Indie Comics Spotlight: Shadows on the Grave #1 , Modern Testament Vol. 3 Anthology of the Ethereal, and Sleeping with Ghosts #1
By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Shadows on the Grave #1
“I heard something. What was it?”
Horror is subjective. Spiders scare some people, while serial killers scare others. There are very few universal scares save for maybe death and Shadows on the Grave #1 from Dark Horse Comics has that in spades. The issue is written and illustrated by Richard Corben.
The master of supernatural horror is back with bizarre tales of terror in his signature black-and-white style. Running through the entire series is the continuing story of Corben’s new warrior character, Denaeus, reminiscent of his best-loved creation, Den from the classic Heavy Metal series.
Corben breaks Shadows on the Grave #1 into four short stories: “Strung Along” about a creepy puppet show, “Roots in Hell” about a shipwrecked couple, “For Better or Worse” about an incomplete murder, and “Denaeus: Dreams and Portents” which takes place in Ancient Greece and will continue. Each of the four stories is unique in that Corben manages to find a way to make them each sufficiently creepy in various ways. Corben is a master of crafting horror tales that send shivers down your spine and he does so without being overtly graphic. The four stories also seem to focus on duos and their relationships with one another – Corben emphasizes that certain relationships can bring solace while others can bring pain. The stories are also very vague in their resolution, partly because they’re short stories contained within something of an anthology, but also partly because Mag the Hag, the narrator, gives the reader plenty of set-up.
What really makes Corben’s stories so creepy are his artwork and the attention to the macabre. Corben’s characters in Shadows on the Grave #1 are sufficiently grotesque in physical appearance, lending themselves to the eerie vibe of the book. Even the seemingly happy couple in “Roots in Hell” have a look about them that gives the reader the impression that something bad has already happened to them. Corben excels at using his artwork to paint the world in a less than flattering light that is alarmingly effective in furthering the vile atmosphere. The black and white finish for the book furthers this atmosphere, with even Mag the Hag giving the reader an introduction about the use of black/white/grey tones for effect.
Shadows on the Grave #1 is a pretty unsettling collection of short comics that hits all the right, terrifying notes. The characters in each story are all faced with an improbable horror that requires them to make unsettling decisions, the consequences of which bear out in different ways. Corben’s script is chilling in its delivery, but is buoyed by the somewhat surprisingly “cheerful” mood of Mag the Hag. His artwork is uncomfortable in that it gives the reader a sense of unpleasantness that’s reflective of the stories themselves. Shadows on the Grave #1 is another fantastic work by a master in horror that will haunt your day.
Shadows on the Grave #1 is available now.
Modern Testament Vol. 3 Anthology of the Ethereal
“Good morning, Tommy. It’s another beautiful day.”
There are forces in play in the world that people draw upon for help in making tough decisions. Many of those forces are of the religious variety as the sense of the unknown gives people something to find hope (or fear) in. Modern Testament Vol 3. Anthology of the Ethereal from Insane Comics offers three tales in that light. “Shoulder Djinn” is written by Frank Martin, illustrated by Lucas Urruita, colored by Ezequiel Dominguez, and lettered by Kel Nuttall. “The Abandoned” is written by Martin, illustrated by Francesco Conte, colored by Macerena Cortes, and lettered by Nuttall. “Down with the Sickness” is written by Martin, illustrated by Joaquin Gr, colored by Matej Stasko, and lettered by Nuttall.
In “Shoulder Djinn,” a young man grapples with two voices pushing and pulling him in multiple directions. In “The Abandoned,” an abused wife defends her son’s father to her son. And in “Down with the Sickness,” a dying CEO converts all his resources into finding a cure.
