I’ve lamented before about the lack of attention to horror in the world of indie/webcomics. In fact, I whined about it so much that my first article on this website was a list recommending horror comics, just to do anything to promote the genre. Even lesser attention is given to queer horror. A lot of the what gets attention in queer media these days, at least in our circles, is YA queer stories that take a lot of hints, aesthetically, to the likes of Steven Universe and many other kids’ media. There’s nothing wrong with that. I like that queer media just fine. But that shouldn’t be the dominant form of queer media. There are those in the LGBT community that crave darker stuff, media that explores queerness via blood, guts, and depravity. There should be as much room for John Waters as there is for Rebecca Sugar.
Fortunately, creators R.E. Hellinger and K.M. Claude are here to fill this neglected niche with a zine so gay, so dark, so utterly obscene to its core, Oscar Wilde will rise from the grave just to straddle it. Guillozine is a collection of illustrations and short stories with one central theme: the fear of losing your own head. Interesting theme given two of the first images we see in this zine are illustrations of a decapitated corpse banging its own head.
So, I should go ahead and say:
TRIGGER WARNING ALL AROUND! IF YOU HAVE A TRIGGER THIS BOOK WILL TRIGGER IT LIKE AN H BOMB!
So, yeah, this book is full of dirty drawings. It starts with the cover drawn by K.M. Claude. Rule #1 of any cover for a book, comic, or zine is to clearly communicate what you’re selling. I don’t think I need to go into much detailed analysis on this part. This bad boy would fit right at home with the leather-loving Cenobites of Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart. He was the first thing to grab my attention when I received my copy of the zine, and I immediately wanted to jump on in. So, to Claude and Hellinger, great job on making a good first impression!
K.M. Claude is an online illustrator and comic artist well-known for his brand of erotic southern gothic horror. Incest, rape, BDSM, and so much more scandalous material are present. It’s macabre but you can’t help to be mesmerized by how beautiful it looks. I love Claude’s art because he realizes the inherent eroticism of horror that so many artists do not. Horror is the only genre that realizes the ties between death and sex. Even awful things can have a sensual beauty to them if you have the right perspective to illustrate it. And, boy oh boy, does K. M. Claude have it! If you need evidence, look at this masterpiece:
Claude’s illustrations are of top quality here, the black and white palette showing off his luscious line art and inking. It’s like high art for psychopaths, and I say that as a compliment! Most of these illustrations I can’t show because, well, they’re extremely NSFW, and I don’t think my boss would want readers to be scarred. My favorite by far is of a young woman with a mushroom growing out of her vagina. It’s as weird as it sounds and I love it!
With all my aping of the art, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the central theme of the zine. I’ll admit, it wasn’t obvious to me at first. I mean, it’s supposed to be about the fear of decapitation, yet the artist is having so much fun making it look sexy. Claude has personally told me that decapitation is more of a pun that he incorporates into his illustrations. The aforementioned mushroom girl, for example, has her mushroom cap severed from the stem. Another example is a one-page comic where a man cuts up a mushroom cap before going to his own fingers. And also the head of a penis that, um, well I’ll let you imagine what happens. I guess these puns lean more toward dark humor than Looney Tunes. Someone’s gotta find it funny, right?
The idea of decapitation is experimented a little more through R.E. Hellinger’s two short stories, “A Brief Education In Violence” and “Carnal Bodies”. The first is about a femme-presenting boy named Luci who fantasizes about killing the predatory Father Constance after viewing Caravaggio’s painting of Judith beheading Holofernes. There’s a lot of anger and despair in this piece. Lucy’s fantasies about decapitating her abuser are not just about literal decapitation, but a metaphorical meaning. Luci’s rage comes from the lack of control over his body, constantly preyed upon by a man who might treat him nicely, buying ice cream and giving pep talks, but the ultimate goal is to rape. Here, decapitation comes to mean the lost of autonomy, having no control over your own life and used by someone else.
Decapitation as a metaphor for losing autonomy is also the theme of “Carnal Bodies”. That’s the only the comparison because this second story is otherwise completely different. It’s a gothic tale of two brothers, one of them brain dead but connected the spirit world. The other brother puts a black sack over the brain dead brother’s head to allow spirits inside him. “Carnal Bodies” is a longer story and adds plot elements such as incest, Lovecraftian abominations, and sinister deals. There are so many layers that the plot could easily unravel into a confusing mess, but Hellinger pulls it off in a natural way. I never felt like anything introduced detracted from the main focus, the relationship between the brothers. In fact, it seemed just to further illustrate how dark and messed up it is. I love both these stories equally, and I love how Hellinger’s prose invokes the aesthetics of Jackson, Poe, and Lovecraft while written in a simple, straightforward style for modern readers. My only disappointment is with the ending. It wraps up everything, but feels like it doesn’t do much else to leave an impression on me.
As with a lot of my reviews, I like to analyze what a piece of writing or art has to say about the world. What wisdom does it have to impart on the reader? What new revelations about life can it give us? These are questions I don’t really know how to answer. For all my analytical abilities, I’m hard pressed to tell you what Guillozine is all about, at least in a way that doesn’t come off as grasping for straws. That doesn’t mean it’s a meaningless read or that it’s only fun and nothing else. There’s a lot of deep, artsy stuff going on. It’s just not obvious at first. A lot of what I’ve been talking about, decapitation as a metaphor, is just first impressions. I don’t think there’s much of a utilitarian use to Guillozine. It’s not going to overthrow capitalism, smash the patriarchy, etc. What it does achieve is being a professionally published horror zine by two creators in a creative landscape that desperately needs it.
We need more horror stories in prose and comics by queer authors, especially ones that aim to tell new stories instead of regurgitating the same tropes without any new twists. I won’t say if Guillozine’s brand of horror does anything to elevate queerness. I’m not a queer person and don’t think I have the insight to make that judgment. I do love the fact both creators are fearless in their presentation of eroticism, even problematic subjects such as incest, pedophilia, etc. These are not subjects cheaply exploited, mind you. Even in its delightful sadism, Claude and Hellinger explore painful subjects with keen insight, and, damn it, that’s what horror is about!
I’m not even bothered that I don’t know exactly what the message is. I’m fine with it just being a practice in aesthetics. I bet I’ll be able to gain more insight after I read the zine more. Some of the best art isn’t the kind we fully understand the first go-round. I find my favorite works give me new revelations each time I visit them. Furthermore, a good work doesn’t have to clearly outline how stories should be interpreted. For me, the best zine and anthologies have a central theme but given writers and artists the freedom to interpret them however they want. The results can be anarchistic, but also contain an enthralling energy that would be lost with strict editorial mandates.
With Claude’s beautiful gorno art and Hellinger’s tantalizingly macabre prose, Guillozine fills in a niche of queer erotic horror that desperately needs to grow. You may not know exactly what the hell you just read, but I can guarantee it is unlike anything you have seen. The online copy is free at the Two Dead Queer’s website, and there is also a print version available on Amazon for a reasonable price. If you love horror and want to support LGBT creators looking to make it, go pick up Guillozine. It is the hottest number in town right now and needs to set this scene on fire.
Two Dead Queers website: https://twodeadqueers.neocities.org/
Claude’s website: https://kmclaude.com/
Claude’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/kmclaude?lang=en
Roan’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/roanofarc