“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity”

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.

I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet  Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.

My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.

Graveyard Girls

I’m still looking for a horror novel or graphic novel for the Halloween season, but these at last have friendly ghosts. Those count, right? Added bonus: they’re both good readalikes for Raina Telgemeier’s last book, too.

Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9780545889544.

Ghosts and ghouls dance beneath a cemetery, but they don’t like Little Ghost, who is scared of them. But he has a friend who lives there, Modie, a boy whose father keeps him alive by using a spell every thirteen years to feed Modie the life of another child. (Yeah, killing that kid. This happens the beginning and makes the whole book seem like it’s going to be much more grim than it is. And on the up side Modie is trying to convince his dad to stop.)

Fast forward twelve years and eleven months… In the nearby Bexley Academy’s dorm, two sisters Victoria (older, calm) and Katie (little, wild) are getting ready for their first day of class. They’re scholarship students and the other kids treat them like crap (though Katie doesn’t really notice). As Modie’s dad searches for a new life to feed his son (and Modie pleads with his father not to do such a horrific thing), the girls try to fit in. Victoria finally makes a friend — Little Ghost! — and Katie makes friends with wilder ghouls who lead her to behaving badly. It’s pretty clear that one of the girls will need rescuing from Modie’s dad eventually, but it all unfolds organically and somewhat unpredictably. The storytelling, drawings, and the color all look wonderful.

Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point by Kim Dwinell. Top Shelf, 2017. 9781603094115.

Dwinell’s first graphic novel is a story of two surfing friends, Jade and Samantha. Jade is a bit boy crazy. Samantha prefers bugs. After they hear that a resort is going to be built on Danger Point, ruining their surfing beach, Samantha finds out that she can see ghosts and that she has become the guardian of Danger Point. There’s even a cute young boy ghost. It’s an entertaining book with a pro environmental message full of girl power.

Enter The Hound

Animosity Volume 1: The Wake. Marguerite Bennett, Rafael De Latorre. Aftershock Comics, 2017. 9781935002895. 120pp Contains Animosity #1 – #4.

One day all of the animals woke up and started talking. They were not happy with us.

Cue an entertaining, multi-page comics montage of animals that have just started speaking including: a cat threatening a man who beats his wife, irritated sloths, a cow in a slaughterhouse trying to talk a man out of killing it, pandas offing each other as they scream “Why did you keep us alive for so long?” and a hound dog, Sandor, confessing his love for Jesse, the little girl that chose him, the unwanted runt of his litter.

It’s kind of like a zombie apocalypse. As pissed off animals start taking out the humans, a few loyal and much loved pets try to keep their humans safe. Sandor calls these the Angry Hungry Days.

Cut to a year later. Jesse’s family is gone. (There’s a lingering mystery as to what happened to them and whether or not Sandor had a hand paw in it.) Sandor is trying to get Jesse from New York to California, to reunite her with her brother. To start that journey he needs to use his hound dog’s nose to do a favor for the Animilitary, who have a fort on the other side of the Hudson River. It is the beginning of an eventful and violent journey across what is left of the U.S.

Thanks to my buddy Ryan for recommending this one to me.

Nyan Sloth

Memetic by James Tynion IV, Eryk Donovan, and Adam Guzowski. Boom Studios, 2015. 978160886743.

Everyone loves the new meme, a sloth giving the thumbs up on a swirly red and blue background. It isn’t just cute, it gives people a feeling of well-being, even euphoria. It gets passed around so much that people’s social media feeds are just the Good Times Sloth over and over. College student Aaron doesn’t get it, probably because he can’t see colors, and everyone’s sudden obsession starts to creep him out. He texts his boyfriend not to look at it, even though they had a terrible argument the night before. That evening, one of Aaron’s friends starts bleeding from the eyes, screaming, and attacking everyone around him. The syndrome spreads, starting exactly twelve hours after exposure to the sloth image. Aaron goes in search of his boyfriend. Meanwhile an ex-Pentagon official with macular degeneration and a researcher who predicted weaponized memes try to find the image’s origins as the world descends into chaos.

The story feels like a combination of a Twilight Zone episode and an apocalyptic action movie. It incorporates the best and worst things about social media into the spread of the syndrome, and it reminded me of the end of the television series Dollhouse in that it’s more of a horror story than a cautionary tale.

Also? The cover is amazing

Lovecraft Country: A Novel by Matt Ruff. HarperCollins, 2016. 9780062292063.

In Atticus Turner’s teen years, his father argued with him about reading H. P. Lovecraft stories, telling him that he shouldn’t read anything by a racist author. Atticus looked to his uncle George, who sympathized but gave Atticus some perspective on his father’s anger. (He makes a comment that will definitely resonate with readers: “But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect,” and when Atticus asks him why he doesn’t get as angry, “I don’t get mad. Not at stories. They do disappoint me sometimes. Sometimes they stab me in the heart.”)

