Halloween Horror Review: Too Dark to See/Flesh and Bone, by Julia Gfrörer

To celebrate Halloween, this October I’ll be posting 4 reviews of self-published or very small press horror comics. This week we have a two-fer; two mini comics by Julia Gfrörer. Check back next Friday for the third installment in the series.

flesh & bone

Flesh and Bone

Too Dark To See
Thuban Press / 16 pages / $5

Flesh and Bone
Sparkplug Comics / 20 pages / $6

More than any other genre (except, arguably, porn), horror is concerned with the visceral, or rather the viscera, our messy insides. And when our insides come out, blood—the most important fluid in horror—comes with them. But it’s not the only one that sometimes comes with them. Sweat and, especially, tears are pretty common, too.

But there’s another fluid, essential to life, that plays a role in some horror and, notably, the comics of Julia Gfrörer: semen.

Sex as it is often used in horror, especially movies, is rarely truly sexy beyond a cheap, exploitative thrill. But why should that be? Horror accesses our most fundamental emotions and drives, of which sex is certainly one. Clive Barker is the only horror creator I can think of who treats sexuality as essential to his characters, as actually erotic not just titillating. Barker’s use of sexuality is integral to his horror, to his characters’ experiences of the uncanny. When confronted by the otherworldly, they’re as likely to be aroused as afraid, sometimes at the same time (Barker’s characters, especially in The Books of Blood, are often simultaneously horrified by and sexually attracted to the monstrous). And it makes sense: If these monsters are supposed to touch the very root of our being, they must have a sexual component.

These comics by Julia Gfrörer share Barker’s sensibility in this area and hold sex as close to their hearts as they do horror. And, just as with Barker, sexual content is authentically erotic in Gfrörer’s work.


Too Dark to See

Too Dark To See, the more recent of the two comics reviewed here, is perhaps slightly less effective, but still packs both a sexual punch and deploys horror as a powerful metaphor for a disintegrating relationship. In it, a pair of shadowy succubi (literally shadowy: they that step out of a wall and into three dimensions) drive a wedge between a hipster couple.

The most notably sexual scene comes at the beginning. Barely four pages after the couple declares a love that they say outstrips all others, the female shadow seduces the man. She does so beginning with a blowjob—”I just need your cum,” she says; how about that for both a sexual come-on and a declaration of occult lust?—and then has sex with him. Gfrörer’s staging of the scene not just shows the sex, but renders the shadow creature as transparent, the man’s penis visible inside her and his semen flowing up into her shadowy body, creating negative space in her. It’s not only an unexpectedly graphic way to depict a scene in itself is not so unusual (lots of horror features person-ghost/demon sex), but it’s a legitimately sexy way to do.

Ultimately the couple’s relationship can’t withstand the otherworldly interference and they become so deeply alienated that they can’t see one another even when they’re in the same room looking at each other.

Flesh and Bone, which is about the lengths we’ll go to for the things we want, is more complex, more ambitious, and more sexual. In it, two people’s desires are entwined: a cannibal witch and a romantic young man whose lover has died. When he asks her help, the witch is glad to facilitate a reunion between the lovers, since it means that man’s death and the chance for her to have a child.

Semen appears here in two scenes, complemented by an explicit, and deeply odd, sex scene. Semen strikes the earth, a rich metaphor for what each character is attempting, when the young man masturbates on his dead love’s grave and again when he’s hanged as a result of the witch’s intercession. The sexiest scene, though, concerns the witch impregnating herself. When a mandrake grows from the spot where the dead man’s semen hit the earth (more on this and the myths underlying Flesh and Bone in this Comics Journal interview), she cuts it out of the ground and has sex with it. This sex—explicit, focused on close-ups of her vagina, spread over 18 panels on three pages—is clearly pleasurable for her, offering a view of sex from the perspective of a woman interested in her own pleasure that’s rarely seen in comics or horror. That this scene is pretty weird in no way undercuts its sexiness.

The fusion of horror and arousal can be unsettling to observe. But isn’t that part of the point of reading horror, to be unsettled? I say it is, and if you’re interested in a more holistic view of the ways in humans can experience the otherworldly—or just want a little hot sex mixed in with your hot blood—Julia Gfrörer’s work is well worth your time.

Too Dark to See
story 4.5 / art 4.5 / overall 4.5

Flesh and Bone
story 5 / art 4.5 / overall 4.75

(out of 5 stars)