While it would be easy for the digital comics giant to churn out safe, middle of the road comics to its captive audience, the Comixology Originals stable has evolved into a really interesting collection of titles. From LGBT superheroes, to afterlife taxis and arctic epics, the latest to join this eclectic crew is folk horror Double Walker but will it make great strides for original content or trip over its own feet on the way to the summit.
Publisher: ComiXology Originals
Writer: Michael Conrad
Artist: Noah Bailey, Tailor Esposito (Lettering)
Price: £5.59 from ComiXology
Cully and Emma are a pair of American travellers visiting the highlands of Scotland. As well as seeing all the local tourist traps, they also want to climb the famous Old Man of Storr. But when something tragic happens on the hills, they are forced to re-evaluate their relationship, while also deal with some dark supernatural forces involving faeries that have re-emerged in the village.
We are deliberately keeping our synopsis vague here as there is plenty of plot detail in here which we want you to discover as you read it, as it makes the experience much richer not knowing. We will admit we entered into reading this book with certain preconceptions, based on the fact that it was a ComiXology Originals title, but these were soon blown away by the sheer quality of the story from all involved. And as such we ended up finding it to be it a really interesting and engaging read.
Tonally it has a lot of familiar elements from other folkloric stories, such as perennial folk horror touchstone The Wicker Man. But what it really reminded us of was American Werewolf in London – especially with its strangers a pub scenes! In terms of comics, it brought back memories of the excellent Nicnevin And The Bloddy Queen, and also Celtic books like The Bog Road. However this is much more than a book that is blindly following those leads, it is very much it’s own story, it’s just that with so much in the book we don’t want to give away, we are left finding tonal comparisons rather than analysing plot points!
With elements of tragedy and horror mixed in with suspense and the supernatural, Double Walker manages to balance that sense of reality and unreality perfect as you begin to wonder whether what is happening to the couple is real or just a tall tale told by some old men in the pub. Conrad does a brilliant job of making those stories feel as if they are based on real myths, even if they aren’t and he balances this brilliantly with the very real troubles the couple are going through. It’s a wonderfully slow burning story, and it builds expertly to a suitably tense and emotional conclusion, as well as taking you full circle back to events at the beginning.
While the horror elements give the book it’s chilling purpose, it’s driven along by some excellent character moments. Cully and Gemma’s relationship feels very real and the tone of the dialogue very natural, which makes what happens to them even more tragic. He manages to get the perfect balance of the two cultures as well,(the tourist Americans and in the insular locals) and each play their part effectively without ever coming across as cliches – but also making the most of the tropes we know and expect in this type of story.
While the story is superbly delivered, it is nothing without the glorious artwork from Noah Bailey. From the opening scene which retells the mythical creation of the mountain via an old man lying down at the end of his life; through to the more creepy and sinister later scenes; it is a beautiful looking book. The artwork has a very British style of artwork that reminded us a lot of Ben Dickson’s A New Jerusalem (especially the small pin prick eyes), and it feels much more like a SelfMadeHero or Myriad book than it does a ComiXology title.
Bailey has a beautifully textured style, which mixes pen and ink with an almost pencil coloured style for the shading, and a very textured background. It’s the kind of book which would feel wonderful in print as it has a a real granularity to it. But it is also very carefully considered and the design of some of the more mundane panels is superb, using off-the-frame composition to really make the most of the quietness of the locations, but also build the tension within the relationship.
He also uses some truly outstanding colours to make the whole thing very very bleak and cold. The use of greys and very washed out tones, make it feel like a drizzly Scottish afternoon. But they also have this yellowish tinge to them when outside which gives it an almost anaemic and ghostly quality to the pages, but one which reflects the harshness of the setting and helps really make the whole thing feel utterly unique.
Double Walker is one of those books which exceeded our expectations and confounded our preconceptions. it is a book of contradiction: it has the down to earth nature of a British indie book, but comes from the world’s biggest digital comics platform. It is a creepy horror, but built around a very real relationship. The story is intimate and emotive, but with a scale and ambition to it as well. The artwork is gloriously lo-fi but also carefully considered and immaculately presented. This has arrived on our desk with little or no fanfare and so feels like it may be one of the most underrated books we will read all year as it attempts to compete with more illustrious stable mates. However this is not a book to ignore, as it is a truly wonderful read and one which will make you never want to go up on a Scottish hill alone ever again!