Each of the three stories bear some religious overtones and that’s become a linchpin of Martin’s Modern Testament series. The conflict between Djinns in “Shoulder Djinn” isn’t new in the sense that it’s basically good vs. evil, but Martin punches it up a bit by offering a physical component to their conflict. His dialogue in “The Abandoned” builds up to a rather dramatic climax before resolving itself in a way that feels calm. Martin’s take in “Down with the Sickness” is probably the most morbid of the three in that it forces the reader to confront the reality of mortality. The three stories all draw upon the notion that there are external forces guiding us and free will is something of an illusion.
The artwork in the three stories is fairly varied, but not so much so that it’s distracting to the reader.
Urruita’s work in “Shoulder Djinn” features the two Djinns in peak physical condition and the colors by Dominguez give each of the two a contrasting pop. Conte’s work in “The Abandoned” feels the rawest and is an appropriate match for the subject matter of the story and Cortes supplements that raw emotion with a moody color palette of blacks and reds. Gr’s artwork in “Down with the Sickness” is the vilest of the bunch, in that it effectively captures the physical embodiment of sickness, with Stasko adding in the appropriate green tinges to bolster that embodiment.
Modern Testament Vol 3. Anthology of the Ethereal is an interesting collection of tales. The main character in each is tasked with a very trying decision and lean on (or are leaned on by) various religious inspirations for guidance. Martin’s approach is uniform in that all three stories ask the reader to have a little faith. The artwork is varied and each art team lends their talents well to the subject of their tale. Modern Testament Vol 3. Anthology of the Ethereal is a pretty slick book that questions free will vs. determination.
Modern Testament Vol 3. Anthology of the Ethereal is available now.
Sleeping with Ghosts #1
“If this place doesn’t have something supernatural, nowhere will.”
Ghost hunting will always be a thing. While it won’t always have media attention drawn to it or endless reality shows, there are still those out there seeking to contact the supernatural for whatever reason. Sebastian Fletcher is one of those individuals in Sleeping with Ghosts #1. The issue is written by Damian S. Simankowicz, illustrated by Marcelo Salaza, and colored by Mike Stefan.
Jaded ghost hunter Sebastian Fletcher meets his match when he arrives at the Hotel Avira and discovers that the dead not only haunt the hotel, but want his soul too!
The premise behind Sleeping with Ghosts #1 is definitely the road less traveled in comics as Simankowicz is focusing on a ghost hunter and his disillusionment with the work. Simankowicz struggles a bit, however, in presenting Sebastian as a uniformly believable character. There are points in the issue where the dialogue feels a little too forced, as if Simankowicz feels the reader won’t pick up on a subtle theme being presented. The plot itself is pretty intriguing, as Simankowicz offers a hotel that has more than enough spirits to go around as a setting for a jaded ghost hunter to rediscover his love for the supernatural. And the ending of the issue definitely sets up more questions, with Simankowicz turning his focus to the truly devious nature of the hotel.
Salaza illustrates the book with a sense of detachment – appropriately fitting for a book about ghosts. None of the characters seem to inhabit the space they’re shown traversing as Salaza illustrates them as if they’re placed on top of the scenery. This works for the ghosts, but it does lead to some rather awkward looking poses for Sebastian in particular that don’t feel very natural. The panels are laid out in a grid that’s simple to follow although it might have been more appealing visually to mix up the layouts a bit to demonstrate the somewhat erratic nature of spirits. Stefan’s colors are darker and provide the appropriate mood for a haunted hotel as the bluish hue of the spirits pop nicely.
Sleeping with Ghosts #1 takes some of the supernatural elements of The Shining and softens them up a bit. Sebastian is searching for the supernatural and is about to call it quits until he discovers something at the Hotel Avira. Simankowicz’s script is straightforward and gets right to it, even if the motivations for Jared are a little murky. Salaza’s artwork is simple in its presentation, demonstrating the ethereal nature of many of the hotel’s guests well. Sleeping with Ghosts #1 feels a little uneven as the first issue unfolds, but the reveal at the end does pose some interesting questions.
Sleeping with Ghosts #1 is available now.