Ken Eppstein is back to talk about the differences between horror and gore!
Ken Eppstein is the editor, writer and publisher of the independent comic Nix Comics Quarterly, a small press anthology.
Wanna know a secret regret? Issue #2 of Nix Comics had more violent content than I would've liked. It was a sinking feeling that built up as I was putting the stories together for the printer, similar to the one you get when you realize that you're in the middle of telling a joke that is in fact, unfunny. You know nobody is gonna laugh, but you're committed to follow through with the punchline so nobody leaves experiencing cognitive dissonance. As Nix #2's body count started to pile up, I started to realize I was getting close to a line I'd rather not cross. The tally, for those of you who aren't Nix readers:
First story: Axe murder.
Second story: Beheading.
Ahhhh Relief: Stories three and four are light comedic pieces.
Fifth story: A whole room of bad guys getting shredded, including a fairly explicit eye gouging, in a flashback. Then a vampire gets stabbed in the chest with some drum sticks.
Sixth story: Shooting.
Geez. That's a whole mess o' killing. At least the axe murder happened off panel. I hold up Nix up as a "Rock n Roll Horror magazine" but I think I fell into the trap of making horror and violence synonymous. The line I was risking crossing was the one between horror and gore. Gore is a different beast entirely.
Horror, is an encompassing genre, but is by and large about cautionary tales and moral quandaries. Metaphor and empathy.
In a horror story you can ask yourself if a vampire just a vampire, or is the vampire a metaphor for the manifested fear of the world's aristocracy? Y'know... Cold, soulless and anemic creatures with implacable hungers and impossible powers, dwelling in their castles and so foully wrapped up in their ego and greed that even the humble mirror refuses to acknowledge them.
And above all, horror is about fear. Often the scariest thing in a good horror story is the consequences you imagine the protagonist living with after the story has ended. After all, dead is dead but empathy is a life-long condition for most of us.
Gore, on the other hand, is an absurdist genre. Unlike horror, a vampire is just a dude with gnarly teeth who blows up when you stake him in the chest. Characters are just there to provide a sick thrill and allow us to lose ourselves in an amoral reptile-brain moment when their heads are lopped off. Or they lop somebody's head off. Who the lopper is and who the loppee is doesn't matter much, as long as lopping occurs. Looking for deeper meaning and consequences? Forget it, you're in the wrong book/movie/comic. The only things that matter are body count and gross-itude.(Speaking of the absurd: Stupid spell check doesn't like loppee, but likes lopper. Does that make any sense?)
Since gore as a genre features relatively shallow offerings, the thrills need to come in quantity as opposed to quality. This usually means a rapid pace that is in fact similar to what I like to set for my magazine. It also means a quantity of violence I'd like to avoid, as the writer must indulge in some personal one-ups-manship, making each killing more gruesome than the last to make up for the sheer quantity. Remember, the economy of scale can be applied to all things in life. Anything that happens frequently inherently is less impressive in and of itself.
Think of it this way... Alien was a essentially a gothic horror movie.... A bunch of people stranded alone in the wilderness while a goopy monster slowly hunts them down one by. On the other hand, the sequel Aliens had essentially the same basic plot but took a turn into being an action flick by upping the pace and body count.
Before you start in on me for being prudish in my assessment of ultra-violence, let me say this: Sometimes I think its great. I don't mean to demean Aliens as a great movie, for instance. I just recently saw Robert Rodriguez's Machete. L-U-V loved it! Gratuitous violence and all. I think the level of my appreciation for gore has a direct proportion to how campy and self aware it is. If its done properly with a wink and a grin, I'm usually pretty cool with it.
That said, I want Nix to be full of horror and humor stories, not gory stories. I guess my reptile brain is satisfied, because I get my personal thrills with cheap emotional tugs and cheaper morality plays as opposed to a full on kill-fest.
So, in retrospect, I don't think I quite crossed the line with issue #2. None of the stories that I included were purely hack and slash, but with the high tempo I keep for Nix, the killing came a little fast and furious.
But I came close.
Written or Contributed by: Ken Eppstein, Outhouse Contributor