B&N Week 26: Who You Gonna Call?

| June 21, 2011 | 0 Comments


Once again, Tuesday is upon us! I don’t know about you, but I’ve been counting down, waiting to get here. As you should know by now, I absolutely LOVE Tuesdays! Spending quality time with you is the highlight of my week!

Welcome back to Bolts & Nuts. We’re still talking about horror, folks, and let me tell you, NO horror conversation is complete without talking about ghosts and goblins, witches and warlocks. Let’s get started!

Now, whether or not you believe in ghosts is immaterial. (It is?) It is. It doesn’t matter. Your stories won’t be affected by your belief. They’re just stories [even if some of them are true]. Same thing with goblins, demons, extradimensional beings, and the like. [Although, how some of you can believe in a Christian God and angels and NOT believe in extradimensional beings is beyond me.] Witches and warlocks? Same, same.

We’ve already somewhat gone over my views of how Christianity has demonized anything it doesn’t agree with. We’re already fearful enough of the dark, so there’s really little reason to try to make us even more fearful except as a means of control. Ghosts are one of those things, though, that can go either way.

I’m gonna be provocative here. Let’s say you got a visitation from the Virgin Mary. Since she’s dead, and has been for a few years now, you’ve been visited by a ghost. [I said it was provocative! Be happy I didn’t liken Jesus to a vampire—it did take him three days to rise, which is often a vampire trait; or to a zombie, which has been a trend lately. And yes, I could have!]

But like I said, that visitation from the Blessed Virgin was a manifestation of a ghost, but one you’re not afraid of. All the stories you’ve heard of concerning ghosts? Half of them are scary, and the other half are of ghosts that are just there, or annoying at best.

Ghost stories usually garner a very visceral response. That fear of the dark thing, because in the dark, everything is unknown. People are rarely afraid in the light. You can see everything. But in the dark? Alone? Everything gets very creepy, very quickly. Sounds take on an ominous cast, and you’re afraid that at any moment, something’s going to grab you. And in a half-light? Jumping, amorphous shadows cast by firelight? Things can get even more intense. Why do you think most ghost stories are told in the dark, or in a partially lit place? Everyone has the campfire tale, or the strange thing that happened to them that they’ve tucked away because no one will believe it. I honestly believe there are few people that go through life without a brush with something supernatural. And superstition is a powerful thing. So powerful that some things are almost unconsciously done.

Let’s start taking a look at the tropes of ghost stories, demons, witches, and the like. We can lump it all underneath the heading of the supernatural if you wish, but I’ve always had problems with that word. If super means more than, or beyond, then how can it be beyond nature if it’s happening? It may be beyond current understanding [yes, I have problems with the word ‘understand,’ as well, but let’s stay on the same page], but it doesn’t mean it’s beyond nature. If that were the case, wouldn’t God be supernatural? [There I go, being provocative again.]

Tropes! Let’s get into them.

Ghosts: For our purposes, let’s define a ghost as a spirit that has lived a mortal life, and that mortal shell is now deceased. Okay, now, most people believe that ghosts fall into one of a few different categories. The two that vie for first place are the ones that have died but left something important to them undone, and those that have died but, for some reason, cannot move on. [What they move on to is outside the scope of our discussion.] These two are very similar, with the ghost seeming to be trapped until something is fulfilled, or they realize something, or are released to move on by some outside, usually mortal, agency. These ghosts are usually the same in death as they were in life. There are few who change their stripes. Ever read A Christmas Carol? A ghost story to its core, and Morley is a ghost that changed his stripes in death.

Ghosts are usually known for making noise, apparitions, cold spots, odors, and moving stuff around. Not all the time, and not all at once, but these are their major things. Sometimes, they are also the cause of our third trope.

Spirits: For our purposes here, we’ll define spirits as entities that have never been corporeal. These spirits come in two major flavors: helpful, non-scary spirits are angels, and the scary, hurtful, ‘evil’ spirits are demons. It really doesn’t get easier than that. Spirits, depending on their flavor, have been ascribed a multitude of powers and power levels. Angels are here to help, but demons are here to corrupt and possess.

Possession: More than anything, humans fear possession. No longer having control over your body, your sovereign self, is the ultimate form of powerlessness. It is the ultimate rape.

