Imagine Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was 18 rated. Imagine Batman lost control and accidentally killed someone. Imagine he was haunted by his grief to the extent he started seeing things. Imagine he took suppressive drugs to stop the hallucinations but it still didn’t stop. Imagine the world’s greatest detective on the edge, doped up, battling the broken city, as madness begins to take hold. Imagine the Joker never held back. Imagine he sent maniacs with chainsaws and harpoons into the streets to draw Batman out. Imagine a messianic monster at the heart of it all, a creature like King’s It behind the veil of his eyes.
That should give you a rough idea.
Batman has always been close to Horror and there are already darker interpretations out there in the world. One of my favourites is one in which Bruce Wayne is actually a schizophrenic suffering a psychotic break, locked up in Arkham Asylum, being treated by various professionals who he imagines as villains trying to stop him saving Gotham. Nonetheless, even these interpretations lack the gritty, gory reality, and the goose-bump moments, which define Horror as a genre. And so, there is a call for a new genre to be forged. And that genre, I believe, is called Graphic-Horror.
I’ve been throwing the term Graphic-Horror around quite a bit of late. It’s in my ‘About’ page and Amazon ‘Author Central’ description. I’m starting to talk about my novels as examples of ‘Graphic-Horror’. But what do I mean when I use this phrase and why didn’t I use it before now?
Well, before, I didn’t really know what I was writing. ‘Horror a la Stephen King’ was one commonly used phrase, but when examined critically, my writing differs greatly from King’s despite how much I’ve learned from him and admire him (quite apart from the fact he is a literary genius and I am probably not). Stylistically, however, I think in my books there’s more of a focus on the supernatural and its influence on the mind, spiritual revelation and redemptive moments, and in the comic-book villain who wears a mask; King, on the other hand, hones in on family ties, intimate human interactions, and of course, our childhood fears which return to us in adulthood.
There’s always been a strong comic-book influence in my stories ever since The Darkest Touch where I sought to bring those colourful supervillains to life in a ‘real’ and twisted way. But it took someone else looking in, my own father, James, in fact, to make me realize this is what defined my work and made it different from other horror out there. It shouldn’t be surprising, my dad’s a motivational expert! But still, thanks dad. Once more I owe you one!
What is obvious to those around you is rarely obvious to you. People had picked up on the strong visual elements of my storytelling before and this is also rooted in the graphic novels I used to read as a kid: 2000AD’s Necropolis and Die Laughing changed the precepts of what I thought a story could be. I have my mother to thank for those! Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta inspired me with the creation of possibly the ultimate masked vigilante, one who wonderfully blurs the lines between hero and villain. From this arose my absolute love of the classic comic villain: invariably masked, insane, but always imbued with a kind of disturbing poetry, offering a unique world-changing philosophy that could almost be rational… You’ll see more of a few of these in my books and there’re probably more to come. Video-games are also part of this foundation, with their strong visual storytelling, necessary visual-focus and often off-key characters.
Labeling can be a bad thing, but sometimes rather than restricting it actually frees one. I now feel empowered to explore and begin to establish the goalposts of this genre. What are its limits? Where can it go? How real and dark can we make a costumed supervillain? How surreal and colourful can we make a family scene? By labelling the genre and naming it, we can now talk about it and define it (and by no means do I anticipate being the only person writing this way). Just as the ‘Weird Crime’ genre (think True Detective) was born from the hybrid of Lovecraftian supernaturalism mixed in with the Thriller elements of detective fiction, so too the name of this new genre is born from the meeting between Graphic Novel and Horror. The name Graphic-Horror carries with it the connotations of strong imagery, story told through symbols, and the explicit content, nerve-racking tension and fear which can be found in Horror.
A new realm waits to be explored. I hope you’ll be along with me for the journey.
Thanks for reading, as always, consider following me @josephwordsmith