The Many Faces of Danzig’s Morella
by Travis Hedge Coke
While the overwhelming of the anglophone comics market by perpetual-serial, primarily-corporate-owned trademarks probably has not been for the best, one boon to audiences flowered with the loosening up on house styles or rigidly on-model representation, bringing us the John Romita Jr Mephisto in the 1980s, Dave McKean’s early 1990s Batman, the Alan Moore reinvention of Supreme, and, in recent years, the horror-tinged Archie comics, like Jughead: the Hunger, Blossoms 666, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
People are still worked up over Frank Miller or Neal Adams drawing Batman a little stylized, more than thirty years into his serial existence.
Created by Glenn Danzig, Morella was introduced in a sequence of normal single issue length comics titled, The Dark Horror of Morella, The Darker Horror of Morella, and The Darkest Horror of Morella, and recently featured in Danzig’s debut feature film, Verotika. And, there is no house style Morella. From The Dark Horror forward, she is presented in a variety of styles, her stories and the single page illustrations show her in different lights, different tones, and that is so abnormal it really warrants looking at seriously, and specifically. (This isn’t that. This is pretty light.)
Danzig’s comics, even the serial characters/titles, tended to short, punchy presentations, much closer, in this way, to earlier modes of house style restriction, but Morella jumps out the gate with a myriad of disparate visualizations in a way few characters get in such short order. Most likely named for the title character of the 1835 Edgar Allan Poe story, she immediately runs the range from pure horror to cute homage, rough and round edged line work, bright and dark, brutal and positive.
What comics character has no model to stick to? She has some makeup or marks on her face, she has dark hair. That is about the sum. Ted Naifeh puts big horns on her. Simon Bisley does small horns and changes her through multiple more monstrous – often Go Nagai inspired – forms. The John Escavedo and Jimmy Vu takes from The Dark Horror are wildly apart for debuting a character.
Morella is set up as a classic-type horror anthology host, but she hosts nothing in these comics. She is an icon, a concept, but she has a more fleshed out back story and future than a lot of comics characters. There is a bizarre depth in her life arc, even more bizarre because it’s a Conan-esque rise to power, complicated and complex tragedy in triumph.
It’s the porniest non-porn stuff. The initial stories, drawn by Rafa Garres and Tim Vigil go in on the eroticized nudity, Garres keeping her bent over as much as possible, Vigil pressing nude, over sexualized women against each other, even if one is eating the breasts off another with the mouths on her breasts. It is a deliberate and weird frisson, because we should be uncertain how we are meant to receive this.
Two other Verotik comics, both written by Edward Lee, beat Morella to featuring in a movie, Header, which is a grotesquely disturbing rape-horror/body-horror piece, and Grub Girl, both in 2006. Grub Girl is about sex worker zombies with disdain for their customers and their audience, who are generally either chumps or real assholes. The movie is a porno, and I have not watched it, but I can’t believe that it is as satirical as the comic, which is already having its uncomfortable cake and eating it. This, ultimately, is what has held back Verotik, who published a number of significantly talented and interesting people, and what probably makes Morella both so interesting and not exactly the most commercially successful comics personality.
Well, this and the nudity, the violence, the tones and references that really narrow the audience, especially in comics. Weird porny, violent, criticize their own audience kind of fever dream stories that touch on everything from Nineteenth Century poets to 70s art house horror and cheap, grimy slashers. Horror has to be high brow and low at once, to work. And, the sexuality in horror has to be damaged, openly and clearly damaged, but we cannot know who, for sure, has the damage. Horror is, itself, a strange beast, and if the secret name for the tv show, Masters of Horror, was, “My Problems With Women,” horror comics are almost traditionally a game called, Who’s the Real Misogynist? We don’t know, and it is a discomfort that we don’t know.
The Many Faces of Danzig’s Morella
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