Speculative fiction author J.G. Ballard once famously proclaimed that science fiction was the literature of the 20th century. When he said it, the world was rushing into the space age, and anything seemed possible. But wherever you stand on questions of art or politics, most would agree that the 21st century so far seems to be all about the horror.

Truly, these are horror times, and we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

There’re no end of theories about when and why horror metastasizes into the mainstream consciousness, and what kind of horror reflects which kind of social trends as many have noted, when democrats hold the White House, vampires do well, and zombies hold sway when republicans are in power, but disagreements rage over whose fear is driving this dynamic. Are republicans going to more horror movies when they’re out of power to stoke their fears of sexy, parasitic foreigners, or do more democrats go to the movies when they’re IN power, to titillate themselves with aristocratic bloodsucking elites?

What’s more intriguing is the question of what we get from horror, and the answers are somewhat disturbing. What does it mean that one of the most popular TV shows going, now shooting its tenth season and developing its second spin-off, is basically Dawn Of The Dead on infinite repeat? Because horror is a genre of shock and surprise, once something becomes familiar, if it’s still popular, it becomes a kind of comfort food, and the continued success of nearly every zombie franchise and series in circulation no matter who’s in power seems to suggest that it’s an almost universal metaphor for modern life. Just as everyone in childhood identified with Disney protagonists as orphans, every one of us sees themselves as an Omega Man, surrounded by hungry dead things who cannot be reasoned with. The contrived dread of the zombie apocalypse is somehow a bulwark against a far duller, ongoing apocalypse, a cathartic upending of the endless, losing Monopoly game of modern life that half of us silently long for.

Things aren’t much better in liberals’ nightmares, either. If zombies flatter our rugged individualism, vampires have also failed to scare us, seeking instead to flatter us with delusions of immortality, by letting us become the vampires. Just as twenty percent of Americans erroneously believe they’re in the top one percent, vampires let every sheep in the fold try on the sparkly pelt of the wolf. Even when vampires are the antagonists, they’re sexier, sharper and smarter than us, and the devil’s bargain of needing to murder for immortality has gone from an unthinkable prospect to a moot point. Who wouldn’t kill an annoying neighbor a day to live forever? Eternally binge-watching, getting our blood delivered by Amazon, we’d never notice the difference.
Clearly, our two-party horror system has failed us as comprehensively as our slightly less horrific political one. And so, a humbly radical proposal… GHOULS.

Derived from the ghul of pre-Islamic Arab folklore and sharing the diet and physical traits of wild dogs, the ghoul haunts cemeteries and devours fresh corpses. First introduced to Western culture in the tale of Sidi Nouman in the One Thousand And One Nights, ghouls put in an appearance in William Thomas Beckford’s orientalist fantasy epic Vathek, which is how they infected the imagination of the American author who shaped them as decisively as Bram Stoker shaped our conception of the vampire.

H. P. Lovecraft redefined the lowly ghoul as an Other we can learn from, a skin we can try on without trivializing the enormity of its transgression. As introduced in “Pickman’s Model,” ghouls are a breed apart from zombies and vampires: they’re not dead, but a vital, if unacknowledged underbelly of human ecology, and they’re only a threat when we, in our blind foolishness, invade their sovereign subterranean domain. While these jackal-headed bone-crunchers seem mindless, they are far smarter than they let on, cunningly flipping the script on the narrator in “The Statement Of Randolph Carter,” and revealing themselves to be a somatic mutation caused by cannibalism and sheer morbidity, as Richard Upton Pickman himself appears as a somewhat benign ghoul in The Dreamquest Of Unknown Kadath.

While ghouls have mostly languished in the margins of weird fiction and art since Lovecraft, they haven’t been idle. Brian McNaughton in his Throne Of Bones collection fleshes out the unspeakable delights of graveside feasts, positing that the ghoul can become drunk on the memory and identity of those she consumes, with both farcical and heartbreakingly poignant results. Caitlin Kiernan masters the gibbering rhythms of ghoul speech in Daughter Of Hounds and a myriad of short works, offering a brush with true otherness worlds apart from the goth-poseur pact of the vampire.

And then there’s Crypt kid. “He was born in my sketchbook,” Mike says of the monster’s humble origin. “Just a dark, bulbous-eyed, baby skull-face. At first I called him Crypto. When I began to play around with why and how an unnatural monster could become the hero of a story, his face came to mind. His post-monsterpocalyptic world then seemed to take shape spontaneously around him.”

While his demeanor is seemingly closer to Casper the friendly ghost than Hellboy or Swamp Thing, Crypt Kid is the nicest guy who’ll suck the marrow out of your bones. Instead of exploring our dead, dull-ass world, he leads us into his, to confront phantasmagoric vistas and shambolic abominations no human protagonist could face without going insane and being eaten (not necessarily in that order).

Like any sane third-party solution to America’s political nightmares, ghouls will never be popular enough to foment a revolution, but imagine a world where horror stops being ugly comfort food revolving around our inability to deal with our own mortality where the monsters aren’t just dumber versions of us, but something truly other that embodies the primal fears we still can’t face. That’s the world I want to live in, and up until today, I would’ve needed a shovel to get there. With the return of Crypt Kid (see vol. 1, issue 1 before reading this issue!), we step off the threshold of anything like a familiar horror narrative, and into an unthinkable destiny.