Horror has a lot to teach us, in terms of narrative, that can be used to tell different kinds of stories—you don’t have to tell scary ones. I’m ignoring the lazy tendency towards shock or gore narratives, which—while technically horror—don’t rate in my book. Jumping out of the closet to spook your little brother for fun can be cute, but it’s hardly rocket science. What we’re here to dive into is the construction of horror narratives. To earn legitimate frights, to build tension and create mood, whether in film, TV, comics, prose, or a single image, requires a lot of thought and planning and elegance in order to do it right. What we can learn from horror begins with the recognition that the tools needed to make it work are tools used in every other kind of story, even romantic comedies. Comedy and Horror are so related to each other, so identical in their construction as to quite nearly be the same thing. Horror just uses these tools in a more precise and specifically sharp manner, so in developing an observational eye for these tricks and tools we can make any kind of story better and more effective.
Fiction and Excerpts 
I was approached by Irene Gallo to do a piece for Tor.com’s “Where the Trains Turn” by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, and as typical to my previous efforts, (and despite my swearings to be cured of this method) I ended up doing two.
Overall I have always railed against this double work as a poor and time consuming way forward. “Why not just thumbnail it first, you dolt?” is the usual refrain when it comes to confessing this as a recurring event. And I thought for a while that it was true. That my impatience to get right to the piece itself was causing this. But as it turns out, this is not the case. So, I have decided to hug this as a legitimate part of the process, and celebrate its necessity rather than try and undo it. So, in full confession mode, here’s the deal as representative of deals to come and deals long past, and why it’s maybe not such a bad thing.
We have a rather warped ethos for how we look at and deal with art and artists as a culture. There are roughly two camps of art-making, those who do it for fun as a hobby or are lucky enough to have married well or receive a trust fund or live in a hut, and those of us who make a living out of art and must navigate the treacherous waters where the profit motive and the creative motive meet, clash and dance together. That’s what this week’s post is about (suck it, hut-people).
When we’re kids, we don’t do it for the money. Art is a playground and a wonderscape we’re encouraged to utilize as much as possible. No one complains that their kid draws too much, or likes art too much. That comes later when you’re a grownup and you’re supposed to have gotten rid of this childish habit. Those of us who wish to or in my case, have codified this act of play as a career have a rocky road to navigate. Really much of the issues that will come at you in terms of balancing your need to feed yourself/your family are only struggles you’ll have to wrestle with when you make it your full time gig.
One of the core reasons I make books now is because Ray Bradbury scared me so happy, that what I am perpetually compelled to do is, at best, ignite the same flame in a young reader today. Most of my comics, certainly the ones I write myself, are scary ones or revolve around scary themes. In the last ten years I began to notice that they also featured, as protagonists, children. Even when the overall story wasn’t necessarily about them, there they were: peeking from behind some safe remove, watching.
Time and again I seem to be required to craft two fully fleshed out final paintings for every single cover, mostly for Tor.com’s short online fictions, and it’s not a bad thing at all. Sort of. To date I still can only speculate as to the cause for this recent phenomenon, but I think if not fully on target, this theory hits close enough to brave an article about it. Not by request am I tasked to do this mind you, but by the process of making the pieces. Within this practice, at each turn are different causes for this seemingly time-wasting habit, which makes it hard to solve if solving it is even a good idea at all. So I’ll cleave out a few cases and hopefully you’ll see why.
A new era is beginning for the Farm as knights begin to arrive from every corner of countless worlds. In the old version of Camelot, the brief shining moment was destroyed by infidelity, infighting and the evil machinations of the king’s sister. If Rose Red is the king this time, does that mean Snow White is the one destined to bring it all crashing down around them?—See more at Vertigo Comics!
Greg Ruth is an artist and writer working in comics, children’s books, advertising, and is often contributor to Tor.com’s fiction. Vertigo Comics commissioned him to illustrate the cover for Bill Willingham’s acclaimed Fables series. Below, he guides us through his process in creating this Camelot-themed cover.
Nate’s not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town. After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place. But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, he’s thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago. Now, as strange happenings and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him. But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength in the woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy.
If all were lost and I found myself red-thonged and rifle-bound as the giant Zardozian head of Stanley Kubrick roiled over the ruined horizon, I would chase it forever till the end of the earth. Kubrick’s films offer a stunning portrait of isolation and spiritual angst few others manage to achieve with such edge and elegance. Grounded in both the pulverant physicality of the little moments while also speaking to our loftiest concepts is a rare achievement, but one Kubrick manages in each of his films beautifully. As a storyteller watching his films, I feel like a dusty, cod-eyed ape triumphantly railing my newfound bone weapon against a backdrop of something far bigger than I could ever conceive… and my heart is warmed greatly by it.
Illustration by Greg Ruth
I’m in the middle of reading John Ajvide Lindqvist’s seminal masterpiece, Let the Right One In and am in utter awe of the unique strength and power of the central character, Eli. Not being particularly interested in vampires as a general theme, the stark and lyric prose of this novel has completely circumvented my prejudices and taken me over completely. Eli as an unknowable creature is so much more fully explored here, and with all great characters she becomes more elusive and deeper the more we learn about her through the text. It’s an astonishingly rich and rewarding novel that stands out so much more than I ever expected, and Eli has wormed her way into my psyche so deeply, I can hardly imagine her ever completely leaving. Do yourself a favor if you find yourself heading for a spell of summer reading, and cast a long shadow over the sandy beach with this fine and fantastic piece of dark confection. You won’t be disappointed.
Illustration by Greg Ruth
From Greg Ruth’s 52 Weeks project—offering a drawing and a few words once a week, every week.
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