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Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Happy Halloween! For the last few years I have posted a horror-themed graphic novel on Halloween Day, so this year I choose the classic three-volume manga series Uzumaki.

“Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral — the hypnotic secret shape of the world” is the premise of this eerie series that has definitely earned the acclaim it has been given. 

Kirie and Shuichi begin to notice their family members and townspeople’s strange fascination with spirals. It begins innocently enough, as many spirals are found in nature, with the teen’s fathers being the first to become entranced with the spiral’s power and beauty. Soon obsessed, people begin to experience terrifying body contortions and you will begin to need to have a strong suspension of disbelief as grotesque and unnatural occurrences happen that would have most people leaving the town for good. Kirie and Shuichi remain strong in the midst of turmoil, as they try to leave with their remaining family members when the town is destroyed by hurricanes, and then by the madness of the inhabitants who can’t escape. 

Each volume is divided into chapters, with eighteen chapters in all, and the final chapter The Labyrinth brings the story of Kirie and Shuichi to a close. While chronological, in volumes two and three the chapters begin to resemble short stories, so you can read a chapter at a time that is self-contained. The stories can spiral out of control, but that is part of the appeal in what makes this trilogy stand out.

The artwork is a masterpiece of time and effort by author and illustrator Junji Ito, with intricate black and white panels that show the town’s descent into insanity. The creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. The spirals and the body horror found throughout the chapters will stay with you, even after you put the books down. Who knew that a simple spiral could become so treacherous and all-consuming? 

This series is not to be missed, as you too, should join other readers and dive into this whirlpool of terror!

-Nancy

Collage of Uzumaki images from Mother.Dot

 

When I Arrived At The Castle

I am a fan of Emily Carroll’s past work Through The Woods. This new graphic novel is very reminiscent of her earlier horror-inspired short stories, but this longer story is more adult with a lesbian erotica angle. 

A feline young woman arrives at the castle ready to do battle with the Countess, who appears to be a beautiful vampire. But she immediately falls under her spell and becomes more of a guest, than a warrior. Her passiveness makes the vampire despise her and toy with her. She is escorted to a corridor of red doors, where fairytale-esqe experiences await her. After a few frightening scenes behind the doors, the feline is ready to attack the vampire. Their erotic but macabre embraces end in an ambiguous manner.

Carroll’s art is rendered in only black, white and red to great effect. Few panels are used, instead, the art flows dreamlike from one image to the next. Some illustrations include intricate details, making the pictures sensual and Gothic-like. The red splash pages that included the text of the fairytales were striking. 

I came away from the story feeling it was atmospheric and unsettling, but with little in the way of plot. The dreamy aspect of it had some appeal, yet I felt dissatisfied with the story afterward. I don’t mind open-ended conclusions, but it needs to make sense. While seductive with lovely art, this story left me wanting.

-Nancy

The Low, Low Woods

The Low, Low Woods is an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania.

Elements of feminism and malevolence come into play, as two young women El and Vee realize something is terribly wrong in their town. Years ago a fire moved underground into the coal mines, forcing their closures and gutting an already fragile economy. In addition, women began to exhibit strange episodes in which they were losing large portions of their memory. When this seems to happen to the two friends on an evening at the movies, they want answers. Readers then discover there is already a layer of magic, as a strange deer/human hybrid is sighted, skinned men are hiding in the woods, and there are rabbits everywhere with human eyes. There is somewhat of a Paper Girls vibe in this story, further supported that El and Vee ride their bikes everywhere, but late in the story the narrative takes a sharp and confusing turn. A witch who is trying to combat the cruelty of the men in the region, as previous sexual assaults are implied in the story but not seen, but her spells don’t always work the way she intended. The remainder of the story is the young women trying to give agency back to the women affected by the dark magic.

