Gothic Tales of Haunted Love
Editors: Hope Nicholson, S.M. Beiko
Forward: Jacque Nodell
Publisher: Bedside Press
Review by Stephanie Pouliotte
I’ve always found gothic romance to be an oddly captivating genre. It brings together the beautiful and the grotesque, the primal feelings of passion and fear, skirting the fine line between unrequited love and unrelenting lust. These are often stories that feature naive, yet lively young women who stumble into peculiar, typically supernatural, circumstances. They’re usually desired by a wealthy, overbearing older man who broods in a dark, mysterious mansion and are insistently pursued, for love or lust, to a most frightful end. Love, after all, can rear an ugly face.
Gothic romance in comics was short-lived. In the forward to Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, Jacque Nodell (Sequential Crush) pens a loving and thoughtful overview of what she refers to as “merely a blip on the radar of the mainstream comic book industry.” Still, the genre cemented itself not only through its iconic imagery, but also in its exploration of our inner-most desires.
Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is an anthology that doesn’t seek to restore the forgotten age of gothic romance comics, but to reinvent it for a modern world. It explores the potential for honest, diverse stories about love and loss in a genre that sometimes focused too much on abject female vulnerability to deliver its thrills. Each tale escapes the trappings of the genre by making it their own. Pale women in white gossamer gowns fleeing through dark woods, succumbing to the whims of intimidating men or supernatural forces, many of these expectations are upended by allowing the vulnerable to retain agency, ownership, and self-worth. Instead of being the victims of dark circumstances, they are the arbitrators of their own fate, and this is revealed with each morbid twist.
The tone for the entire collection is set in the very first comic by Janet Hetherington, which centers on a woman of colour and is among my favorites in this anthology for both its grisly tale and stunning artwork. It takes one of the most quintessential plots of gothic romance, the beautiful governess who falls for the mysterious, older gentleman despite strange goings-on, and completely turns it around. The story is wound tightly through false assumptions, and keeps the reader in the dark until the very last, gruesome panel. I was completely hooked. Why wasn’t all gothic romance like this?
Diversity is certainly the anthology’s biggest strength, as these are stories told from different perspectives that show the many ways in which love can be both terrible and wonderful. Some stories are merely touched by the supernatural and tell of enduring loves, unmoored from time and death. The most hard-hitting tales, though, are those that address the uncomfortable truths about love, and about our past. Green, Gold, and Black by Cherelle Higgins and Rina Rozsas does just that, recounting a tale of slaves living at the mercy of an indulging master and his jealous wife. We see a darkness in humanity in some stories that is more unsettling and grotesque than the supernatural horrors they face.
Buy it. Love can be a dark thing, and Gothic Tales of Haunted Love means to reveal its raw, bloody heart. Each story has a mystery to be revealed, a piercing truth about love that chills the heart, yet electrifies the pulse. This was a real page turner.