I have a complicated relationship with horror. Okay, not really. My relationship with horror is fairly simple. I like horror. My boyfriend is currently enrolled in a course on horror films, and I have enjoyed watching many films with him that he had to study for homework. Because of him, I have gotten to see movies like Halloween, Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time over the last few months. All those movies are major parts of America’s horror culture, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many people in our country who haven’t heard of them. So why, as an enjoyer of horror, had I never seen them before?
Because I get scared shitless the second that creepy, foreboding music begins to play in a horror movie. As soon as there is the slightest warning that something bad could happen on screen, I automatically look away. A movie does not have to pull out a bunch of jump scares to startle me; I catch my breath at moments that I see coming. Creepy music and camerawork may alert me of what is coming, but they do nothing to make me less affected by what I’m seeing on screen.
As such, I have never gone out of my way to see horror films. While I can appreciate great plot twists and the way in which good horror media pull the viewer in, I always get pulled too far in. My past binges of seasons of something as tame as Criminal Minds left me paranoid and double-checking door locks, fleeing the darkness, etc. The more I experience horror media outside of movies and television, however, the more I am able to allow myself to enjoy it. Perhaps there’s something about horror movies and TV shows that makes me feel more immersed in the horror, and therefore more eager to turn away. The danger feels more immediate, like I am the one who is going to die for being a dumbass and venturing into some rundown house in the middle of nowhere with bone furniture or a history of ghosts.
Recently, I’ve begun to develop an interest in horror beyond screens. This can be traced back partially to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, which I began reading a few years ago. I was able to appreciate the sense of danger that Lovecraft imbued his prose with, even as all he had to work with was ink and paper. Watching horror movies with my boyfriend has also warmed me up a bit more to the genre, though my preference still lies with horror writing rather than horror film. The last main influence behind my current interest in horror is Glitterbomb, a monthly comic book series currently being published by Image Comics.
Glitterbomb is written by Jim Zub, drawn by Djibril Morissette-Phan, and colored by K. Michael Russell. I picked up the first issue on a whim after flipping through it at a local comic book shop and being intrigued by the horror elements I say within it, but I did not anticipate that it would become one of my favorite titles currently on the market. Glitterbomb has grabbed my attention largely for the same reason most of my favorite books do: its character work.
Glitterbomb stars a middle-aged woman named Farrah who has spent her life pursuing success in Hollywood just to find disappointment, rage, and emptiness around every corner. One of the comic’s selling points is the fact that the horror doesn’t end when supernatural events cease to occur, but rather, Farrah’s very life is horror of an emotional variety. The comic includes a supporting cast of characters who bring out the positive aspects of Farrah’s personality, such as her son whom she clearly loves very much. With that said, however, Farrah is burnt out, and as she gets older things do not get easier. Rather than a boon, her experience in the film industry proves to be damaging to her career: now that she is no longer young, she is deemed less useful on-screen. One scene in the series’ debut issue features another character telling Farrah that she is no longer sexually attractive and that there is nothing about her he can sell on-screen. As the plot progresses, we get hints of traumatizing events from Farrah’s past as well, and learn that her career has never been an easy one. Farrah has been working hard for a long time without ever feeling properly appreciated, and her frustration only continues to build with age.
Then comes what one could deem the more traditional horror aspects of the book. So far (the series’ third issue jump came out for sale this last Wednesday), the details of what has happened are ambiguous, but Farrah has undergone a transformation of some sorts. After a trip to the beach in issue one, it seems that Farrah has become host to some sort of horrific tentacle creature of oceanic origin. The monster does not seem to control all of Farrah’s actions, but rather obtains full control in periods of high stress. This has resulted in multiple instances of revenge upon former co-workers who have wronged her throughout her career.
The book’s strong writing is complimented by its stylish artwork. Djibril Morissette-Phan’s work is wonderful, especially in the case of faces. The characters all express a convincing array of emotions, and the reader believes in the struggles they are facing. Jim Zub’s script brings to the table issues of career frustration, financial difficulties, and emotional exhaustion, and Morissette-Phan converts those issues into living, breathing physical form on the page with his linework. K. Michael Russell further enhances the feel of the book with his coloring, which further strengthens the sense of horror and foreboding established by his teammates.
One of the creators behind Glitterbomb who I have not yet mentioned is Holly Raychelle Hughes. The back of each issue features a personal essay by Hughes about her experiences as a woman working in show business. These essays tug at the heartstrings with their descriptions of how Hughes has been disrespected, abused, and abandoned by co-workers and friends. The use of nonfiction essays at the end of comic books is something I have never seen before, and adds to Glitterbomb’s unique appeal. Not only does this comic book tackle subjects uncommon to the medium (ageism and sexism in Hollywood, career insecurity and mistreatment), it tackles them with a mixture of forms that further grab the reader’s attention. It does not seem fair to refer to Hughes’ essays as supplemental material. While one could theoretically read the comic portions of the series and skip her essays, they would be remiss to do so. The essays provide real-life examples of struggles like Farrah’s, and thus make her character feel all the more real.
It occurs to me as I prepare to close this week’s column that I have spent comparatively little time discussing Glitterbomb in the context of horror as a genre. I cannot say that I particularly regret this; I do not want to spoil too many details of the book’s plot while reducing it to synopsis that cannot appropriately convey the book’s emotional intensity. I’ll close by saying that Glitterbomb matches its supernatural horror elements with the horror of human experience and struggle, and is all the stronger for it. After all, who can care about a protagonist facing terrors without first caring about the protagonist in and of themselves? If, in the wake of this week’s political events, you would like a read that hits on issues of how women are treated in our society, but you cannot stomach one more utterance of Trump’s name, I highly recommend Glitterbomb: a book of horror, and more importantly, humanity.
Eric Cline is a gay poet, 2016 Best of the Net nominee, and the founding editor-in-chief of Calamus Journal. His debut chapbook, “his strange boy eve”, was published by Yellow Chair Press in September 2016. He tweets @ericclinepoet.