Fiction

Son of Featured Creatures: Chicago Horror Writers and Artists Share Their Favorite Chicago Horror Creators

Unless you’re an easily frightened tourist, Chicago is rarely considered a hotbed of horror. But as Third Coast Review has pointed out before, our town has a distinguished pedigree in horror fiction and art, and a bright future besides. Once again, we’ve asked a fleet of contemporary Chicago writers and artists who work in the horror milieu to answer a single question: “what Chicago area horror creator deserves more attention?” If you’re looking for a good scare this Halloween, or any of the days hereafter, here’s a legion of Windy City horror folks with work worth perusing, suggested by their peers.

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The spooky season is upon us. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays! I read horror novels all year round, but during the Halloween season, I love to reread my favorites.

In a southwest suburb of Chicago lies Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, a graveyard known for its ghostly sightings. Whatever ghosts still linger there, Bachelor’s Grove has a longstanding history of being considered one of the most haunted cemeteries not only in Illinois, but in America. And author John Everson included it as a backdrop to his 2018 book The House by the Cemetery (Flame Tree Press).

Carpenter Mike Kostner rehabs an abandoned house that backs up to a cemetery in the town of Bachelor’s Grove. The house will be turned into a haunted house attraction. Rumor has it that there is a ghostly witch who inhabits the house. The witch wants blood, and lots of it to fulfill its own heinous plans. This is a perfect Halloween read especially for anyone who plans to visit any haunted house attractions—and I’m a sucker for a haunted house.

Chicago suburb native, John Everson, is a Bram Stoker Award-winning horror writer and one of my favorite authors. I’ve been a fan of his since his debut novel, Covenant, won a Bram Stoker Award in 2005. His writing career spans over 25 years with 12 published horror novels. And you’re sure to find a story for every reader of horror in his arsenal of tales. The man knows what scares people and The House by the Cemetery is a perfect read to get yourself in the Halloween spirit. 

Shawnna Deresch is a Chicago-based horror author and the Horror Writers Association Chicagoland Chapter Coordinator. The HWA Chicagoland Chapter can be found at hwachicago.org. Shawnna can be found at shawnnaderesch.com. Her latest short story, “Little Sally Ann,” is out now in Kandisha Press’ Women of Horror Anthology Vol. 3.

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Jon Kitley is an avid, lifelong horror fan who has written passionately about the genre since the late ’90s. He’s produced his Kitley’s Krypt website since 1998 and his own blog and has been an on-staff writer for HorrorHound magazine since 2009.

Kitley has contributed to dozens of publications including Evil Speak, Horror 101: The A-List of Horror Films and Monster MoviesHidden HorrorWhen Animals Attack, and Strange Blood. His book Discover the Horror came out in July 2019. Jon loves the drive-in and can be seen featured in a number of documentaries. He’s incredibly knowledgeable and his writing consistently connects with and invigorates horror fans. Check out his work at kitleyskrypt.com!

 

Corinne Halbert lives and works in Chicago. She spends most days working on her Acid Nun comic or painting fun, giallo-esque gouache pieces packed with fanged ladies and bright, psychedelic colors. Halbert cooks up a witchy, retro vibe that is reminiscent of satanic rituals and 1970s horror films. Check out her work here: corinnehalbert.com.

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Michael McDowell is a horror author who I really admire, and one who’s not read nearly as widely as he deserves to be. He wrote with a lean, bare-bones prose that had a way of letting form take a backseat to character, almost lulling the reader into a false sense of security, only to roar back in, bringing terror like a gut punch. His books have recently been reissued, and often show up in sales on Audible. Every single one is fantastic, from the bleak isolation of The Elementals to small-town chills in The Amulet, to the hidden horrors of Gilded Age New York in Gilded Needles. But it’s his Blackwater series that really stands out for me—six slim novels that combine into a sweeping Southern Gothic family saga filled with intrigue and betrayal, and monsters both figurative and literal. Stephen King once called him “the finest writer of paperback originals in America today.” That was before his untimely death in 1999. His work lives on, and is not to be missed. 

Editor’s note: McDowell’s best known work is the screenplay for director Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. In life he amassed a collection of death memorabilia acquired by Northwestern University in 2013.

 

Christopher Hawkins is an award-winning horror writer, with short stories appearing in over a dozen magazines and anthologies. He is a former editor of the One Buck Horror anthology series, as well as an avid tabletop gamer and collector of curiosities. When he’s not writing, he spends his time exploring old cemeteries, lurking in museums, and searching for a decent cup of tea. For free stories and news about upcoming projects, visit his website, christopher-hawkins.com, or follow him on Twitter @chrishawkins.

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I know a few Chicago area folks who create horror works, and narrowing it down to just one is pretty difficult. I’m going to give you a couple I think you should check out:

JSB—Jamie operates under the banner The Simon Corporation and has been self-publishing wonderful and deeply unsettling horror comics for as long as I’ve known him. You can find a complete overview of Jamie’s work at thesimoncorporation.com.  While you can easily look over many of his comics and art for free online I’d absolutely recommend dropping a few bucks at his shop or signing up for his Patreon.

