Edited by Scott Allie
92 pages, Dark Horse
Willies and Williebility by Pat Black
Do you suffer from the willies?
Oh, come now, don’t be embarrassed – it happens to everyone at some point.
Not sure what they are? Well, do you know of that strange moment of panic upon waking in the dark, as you fumble for the light switch, horribly convinced that there’s something in the room with you? If so, the chances are you’ve had the willies.
You can get big willies – ones produced by a near-miss on the motorway, or when the phone rings in the dead of night. They’re very bad. But you can get small cases, too. It’s the little willies that we’re concerned with, here.
That’s not to demean the wee willies, you understand - it can be an extremely limiting condition, and an infectious one, too. You certainly don’t want to go to bed with the willies – that’s not good for you or your partner. And you most certainly do not want to wake up in the middle of the night with the willies. The symptoms mainly manifest themselves at night, occasionally after the sufferer has eaten too much cheese before retiring for the evening. They can spill into dreams, and cling to you after you wake in the night.
It’s not always easy to chase the willies away. Sometimes putting on the light helps, sure. Or even the TV – so long as you don’t catch a late-night horror movie. You might end up with a double-dose of the willies, and that’s not good for business.
If you should get the willies – even just a mild case – it’s sometimes best to just go with them rather than fighting them. With this in mind, a good anthology of spooky material might be just the ticket for the sleepless and willies-stricken.
One such piece of work is The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, a mixture of comic strips and prose from the respected graphic novel publisher. A handsome, full-colour edition with some terrific artwork, it would even make a fine coffee book table for people who wouldn’t ordinarily take a second glance at a graphic novel.
We open up with Mike Richardson’s “Gone” a creepy little number showing us what happens when nosey kids take a peek inside scary, boarded-up houses... Or rather, not showing us. We see the curious being sucked into its malevolent windows and spaces between boards, with a golden goose parade following each successive victim into the black hole, one after the other. Everyone knew of a house like that when they were growing up, it seems.
That’s just a warm-up for Hellboy, the headline act. Mike Mignola’s red-skinned devil-turned-protector of humans is a familiar figure nowadays thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s movie adaptations, but it’s fair to say he was more on the periphery of popular culture when this book appeared. The 13-page story, “Dr Carp’s Experiment”, sees Hellboy and his team of psychic investigators checking out an old house which belonged to a long-dead black magic-dabbling doctor, where all manner of strange things have been experienced. Almost at once, Hellboy is plunged into a time-travel style adventure featuring lots of razor-sharp cutting and kinetic action; not for the first time I thought what a gift it is for film-makers to have such wonderful source material to use. You’re pretty much looking at a storyboard all ready to go.
A short story by the late British author Percival Langdon is also included, “Thurnley Abbey”. It’s a rendering of a haunted house story, with some uptight British toffs being menaced by rather unlovely bones. The whole thing hinges on a boast – or even a promise - by the story’s narrator that he would speak to a ghost, should he ever encounter one. An easy enough pledge to make during daylight hours, to be sure. This is evidently a man who thought he didn’t suffer the willies gladly – but anyone can get the willies, anyone at all.
Special mention must go to Gary Gianni’s wonderful illustrations, too; shadows become malevolent hands, and grinning skulls linger just beyond the light, upping the willies factor considerably.
Next, Scott Allie’s “This Small Favour” follows a well-established ghost hunter character, who is trying to exorcise some troublesome spirits from an uptight couple’s home. I found it difficult to follow what was going on in this one, but it does have a fine, knowing pay-off.
In the next strip, “Forever”, someone is haunted by ink. German writer/artist Uli Oesterle’s tale sees a boor getting himself a tattoo, leaving in his car without paying and then running over the irate Chinese artist as he chases on foot. A day after the incident, the tattooed man discovers the Chinese design has started to spread across his body...
“The House on the Corner” by Milton Freewater Jr looks at a run-of-the-mill haunted house story. One creepy coda to this tale is that its author was himself killed in an accident in 1997, and is described as “the only ghost writing in this anthology”. What the spirit of Percival Langdon has to say about that is unrecorded.
Next, we go back to prose with an interview by the book’s editor with a medium, Larry Dreller. Even to the cynics, this man’s views are an education if you wish to know more about subjects such as spiritualism, exorcism and clairvoyance. Some of his anecdotes are chilling enough, and he delivers a fascinating thesis on the nature of energy, and why it always has to turn into something.
This view provides a positive note – one that a sceptic might be tempted to say professional psychics thrive on - an assertion that our personalities do survive death, that there’s something for us all to move on to. In some cases that might mean putting on chains, applying some greasepaint and a hooded cloak and giving decent people the willies; c’est la morte.
Next up is “Lies, Death and Olfactory Delusions”, a real creeper about a lad who is haunted by the class whipping boy on a summer’s day out in his “gang hideout”. It turns out the boy – whom he had cruelly mocked for being smelly – had been hit by a truck a couple of days previously. And there’s an awful, and horribly familiar stench in the narrator’s room at night...
Finishing on a cute note, there’s “The Stray”, by Evan Dorkin, with the most beautiful art by Jill Thompson. This tale takes the notion of a haunted doghouse, no less. The story is as cute as the pictures, with four dogs and a cat all trying to find out why one of their gang can’t get to sleep at night in his new shelter.
It ends on a lovely image of a cat and a dog huddling together out of the rain, and it might just be that cosy image which will help you banish the willies as you click off the light.
Do sleep tight. Don’t let the willies – or those blue-faced demon children lurking at the bottom of your bed – bite.