Gothic Tales of Haunted Love
Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is Hope Nicholson’s (The Secret Loves of Geek Girls) latest Kickstarted anthology, now available for order through your local comic shop. And it’s a great concept — inspired by the short-run early 70s comic genre of gothic romance, which featured spooky old houses, tragic young women in danger, and the potential of ghosts, a variety of creators have created new stories with today’s attitudes. There are 20 stories included, co-edited by S.M. Beiko, plus some moody pinups.
The book starts with a must-read foreword by romance comic historian Jacque Nodell that covers the high points of the genre and its influences, which ran through eight issues of two titles from DC Comics and eleven Charlton issues. She points out that most of the stories are “ultimately revealed to be merely a diabolical plot by a person who either abhors change, or who uses the illusion of the supernatural to satisfy their own greed.” That’s one key difference between the previous take on the genre and the stories here: these stories don’t explain away the ghostly or macabre elements. Sometimes, they even relish in them. Another is that few women portrayed are helpless; even if the actions they take are unforgivable, they’re making their own decisions.
High points of the anthology for me, were:
- “Crush” by Janet Hetherington and Ronn Sutton — A classic premise, the new governess at a remote old house, is given a fresh approach by making the heroine dark-skinned and ending the story with a determined, grisly twist. This is perhaps the most in keeping with the genre roots of the collection.
- “Rose’s Heart” by Colleen Coover — A damsel in distress turns the table on her “protector” and exploiter.
- “L’Heure Verte” by Caroline Dougherty and Femi Sobowale — Named after “the green hour”, an absinthe happy hour, this romantic encounter has gorgeous art and design in keeping with the fancy costume party setting.
- “Goldblind” by Hope Nicholson and Scott Chantler — Given his historical work, Chantler is a great artistic choice for a story set during the gold rush in a remote snowbound cabin about the tragic futility of chasing riches.
- “Ladies of the Lake” by Sarah Winifred Searle — An abandoned wife, aided by her maid, stops a privileged serial killer. Searle’s deceptively simple style suits the underlying optimism of women winning out.
- “Mistress Fox” by Megan Kearney and Derek Spencer — Truly creepy manipulation and psychological battle among the wealthy, with wonderful use of language.
- “One More Cup” by Barbara Guttman — Distinctly modern but classic in its portrait of fascination and a slow falling in love with a supernatural creature. The final page, in all its gothic glory, is something to see.
Other stories are intriguing, but wander too far away from the premise for me. Nika’s “Secrets in the Silk”, for example, takes revenge on an anti-feminist fashion designer in 1974 Taiwan. Great concept, but not “gothic” to my mind. It’s more than just having a spirit involved, but requires a certain atmosphere and environment. Similarly, “The Return” by David A. Robertson and Scott B. Henderson is a zombie story among Native Americans with an obvious message. Again, not a bad story, but it didn’t seem suited for this collection (and I found myself wondering about the choice, as it comes close to equating “native” with “mysticism” in a clueless, overly reductive way).
In addition to the stories, there are several painted images by Lou Marchetti, paperback cover artist, that beautifully illustrate the “maiden and mansion” trope, as well as a reprint of a 1973 Charlton story featuring a Korean folk tale by Sanho Kim.
Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is a fascinating nod to an overlooked part of comic history and a collection of artists worth reading. It is due out in comic shops on April 11. It can be preordered now from your local comic shop with Diamond code JAN18 1855. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)