This new book from Humanoids’ H1 Imprint has a classic ‘why the hell would even do that’ horror premise, as a young family from London move out to rural Northumberland into a cobweb covered cottage for the summer only to get caught up in a world of pagan sacrifice and witchcraft in Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen.
Writer: Helen Mullane
Artist: Dom Reardon, Matthew Dow Smith, Lee Loughridge, Rob Jones
Price: £9.99 from ComiXology
Leaving their Dad behind in London (he gets the best of this deal!), Nicnevin, her brother Gowan and their Mum all start settling into life in the small village of Yeavering Bell, and it seems to stir something in the local landscape. For, inevitably, there are supernatural events going on in the village (including a missing old woman and pagan sacrifice which we see on the opening page). All this is elevated by the presence of Nic and her mum, who may have an ancient lineage of witchcraft running through their veins.
With Nicnevin and The Bloody Queen, writer Helen Mullane brings together a number of familiar themes from classic horror and British mythology to create a really enjoyable and creepy slice of contemporary horror. The premise is a familiar one, as you have the outsiders coming into the new small town – yet they are not complete unknown as they have the family connection, whether they want it or not. You also have the daughter who is going through some kind of awakening and channelling her new found ‘powers’ which seem to be brought about through returning to this significant place. On one level it’s your age old puberty metaphor, but there is also an element of a sulky urban teen discovering the joys of nature and the world around them. Nic seems to have some kind of connection to the land and can influence, rather control, the spirits and nature around her (including one unforgettable scene where her nocturnal activities inspire the local wildlife!).
There is also the ‘kindly stranger’ who appears in the shape of local historian and general smoothy Reggie, who seems too good to be true and takes advantage of the young teenager’s affection for him. Writer Mullane manages to avoid the potentially seedy nature of the story, by relying on the age old smitten teenager recipre and while Reggie is an appealing character he is never the letch he could be. However, you do have to question a lack of shock from a parent at the sight of her daughter coming home in a strangers Lambourghini!! In fact, the characters as a whole are all very well written and feel really well rounded, and very believable, which helps move the story along and not get bogged down when things get wierd!
The tone of the book is very British, with a lineage that include everything from Wicker Man to classic Hammer Horror, to Wiccan folklore and classic British tales of witchcraft. Yet she manages to also give the whole thing a very contemporary tone which helps make it feel like more than just a knock off those elements. By making the lead family mixed race, it stops the book from feeling too old fashioned and adds another subtle way for the locals to mistrust the outsiders. While the way she incorporates Nic’s texting and social media help reinforce the idea of her being a stroppy millennial, rather than an idealised child from a more classic literature.
Visually the book looks great, with 2000 AD artist Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith (Dr Who, Sandman Mystery Theatre) giving the book a slightly angular almost Mike Mignola/John Arcudi feel to the whole book, but with a lot more detail. It reminded us a lot of Griff Gristle artist Rory Donald’s work, as well as Merrick’s Luke Parker, as they manages to mix realism and the supernatural expertly. We were also reminded of Matthew fantastic supernatural thriller The October Girl which was out a few years ago and style definitely follows in the line of that one. With a cover from superstar artist Jock getting the book a lot of attention and linking it back to his own book Trees, this is a very well put together package.
The unsung heroes of the book though have to be colourist Lee Loughridge and letterer Rob Jones (who alas, goes uncredited on the cover of this one!) Loughridge gives the book a muted and murky colour scheme that goes well with the rural theme, balancing nicely between the contemporary and the supernatural flashbacks. While Jones gives the whole thing a wonderful texture to it by mixing antique serifs for scenes involving mystic flashbacks and handwritten diary notes that contrast wonderfully with musical interludes and text message conversations which Nic has with her best friend back in London and also her Mum. It’s a great contrast of the modern and the old and is the kind of little details which help make the whole of this book hang together so well.
Like a great witch’s potion, Humanoids have stirred together a cauldron of quality creators who bring their own unique skills together to create something magical and mysterious. Scary without being gratuitous, familiar without being cliched, and packed with plenty of depth and detail but without being over wrought with complexity and convolution. Nicnevin and The Bloody Queen is a really enjoyable slice of very British occult horror with the potential for greatness if the story continues.