Comics and Graphic Novels

Legendary Horror Stories

This review was originally published in H-alt: Legendary Horror Stories.

Among the many good things about Motelx film festival is that, beyond all the cool horror cinema, is also a space open to other cultural expressions. Beyond movies, we can always expect workshops, new literary releases, thematic panels and other initiatives. Usually Saída de Emergência, an imprint specialized in fantastic fiction, releases a Lovecraftian work during the festival. This year’s choice was a superbly illustrated but nonetheless heavy issue of Call of Cthulhu, the iconic Lovecraft weird tale. This Lisbon horror film festival has also encouraged the publication of anthologies. From a couple of years ago I recall the Motelx Horror Stories anthology, which brought together dark tales written by Portuguese authors, as a good example of the Festival’s cultural impact beyond cinema and media.

Legendary Books, is a comics and other geek scenes that delight us so much shop in Lisbon. Recently, they brought to the Festival a small but well-stocked space. That’s  something even more remarkable knowing that in recent years the portuguese Comic Con has been invading the Motelx timeline, taking place in the exact same days, attracting the public, media attention, shops and editors that set up shop at the Comic Con venues. The target audience for the Algés mega event is not exactly the same as the film festival’s (personally, I see Comic Con’s bet as less on the deep and knowledgeable Fandom, and more on the target audiences of pop cultural  multimedia), but I suspect that it has consequences in the film festival’s partnerships and sponsorships. Legendary Books doesn’t follow the example of other stores and publishers, sticking with Motelx instead of trying to dispatch stock at the Comic Con. The public is the real winner. During the intervals between films we can go to the Legendary Books booth to fall into literary temptation. And more, because the store’s collection of geek stuff is always very good.

And this year, Legendary Books gave us this horror anthology. I don’t know if this edition was inspired by Motelx, or was a challenge from the festival’s organization. Maybe if I had gone to the zine’s launch event at the festival I would have answers to this question.

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In this book, four pairs of writers and illustrators focus on terror as a theme. They do so without compassion for the reader, and with a keen sense of darkness. The results are four relentless stories, surprising in their corrosive humor, or dark aesthetic brilliance.

The anthology opens with André Oliveira’s Chicken Pit, which puts us on a greasy roadside barbecue frequented by the worst customers. The cook, a former convict, is on the verge of his short patience, and it takes just a spark to start using the cleaver, for other things than cutting the endless chickens tp the fryer. Pedro Cruz’ drawing style it does not always fit the story, which leads in a crescendo of tension into an explosion of eschatological violence.

The next story, Fails From The Creep, has caustic tone of humor. The pair of anonymous authors sign a story that references heavily the iconography of the classic comic Tales From The Crypt. The story revisits classic mythological monsters with modern counterparts. Hair-allergic werewolves, wild vampires, or puritanical succubus are some of the revised creatures. The mermaids tale might land the authors in a fatwa, or court case. Ends with the worst of monsters, which I won’t tell you which is.

If the first two stories are essentially about humor, the anthology blooms with the last two, both narratively and graphically. In Us, written by Nuno Duarte, a young woman is unable to leave the refuge of a house progressively decrepit, haunted by a shadow that never leaves her. This story comes alive with fabulous illustrations by Rita Alfaiate, giving it a gothic twist, simultaneously Gorey-like and whimsical.

The anthology ends with Epitaph. The duo of authors Tiago Cruz and Inês Garcia took me, as a reader, by storm with their phenomenal book SINtra. Here the style is more poetic, but what stands out is the violent graphic work, heavy and sharp as the best horror can be.

I called Legendary Horror Stories an anthology, but the issue is more fanzine. It ends with an heartfelt tribute to a striking name of the Portuguese comic scene. Geraldes Lino was, essentially, our Forry J. Ackerman. Over the decades, his work as a fan and active supporter of young artists was tremendous. He left us this year to that great comic book library in the sky. This anthological fanzine honors Geraldes Lino memory by publishing Juan Cavia’s heartfelt elegiac portrait..

This fanzine was one of the best companies for this edition of Motelx. Perfect for reading on the balcony of S. Jorge Cinema, while tasting a cold spirited drink of choice to lessen the oppressive heat of this September. The icy breath of this anthological fanzine is complemented by an Easter egg that I can’t resist spoiling giving you a good reason to try using a cleaver on me in ways learnt  while watching this festival filmes). There is a common graphic element to all stories. All of them include a visual reference to the bloody eye that is Legendary Comics brand image.

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