Now it’s 1954, and Atticus Turner is back from the Korean War. He gets a letter from his father urging him to come to Massachusetts to learn more about his mother’s family. The letter appears to have come from a town called Arkham: the home of the nightmarish godlike creatures, ominous occultists, and corpse reanimators of Lovecraft’s stories. Atticus knows it’s a fictional place (and George is pretty sure it’s actually Ardham), but his father was last seen with a white stranger in a flashy car, which doesn’t seem like a good sign for a black man in 1950s Chicago.

Uncle George, now the editor of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, and strong-willed family friend Letitia drive north with Atticus to rescue his father. Their journey is perilous: in Jim Crow era America they face sundown towns and the imminent threat of murder by the police. The new owners of a cafe George wants to review for the guide seem to have burnt out the previous owner and are ready to do violence to them. The possibility of facing down lethal extradimensional creatures and dark magic pales in comparison.

This starts a series of intertwined stories of Atticus and Letitia’s families getting caught up in a multi-generational feud as leaders of the Ardham and Chicago lodges of the Order of the Ancient Dawn struggle for control of vast magical powers. Like social an economic power, magic is firmly in the hands of old white New Englanders, and they use it against black people in similar ways. The ghost haunting a house and the house’s white neighbors both want the new black owner gone, a ledger detailing the money owed to an enslaved ancestor is ransomed for a powerful book of spells, a woman discouraged from studying astronomy finds a portal to other planets: each story combines everyday oppression with spooky otherworldly powers and high-stakes adventure.

I picked Lovecraft Country up because of the premise, then I couldn’t put it down: the creepy atmosphere and perilous battles kept me turning pages.

Magickal Realism

Aleister & Adolf, story by Douglas Rushkoff, art by Michael Avon Oeming, lettering by Nate Piekos. Dark Horse Books, 2016. 9781506701042.

aleisterReader note: This book has a LOT of nudity and fucking in it, in addition to Satan worship*, murder, and Nazi atrocities. So, y’know, if any of those is a deal killer for you, give this one a pass.

A graphic artist in the early days of the web goes in search of the original paper files on the design of a corporate logo, after the digital files he needs to build a web page start to misbehave by refusing to stay put on the screen. He’s horrified to find images of torture and death that played a role in the logo’s development. He meets with an elderly man, now dying, who explains what it all means: in his youth, during World War II, he was tasked by American military strategists to recruit British magician Aleister Crowley because the Americans wanted to find a way to use Hitler’s interest in the occult against him. Instead of completing his mission and reporting back, as ordered, he ended up overwhelmed by Crowley’s ideas and in danger of losing himself to the powerful magicks at play. Crowley became obsessed with creating a symbol powerful enough to defeat the Nazis.

The story is based on real-life strangeness and occult beliefs during WWII, with a story of personal obsession and loss woven throughout. Crowley thinks the Nazis are adding power to the swastika through their horrifying medical experiments and mass murders. His efforts to create a rival symbol involve sex magick and sacrifice. This isn’t just a Hammer style occult horror story, it’s about the power of symbols and how they permeate of our lives. In the notes on his art at the end of the book, Oeming comments that while he usually sells his original cover art, he thinks he will burn the cover of Aleister & Adolf rather than unknowingly sell his depiction of Hitler to a neo-Nazi for any price. The symbols in this book are still powerful, generations later.

*a nerdy footnote: Aleister Crowley in the book (and probably in real life) would strenuously object to someone calling what he did Satan worship or black magic. Then he would give you a long-winded explanation as to why. But that’s what people who will want to steer clear of this book would call it, which is why I’m calling it out with those words.

Cuticlechewer

Nailbiter Volume One: There Will Be Blood by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2014. 9781632151124.

Contains Nailbiter #1 – #5.

Nailbiter Volume Two: Bloody Hands by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2015. 9781632152329.

Contains Nailbiter #6 – #10.

nailbiter-1Eliot Carroll has been investigating the connections between the Buckaroo Butchers — sixteen serial killers born in the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon. He called his friend, Army Intelligence Officer Nicholas Finch, to tell him he’d solved the mystery. But by the time Finch arrives in town to meet him, Carroll is missing. Now Finch just wants to find his friend. Did acquitted serial killer The Nailbiter (who chewed his victims’ nails right down to their bloody bones) have anything to do with his friend’s disappearance?
It features a local cop who used to date a serial killer, a Murder Shop that sells killer memorabilia, a ton of suspicious characters, and some of the grossest flashbacks I’ve seen in comics. This is perfect for splatterpunk fans nailbiter-2and, as someone starts impersonating past serial killers, of the movie Scream. There’s a hilarious story in the second book where comics writer Brian Michael Bendis heads to Buckaroo on his bike to make notes for a graphic novel. But I was on board as soon as I read about any librarian’s favorite serial killer, The Book Burner, who torched libraries with people inside and then killed some authors. (I am, of course, happy that he’s fictional.)