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Revisit the Dark and Cynical Goth Comics of the 1990s and 2000s

Which was your favorite?

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  • Photo Credit: Prateek Katyal / Unsplash

American comic books have been popular since the 1940s. Marked by superheroes and super-villains in their early days, comics have grown and expanded far beyond their original storylines and subject matter.

In the 1990s and 2000s, goth comics carved out their own niche. Along with grunge music and black, thick framed eyeglasses, alternative comics were all part of the dark and edgy aesthetic pool of that time. With sardonic humor and offbeat characters, they were both expressive and entertaining. 

Hits like Lenore and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac were staples among alternative comics. Along with other moody hits, like The Sandman, these comics became known for their original styles and nuanced storylines, breaking free from the classic good vs evil tropes that had become a hallmark of more mainstream titles.

These dark comic books earn their place within popular culture. Making their way into independent stores and chains like Newbury Comics and Hot Topic, these comics were sold alongside the latest CDs, posters, and spiked, leather bracelets. 

Even though it was all only a couple of decades ago, these comics already bring back a sense of nostalgia. So if you’re ready for a wave of all things good and nineties, revisit some of the standout comics from the turn of Y2K.

Lenore, The Cute Little Dead Girl

Lenore, The Cute Little Dead Girl

Lenore, Vol. 1: Noogies (Issues 1-4)

By Roman Dirge

Created by Roman Dirge, Lenore drew inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe and his poem of the same name. Just as one might expect of a work inspired by Poe, Lenore was known for its dark tone and twisted stories. The comic featured a wildly strange cast of characters, a wry sense of humor, and many surprise endings. 

Centered on a rag-tag group of friends, the comic revolved around the misadventures of the titular character, Lenore. A peculiar 10-year-old girl, Lenore died at the beginning of the twentieth century, only to return from Hell. Having already died and gone to Hell, Lenore was quite frequently the source of others’ misfortune. She had a knack for killing and oftentimes caused the deaths of her friends or innocent kittens. 

But despite her flaws, Lenore had a very loyal group of friends. They included Ragamuffin, a vampire cursed to live in the body of a rag doll; Ragamuffin’s rival, Pooty Applewater, a bounty hunter who was originally sent to retrieve Lenore; Mr. Gosh, a sock puppet with button-eyes who– despite frequently falling victim to Lenore’s homicidal tendencies– was also head-over-heels in love with her; and Taxidermy, Lenore’s neighbor who had the head of a taxidermic deer. 

Lenore shared many escapades with her band of misfit friends throughout the comic, most frequently in her mansion, graveyard, and nearby woods. From accidentally killing the Easter Bunny, to fighting a legion of undead Nazis, their adventures were often far-fetched and entirely unpredictable. 

First published in 1998 by Slave Labor Graphics, Lenore released new issues until 2007. In 2009, Titan Comics picked up the comic, which restarted Lenore and continues to release new issues today. With its mischievous characters and bizarre stories, Lenore has also been adapted into numerous animated shorts for Sony’s ScreenBlast site.

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac

By Jhonen Vasquez

As one might guess from the title, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac also had its fair share of killing. With its own brand of cynicism, the comic centered on an apathetic and sometimes violent protagonist named Johnny, as well as others in his life, like his neighbor Squee and his girlfriend Devi. 

Set in his house, the labyrinth beneath it, and the surrounding city, the comic followed Johnny through his daily life, his many rants, and his sporadic violence. In more mundane scenes, Johnny was shown to be a fan of insects, movies, and pop rocks. He was interested in comic books and drew his own strips titled "Mr. Noodle Boy,” which were incorporated into many of the issues as filler strips. 

Though such routine likes and hobbies might suggest Johnny was harmless, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Johnny was frequently set off by the smallest provocations. On one memorable occasion he killed an elderly woman simply because she called him “wacky.” 

Aware of his own madness, Johnny visited both Heaven and Hell in later issues. But after finding neither afterlife suitable, he returned to the world of the living where he continued to wreak havoc.

Beginning in the 1990s, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac was created byJhonen Vasquez, who went on to make seven issues of the comic. His series led to three spinoffs as well; Squee!, which followed Johnny’s fearful neighbor Squee; I Feel Sick, which followed Johnny’s girlfriend Devi; and Fillerbunny, which originated as a filler strip in Squee! and centered upon a tortured pink bunny. 

The Sandman

horror graphic novels

The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

By Neil Gaiman

Differing from Lenore and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, The Sandman brought a mythological spin to its dark mood. Focusing on Dream, one of seven Endless, the comic gave many human qualities to the abstract spirit, as well as his counterparts, Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction.

A unique force, Dream was captured by a sinister ritual at the outset of The Sandman series. Held captive for nearly 70 years, Dream’s perspective shifted during his imprisonment, as he reflected on the injustices that had occurred in his billion-year existence. Becoming less ruthless and more thoughtful, Dream's captivity changed him.

Once he broke free from his captors, Dream not only sought out revenge but also tried to make amends. Dream tried to right his kingdom, which fell to ruin after his capture, and tried to make long overdue changes.

Though The Sandman originally leaned into the horror genre, it came to incorporate many fantasy elements as the series progressed, blending the line between the genres. Written by the famed fantasy author Neil Gaiman, The Sandman was widely recognized for its achievements. Its original series and spinoffs have received a range of awards that include, a World Fantasy Award, 26 Eisner Awards, two Hugo Awards, and a Bram Stoker Award, among others.

After a variety of disagreements over the decades held up development and hampered plans for the production of this highly acclaimed comic into film and television series adaptations, The Sandman finally premiered on Netflix in August 2021.

Featured photo: Prateek Katyal / Unsplash