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The Art of Horror: An Illustrated History (Book review)

artofhorror-atcIn his introduction to this fine collection, famed author Neil Gaiman states, “[t]he Art that takes it impetus from horror is fun for the observer, and , it’s pretty obvious from this book, if you were in any doubt, it is enormous fun for the artist.” Fun is probably not the first word that we think of when discussing horror artwork. Rather, adjectives like creepy, ethereal, unsettling, etc are more what we want to believe we will experience. But Gaiman is not wrong, horror artwork can and should be fun. There is a value in the dark and morose; a pleasure to be derived from peering inside the nightmarish imagery of some of history’s most dreary artists. But its also not all just fun and games, there’s a lot to be gained by thinking about the ways that horror has been depicted over years. That intersection between aesthetic and historic looks at horror artwork over the years is exactly where Stephen Jones’ latest work, The Art of Horror, resides.

Heavily-bounded and excellently printed by Applause (a cinema and theater related imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation), The Art of Horror is nearly as much of a work of art as the many pieces it aims to highlight. With the downward spiral that print publication has been going through, this book leaves faith that there are still plenty of quality releases on the rise. That quality only continues once inside. Each of the book’s 250-plus pages are nicely illustrated and laid out, printed on a heavy stock, lightly glossed paper that accentuates harrowing images contained within. As for the art itself, all the work is properly reprinted here, with no added distortions or defects in the resizing and setting. These may sound like obvious aspects but given the sea of poorly printed books, The Art of Horror stands as a testament to proper design. The only slight complaint — adding emphasis on slight — is that the title font looks like a stock ‘horror’ font that you’d find on any given free font website, but beyond this, the design of the book is nearly without complaints.

While on first appearance it may seem so, The Art of Horror not your standard coffee table style art book (which the world is in no short supply of). Jones elevates the book by adding a strong critical component. Rather than present a hodgepodge of pieces, Jones has collected the works into ten carefully curated sections, taking it a step farther by assigning each section a writer to add to it a cultural and historical context — of whom, many are often leading critics of their given fields. As expected given the broad nature of some of the topics, quality does slightly vary. For instance, despite crafting a solid (albeit not necessarily novel) essay on the history of zombies, The Book of the Dead author Jamie Russell calls Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2) an “unashamed knock-off” but, then, inexplicably begins discussing ways that Lucio Fulci’s film was in fact not a knock-off by stating how ignored Romero’s film and took homage more Italian cannibal films (a claim that is, in itself, rather arguable). A minor concern but one that should have probably been clarified prior to publication.

The standout essay of the bunch is on H.P. Lovecraft from none other than Lovecraft’s “leading authority” S.T. Joshi — it would be next to impossible to read any contemporary piece on Lovecraft without seeing Joshi’s name creep in somewhere. What sets Joshi’s apart from the bunch, however, is that he is able to both contextualize Lovecraft’s importance, while also still providing a concise lineage of his work’s impact on artwork. David J. Skal also does a fine job at this as well for his section on vampires (although understandable, perhaps far too much effort is paid towards Dracula). This isn’t always the case with other writers included — a prime example being Russell’s work which tends to focus a bit too much of the cultural resonance of the genre than the depiction of zombies in art. Given that much of what Russell discusses is well known, this attention would have been better paid towards a transformation of aesthetic. However, given that the work is not geared solely for seasoned vets, it should be clear that Russell’s work will probably be much fresher for those less aware of the history of zombie criticism. Flaws aside, none of the included essays could be considered poor, perhaps just, at times, not focused.

While fixated on cinema and literature, Jones doesn’t reside only to the token pieces of art that have been reprinted ad nauseam. There is a wealth of both familiar and beloved as well as rare pieces of art to flip through, ranging from the 1800s to today and covering nearly every trope in horror (from vampires, zombies, werewolves to ghosts, psychos, demons, and aliens). Even the most seasoned veteran of horror art history will be sure to find a few new pieces amongst the collection. Halloween may have passed but The Art of Horror is a piece you’ll want to keep out all year round.

See a gallery of select pieces included in the book below

In his introduction to this fine collection, famed author Neil Gaiman states, “[t]he Art that takes it impetus from horror is fun for the observer, and , it’s pretty obvious from this book, if you were in any doubt, it is enormous fun for the artist.” Fun is probably not the first word that we think of when discussing horror artwork. Rather, adjectives like creepy, ethereal, unsettling, etc are more what we want to believe we will experience. But Gaiman is not wrong, horror artwork can and should be fun. There is a value in the dark and morose; a…

Review Overview

The Book

User Rating: 4.55 ( 1 votes)

About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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