Our latest indie round-up is an eclectic bunch to say the least as it features a collection of paranormal tales in Then It Was Dark, as well as stories about the nature of life in Flirting With Death, before a pixie hatted parent cheers things up in Dunce.
Then It Was Dark (Peppermint Monster Press)
When it comes to horror anthologies it’s not the easiest market to stand out in. S orather than rely on gore and schlock to make a mark, Then It Was Dark manages to be different by focusing on chilling ghost stories told in haunting black and white with a really diverse selection of creators, all of which makes for a truly haunting collection of scary stories. From the terrifying opener Sleep with it’s men in black coats and cow skull heads (not to mention it’s aggressive demon haunting a young man’s dreams), you know you are in for an unsettling ride and it sets the bar pretty high for the quality that is to come. There’s disembodied heads and creepy farmhouses, all of which give the stories collected here a real ‘camp fire’ feel to them. Especially as many have that classic twist in the tale structure so beloved of anthologies. However, as well as relying on the creepy and paranormal for it’s source material, it’s also really interesting to see how many female creators are involved in producing this book, from editor Sarah Benkin on through, and perhaps this gives the book a more unique edge that a more masculine group of collectors might have not created?
It’s not just the storytelling which is of a high quality and diversity, the art is too. There’s a really interesting range of styles from the charcoal, hand drawn, manga of Jackie Roche in Sleep (which truly makes the most of it’s demonic subject). through the clean cartoon lines in The Ghost Larps by Molly Ostertag (which could be a Lumberjanes-esque all-ages romp), to more orthodox horror comics styles and beyond. There are even those who break out of the mould, such as From The Beyond by Emi Gennis (that features some stunning Eisner-esque text panels and splashes) and an almost entirely word based story in A Dying House by Ellis Rosen (which is laid out like a Victorian manuscript).
With not many of these stories relying on a heavy use of blacks to make them appear darker, Then It Was Dark feels much lighter in tone than it’s subject might suggest, but not at the expense of the chills. It’s also a good thing because at 200+ pages this is a truly epic collection and can be heavy going – not to mention being a bit pricey for a digital only book! As with all anthologies not all the stories are hits, but it has a pretty decent success rate with many more scary stories and not so many stories that are just plain scary bad! However with so many stories on offer it does have a slight sense of repetition, especially with the abundant number that may or may not have proven to be a dream at the end, which you notice most if you read it one big sitting.
Flirting with Death (Untold Voyages)
A collection of stories about life, but most importantly death, are told in this series of spiritual musings from writer Rudra Purkayashta. But don’t be put off by the use of the word spiritual. it’s not some New Age book full of mantras, instead it complies 6 short stories which you could loosely connect with a variety of religions around the world and tells unique and interesting tales around them – but all featuring some kind of death subtext. The opener is set on a tree top and sees Shiva/Death arrive for a meeting with Vishnu and his eagle courier. But when the eagle sees Death look at a small bird he attempts to prevent the bird from meeting an unhappy end. It’s an interesting look at fate and the cycle of life and sets the tone for the book (as Death returns for another story later than life). After reading this first chapter it would be horribly easy to make comparisons to Neil Gaiman – not just because it has a lead character who is Death – but also for its blending of religion and spiritualism with comics, and in many ways it would be a fair comparison. The mixture of art styles and poignancy of Rudra’s work certainly echoes some of Gaiman’s more contemplative moments and if you are a fan of the Sandman then this is definitely worth a shot. Subsequent stories look at issues very differently to the opener, from a giant fish (who grows in an almost Douglas Adams-esque manner) to a sentient robot having a sulk about his existence. There’s also a really interesting reimagining of the Solomon Grundy rhyme with a sweetly elliptical structure. Rudra is joined on art duties for the majority of the book by Lyndon White who uses a mixture of styles for different stories, with many of them feeling highly painterly and very accomplished, that brings a very organic and hand drawn feel to the proceedings (especially on Cosmic Fish). At 6 stories it is just long enough to not outstay it’s welcome and ends up feeling like a really interesting first offering from Rudra. It’s still a bit rough in places, and not all the stories fire on all cylinders (Red On The Plains Of Sinai looks lovely but feels a bit too biblical for us) however, it provides enough of a taster of Rudra’s work that we would definitely love to see him do a second collection of stories like this in the future!
Dunce #1 (Jens K Stye)
A collection of strips from a Norwegian newspaper, Jens K Stye’s anthology Dunce is a strange yet anarchic little collection that is strangely likeable. It stars a father and son who are kind of pixie like characters with pointy hats on and the strips follow their adventures. The father is a bit unconventional and takes his son to watch Mongolian Cannibal movies at film festivals (which subsequently freak him out completely), before he starts a band with people at work when his son learns the guitar via YouTube. There’s also a lot of sitting on the couch too. In between these ongoing stories are some genuinely sweet moments (such as them collecting Pokemon near the northern lights) and some genuinely laugh out loud moments too, such as the lost phone charger rage strip, which has surely affected us all). It’s an interesting dynamic for the father and son as there appears to be no mother figure and so it is just two boys left to their own devices, and it makes for a really unconventional approach to this kind of story (plus there are those weird old pixie hats too!). With it being a newspaper strip there are inevitable shades of Calvin and Hobbes in there, but mixed with a surreal silliness (best exemplified in a scene when a co-worker gets Dunce to draw him a cartoon character and then wonders why he has to be half man half fish). Its very sweet, and very silly and at just 40 pages very short, but with more volumes in the pipeline it’s definitely in the top half of the class, not languishing in the corner like it’s namesake!