The creation of a quality horror comics today, is very similar to the process the creators of “classic” horror films from the 1980’s followed. This is according to a conversation Tim Seeley, creator of HACK/SLASH, had on the most recent episode of the ‘Around Comics’ pod cast. To paraphrase Seeley, he said that the most famous of horror films from the 80’s and 90’s were all independent made films. He listed ‘Friday The Thirteenth”, “Halloween” and “Re-Animator” as examples. Each were movies created by filmmakers who had a strong love of the Horror genre, and did whatever they could to get their vision to the screen. Seeley then pointed out that after these original films were successful, they were purchased by major studios (With the exception of Re-animator).
As a horror fan, I’m sure you have noticed the drop in quality, from sequel to sequel, following the original film, whether it be the “Friday The Thirteenth” series or the “Halloween” films. Horror comic creators have to take the independent company route, when bringing their visions to print. Seeley’s HACK/SLASH is made by Devil’s Due Publishing. Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic, THE WALKING DEAD, is produced by Image Comics. Even the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT series, which inspired a feature film, is an independently made series. When it comes to comics there are only two companies that are not considered “independent”- Marvel and DC.
Now you might say “I have heard of Image. Isn’t that the company that makes SPAWN? They must be big”. Well to put things in perspective, here are some numbers from Diamond Comics Distributors (a company that basically monopolizes the distribution of comic books). Marvel Comics, alone, made 45.31% of all comic book sales, for the month of September. DC is in second place, with 27.29%. After the “Big Two” there is a huge drop off in sales. Dark Horse is in third place, with 6.19% of all comic book sales. Image comes in fourth place, at 3.74%.
So why do horror comic creators go to independent companies, whose sales figures are dwarfed by the Big Two? Well, it might be because Marvel and DC rarely produce books that are straight up horror. There are exceptions. For example, Marvel has brought Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ to the comic book form, and they have books featuring the monster known as Man-Thing, but these types of books are few and far between. Both Marvel and DC try to incorporate the superhero formula into their horror books. These horror themed superheroes might be fan favorites, most likely because they blend aspects from two mediums that both have their own rabid fan bases- Horror Films and Superhero comics, but they are nowhere near as successful as comics that feature straight up superheroes. Horror comics made by the Big Two don’t last.
Marvel’s GHOST RIDER is a perfect example for this argument. You might be familiar with Ghost Rider, especially if you chose to witness the abortion that was the ‘Ghost Rider’ film, starring Nicolas Cage. The ‘Ghost Rider’ movie had a domestic total gross of $115,802,596, and we know that wasn’t based on quality screen writing or A-list worthy acting from Cage. The success of the ‘Ghost Rider’ movie was based on the bad taste of American moviegoers and the cult fan base of the Ghost Rider character.
Many of you who are reading this right now may be Ghost Rider fans, especially if you are around my age (mid twenties), since GHOST RIDER was an extremely popular comic during the 90’s. You may be a little miffed to hear me ripping on the demonic hero, but don’t jump the gun yet, I have evidence to back my slander.
Take the newest Ghost Rider story to hit the stands for example, GHOST RIDER- DANNY KETCH. This Wednesday, during the week before Halloween, ironically, there were no independently made horror comics on the shelves at the local comic book store. There was, however, GHOST RIDER- DANNY KETCH, waiting to be picked up. When following threads on message boards, found on comic book fansites, you could get the sense that fans were extremely eager to buy this book, especially since it featured the return of Danny Ketch (The Ghost Rider from the 1990s). It turns out, though that GHOST RIDER- DANNY KETCH is nothing worth getting excited about.
GHOST WRITER- DANNY KETCH is written by Simon Spurrier, who is a British writer that has worked primarily for the comic magazine, 2000 A.D.. This is the most likely reason why, even though the story takes place in Brooklyn, the first scene is in a British pub, where everyone inside just happens to have a British accent. In the pub, Danny is “pissed” (get it, the British accent has spread to my writing) meaning drunk, and has started a fight. If you think that a washed up hero starting a bar fight is a done to death cliché in movies, then realize it is a cliché that has been done to death, resurrected, and then done to death a million times over, in comics.
After Danny mops up the floor with a few rowdy Brits, he notices that an exotic, dark skinned woman has been watching him the entire time. Danny attempts to hit on this woman, but literally ends up falling on his ass. Before the exotic woman leaves, she says enough cryptic things to make us realize that, in future issues, she is either going to be Danny’s love interest, or his nemesis.
Danny finds a payphone and then drunk dials Mary Lebow. There is a sign outside Mary’s shop that reads Mary Lebow- Paranormal Consultancy Technomatic Solutions. Inside the shop, we see examples of both advanced technology and occult materials. It turns out Mary is the one who removed Danny’s powers at the end of his run as Ghost Rider, which was way back in GHOST RIDER, Vol.2, that came out in February 1998. Mary is exotic as well, and guess what- she is British too. She has long brown hair on one side of her head and short white hair on the other side, which, believe it or not, is a cliché for weird, British, female characters. Danny pleads to Mary, asking for his powers back. Mary offers to come find him, but before she finishes talking, Danny drops the phone and speeds away on his bike.
All this time, a talking crow has been following Danny. This crow has also been providing the narration for the story, which adds a sort of mythical quality to the book. The crow flies in front of a van that is driving alongside Danny. Coincidentally, this van happens to be filled with armed robbers, who just pulled off a major heist. They crash into Danny. Before the angered robbers can take their anger, for having crashed, out on Danny, the crow lands on his bike and gives him a small dose of his Ghost Rider powers. As Ghost Rider, Danny disposes of the robbers quickly. During the fight, he takes note of the fact that his skeletal body is not burning with hellfire, but instead is giving off some supernatural smoke. Also, when Danny goes to perform his “finishing move” the Penance Stare, it doesn’t work.
There is one armed robber left, but before Danny can get to him, his Ghost Rider powers wear off. The crow cackles “Limited dose. Orders of the boss. A minute is all you get”, which makes the reader wonder who is this talking crow’s boss, and how powerful can he be, if he can give Danny back his Ghost Rider powers? These questions will be answered in future issues, since this one ends a panel later, with the last armed robber ready to blow Danny’s head off.
GHOST RIDER, Vol. 2, featuring Danny Ketch was Marvel’s flagship horror title during the 1990’s, when there was a large amount of Marvel horror books, and each of them were selling extremely well. Danny was not an interesting character back then and he is even more bland now. What made Ghost Rider work back then was the extremely dark coloring used on the book and the high quality, horror artwork. GHOST RIDER- DANNY KETCH features colors too bright to make it creepy and pencils that are completely generic. Artist Javier Saltares could easily draw issues of SPIDER-MAN or the HULK. There is nothing horrific about the images in GHOST RIDER- DANNY KETCH.
Working exclusively for Marvel or DC has its advantages, including regular pay checks, health benefits, and the fact that you don’t need a day job to eat. It is tragic that horror comic writers will never get to reap these benefits. They will have to work double hard to make a living, writing for independent companies. The independent route is the way to go for straight up horror, but if you are willing to write a cliché’ filled, super hero book with horror concepts, like GHOST RIDER- DANNY KETCH, the Big Two might have work for you.