Ready for a Halloween scare? These graphic novels and compilations are just the ticket. A creepy cult, alien monsters, gravediggers and ghosts populate their spooky pages. Even the Great Pumpkin makes an appearance in all his glory. Read these books next to a flickering fire and you're guaranteed to get the shivers.
The Woods 1
Goblins and ghouls are fine as they go, but the haunts dreamed up by James Tynion are literally otherworldly. He transports an entire high school — students, teachers, administrators, even the school building — to an eerie forest on a planet in a far-flung corner of the universe. Tynion's vampire bats have blind white eyes, three sets of wings and doubled-up fangs, and there are no names for the other beasties he supplies. As underclassmen are massacred and the faculty reacts with teeth-gnashing predictability, a group of students enters the wood itself. The six are classically diverse — there's a tough girl, a gentle giant, a clown — and each has his or her own motive for leaving the school behind (their leader, ominously, seems to be reacting to commands from an alien intelligence). The kids will discover whether they were right to trust him as they venture into the depths of the hostile forest. They'll also discover they aren't the only sentient life in there. Illustrator Michael Dialynas is better with monsters than people, but he's drawn some pretty cool-looking monsters. And Tynion's concept is supremely clever, producing genuine suspense about what lies ahead.
The artist behind the celebrated Deadly Class series has created three dark tales perfect for reading by a spooky bonfire. First published online, the stories are simple but pungent. "The Grave Diggers' Union" reveals that these workers don't confine their activities to coffin wrangling; they're also on duty when those coffins discharge horrible undead beings. "The Seed" depicts the ghastly aftermath of a man's erotic experience with a sex cult. "You can run, you can run," the cult chants — or is that the voice of the book itself? — "but there's nowhere to hide when it's inside you." "Circus Day" isn't a scary story per se, but the other tales' menace seems to wreathe its young protagonist as he explores the world behind the Big Top canvas. Craig loosely follows the look of old pulp comics, but he finds all sorts of new ways to approach line, color, style and layout. Virtually every page comes with a creative surprise.
Waiting for the Great Pumpkin
This adorable little collection of strips is the perfect prize for your costume contest. Growing up, you may have gotten to know the Great Pumpkin mainly through the evergreen TV special — but the original strips collected here are both brainier and more emotionally complex than the show. Taken together, they're a bleak take on spirituality in all its forms. On TV, Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin is straightforwardly presented as akin to believing in Santa Claus. In the strips, it's much closer to a belief in God himself. Charlie compares Linus' arguments over the Pumpkin to "denominational squabbling," and Marcie tries to hand out pamphlets door to door, only to get one thrown at her. Most dramatically, while the TV story ended with Linus still loudly proclaiming his devotion to the Pumpkin, in the strips he's disillusioned. Mocked by Charlie and Lucy, Linus broods: "I was a victim of false doctrine." Losing your faith? Now that's scary.
The Graveyard Book
In the first volume of The Graveyard Book, a toddler, miraculously evading a mysterious assassin, found unexpected protection among the residents of a graveyard. Now christened "Bod" (it's short for "Nobody"), he's entering his teenage years and ready for some answers. His vampire guardian warns him not to venture away from the graveyard, saying, "How could we keep you safe out there?" "The question isn't 'Who will keep me safe from him?' " Bod replies. "It's 'Who will keep him safe from me?' " Bod never loses this charming boldness. In the first book, seven different artists illustrated Bod's tale. Here the bulk of the story is handed to Scott Hampton, who did so well with the ghoul world in the first book. This time he seems unsure in the task of drawing normal human faces, as if he's forcibly reining in an urge toward grotesquerie. Meanwhile, David LaFuente's Bod is pugnacious and completely contemporary, the malicious Mo Quilling is everything that could be hoped, and Kevin Nowlan's faces are as uncannily expressive as ever.
Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Salon.com. She tweets at @EtelkaL