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Between the Panels: The Darker Side of Comics
By Lance Victor Eaton (March 2007)

Comics can be dark without being scary. They can contain elements that send shivers down readers' backs without necessarily being categorized as horror. Dark speaks to the themes and aspects of a story that transgress the narrative aspect and grab hold of the reader.

Wide Awake 666For example, Wide Awake 666: A Horror Anthology proves more amusing and delightful than scary and suspenseful. It does have its share of gore and guts, though more to gross out the reader than to instill fear. In just over a hundred pages, this colored anthology delivers dozens of stories that essentially celebrate the genre in the style of a roast, pointing out all of its shortcomings, inconsistencies, and fallacies. The dark side of this collection is about the spectacle it makes of the horror genre, for it has an edge to it that makes readers reflect about the nature of horror - why we as humans have developed a genre with the intent to scare ourselves.

The range of art and stories runs the gamut in this collection. Most stories run only a few pages while others are single-page or single-panel tales. Most use speech balloons, but others - such as Rob Ulman's ghost tale - are silent. Hideously Heinous presents its story in the fashion of a child's book while Chris Pitzer's piece merely involves actual (not drawn that is) trinkets with speech places above them. It's both hilarious and challenging as it makes the reader think outside the box of typical comic art. Yet other pieces (like Scott Nicholson's Eat Me) involve only text and a single picture. Overall, this anthology is fantastically executed. Fans and non-fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy flipping through it.

Wahoo MorrisInitially, Craig Taillefer's Wahoo Morris doesn't seem like a graphic novel that would belong with horror or suspense comics. The title is taken from the band in the story - Wahoo Morris is composed of close friends who have just taken on a new singer, Alicia. As lead guitar, Sebastian enjoys his share of glory and fans whenever this fledgling band plays, but that still doesn't stop Chas, the bass guitar player, from hitting on him. Sebastian has set his eyes on Alicia and wants to pursue her. However, Alicia's guard is up, leaving Sebastian in limbo, deciding whether to move on or not.

Now, this all sounds like a typical twenty-something soap opera comic with its love triangles, roommates, drinking, and loud music. But Alicia's dabbling in magic will bring it all crashing down. This first book only hints at it (with a rather startling end), but to be sure, this series will become darker with each passing book. Taillefer's great talent lies in presenting a realistic story, while at the same time slowly tossing in very fantastical elements that will hopefully lead the series into a darker world than this debut.

Alice SinnFinally, in Alice Sinn: Dead Wonderland, Aaron Bordner takes readers on a dark and chaotic venture through the land of dreams, that invokes elements of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and other storytellers who can create distorted realms of fantasy. Alice wanders a dreamworld where she is hunted by her alter-ego Dark Alice and the pumpkin-headed Springheel Jack. After she and her lover Tom crash their car, Alice falls into an unescapable dream. Every time she awakens, she is only returned to the dream. She battles numerous foes and learns to master the power of dreams, with no end yet in sight.

The chaos of Bordner's story permeates his art. In the crossing of panel borders or the lined backgrounds that portray a fluctuating reality, Bordner emphasizes the uncapturable essence of the dream. In a world where thought can change the background, appearance, or abilities of any character, Bordner instills this disorder throughout his narrative. Note that this graphic novel isn't for everyone; linear-thinking readers might shy away from it as it can certainly be confusing and befuddling at times.

While scary is definitive - that is, you either are scared or you are not - dark speaks to the idea of shades or intervals. So one could argue that the darkness of Wahoo Morris is certainly lighter than that of Alice Sinn. In the end, the idea of dark works like a spice on stories, one that can alter them in many unforeseen ways.
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