Horror anthology comics have a long and august history in comics, from the classic days of E.C. to the Warren Magazines of the 1960s all the way up to anthologies like Creepy and now Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave today.
There's just something very pleasing about a good horror anthology collection, about the way a well-curated group of disparate stories can work together for readers and provide us with a thrillingly diverse set of terrible yarns. By and large, editors Kerry Gammill and Sam Park have delivered a quality comic with their Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave, presenting a wonderful assemblage of new and experienced creators, different types of tales and different approaches.
Bela #4 continues the auspicious run for Tales from the Grave with a group of stories and short features that mostly are thoroughly worth reading – and one story that's very memorable.
The comic begins with an eight-page yarn, "The Evil Eye" by Lowell Isaac, a creator who I've never heard of but from whom I'm looking forward to reading more. Isaac delivers a classic tale of a schoolyard taunting gone completely wrong. "The Third Eye" feels both familiar and weird for readers, with familiar schoolyard tropes and unexpected angles, a warm color palette and a terrifyingly spooky ending. There's a real confidence in Isaac's storytelling here that's very compelling; the writer artist knows how to establish a rhythm and then break that beat for shock effect.
"Four Way Split" by Mark Finn and John Lucas tells the tale of a ruthless group of treasure hunters who cheat and steal from each other until they suffer the E.C.-like consequences of their greed. Lucas's art has a classic terror comics feel that is perfect for an adventure/horror yarn like this one, reminiscent of the work of Bernie Wrightson and "Ghastly" Graham Ingels. Kerry Gammill's colors add tremendous drama – the gold at the center of this yarn seems almost to glow, while the brackish water is deeply, terrifyingly, black.
The first two stories in Bela #4 are wonderful, but the two other main tales are less successful for me. I thought "The Creature", by Ed Polgardy and Rob E. Brown, was mostly awkward and confusing, with a noodly art style, odd coloring and perplexing storytelling approach that makes the tale hard to understand. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out the ending of "The Creature".
The great Bill Sienkiewicz joins this anthology with an intriguing tale written by Kerry Gammill. Told all in rhyme, but with shockingly intense art, "Price Vlad's Banquet" is just a bit too abstract to really be compelling. It's always a joy to see Sienkiewicz draw a new comic story, and he creates his artwork in his usual smart and uninhibited manner, but there's a sense that Gammill created his tale around images that Sienkiewicz sent him rather than have the piece build organically.
Issue #4 of Bela wasn't the best issue of this wonderful horror book, but "The Evil Eye" is worth the price of admission all by itself.