The illustrations by artist Dani are dark with a color palette using a lot of black and red. The panels are varied, often with a large picture with smaller ones layered on top with black gutters. But the lines can be imprecise and lacking details. For example, El who is a larger woman is often drawn blocky. But I did appreciate that the various characters were given a diverse look. There was a lot of dialogue and information given in text boxes, with a small font that made reading challenging.

I have read a previous short story, Blur,  by the author Carmen Maria Machado through LeVar Burton Reads, and she is known for her LGTBQ+ storylines in the horror genre. While this story wasn’t exactly to my liking, I like how Hill House Comics is using a variety of authors to reach different audiences. I was pleased to receive an advance copy through NetGalley and I plan on reading more of this label’s graphic novels!

-Nancy

Basketful of Heads

Joe Hill is having a moment. With his Locke & Key series now on Netflix, and his novels and short-story collections in high demand, DC has given him a prestige project, his own label- Hill House Comics. While not all of the graphic novels under this label will be penned by him, this first story is.

Set in September 1983, on Brody Island in Maine, the story establishes an 80s horror flick vibe. June is visiting her boyfriend Liam who is wrapping up his summer job as a deputy before going back to college in the fall. But a prison break (with a homage to Hill’s father Stephen King) puts their reunion in jeopardy. The two head to the police chief’s palatial estate during a growing storm and are amazed by the chief’s Viking artifacts collection. A battle-ax comes in very handy when the convicts land on their doorstep…

There are some twists and turns as to who the convicts are and who they are connected to on the island. As June fights for her life, grabbing the first weapon in sight, the ax’s power manifests in that the decapitated head is still alive and can continue talking. But heads begin to roll (!!) as June tries to find Liam and has to fight off several more criminals. Many secrets of corruption on the island are revealed by these talking heads. A final show-down discloses some heartbreaking truths and June obtains justice for a young woman who had been used and abused that summer.

Artists Leomacs and Riccardo La Bella really captured the era and northeast region well. There were crude jokes with some characters getting an almost Mad magazine type of caricature treatment, especially three times when a character is drawn with two heads as they are reacting to news. I loved the chapter breaks, as June’s basket fills and how the chapter numbers are symbolized. These sight gags, plus others, matched the tone of the narrative and made me laugh.

I enjoyed the dark humor as the horror-aspect of it all was played fast and loose. Thanks to NetGalley for this advance copy, for with this graphic novel as the first in the collection, I am looking forward to the others coming out in the months ahead. Joe Hill, both in graphic novels and books, is now definitely a favored author of mine.

-Nancy

The Man Who Came Down The Attic Stairs

This thin graphic novel packed quite a punch, that effectively tied postpartum depression with a creepy noir vibe.

Set in what looks like the French countryside, a young married couple purchase a charming old home, in preparation for the child they are expecting. During move-in day, the husband is carrying up supplies to the attic when his wife hears a huge crash. Panicked, she is about to start upstairs when her husband Thomas comes down the attic stairs stone-faced, insisting that he simply tripped and everything is fine. Her water breaks at this moment.

The next scene is set in the near future as they are home with their new daughter Roslin who seems to have a bad case of colic, and she cries incessantly. Emma’s husband seems strangely detached, never complaining of the baby’s never-ending crying, yet not the playful man we first met at the beginning of the story. Not surprisingly Emma is at her wit’s end and doesn’t feel connected to her child. The pressures of new motherhood, an eerily changed husband, and her worries about her child’s health weigh heavily on her. Afraid of being perceived as a bad mother, she lashes out at some neighborhood women when she feels judged by them.

While speaking to a psychiatrist about her postpartum depression and her suspicions about what happened to her husband in the attic, a shocking revelation is revealed. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, so you don’t know quite what to believe.

Rendered in black and white, the artwork is atmospheric and sinister. The drawings gave a real sense of time and place, plus Emma’s unending housework will give you a feeling of claustrophobia. I found the story reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods and Shirley’s Jackson’s short stories (as coincidence would have it, a month ago I read The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Jackson).  Comparing Celine Loup to these other two women authors is praise indeed, so I will seek out future work by her.

