RA for All...The Road Show!

I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 19-- Comic Humor

Let's take a break from the intense terror for a day.  I want to spend some time talking about comic horror. What is so funny about zombies, vampires, and vicious monsters? Plenty.  Horror has many conventions and motifs which are used throughout the genre.  These are tried and true “tricks of the trade” that are sure to create unsettling atmospheres, frightening situations, and terrified readers.  Among the most common of these are the isolated settings, the troubled, down on his luck protagonist, and the angry spirit out for revenge. The comic horror novel takes these go-to situations and parodies them to create both chills and laughs.

But why are these novels such a hit with readers?  Their main draw lies in satire.  The comic horror novel is most enjoyed by the true horror fan.  Someone who regularly reads the horror authors and titles found in the previous chapters and appreciates the genre’s tropes will crave these books which, with a knowing wink and nod, poke fun at horror, while still respecting it.  The humor is born out of horror’s past and is built off of the foundation laid out in the previous lists.  Comic horror fans love this insider’s feel to the stories.  They are part of an exclusive club who “get” the jokes, references, and puns.  Good comic horror, like the books on this “sure bets” list, will seamlessly blend chills and satire, allowing readers to be scared and have a good laugh, both at the same time. 

There are plenty of comic horror movies, such as The Scream franchise and my personal favorite, Shaun of the Dead, but today I want to focus on comic horror prose. 

The benchmark author in this subgenre is without a doubt, Christopher Moore. (That's his picture on the right.)  He writes funny, thought provoking, and chilling novels that satirize both the horror genre and the human condition.  Start with You Suck.  Another prolific author of comic horror is Mario Acevedo; however, his books tend to range toward the sillier side of the subgenre. Start with The Nymphos of Rocky Flats.

Nothing is more indicative of the wide appeal of comic horror than the success of the Blood Lite series.  Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and published by the Horror Writers Association, the series compiles the best of humorous horror from blockbuster authors and up and comers.  It is the perfect place to start sampling the best comic horror has to offer.

And of course, I cannot forget to mention the popularity of the horror "mash-up"," an emerging subgenre that exploded on the scene in 2009 when Quirk Books took comic horror to a whole new level by releasing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. Grahame-Smith took about 80% of the public domain text of Austen’s classic and inserted zombies and zombie hunters.  The ensuing novel was a huge bestseller and Quirk and other publishers have since put out numerous horror mash-ups of literary classics.  

For those interested in trying the best of the mash-ups, I would also suggest three more options:

Anderson, Kevin David.  Night of the LivingTrekkies.
At a science fiction fan convention, a virus begins to spread.  Soon a small band of strangers are forced to work together to find a way to escape an all out attack by zombies hungry for live flesh.  A combination of dead-on parody, Star Trek trivia, and hilarious dialog make this original comic novel a fan and critic favorite.

Cooper, Seamus.  TheMall of Cthulhu.
Ted thought he was done battling evil after he destroyed a nest of vampires back in college, but when he finds a group of Lovecraft enthusiasts intent on raising the author’s greatest monsters, Ted and his friend Laura must save the suburbs from the evil of the Necronomicon.  Whether you are a diehard Lovecraft fan or not, this is silly horror at its best; the monsters are evil and social commentary is relentless.

In this parody of Garrison Keillor’s portrayal of Minnesotans as steadfast people who don’t want to draw attention to themselves, the dead (both human and animal) begin to rise as zombies.  The good people of Lake Wobegotten must band together to save themselves.  However, one resident, Mr. Leavitt, is a secret serial killer, who tries to re-animate his victims and creates his own zombie army.  Geillor’s inventive novel is both an obvious satire and a chilling story of the monsters that lurk among us.

Chapter 12 of my new book, entitled "Comic Horror: Laughing in the Face of Fear," goes into this realm of horror in much more detail.  But for now, why not try one of the authors, titles, or collections I mentioned here today and see why readers love to blend some terror with a fit of the giggles.

Finally, it is hard to believe that I am cruising into the stretch run of these 31 Days of horror.  I realized now is a good time to let you know what is still to come.  Reviews of the short story collection What Fears Become and the novel Zone One by Colson Whitehead and a list of the best horror of 2011 and one on best Horror on the horizon, as well as a few guest posts.  There is still time to let me know if there is a horror issue you want me to address.


  1. Looking forward to your review of Zone One, I haven't read it yet.