It looks like wordless comics are my newest thing.


This is due out sometime in the near future from Fantagraphics. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe a month. Maybe a little more than that - I don’t know. It’s 80 pages, b&w, $12.95.

And if you’ve been itching for a horror comic, this is a very fine one. An excellent one, even. In a way, I kind of want to leave it at that, since any substantive review of this book is going to have to get into the mechanics of its construction, and that'll maybe dull its power a bit, so let me assure you up front that this book is quite good, and bid you seek it out when it's released.


I’m not all that familiar with the works of writer/artist Josh Simmons - he’s put out a handful of issues of a series titled Happy that I’ve not come across, plus a number of minicomics, and he’s contributed to some anthologies. I do recall his story from Kramers Ergot 4, which I found too verbose by half and overly mannered in its nihilism. House is very different.

There are no words at all in House. It is lean, fast and cruel, and proceeds relentlessly, with all the inevitability of death itself. The plot is extremely simple: three teenagers decide to explore a magnificent half-rotten, half-sunken city-mansion out in the middle of nowhere, and unfortunate events occur. You can detect a bit of added shading -- clearly there’s something of a romantic conflict going on between the two girls and one boy involved, and there’s an ominous, unstated mystery surrounding the setting -- but this is really as direct as horror setups get. And it’s perfect! Stripped of complexities beyond those which might be divined from the setting, House is a perfect vehicle for cold, suffocating horror, lingering dread building to a rolling wave of nausea at the frality of the human body and the failure of hope and emotion in the face of doom, however uncertain.

I'm not kidding, there’s no relief whatsoever in this book, once it gets rolling. Simmons’ art assures that, since the structure and visual conceptualization of this comic is inseparable from its lingering impact. It’s quite simple really, a study in extremes - the book begins with huge masses of white space spread across wide panels. The expanses of the outdoors are mighty indeed, and Simmons offers double-page splashes and spreads, beginning with the open sky and gradually filling with busy nature. Trees soon give way to the ruin of the man-made city-mansion, which is also presented as the stuff of magnificence.

But white soon transitions to black as the book moves on, and Simmons’ panels grow smaller and smaller, as tight as the opening vistas were wide. The ornate detail of early pages decompose into harsh scratches of character art across a pool of black, and the smallness of Simmons’ panels force us to stare good and hard at the most atrocious things. In the beginning, his characters are well-detailed and emotive, from the nasty teenage mustache on the boy to the deftly managed glances between friends that indicate longing and affection. Yet in the end, it's all worthless - it can't save anyone from the finality of being mortal, and soon Simmons' characters are like flailing, fading blobs. Where Simmons' storytelling was once clear, you must eventually scan his panels several times to follow his characters around. This concept is even carried into the very design of the book, beginning with blank white on one inside-cover, and ending with total black toward and into the other.

I couldn't call it a pleasant book, but well, who the fuck wants that from a horror comic? I honestly can't recall the last time a comic gave me this much of a jolt. And not in a 'shock horror' way, either. This isn't a 'shocking' book. It's distressing, saddening. Far more interested in the helpless reactions of people unequipped to face the awful truths of living - that living means dying. Always. From the youthful vigor of its jaunty early pages to the decrepit crawl through darkness of its finale, this is a bit more than a just scary old house comic, or a survival horror comic, although I've been calling it a 'horror' comic for this whole review - it's no less than a little song of life, and it's no soothing lullaby either. I certainly recommend this brief, affecting experience.