Mastering Horror: A Comics Study

Warning: Bongcheon-Dong Ghost is a horror webtoon, and as such, this post contains mature themes, images, and other scary stuff.

I don’t tend to venture into the realm of horror very often. I happened to stumble across Bongcheon-Dong Ghost by Horang (please take heed of the warning offered at the beginning) after a friend sent me a link. I naturally don’t tend to trust the links he sent me, so after pressuring him, I managed to wriggle it out of him that it was a horror webtoon, nothing more or less. Satisfied, I set the link aside for later perusal, at my convenience (for more information on internet-based comics, Tiredandvulgar’s post “The Rise of the Webcomic” is insightful). After a while, convincing myself that a peak wouldn’t hurt, I opened the link. I was in for a treat.

If at this point, you haven’t read Bongcheon-Dong Ghost, I would recommend you do so. Please take heed of the warnings.

Even reading the warning is spine-tingling; it lures you in and makes you wonder what on Earth could be so horrifying in a comic of all things. The quality that makes this webtoon perhaps so special is its use of mixed media. Scrolling down, suspense builds up. When I think of horror in comics, the most that I can conjure up is something gory and maybe a tad suspenseful. To me, it becomes more disgustingly creepy rather than scary.

ghost1

So you scroll on through and then, bam, it hits you: Not just a horrifying face, but the noise, like a neck creaking. But most importantly, you can’t control it. You were able to scroll through at your leisure, and then at a certain point, auto-scroll kicks in, bringing a terrifying animation onto the screen, and all you’re left with is a horribly bloody face staring at you from your screen.

ghost3

How pleasant.

Sound is such a vital sense for creating suspense and thrill, we hear it all the time in the movies. By adding sound, it adds another dimension to the comic, and an additional surprise. Perhaps because we least expect it, it surprises us the most. Combined with auto-scroll and the images, it’s enough to make me jump in my seat.

So let’s continue wandering through the comic. I don’t know about you, but I was particularly cautious with the scrolling, one slow click at a time. That was what made it perhaps truly terrifying: the possibility that that might happen again at any point in the story, or could even happen multiple times.

But looking back at the comic after finally reaching the conclusion and learning just why this ghost haunted the apartment complex, a funny thing happens. You’re free to scroll through again and again without the awful noises and take-you-by-surprise auto-scroll and see the panels that comprise the animation. On closer inspection, the “gutters,” the areas between each image, were not a uniform length. It seemed that the larger the space, the more suspenseful it became. It increased the amount of time between viewing one panel and the next as you continue to scroll. There is the face at the end of the second animation sequence: it is the only time throughout the comic that something defies the normal boundaries of the panel, thus giving the impression that Cho, the ghost, is popping out of your screen. Even the manner she propels herself forward at the screen, at an unnatural angle, is disturbing and inhuman. By allowing Cho to exceed these boundaries, it only confirms her otherworldliness.

Although Bong-cheon Dong Ghost is described as a “webtoon,” I don’t think this excludes it from being within the purview of “comics.” These elements of sound and movement contribute to the both horror and the realm of comics simply because they are unexpected. To me, it is akin to a birthday card; you can open it and maybe it’ll play the “happy birthday” song and maybe there will be a little pop-up, but that does not alter the fact that it is, nonetheless, a card.

For more examples on other webtoons and flash comics, Cmccrzy’s “The Flash Comic: ‘Expanding’ the Definition” is a great read. Also, for an additional giggle, you can find hilarious reaction videos to the Bong-cheon Dong Ghost webtoon on YouTube.

All image credit goes to Horang, creator of Bongcheon-Dong Ghost.

  5 comments for “Mastering Horror: A Comics Study

  1. nbemis
    February 8, 2013 at 4:07 am

    I love hearing about new techniques for scaring jaded horror fans, and this certainly does seem innovative. Unexpectedly stealing away the reader’s sense of control over the story’s progress (auto-scrolling) and forcing them to watch and hear horrible things in order to move forward is pretty brilliant, and I feel that I must read this thing sometime in the near future.

  2. Sara
    February 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I am really glad you picked this to blog about. I had come across it a few days ago and had contemplated reading it, but then decided maybe later. After reading this I definitely want to go back and give it another shot. Like the person above me said, I think it is incredibly interesting that the reader is not in control.

  3. February 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I love this comic. I wrote a short piece on it last year. To me, the most interesting aspect is, as you say,

    you can’t control it.

    From a formal perspective, it’s interesting that this seizure of control temporarily transforms the comic’s panels in that section into frames of an animation. This is cool because as you scroll back upward through the comic, they return to functioning as moment-to-moment panels again. It’s a good illustration of how closely our perceptive modes (i.e. comic’s discrete transition v animations smooth illusion of continuity) are tied to the material phenomenon of moving our eyes across the page or screen.

  4. Anthony Seippel
    February 13, 2013 at 12:25 am

    I saw this comic long ago and up until now I haven’t really thought about the aspects that made it so horrifying in a completely unhindered way. By that I mean I haven’t looked at it for what I now feel it truly is, an evolution of the comic form. It is the first true step into embracing the new technological age of computers for the comic medium. Whereas others have simply put the comic on screen shot by shot, sometimes crudely enough to loose the gutters which I feel give a sense of direction and purpose (like with the Daffy Duck cartoon where he seems to look at different panels at one point). But this comic, or “webtoon” as you have called it, utilizes the loose of these gutters to incorporate two new aspects that are just as under appreciated, sound and movement. I agree that the sound is half, if not more, of what makes the comic so terrifying as it is unexpected. Comics are not known for their sounds. They are also not known for their moving pictures. When Cho turns her head the comic leaves the realm of imagination where you envision the movements and almost becomes film like, forcing you to watch. This coupled with the fact that you were only a moment before controlling the movement yourself instills a sense of dread and loss of control that helps build tension, just as you pointed out. Overall I couldn’t agree more with your post, but I do feel that it must be added that this is the way comics should take advantage of electronic media and could very well be the blue-print for online comics to come.

  5. Sam Partonen
    February 14, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    This post was obviously a very popular one among the rest of us bloggers, and I believe that is with good reason. As this semester is my first interaction with graphic novels, I have to admit I was extremely surprised to find that such a horrific version of the genre even existed. I find it a tad disheartening that it is referred to as a “webtoon” because I think that implies that it is not meant to be taken seriously, only because of the addition of the music and the video aspect of the graphic strip. I think the connotations with the words “comic” and, here, “webtoon” imply a lightheartedness and a sense of humor; in this instance, however, it is clear that neither of these are applicable to Bongcheon-Dong Ghost. I think the overall effectiveness of this particular “webtoon” comes in large part from the fact that it does have video and sound, as is obvious in your concluding paragraph when analyzing the significance of the gutter lengths. I really appreciated this blog post for the fact that it explored an area that is typically untouched, except obviously by Professor Whalen’s piece on the topic, and it definitely further expanded my understanding of the graphic novel genre as a whole.

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