Ghosts don’t possess all that much. They inhabit a place, they linger, but they don’t possess people that often. From time to time, sure, but it’s almost as if they’re saying that they’ve already worn flesh, and are pretty tired of it. Angels, since they’re here to help, don’t possess. They appear, they protect, they do what they need to do, but they don’t possess. [Now, if you read the Bible, there are stories of angels becoming corporeal in order to have sex with women, and their children were giants. Take that as you wish.] Demons, though—their main goal seems to be possession. At least, if you watch horror movies as much as I do. They can possess anything, too, not just people. People seem to be their body of choice, but they aren’t limited to it.

Other Creatures: they go by tons of names, depending on where you are and what you believe. The sidhe (pronounced shee ), the wee/little people/folk, elves [all kinds], gnomes, trolls, goblins, fairies, what have you. Most of these beings are not the bright, Disney versions that most of us know. They will seriously mess you up if you make one misstep with them, and there are some who have little to no redeeming qualities at all, and as such, their names have connotations of evil. Goblin and troll are prime examples of this. With some of them, you have to follow the first two rules of Fight Club. Do your research.

Witches/Warlocks: in the 60s, lots of movies and books had witches and warlocks worshiping Satan. These are not witches in the true sense. These are Satanists. If you’re going to tell a story featuring a witch or warlock, for the love of furry rodents everywhere, know at least a little bit about what you’re talking. No Black Mass, no upside down crosses, no calling upon the Great Satan [although Baphomet is a different case altogether]. And PLEASE! NO BUGS BUNNY CARICATURES! Green faces, warts, black dresses, pointed hats, broomstick riding, cackling—throw all of those out. You do NOT want me to come to your house and make you watch as I do rude things to ferrets using licorice, whipped cream, smelling salts, a twist of lime, and bikini wax. Trust me on this one.

Old Gods: For most people in America, everything that is not Judeo-Christian [or Islamic, to some extent] is mythology, because mythology isn’t real. However, as comic book writers, I hope that we’re at least a little more reasonable, and are able to at least understand at a fundamental level that these myths were vibrant religions at one point in time. There are the Aesir [also known as the Norse, were we get our days of the week from], Egyptian, Greek/Roman [because the Romans didn’t have much of an imagination when it came to religion], Asian, and more. And then you have the truly fictional Elder Gods, who are cut off from Earth and either want to get back, or are trying to be brought back or brushed against by various people. [Thank you, Mr. Lovecraft.]

There are tons of different ways to mix and match these, making them scary. Most of these should be scary by their very nature. [And they are—ask a regular person if they’ve ever run into something they couldn’t explain, and most of the time they’ll say yes, and MAY admit to being afraid. Nervous laughter is a mask for fear. And magic(k) practitioners? They know something of what’s out there, and are respectful if not fearful.] However, in America, we have three things that have minimized and trivialized things that go bump in the night: Disney and the Church. (That’s only two!) True. The third is Science. In the West, we’re so sure of ourselves because of science, it’s not even funny.

Our fear of the unknown, coupled with our fear of pain and death [and worse, a painful death] makes us do the strangest things. So strange, so ingrained, that we don’t even really think of them as strange anymore. This delves into the realm of superstition.

Dictionary.com defines superstition as a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing. A perfect example is breaking a mirror. (Seven years bad luck.) Exactly. But where did it come from? (I dunno. Don’t say it! I should go research.) Yes, you should. Here’s another: step on a crack (Break your momma’s back! Hey, this game is fun!) Throwing salt over your shoulder, three [or is it four?] men on a match, the sign to protect from the evil eye, placing your purse on the ground (For women, right?) [Yup! Unless you own a purse.], walking under a ladder, splitting a pole, a black cat crossing your path, the number thirteen, Friday the 13th, and SO many more. And these are just regional! Go to a different part of the country [or the globe], and superstitions are different. And they’re all based in the thought that something bad is going to happen unless you do something to either mitigate or avoid the peril.

These can be difficult to get across on a comics page. (Need a strong artist, right?) Exactly so. But again, the purpose of these examinations is to get you to look at what you’re doing, and see if you can’t amp it up as much as you can. Ghosts and goblins are well worn territory, and as such, have lost a LOT of punch on the printed page. A lot of people have their own ideas of what ghosts are and are not, and what ‘other creatures’ are and are not.

As always, do your research. Like the television slogan says, The More You Know The more you know, the more ammunition you’ll have, and hopefully, different ways of scaring your readers will present themselves. Just remember to get that strong artist.

Incorporating these into your stories for the effect of terror isn’t going to be easy. Like I said, these are extremely well worn tropes. Moreso than vampires and madmen. You’re going to need to do something on the level of The Grudge to pull it off well. Good luck with it.

And that’s it for now. See you next week!


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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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