The immediate reaction is one of … ok, but … uhm, where’s the stuff? It’s a first chapter that moseys along and slow burns. In my opinion it’s exactly what’s wrong with comics, for the most part, today. Oh, NOT the book … the people reading them. Thought out exposition usually gets passed over or labeled “boring” because you don’t get the immediate satisfaction or can’t literally see the payoff right then and there. Well tough crap says me. Grow up a bit with your reading habits/understanding so you can enjoy well plotted, suspense building, and yes ultimately paying off story telling. You can do it with your damn tv shows so why not a book?The easy (not to be misunderstood as simple or bland) bake of the first chapter is a good choice I think. You get ENOUGH of the disposition of the sisters and it is clear that SOMETHING is up with Piper. What you don’t get enough of, is the point to point narrative that let’s you naturally flow down the stream of the story. It appears to be purposefully done and I like it. I was confused but not in a bad way. I was confused in the ‘this narrative choice made me think and try to figure stuff out’ way. That’s a good book. So what is this ominous dark being that we get flashes of? Is Piper (our lead) a mentally fractured young woman? Is it from the ghost story in the first few panels? Was that even a ghost story? Is it a projection? How does it play in to ……. and so on down the line. The first chapter is actually set up a lot like a tv show in that it glimpses here and there, flashes pieces of information that’ll surely be relevant later, and leaves you with an image that makes you go … ok, wtf? I gotta see where this goes.
Immediately I’m dumped into a “didn’t realize this was getting this hot” pan on the open stove. Chapter 2 paces like the scary movies I grew up with. Shit doesn’t go right and everything is just off. Bad break after bad break. We learn much more about our sisters and of course just as the one thing that was seemingly going gives a glimmer of light …. NOPE! Then? The gas is turned up and we’re starting to boil as Chapter 3 starts off right from the get go and we are directly in the land of bad things. Just like in some of those scary movies I watched growing up, our sisters find themselves overwhelmed by a terror they didn’t even know was coming. Quickly following is the what the #$^ just happened moment and what should be a moment to breathe. Instead, everything is assured to be “fine.” Of course, we know better and the slow burn that is now a rolling boil is priming to spill over onto the stove top. I mean, there’s nothing more reassuring than a family member that has a remarkably hard time finding you in the midst of a weird shit downward spiral kicking into high gear saying “everything is fine.”
It clearly isn’t …. all throughout the background we’re given those glimpses both subtle and not, that something is very wrong. Continuing to play out like one of my childhood scary movies, this book keeps building the ickiness and uneasy gnawing at you as you go along. Layer upon layer is peeled back, sometimes more than one at a time. Once reveals begin to happen the narrative catches up to the story it is telling and the book flows nicely. The chapters are cut at very appropriate points and give you those ‘oh’ moments that invite you right back in. The story is definitely a constant roll up hill but still builds momentum. The weird and outright spooky pile on as the layers are peeled back. The tension between the sisters does seem to circle around a little more than it probably needed to, BUT that only added to the uneasy feelings. Not to worry though because as the boulder reaches the top of the mountain it is on an expedited trip back down the other side. Your payoff is there and it is WELL WORTH IT.
Sterle’s art, accompanied by the grey tones, help keep the story feeling as though it’s a bug crawling along your skin, but you can’t find it. It is a perfect match for the narrative approach from Erman. This doesn’t slow build because there’s a lack of direction or a sense of figuring it out as it was being written. No, this was on purpose and to the point of dreadful frustration. Each panel you think, will be the one to get you past the moment but instead there’s just a little bit more. At full crescendo … BAM! end of the first volume. Executed perfectly and right on cue, the high tension sits and bodes as the last image of the sisters makes you say …. “no, it didn’t stop here!”
Bravo for pulling off a stoking of the coals approach to a very tense and emotional grind. There is A LOT that comes at us as we head into the last two chapters. Yes, there’s the … whatever the hell is going on, to figure out but also questions are raised about much more real things. Do we ever really know where we come from? Is our past what we think it is? Is what we used to be actually what we think it was? Plenty left open and set up for VOL 2!
I’ll be waiting anxiously for the rest of this story …
You can find Matthew Erman on Twitter @MatthewErman
More of his work will be available in the upcoming CORPUS Anthology as well as the Everything is Going Wrong Anthology
You can find Lisa Sterle on Twitter @lisa_sterle
More of her work will be debuting shortly through Vault Comics title Sub-Merged out July 4th