Corinne Halbert—Corinne’s also been self-publishing comics and creating incredible eyeball-melting psychedelic horror art for a long time. I can’t do it justice by describing it, so just go take a look at her website corinnehalbert.com and shop corinnehalbert.bigcartel.com

Jim Terry—Jim’s bold inks effortlessly venture into action and fantasy territory, but his gruesome and disturbing horror comics and illustrations always tend to be my favorites. Jim maintains his blog over at woundedbutdangerous.com and posts regular shop updates at jimterryart.bigcartel.com

Maria the Wolf—Wolf is another artist who’s excellent at other genres, but her intricately detailed horror works are on another level. I’m a big fan of detailed inking and Wolf’s art is always phenomenal. You can find her on @thewolfmaria and instagram.com/thewolfmaria

I want to mention the following creators, but it’s getting late and my brain is completely mush, so I can’t come up with good words about how I much love their work (I do!), and I should probably be wrapping this up anyway:

Hilary Bartahilarybarta.com

Angel Onofre—instagram.com/angelonofre

Landis Blair—landisblair.com

László Tamásfilaszlotamasfi.com

 

Jonathan La Mantia is a Chicago-based artist specializing in horrific illustrations, album art, and comics. A full list of their links can be found at linktr.ee/lamantia.

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Shawnna Deresch loves horror and the horror community. Her love of horror began with watching scary movies with her father, and since then she’s been constantly crafting short terrifying tales. When she’s not writing horror, Deresch is either investigating paranormal phenomenon or volunteering her time to promote the genre. She is the coordinator of the Chicagoland chapter of the Horror Writers Association, where she devotes much of her time to supporting Chicago area horror writers. Additionally, she is the Horror  Writer Association’s Chapter co-manager, where she assists HWA members in starting local and regional chapters. Throughout the year, Deresch is also a compiler for the Bram Stoker Awards Reading List. Her work toward highlighting the genre and its new and established authors is wonderful, and she is definitely someone in the Chicago area who works in horror that you should know. You can read her latest short story Little Sally Ann, out now in Kandisha Press’ Women of Horror Anthology Volume 3, and can find her at shawnnaderesch.com 

 

Cynthia Pelayo is an International Latino Book Award winning author and a two-time Bram Stoker Award and two-time Elgin Award nominee. She lives in Chicago with her family. Her latest work is Children of Chicago (Polis Books). The paperback edition will be released in January.

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Horror doesn’t always have to be hideous. The extremities some gore-mands prefer often lack charm, which make quirky trojan horses far more haunting. They slip in like welcome guests, who slit throats after dinner with an oddly Midwestern politeness. A great example of this is the work of artist Bill Crisafi.

Originally from Massachusetts, Bill Crisafi uses the “dark nostalgia” of that place as kindling. Lighting a path exploring folklore, the occult, and other magical themes, Crisafi then crafts images that either possess a gothic surreal allure or are delightfully comical. There’s art for the more seriously inclined, but there are plenty of pieces for those in need of a grin. Case in point, the wonderful depiction of a frog-witch wearing several conical witch hats as bikini parts. Juxtapose that against borderline Edward Gorey marvels such as “The Moon’s Garden” and “Death Draws Near,” which encapsulate mystical, ethereal notions into tangible surreal treasures.

This isn’t the screaming horror of the jump cut. These are haunting signs of realities in the shadows, the ethereal entities at the edge of eyesight, and the absurdity of being afraid of the bizarre. Bill Crisafi invites a viewer to see the wonderful in the weird. Any of this art would be a welcome addition to a horror enthusiast’s collection.


J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. To deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he makes music in the band Beerfinger. Currently, he writes articles for Horror Obsessive25YL Media, and can be hired as an Audible audio narrator thru ACX. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH

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Living in Chicago, I’ve been able to hang out with and get to know quite a few talented authors. If you haven’t read the work of Jac Jemc yet, you are missing out. We go way back, and I love her voice, but I wanted to call attention to a particularly unsettling novel of hers, The Grip of It (Macmillan). This isn’t your garden variety haunted house story, and it isn’t a relationship gone horribly wrong, either—nothing that simple. The psychological unease, the building paranoia, the terror that lurks in the shadows and just out of sight, is maddening. Strange humming noises, hidden rooms, woods that creep closer every day, weird neighbors, and odd bruises that suddenly appear—she keeps you on your toes, and looking over your shoulder. This book is a fugue state, channeling the voices of Henry James, Brian Evenson, and Shirley Jackson. It’s one of my favorite novels of the last few years, and what Jac does with contemporary horror here is original, unsettling, and unique. A must-read title, in my opinion.”

 

Richard Thomas is a Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller award nominee, as well as the author of Disintegration, Breaker, and, the forthcoming collection of stories, Spontaneous Human Combustion. He has had more than 170 stories published and was the past editor-in-chief of Gamut magazine and Dark House Press. You can find him online at whatdoesnotkillme.com/ and Twitter, at @richardgthomas3.

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“Go in and sin.” That’s the invitation to enter NightWhere, a twisted sadomasochistic Chicago sex club that would make E.L. James blush—and possibly vomit. Mark and Rae are a married couple who continually stretch the boundaries of their relationship. Mark secretly yearns for normalcy but gamely goes along with Rae’s growing obsession with a kinky subculture catering to violent BDSM. The surreal sex club’s location is continually on the run, and when Rae goes missing, Mark justifiably fears the worst. John Everson’s visceral prose stings like the crack of a whip as he blends graphic horror and erotica into a queasy, unflinching cocktail. Most of the book is spent penetrating the nocturnal club’s increasingly depraved layers but perhaps most shocking of all, this is a crushing story of love and loyalty doomed to hell. Naperville’s Everson is a Bram Stoker award-winner—horror writing’s biggest prize—and his back catalogue is rich with disturbing tales that will haunt you to the core.

 

Brian Pinkerton is the USA Today bestselling author of The Nirvana Effect, a dystopian thriller about a future society enslaved by technology. Find him at brianpinkerton.com and @BrianJPinkerton.

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