Stack Overflow: Putting the “BOO!” in “Comic Books”

Following up from last week’s stack of creepy comics, here are some more spooky stories for the season!

Prunella’s village is terrified of monsters. They already have a wall surrounding the village, but now there are proposals to build another wall on top of that wall. Prunella isn’t all that interested in the fearmongering, but when she finds a weird ring in her garden and pops it onto her finger, she finds that she’s been transformed into a skeleton and gets kicked out of the village as a monster. As she wanders around outside the walls, looking for a way to turn herself back, she encounters a lot of different monsters…and discovers that they’re actually not half bad. In fact, most of them are a lot friendlier than the people from her village! It’s a funny story about subverting expectations, and the variety of monsters and creatures that Prunella encounters are really entertaining.

Ms. Nomed has challenged her students to tell eerie stories, but for some reason Davis and Emily are very reluctant to share—and the teacher is particularly curious to hear what they have to say. With that framing story, there are five chilling tales, intercut with scenes from the classroom. Two tax collectors talk to the sole remaining citizen in a village that seems to have vanished. A young girl, living in the woods with her horrible aunt and uncle, discovers a weird talking head while she’s out chopping wood. A spaceship passes through a strange star cloud … and some of the crew start acting very strangely.

The kids’ stories are varied and generally independent from each other, but (as you may have guessed from the cover) things aren’t quite what they seem at the school, and the framing story itself becomes more and more eerie as you continue. I’d say the book’s cover gives you a good feel for the tone and level of creepiness—it’s meant for kids but can get a little disturbing in some places.

This graphic novel is set in the 1930s in Mississippi, where magic is regulated by the government in ways that is often discriminatory. For instance, Black people aren’t usually legally allowed to practice magic, and Native Americans who show powers are sent away to a residential school unless they can pay for an expensive permit. Mattie and Emma are sisters with Chocktaw and Black parents, and the inspectors have been making the rounds. They’ve started to gain their magical powers and really need those permits, but their families can’t afford them.

That’s when their aunt Luella, who had her magic sealed by the government years ago, comes up with an idea: broom races. They’re not entirely legal, of course, but there’s some good prize money and she thinks the girls have some potential. Plus, she has a contact who can get them into the very secretive venues—Billie Mae, the captain of the Night Storms team.

The characters in the story—particularly those we encounter at the broom races—are from various groups that have been historically marginalized: in addition to Black folks and Native Americans, there are a number of disabled racers, and one of the Night Storms is transgender. Emma is deaf and uses Indian sign language with a few of the other characters. All of them have their own hopes and dreams for winning the prize money, but their chief competition this year is the Pedigrees, a team of white teens who have the money for expensive brooms and charms, and don’t take losing lightly.

I really enjoyed Brooms—it’s a mix of exciting racing scenes, a story about overcoming the odds, and mesmerizing depictions of magic, plus some of the not-so-pretty parts of our country’s history, and it’s done in a way that is compassionate and uplifting.

This is a comic book adaptation of the horror novel of the same name, though I haven’t read the prose version myself. The bulk of the story takes place at the Amazement Park, a theme park that opened in 1953 and had a tradition of free admission for an entire week, once every seven years. But the park shut down after an incident in the ’70s when a 5-year-old girl, the daughter of a prominent businessman, went missing in the park and was never found.

Cut to today, and Ox Extreme Sports is running a tournament: fourteen young adults will be competing to stay in the derelict park for a week, playing hide-and-seek during the days and camping out a base station in the evening. Each day, the first two people found will be eliminated from the competition, and there’s a $50,000 prize for the winner.

Of course, it’s not really that simple. Although the contestants have been told it’s a pilot program for a reality TV show, they don’t see any camera crews, and they haven’t done any interviews. And when they ask who exactly will be looking for them, they don’t really get any straight answers. They soon begin to suspect that the people who were “eliminated” maybe didn’t go home …

The secrets behind the competition are gradually revealed, in part through old journals and a mysterious book that one of the competitors finds stashed away in the park. It reveals the true origins of the Amazement Park, and the extent to which some wealthy families will go to maintain their fortunes. This one is not for the faint of heart—there’s gore, as well as a look at some very dark parts of human nature—but it was a pretty thrilling ride.

I mentioned reading the first book in this series last year, and the second book is finally arriving in stores this week! Clementine and two of her companions managed to escape their deadly situation at the end of the last book, but things are dire. Clementine’s leg stump has gotten infected and she needs medical help—but where do you get that during the zombie apocalypse? They find themselves at the coast and, miraculously, a boat arrives to rescue them, bringing them to a small island community made up mostly of travelers who happened to be at this little inn when the outbreak occurred.

Two of the girls like the new community and want to settle down, but Clementine has trouble feeling safe. Miss Morro, the doctor who serves as the group’s leader, is standoffish and seems obsessed with researching the few undead who occasionally wash up onto the shore. As Clementine digs for answers, she discovers some unpleasant secrets about the island, and the girls have to make a tough decision about whether or not to stay.

Again, although the book is set in the world of The Walking Dead, the story is much more about the relationships between the living than it is about zombie attacks. Yes, there are zombies, a lot of them in a couple scenes, but it’s largely about what it’s like living in this changed world. Because it’s been so long since it happened, many of the younger kids barely remember what life was like before. They haven’t been to school, so some of them have trouble reading—none of them has any idea of geography, or even some basic science. All they know is survival, how to disable a zombie in one blow, how to hide. It’s hard to have hope, but these three girls are trying to figure it out.

This book came out a couple years ago (and although it ends with a promise of more to come, I haven’t seen the second book listed anywhere yet). It’s set in 1865 and takes place in the Republic of Santander, an alternate-history version of Mexico. Judging from the map at the beginning of the book, the Confederacy won the Civil War, Texas is a duchy, and the western half of North America has some territory still controlled by indigenous populations. Mexico itself is broken up into a few sections as well.

Cristina Franco is an apprentice shaman—a curandera—but she is killed by vicious witch owls. Her brother Enrique, who has been studying alchemy and engineering, brings her back to life—but now she is rejected by those who had been training her, because non-Christian magic goes against their creed. The two are joined by Mateo, a skinwalker who can take on a wolf form, and they try to figure out what the Witch Owl Parliament is up to—and whether they’re connected to a string of disappearances.

It’s a fascinating story, mashing up elements of Frankenstein, Native American folklore, the Latin American curandera traditions, plus some sci-fi and superheroes. The comic is illustrated with black, red, and green ink on a cream-colored paper, which also helps to reinforce the setting. I enjoyed this one, and hope that we get to see the rest of the story eventually!

My Current Stack

I’ve got just a few other spooky comics that I didn’t quite get to yet, so maybe I’ll share those next week! Speaking of scary stories, I also just finished reading Number Go Up by Zeke Faux about cryptocurrency, and it’s an eye-opening book (but a little dissatisfying in its conclusion). I’ll have more about that soon as well.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books. Affiliate links to help support my writing and independent booksellers!

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