Body Horror is a sub-genre of horror that specializes in the graphic (often really graphic) depiction of the destruction or transformation of the human body, and is specifically designed to leave you twisting in your seat. It can range from mild forms of transformed or otherwise altered bodies to the extremes of violent dismemberment, torture, and the complete obliteration of the human form. While body horror can and does exist in novel form, it is usually identified as a visual medium, and in the dictionary definition is referenced as being specifically a film sub-genre. But it also thrives in other forms, like that of the wince-worthy world of body horror comics.
A Note: For what it is worth, I have kept this post reader friendly. But these books contain content that will be triggering to some readers, often to such a great extent and variation that offering individual warnings is kind of a moot point. Reader take care.
On the other hand, you’re reading a post specifically about body horror comics. So you probably know, and want, what you’re in for.
Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
With so many works to choose from, picking a single Junji Ito book for this post was tough. But one thing I’ve learned, especially since I started reading more horror, is that the best way to experience a new author it through a collection of their work. So let’s assume that you’re new to the world of body horror comics, and have not yet experienced the skin crawling horror that is Ito’s art, and start with Fragments of Horror. This collection, described in the synopsis as “delightfully macabre,” spans the range of Ito’s work from the blackly comedic to the deeply horrifying. It should provide an excellent entry point to what is a substantial body of delightfully disturbing works.
Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell
Infidel is set in an apartment building that is haunted by dark entities that feed on the hate—particularly the xenophobia—of the inhabitants. The plot centers an American Muslim woman who moves into the building, and whose presence touches off a tidal wave of hate and suspicion among the occupants and a feeding frenzy among the spirits that shadow its halls. If you’re interested in knowing more about the conception of Infidel, before or after you read, Pichetshote and Campbell gave an excellent interview to AIPT about body horror and its relation to xenophobia in the series.
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado is no stranger to body horror. It was a frequent feature in her gorgeous collection Her Body and Other Parties, and now Machado’s body horror takes on a new visual element in her entry in the Hill House horror comics series, The Low Low Woods. Rabbits with human eyes, deer women, and skinless men all stalk a town on fire, its long burning coal mines abandoned but still aflame. And now a new terror: forgetting. An unknown illness has begin to afflict the inhabitants of Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, stealing their memories. When El and Octavia are infected, the two best friends take it upon themselves to investigate the dark mysteries of their town.
When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll
Maybe I’m biased by my love of dark fairytales, but I adore Emily Carroll’s work. It’s bloody and hungry and reminds me of nothing so much as Angela Carter who, unsurprisingly, Carroll has referenced as one of her inspirations. Body horror is something Carroll excels at and something, as she explained in her interview for the Toronto International Festival of Authors last year, that she finds particularly personal. Unlike her debut, Through the Woods, which was a collection of stories, Carroll’s second book is a single narrative. A dark gothic tale about a countess in her castle and the the girl who goes there to put an end to the horror within.
Vivisectionary by Kate Lacour
Lacour’s Vivisectionary is a unique take on body horror comics compared to the other purely narrative-based works on this list. Each textbook-like plate in this bestiary of the macabre is a separate piece, examining some new, strange thought. As it states in the book’s synopsis: What if lactating snakes gestated inside fetuses? What if factory-farmed pigs were bred as giant, insentient cubes? What if the human spine generated methamphetamine capsules? Vivisectionary is peculiar, and unusual, and I was slightly obsessed with it as a concept from the minute I read the synopsis. Lacour’s interview with Comics Beat gives some great insight into the creation of the book, as well as including a few preview plates that will give you an idea what to expect from Lacour’s work.