-Nancy

Snow, Glass, Apples

For Halloween this year, my spooky choice is a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please.

He once again tackles the Snow White story, but in a different angle from his The Sleeper and the Spindle tale, as this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only.

The story begins with Snow White’s father, the virile and handsome king, discovering a teenaged beauty and taking her as a lover and eventually as his second wife. She is only a decade older than her stepdaughter, a pretty but secretive girl, who stays away from her. One night the girl comes into her chambers and the new queen beckons her closer, anxious to get to know her. But Snow White bites her and runs off leaving the queen distraught and scared.

Soon the king begins to weaken and before he dies the queen sees that his body is covered head to toe with scars that had never been there before. We are to believe his daughter sucked the life right out of him, leaving the queen in command of the kingdom.

The queen makes the radical decision to banish the girl and instructs a hunter to kill her and remove her heart. But as Snow White is of demonic blood, she remains alive in the deep forest and grows into a beautiful young woman, despite her pulsing heart being strung up in the queen’s chambers. Snow White preys on the forest folk and a few appeal to the queen for help, who has some mild magical powers herself. The queen is able to fool Snow White into eating a poisoned apple and her body is covered by a crystal cairn by the dwarves she had been terrorizing.

The kingdom settles down peacefully for a few years until a creepy-ass prince, who harbors some dark desires, comes to visit. And this is where it gets good! How the prince “saves” Snow White is deliciously twisted and perverse. Some of the earlier erotica between the king and queen is tame, compared to what comes next.

While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes. That the book has a storybook look, just adds to the fairytale motif. An artist’s note at the end tells of her research and the artistic process of inking these exquisite pictures.

A delightfully creepy twist on the Snow White fairytale, that paired with the beautiful art makes this graphic novel a must-read!

-Nancy

Harrow County: Volumes Two-Four

I just discovered the southern gothic supernatural series Harrow County and loved it! The story recently came to a close with it’s eighth volume, so I have the pleasure of being able to devour the entire series. As such, here are my reviews of volumes two, three and four.

Volume Two: Twice Told

In the first volume, Emmy discovered that she has powers and is somehow connected to witch Hester Beck who was killed by the townsfolk the day Emmy was born. Having survived an attempt of her life, the villagers now respect her and Emmy grows into her powers. She only uses them for good and becomes familiar with the supernatural creatures, called haints, that live in the surrounding area. But Emmy’s “twin” Kammi appears and upends everything. Kammi seems to be the mirror image of Emmy, as she is sophisticated and evil. Emmy’s best friend Bernice is wary of her, but Emmy is desperate for answers and overlooks Kammi’s behavior until Kammi confronts her with an army of evil haints. Emmy has her own coalition, but the ending seemed rushed, and I know this won’t be the last we see of Kammi.

Volume Three: Snake Doctor

In this volume we get some stand alone stories that do some world building for Harrow County. But I most enjoyed the middle story that centered on the appealing Bernice. It turns out Emmy doesn’t have the corner on magic, and Bernice becomes an apprentice of sorts to a snake handling witch who hunts out snakes that are manifestations of evil.  This should lead to Bernice being more of a partner to her best friend, which is a promising direction.

Two other artists are featured in chapters one and four and I did not like it at all. They don’t even try to mimic the style of Tyler Crook, and it is his evocative art that defines the series. I have always liked series that were consistent with their author and artist such as Locke and Key, Revival, The Walking Dead, Manifest Destiny and The Wicked & The Divine. But perhaps that observation should be the subject a future discussion post…

Volume Four: Family Tree

In the fourth volume we finally get some back story on Hester’s powers and meet some magical “family members”. Odessa, who had been referred to in the previous volume, is shown, and while she seems to be a sort of mentor to Emmy, she and the others want to destroy Harrow County and all it’s inhabitants so Emmy will stay with them. Well, Emmy won’t accept that, and it turns out her so-called family underestimated her powers. This was a typical origins story- some answers are given, while raising many more.

