Stephen King's Debt to Horror Comics

Crusty old horror comics have played a significant role in the work of author Stephen King.

The Little Green God of Agony

Writer: Stephen King
Contributors: Dennis Calero

In the foreboding early panels of Stephen King's "The Little Green God of Agony", a free, 24-part serial webcomic, a path to the author's real-life tragedy is apparent. Framed in dim blues and knife-edged, pitch-black shadow lines from Harvey Award-nominated artist Dennis Calero, the first sequence has King's billionaire and plane crash survivor Andrew Newsome in the care of Katherine MacDonald, his private nurse. Open Culture blogger Ayun Halliday highlights the connection to King's own "debilitating accident" when a van struck him as he walked along North Lovell, Maine's Route 5 in 1999. He was hospitalized for three weeks. The "Little Green" exposition is also reminiscent of Misery -- King's novel about a writer who barely survives a heinous car accident when he's "treated" for his injuries in the home of a deranged fan. Either way, the comic is off to a grim start.

"The Little Green God of Agony" appeared initially as a short story in King's A Book of Horrors in 2011. Dennis Calero inks the first six pages of this comic adaptation in such dramatic plum, black, and blue that the facial features of bespectacled bystander "Rideout," a man of whom nurse Katherine MacDonald is suspicious, are rarely very distinct. King doesn't offer up a lot of characterization or narrative buildup just yet, but the pairing makes sense given the history that Calero has with King's material: He worked as a penciler on Marvel's The Dark Tower series, a well-liked comics version of King's popular novels.

In Stephen King's On Writing, he recounts exercises that involved copying text from the comics he was reading as a young man into the pages of a notebook. In his Danse Macabre, King discusses the role that his favorite horror comics played in the development of 'Salem's Lot, his 1975 novel about a community of vampires in a small Maine town. King's early 1980s partnership with horror film icons George Romero and Tom Savini birthed Creepshow, a chilling comics-inspired horror movie built of vignettes about beyond-the-grave vengeance, insect infestations, and more. Spotted with humor as often as it is blood, Creepshow unravels just like early horror comics did, when "pacts with the devil and trips to hell" were common themes. Creepshow's opening sequence is mostly animated and the first "chapter" features King's son Joe, who won the Eisner Award for his IDW comics and recently collaborated with his dad on 2012's Road Rage comic series.

The long-expired but slowly decaying host at the forefront of Creepshow is emblematic of King's admiration for EC's Tales from the Crypt, and in particular, for "The Crypt-Keeper", the silver-haired ghoul who introduced and presided over the stories inside each issue of Tales. Creepshow's pieces are broken up by part-live action, part-animated gothic imagery, and it only made sense that a print comic adaptation drawn by Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson would soon follow. Wrightson collaborated with King again on Cycle of the Werewolf, an illustrated 1983 collection of stories about a small town ravaged by a werewolf. Two years later, a film based on Cycle called Silver Bullet opened in theaters. Wrightson also contributed artwork to later volumes of The Dark Tower.

In 2010, comics writer Scott Snyder produced a captivating work of what PopMatters calls "sinister dread" in Vertigo's American Vampire. He tapped Stephen King to blurb his chronicling of the early 20th century undead. King read Snyder's outline and fell in love with the primary character. King ended up signing a contract to write the first five issues, working from Scott Snyder's blueprint. King offered humble reflection on his contributions to the series in an introductory essay for the first American Vampire trade. More importantly, the author of runaway successes like Carrie, The Shining, and more explains why he felt an obligation to get involved in comics. "In the end, it's all about giving back the teeth that the current 'sweetie-vamp' craze has, by and large, stolen from the bloodsuckers," he wrote. "It's about making them scary again."

* * *

"The Little Green God of Agony" will update on Wednesdays for its duration.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.