Illustrations by Renee French, from Mirror Mirror II (all images courtesy of 2dcloud)

Great horror is the pursuit of meaning through defilement, a conscious and inquisitive violation of the mind, the body, the beloved, the home; the concentric circles of security that comprise our lives. Great porn proceeds from a similar root, grappling with that which delights and with that which abases in the context of their inextricability. There is no division between the shame that ignites desire and the desire itself, just as there is no division between love and the fear of death.

So begins Gretchen Alice Felker-Martin’s foreword to Mirror Mirror II, the second annual collection of horror and erotic comics from indie publisher 2dcloud. In this volume, editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer curate a murderer’s row of alt-comic talent. Anthologies tend to wobble in quality from one story to the next, but the work here bottoms out at vivid and frequently reaches greatness. Empowered to grasp as deeply as they please into the darkest possibilities of their imaginations, these artists merge Felker-Martin’s ideas of great horror and great porn into a chimera of hideousness so lovingly detailed that it becomes beautiful.

Illustration by Julia Gfrörer, from Mirror Mirror II

Illustrations by Nicole Claveloux, from Mirror Mirror II

The sheer variety of styles on display keeps the reader on their toes. A one- or two-page comic will be followed by a series of tableaus, then a short story. Horror novelist Clive Barker contributes several disturbing portraits of bodies melting like ink into liquid. Laura Lannes’s friendly indie drawings in “Love” deliver a tale of domestic tension that takes a turn straight out of Lars von Trier. Nicole Claveloux contributes a series of prints that look like they could have been made by an incredibly horny Dürer: scenes of giant figures pleasuring themselves and each other while small bystanders spectate (or assist). In “Vitalya (I’m Fucking Tired of You),” Uno Moralez creates images that look like cutscenes from 16-bit video games, twisting the pervasive physical violence of fighting games into a brief portrait of alienating rage and abuse. Al Columbia draws a series of one-panel cartoons with names like “O Death” and “Goodbye Grandma,” featuring scenes of murder and nightmares in the style of Max Fleischer. Gfrörer’s own contribution, “Heroic Devices,” illustrates a series of entries from a French guidebook to heraldry from 1557.

These drawings and stories flit by, none lingering too long, eschewing any context that would make sense of them in favor of a consistent mood of dark, trepidatious lust. Reading this is like dreaming — though whether you’re immersed in a nightmare or a wet dream is unclear.

Cartoon from Mirror Mirror II

Illustration by Uno Moralez, from Mirror Mirror II

Though plenty of the stories delve into explicit violence or sex (or both), or into outright body horror, others instead seek to insinuate anxiety in the reader’s gut — that floating chill you get when you sense that something is off, even if you can’t articulate what it is. It’s the instinctual reaction to the slime and drip from wounds and orifices, juxtaposed with the allure of naked bodies and pleasured genitals. This book is like a porn stash you’d find in the cupboard of a medieval demon. It feels truly forbidden, and reading it induces an exquisite sense of deviance.

Illustration by Lala Albert, from Mirror Mirror II

Mirror Mirror II is now available from 2dcloud.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.