Cullen Bunn’s story remains strong, as did Crook’s art. My reviews of the remaining four volumes won’t be far behind, as I am *dying* to find out the rest of Emmy’s story!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Five-Six, Volumes Seven-Eight

Harrow County: Countless Haints

Harrow County is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale, and after recently reading Bone Parish and now this, Cullen Bunn is becoming a favorite author of mine.

The opening pages begin with the hanging of suspected witch Hester Beck. As she is hanging from a tree while lit on fire, she swears revenge and tells the surrounding crowd that she will be back.  This old burnt hanging tree is on the edge of the property of teen Emmy and her widowed father. Emmy is about to turn eighteen and is helping her father with a calf’s birth, when a traveling salesman and his granddaughter Bernice arrive on the farm. The two men speak privately about their worries that Emmy could be a reincarnated Hester, and that her birthday will reveal a hidden evil. Later when Emmy is exploring the nearby woods, she discovers her first haint, a skinless boy that speaks to her. It is his later warnings that alert Emmy that danger is near, and her seemingly kind father doesn’t even trust her. A showdown occurs, and secret alliances are revealed. Who can Emmy trust? Her father? Bernice? The skinned boy? Can she even trust herself?

The story has a lot of potential, as Emmy is shown as a young woman who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades long secrets that the townspeople have. This is a much better adaptation of that sort of story than the disappointing Wytches. The title hints that countless more ghostly haints will be discovered, and how Emmy reacts and utilizes them will certainly be intriguing.

Illustrated by Tyler Crook, he creates an atmospheric southern locale with believable and varied townspeople. His dark woods scenes are my favorite, with his spooky corners that could harbor sinister haints. He opened each new chapter with a two page spread that somehow incorporated the words Harrow County into the background, and I enjoyed looking for how he would do it each time. His artwork is reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s work in Through the Woods, and the comparison holds up because both Carroll and Crook draw their characters young looking with an apple cheeked motif. In this case, Emmy was drawn way too young looking. At eighteen years old, she should have been drawn as a young woman and not so child-like, but other than that complaint, the artwork is a perfect match for the story.

As this was the first of an eight book series, I aim to visit Harrow County more in the future and see what awaits Emmy!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Five-Six & Volumes Seven-Eight

Bunn, Cullen & Tyler Crook. Harrow County: Countless Haints. 2015.

Locke & Key: Volumes 2-6

This is one of the BEST graphic novel series EVER! Strong from beginning to end- I can’t recommend it enough! I will now wait as you rush out to purchase this series…

Ok, are you back from the book store? Let’s continue. When I read the first volume back in April, I said “Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphics novels I have ever read, hands down. It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and this first novel makes me anxious to read the rest of the series. Who cares that I have family, work and school commitments? Lovecraft is calling me.” Well, real life got in the way and I didn’t want to read the rest of the series piecemeal, so I waited until my family was on vacation to give my undivided time to finishing the series. *Warning- some spoilers ahead!*

lk-tc

Volume 2-Head Games:

After reading the first volume of the Locke & Key series and absolutely loving it, I knew I had to read all six volumes. Each book is dense, and takes time to get through, but is so worth the effort. This second volume delves deeper into world-building, with much back story and character development. Dodge, the malevolent soul released from the well by Bode, has now managed to worm himself closer to the family by taking on a new guise. The Locke family is none the wiser, for “Zack” manages to manipulate or take out any other person who suspects the truth. More magic keys appear, with intriguing diary entries from a Revolutionary-era ancestor in the back of the book explaining the powers of each key. The Head Key proves to be the most intriguing for a head can be opened and memories examined, showing how memories can be subjective to each person. The illustrations showing’s Bode’s colorful kaleidoscope of memories, compared to Ellie’s black and white adult memories are brilliant.

