Brief Lines: Darker Images

A dark man, a dark house, and a place that is just plain dark – this week’s column dives into some graphic literature that sits a bit more on the shadowy side. Horror comics may have gotten a bum rap as unworthy during the EC comics days (not to mention all the horrorsploitation stuff Marvel and DC churned out in the 70s – Son of Satan and his demonic man-kini, anyone?) but the tide has turned. Walking Dead may be the bell cow of this particular movement, but between that, Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, and numerous others, the horror fan has plenty of reputable choices over on the graphic lit side of things. But not all graphic lit is comic books, and not all horror is created equal.

The Dark Man is a short poem Stephen King wrote while in college, but it’s better known for being the genesis of one of King’s most enduring villains: Randall Flagg. The eternal outsider in jeans, cowboy boots and a hat, he haunts the railroads and empty highways, wreaking havoc as he goes – or so he is represented in the poem. It’s all of 23 lines, but it remains some of King’s most potent, focused writing, a simple genesis of evil. To do justice to something so key to one of the most enduring fictions of our time would seem impossible, but artist Glenn Chadbourne pulls it off. His illustrations for the poem are at once gorgeous and slightly off kilter, realistic and unsettling. In every line and on every page, he summons the sense of existential wrongness that defines Flagg’s character, the feeling of being an outsider with a permanently, gleefully skewed point of view. Unsettling and hypnotic, the book is simply stunning, and Cemetery Dance is to be commended for publishing it.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Purple Nurples is the fifth collected volume of the adventures of Roman Dirge’s adorably vicious little dead girl Lenore. More Tim Burton than anything Burton himself has done in over a decade, the strip mixes laugh-out-loud gallows humor with some deeply creepy moments that remind the reader that yes, this is a book about a dead girl and her friends here. And so there is an appearance by the Spam Witch to deal with a relentless spirit of bacony vengeance, and a glorious epic fight that we only get to watch through two characters viewing and commenting on it. There are shortcuts through Heck to give a bug a day at an amusement park, and, well, you get the idea. It’s glorious, madcap fun that’s evocatively drawn, and then every so often Lemire pulls out the scalpel and turns the immortal serial killer living in the shed out back loose. Highly recommended, especially for those horror fans with a sense of humor about their hobby.

And then there’s Patrick Rothfuss’ second volume in the Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle (Mr. Whiffle being a teddy bear) series of children’s books: The Dark of Deep Below. In this episode, the Princess has acquired a baby brother who gets stolen by goblins, presumably to be eaten by same. The Princess must channel her inner Jennifer-Connelly-in-Labyrinth and descend into the goblin caves of the Deep Below with only a few light sources and the estimable Mr. Whiffle for company, lest her brother become goblin snacks. While the rescue goes as planned, the exfiltration doesn’t, and only help from a truly unexpected source saves the Princess and company from a fate worse than death. The real star is Nate Taylor’s illustration; his toothy goblins are magnificent creations, while his Mr. Whiffle makes you believe that a teddy bear could in fact play an active role in a rescue operation. Rothfuss, on the other hand, undercuts his own message of girl power with the climax, and while the ending is sweet, it doesn’t quite make up for some of the preciousness of the early going.

And so three trips into the dark yield three at least reasonably satisfying results. Wildly different in style and content – and anyone who files Lenore in with Princess & Mr. Whiffle is out of their mind – they range from the simply enjoyable to the wholly remarkable.

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