Humanities Symposia explores link between horror, comics

Though characters such as Superman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman have been beloved by children for generations, darker, more adult stories such as Frankenstein or the works of H.P. Lovecraft have had an ongoing, growing influence on comic book stories, according to Trine University’s Patrick Ridout.

Ridout, assistant director of information services, will discuss the link between classic horror stories and today’s comic books in “Frankenstein vs Spiderman? Classic Horror’s Influence on Modern Comics,” the next installment of the university’s Spring Humanities Symposia.

The presentation will take place Tuesday, March 13, at 3:30 p.m. in Wells Theater inside Taylor Hall. It is free and open to the public, but seating is strictly limited to 75.

Ridout, whose academic focus is comics, manga and manhwa and their impact on education and culture, says a number of themes from classic horror continue to persist today, “and comics are one way to explore them.”

“Themes of the darkness of humanity and willingness to play God, the unknown monstrous universe coming to claim the world, etc. The characters are huge influences still, both domestically and internationally,” said Ridout. “And of course Victor Frankenstein gave us the world’s first mad scientist, which is the root of almost all Marvel and DC villains, and even some of the heroes, like the Fantastic Four.”

The symposium will focus on the impact the Gothic period of horror has had on comics, from adaptations of monsters to classic horror themes.

“Notable examples would be Frankenstein’s monster as a hero/villain in Marvel/DC; Frankenstein himself (the prototype for the ever-popular mad scientist); and Dracula’s enormous influence, both with the monster vampire himself and Van Helsing, doctor turned monster hunter,” he said. “Also the brand of horror known as cosmic horror, the last little bit before Victorian/Gothic horror moved into something new. Examples would be Lovecraft’s Cthulhu being included in just about everything.”

There are three paths classic horror stories can take in comics, according to Ridout: they are adopted whole, as an illustrated version; themes are pulled to influence the story, but the characters change; or comics writers take the characters and do whatever they want with them.

“This is how you get Frankenstein vs Spider-man, or Van Helsing the time-traveling werewolf slayer,” Ridout commented.