
The most important thing you can do is to give your readers a reason to care about the characters in your comic. Make them sympathetic and interesting, that way when you endanger them the audience will care. It’s a really simple thing that a lot of people screw up.
Honestly, there’s a great deal more I could say but this response is already rambling. Immerse your audience. Make them care. That’s how you make a scary comic.
Please! Send questions to @devinafterdark on Twitter with the hashtag #FAQDevin. I need them to live! : )