John-Paul Kamath’s London Horror Comic has become an established self-publishing success story over the last few years. Its blend of classic supernatural themes with the horror of modern living ensuring it has a particular resonance for a 21st century audience, and its high production values belying its origins as an ostensibly small press publication.
This sixth issue of the anthology begins with a tale that fully embraces the aforementioned contemporary twist that has made LHC such a chilling read to date. There’s no preternatural Lovecraftian entity in the shadows or House of Mystery-style twist here and it’s all the more terrifying for just that reason. ‘I Saw the Beast’ is an account of one man’s descent into the abyss as the pressures of an imploding life overwhelm him. The subject matter may sound well mined already but it’s the dramatic pacing of this story of one man’s breakdown – and the familiar elements that push him over the edge – that make it such an evocative chiller.
So much of London Horror Comic to date has been about subverting genre conventions and ‘Strange Fruit’ – an essay on relationships with a vampiric twist – is no exception. Dressing up social commentary in the trappings of the supernatural is something Kamath does extremely well and this contrasting tale of entitlement and pragmatism when looking for the ideal partner has far more to it than mere fangs and blood. Conversely, ‘Ticking Clock’ has a similar theme of strange bedfellows but here Kamath is unashamedly going for a real gross-out vibe with a short story about a rather inadequate gent’s dalliance with a spider-goddess that eschews sophistication for an unrepentant EC Comics-style shocker.
The finale ‘Ring of Fire’ again plays on the unrequited love angle with an obvious but well-timed Facebook gag being something of a highlight. Steve Winwood is obsessed with the woman in the apartment opposite him but, as is ever the case when one makes a deal with the devil, his pact with the demon Belial to ensure the pair become close has ramifications he could never have foreseen.
Although there’s an underlying motif of failed relationships throughout these four stories both tempo and ambience vary radically from tale to tale. In that regard the art partnership of Lee Ferguson on pencils and Dean Kotz on inks provide visuals that impressively capture the changing tone of Kamath’s scripts. The careful pacing of ‘I Saw the Beast’ in particular requires an artist who understands that true horror can be as ably portrayed in one look of lost happiness in a poignant childhood flashback as can be evoked by any amount of gory blood and guts. Not that they’re incapable of pure schlock as well of course. ‘Ticking Clock’ is as gruesome a piece of gratuitous, over-the-top nastiness as you’re likely to see and it’s the visuals rather than the plot in this 18-pager that are going to send the arachnophobes scurrying for cover…
It may be one of the more genre-specific offerings I have covered in ‘Small Pressganged’ over the years and, as such, perhaps has a narrower built-in core audience but London Horror Comic is a consistently reliable read. John-Paul Kamath continues to provide self-contained creepy shorts in an anthology that is both nostalgic and relevant, hearkening back to the traditions of decades of horror comics past but never losing sight of the very contemporary terrors of present day urban living.