Butt Plugs, Shit Golems, and Living Castles: Graphic Novels for Summer Reading

Looking for strange graphic novels to read while getting liquored in the sun? Here are five illustrated fever dreams guaranteed to make you wonder if you’re suffering from heat exhaustion:

Shit and Piss by Tyler Landry

Imagine being trapped in a truck stop bathroom while the person in the stall next to you is having explosive diarrhea. Now, multiply that stench by thirty billion. That’s the level of stink pervading the world of Tyler Landry’s Shit and Piss. This slim volume of surrealist horror is set in an apocalyptic wasteland, within the walls of a sewage processing plant. The place is run by a sentient human skull that spends its time playing cruel games with the plant’s inhabitants. There’s a golem made of human shit, dangerous parasites, humanoid builders with vaguely vaginal mouths and terrifying aquatic monstrosities. The art is rendered in gorgeous (if you want to call it that) black and white. The text is minimal, poetic and laced with heavy doses of existential horror. This one is a hidden gem and a must-read for horror fans and coprophiles alike.

Monsters by Ken Dahl

Whatever happened to educational scare films? You know, the ones where they’d warn you to stay celibate unless you wanted your junk to explode? Then proceed to attack your eyeballs with extreme close-ups of genital sores leaking something that looks like cottage cheese? Well, if you’re crazy enough to be nostalgic for those days, Ken Dahl’s got you covered. His graphic novel, Monsters, is a unique pairing of autobiography and sexual education manual. It opens with the evocative line: “Imagine never kissing anyone on the lips ever again” and proceeds to tell of Dahl’s experience with the herpes simplex virus. Everything he learns about the disease throughout the narrative is presented in an honest, educational and oddly entertaining format. He dispels a lot the myths surrounding the disease, and in the process paints a portrait of himself that’s both funny and painfully human. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything so unique in the field of graphic storytelling. Fans of Robert Crumb should keep an eye out for this one.

Survivor’s Club by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halverson

This criminally underrated series penned by Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters) and Dale Halverson, basked in 80s horror nostalgia before it truly became fetishized by the mainstream. The story follows the members of the titular Survivor’s Club: a support group made up of individuals who survived various horrific events in 1987. One was trapped inside a haunted house. Another was pursued by a vengeful Japanese Yūrei. One boy from Africa played an evil Polybius-style arcade cabinet, and so on. Each of their stories is presented like a greatest hit from the canon of 80s horror, but with Beukes’ unique touch of the macabre. Things really start picking up when the group is seemingly contacted by the aforementioned arcade game. Throughout the nine-issue arc, Beukes and Halverson gleefully subvert familiar tropes as the characters seek to unravel the connective tissue that binds their trauma together. Survivor’s Club is a must-read for devotees of 80s horror.

Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs

I don’t plan on getting married or going on a honeymoon. But if I do, there damn well better be butt plugs and monstrous trees. Jesse Jacobs’ Safari Honeymoon is a psychedelic trip with an oddball sense of humor. We follow a pair of newlyweds who spend their honeymoon in a jungle straight out of your Uncle Jerry’s acid stories. With the help of a guide that happens to be riddled with every species of parasite, real or imagined, they are subjected to a series of misadventures, including: running away from killer trees, punching monsters in the face and getting trapped in a time loop—along with a bunch of other crazy shit. This book is absolutely hilarious. It can be read in one sitting and the art is stunning. Everything is doused in shades of green and presented in a mind-bendingly kaleidoscopic style. It’s the perfect way to spend your time on a camping trip as the mushrooms kick in.

Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow by Suehiro Maruo

This wouldn’t be a list of weird graphic stories if it didn’t include anything from Japan. Suehiro Maruo is a manga artist known for his ero guro (erotic grotesque) aesthetic, which is characterized by frank depictions of deviance, sexual corruption and violence. Its influence can be felt throughout Japanese cinema, from pink films to the works of Takashi Miike and Sion Sono. As far as Maruo’s work is concerned, the best place to start is Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show. Set early in the Shōwa period, this manga follows a young orphan named Midori who’s rescued from the streets by a traveling freak show. She soon discovers that her existence as a beggar was preferable to living among the murderers and sadists that make up the troupe. I’ll tell you right now, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show is tame by Maruo’s standards, but it’s still not for the faint of heart. The panels ooze with demented sexuality, brutality and, uh, eyeball licking. But through it all, there’s an interesting, albeit depressing, story to be had. It almost feels like a pitch-black version of a children’s fairy tale. And if you happen to enjoy it, and the violence doesn’t trouble your sick mind, give Maruo’s even more disturbing Ultra-Gash Inferno a try. It’s like getting a face full of pepper spray.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Grimm’s fairy tales meets the body horror of David Cronenberg and the surreal beauty of Maya Deren’s experimental films. Through the Woods is a collection of five short stories penned and illustrated by Canadian artist Emily Carroll. Every time you turn the page, your vision is dazzled by striking full-color art. Sometimes vibrants, often somber, but always arresting, Carroll’s imagery brings these stories of ghosts, sprawling estates, murder and madness to vivid life. My personal favorite “The Nesting Place” is grotesque, creepy as hell, and totally unforgettable. This beautiful volume is guaranteed to give you a chill during these unusually hot summer days.

Ragemoor by Richard Corben and Jan Strnad

Fans of horror comics will no doubt recognize the name Richard Corben. His highly idiosyncratic art has graced the pages of Heavy Metal, Creepy, Vampirella, as well as the album art of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. One of his more interesting works, Ragemoor, is the Gothic tale of a living, monstrous castle. The entirety of this comic—from the monochromatic art to its distinct Poe/Lovecraft flavor—brings to mind the works of another famous Roger: one Roger Corman. The story follows Herbert, the heir of castle Ragemoor, who returns home in the wake of his father’s death. As he explores the halls of his birthright, the horrifying truth behind the blood-soaked stones begins to unravel and threatens to drive Herbert to madness. From beginning to end, this comic will make you feel like you’re watching an undiscovered B-horror film. It’s creepy, campy and downright fun.

So there you have it. Hopefully one of these books scratches your summer itch. Now, it’s time to slather on some tanning oil, open a can of beer, and fire up that joint. Here’s hoping your summer is weird as fuck.

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