Volume 3-Crown of Shadows:

The third volume continues to dominate. The Locke family is still struggling over the death of the father, with the mother Nina crumbling under the strain of her rape and her husband’s murder. Her drinking takes a toll on the whole family, with Kinsey and Tyler having to take on the adult roles of parenting their little brother since their mother is too drunk to do so. More keys are discovered and used for evil by Zack, but combated by the three siblings with their own keys, still not knowing who is behind the attacks. Nina discovers a magic chest (which surprised me for they make a point in saying that the magic is for the young) which fixes broken items, leading her to put her husband’s ashes in and hoping for a miracle. Unfortunately, it can not mend death, leading to a poignant conclusion of Nina’s breakdown and the discovery of the mysterious Omega Key.

Volume 4-Keys to the Kingdom:

Another solid entry but it runs into the “middle problem” of a series when the beginning sets up the plot and atmosphere, and the middle is left with hanging storylines before the last volumes (hopefully) wrap up everything successfully. The beginning of the book was a fun start, with the illustrations drawn to emulate Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes style, to set up the stage for an animal showdown. Many more keys are found by the Locke siblings, and for the first time, they are not documented in the diary entries but they are obvious as to their power with the awesome battle illustrations drawn by Rodriguez. Lucas/Zack is still manipulating the family, especially Kinsey whom he romances, but Tyler is beginning to put together the clues. The end of this volume concludes with an epic cliff hanger.

Not every series can be perfect- and I do have some issues: I found the Skin Key to be problematic with stereotypical racial overtones, Ellie’s constant misfortune including her son Rufas’s intellectual disability and the implication that he is too stupid for the Head Key to be used on him, and the teenagers poor decisions in regards to what they let their friends and love interests know. I do look forward to how volumes five and six resolve the story and hopefully tie up some of my stated issues.

lk-keys

Volume 5-Clockworks:

Backstory awesomeness!!! We finally get an explanation of the keys’ origin during the Revolutionary War era, as hinted by the diary entries of different Locke generations in the back of the previous volumes. The present-day Locke’s discover the Timeshift Key enabling them to witness history. They observe the first Locke family as they endure tragedy from the British while protecting the American rebels. Tyler and Kinsey watch as the 1700’s Locke children witness the evil hiding in the caverns below their home. Later we are privy to what happened in 1988 with Rendell (the father as a teenager) and his friends and how the evil invaded Lucas. It was especially heartbreaking to see how Lucas had truly loved Ellie until he was accidentally taken over, all due to Rendell’s immaturity and bad ideas. This volume had many tragic deaths, all of whom were innocent, due to the evil that got loose from the Black Door. I can not wait to see how this story concludes, and what will happen to Bode, now that the evil is in him. What legacy awaits the Locke’s?

Volume 6- Alpha & Omega:

All the mythology that has been building over the series comes to an epic conclusion. The entire Locke family is fighting for their survival, as an evil entity has been gaining strength and is determined to take over. This coincides with prom, and a large group of foolish teens head into the cave for after-prom festivities, not knowing that they are walking into evil’s lair. The final showdown occurs with Kinsey and Tyler fighting the demon that looks like their little brother. Other friends step up to assist, often with devastating results. The death toll builds, with some surprising twists and turns. Will they be able to vanquish the enemy, and at what terrible price? While the poignant epilogue gives the Locke family some closure and a few happy endings, the Locke family is forever changed by the demons they fought and the tragedies they endured.

A few final wrap-ups: The artwork made this series for it established the atmosphere to coincide with Hill’s magnificent and well-paced storytelling.  Rodriguez is crazy talented. He has included Easter eggs in this series from the start, with details drawn into pictures or words written into books in a library background, so I had to smile when I recognized Hill and Rodriguez drawn as the paramedics on page 18. Although I have been on the lookout for eggs, I wonder how many other details I have missed or what other background characters have been people the artist knows.

So, everyone, you MUST READ this horror series! Beg, borrow or steal these books. You will be glad you did.

-Nancy

L&K

 

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