When you approach horror as a creator your mind gets thrown into an abyss of cliches and often explored tapestries and settings. That’s the virtue of horror, in that it can fit into everything that you know of or perceive. It’s too much to expect from such a flexible genre that you have the privilege of exploring a new backdrop for the first time for a horror story.
You have to encroach upon already heavily explored areas and put your own unique ideas, characters, and story within it. You can colour it with your own style and skills but that’s all you’ve got.
Writing horror can be an exploration of what you can be, pushing your boundaries and with it the readers.
Following is an excerpt from the introduction to the Second Volume in the Sandman Series – The Dolls House talking about the first kind of Fantastique – a genre of horror often explored.
May we open this celebration of the work in your hand by defining two kinds of fantastic fiction?
One often sees in horror novels and movie offers up a reality that resembles our own then postulates a second invading reality, which has to be accommodated or exiled by the status quo it is attempting to overtake.
Sometimes, as in any exorcism movie – and most horror movies are that by other names – the alien thorn is successfully removed from the suppurating flank of the real.
On other occasions, the visitor becomes part of the fabric of everyday life.
Superman is after all an alien life form. He’s simply the acceptable face of invading realities.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a feat in the pursuit of creating a new kind of horror, a complete invasion of the readers’ mind rather than the invasion of the setting.
Clive Barker continues on to explain the dark side of the moon with the second kind of Fantastique – a deeper more deliriously darker twin of the genre.
The second kind of Fantastique is fair more delirious. In these narratives, the whole world is haunted and mysterious. There is no solid status quo, only a series of relative realities, personal to each of the characters, any or all of which are frail, and subject to eruptions from other states and conditions.
One of the finest writers in this second mode is Edgar Allan Poe, in whose fevered stories landscape, character- even architecture- become a function of the tormented sexual anxious psyche of the author, in which anything is possible because the tales occur within the teller’s skull.
The Comic Book or Graphic Novel- a term more appropriate in distinguishing more cerebral and sans cliche comic books- as a medium have the privilege of retaining as well as sharing more than a novel or a film. If you kill a character in between panels- the first panel shows the character in fear and the next panel shows the character slumped against the wall dead- you have let the act of killing and the details open to the readers’ imagination, you have killed the character a million times over as the readers shit between panels. This makes the comic book a most appropriate medium that lets a horror story escape cliche.
It is perhaps freedom from critical and academic scrutiny that has made the medium of the comic book so rich an earth in which to nurture this second kind of fiction? In movies, it is the art-house product (Fellini leads the pack) that dares to let go of naturalism. But in recent years the most stressful comic book creators are those who have strayed furthest from the security of the river bank into the fury of white waters.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is credited to have changed the already dynamic nature of post-modern comic books and reinventing them. Characters that don’t save the day or the world, stories that emerge out of helplessness, selfish impatience and journeys of melancholic self-discoveries. Stories that are ridden with incomplete, interjecting events within the timelines in the general scheme of things.
For instance, Mr Gaiman. In a relatively short time, his imaginings have made him the crowd’s darling, but his stories are perfectly cavalier in their re-ordering of realities. He doesn’t tell straightforward, read-it-and-forget-it tales; he doesn’t supply pat moral solutions. Instead, he constructs stories like some demented cook might make a wedding cake, building layer upon layer, hiding all kinds of sweet sour in the mix. The characters who populate these tales are long past questioning the plausibility of the outrages Mr. Gaiman visits upon normality. They were born into this maelstrom and know no other reality. There are creatures that dream of dreams; and others who dream about the dream-pretenders. Here are dimension-hopping entities who have a Napoleonic sense of their own destiny, occupying the same panel as tuppenny coloured beasties who look as though they’ve escaped from bubblegum cards.
What the demented cook’s brew looks like and is, in fact, a recipe by Mr Gaiman to discover what he can be.
There is a wonderful, willful quality to this mix: Mr. Gaiman is one of those adventurous creators who sees no reason why his tales shouldn’t embrace slapstick comedy, mystical musings, and the grimmest collection of serial killers this side of Death Row. He makes this combination work because he has a comprehensive knowledge of the medium and knows where its strengths lie. He has also – and this is infinitely more important than being a Comic Brat – a point of view about the world which he uses the anarchic possibilities of the medium to express. After all, where can the glorious, the goofy, and the godlike stand shoulder to shoulder? Where else can the bubble-gum hearts, the dream travellers, the serial killers, and the occasional guest-star from beyond the grave all occupy the same space?
The creator is hidden within the created and he brought you a Dream.
If the sheer profusion of these inventions and the apt absurdity of some of the juxtapositions puts you in mind of one of your more heated dreams, then surely that’s what Mr Gaiman intends. Forget what’s written on the title page. Hero and author are here synonymous. For the time you spend in these pages, Mr Gaiman is Sandman. And look he just brought you a dream.