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‘HOW SCARY LIFE CAN BE’ Costello and his wares.

The farmer desperate to save his dying wife. The aging photographer trying to resurrect his career. The funeral director who goes to extreme measures to cut costs.

The cast of characters traveling through Providence-based Sam Costello's stories are proof that everyday people and their base instincts are scarier than any chain saw-wielding maniac or freak shuffling through the woods with a machete and a hockey mask.

There are sweet-talking lotharios, jealous siblings, and wistful widowers — just ordinary folks who have lost their way and wandered into Costello's collection of web comics he calls Split Lip.

Costello's stories – there are 32 of them posted at splitlipcomic.com — represent some of today's best horror comics because they eschew the typical slasher-style blood splatter for more sophisticated, cerebral narratives with eerie atmospheres and dreamscapes.

Some are twisted fables, some are cautionary tales, some stories just trail off, leaving a passing chill where the ending should be. They all come from the mind of a 33-year-old work-from-home web marketing strategist who is partial to creating what he calls "idea-driven horror."

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UNEASY IMAGES A page by Erik Rose.
"There's something to be said for in-your-face, splatterfest-type stories — I enjoy those sometimes — but they're not where my mind goes," Costello says. "When I started Split Lip [about five years ago], horror comics were hybrids: action-horror, survival-horror, adventure-horror, superhero-horror. I wasn't seeing a lot of pure horror stories.

"I wanted horror that was existential, where the character's endings were inescapable, that was about how scary life can be without the hyperbole."

Costello was inspired to start writing his stories while watching a 24-hour Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy Network one New Year's Eve. With Rod Serling's voice in the back of his mind and H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Japanese horror movies close to his heart, he began crafting scripts and passing them on to various artists.

The results were black-and-white tales of terror that would be similar in length and content to a single issue of a comic book or an episode of The Twilight Zone.

And they are the show's equal in diversity because of Costello's care in matching the mood or theme of each script with the abilities and sensibilities of his artists. California artist Neal von Flue's charcoal-hued renderings make tragedy almost tangible in "The Wind and the Rain." Kyle Harabedian, a Dearborn, Michigan cartoonist, has a classic comic book style with such clean lines that it makes the desert seem to stretch forever in "On the Plateau." The heavily inked branches in Nelson Evergreen's "The Tree of Remembrance" are gnarled like a witch's boney fingers.

Although Costello has found artists from Brazil to Bolivia to Belfast, he didn't have to look far for someone to collaborate with on "Departing for the Third Heaven," the story about a man living alone with a cat, who is visited by a second cat at about the same time the man's friend dies.

Costello met Josie Morway, who happens to live across the street, several years ago when they coincidentally were working on a major web project for a client. Costello was the search engine optimizer, Morway was brought in to be the graphic designer.

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