Comic book horror tends to fall into one of two general categories: gore or psychological. It’s tough to do jump scares in comics, but in the last few years creators have become increasingly good at building anticipation and unleashing fear in measured, careful bites. Touching Evil Volume 1: Curse Escapes (Beardo Comics) is a title that sneaks up on readers slowly, only to freak them out in the best possible way.
Touching Evil is a departure from creator Dan Dougherty’s previous work. He’s probably best known for Beardo, an award-winning autobiographical strip that’s been published in papers and running for the last decade. Where Beardo is funny, poignant, and sometimes brutally honest, Touching Evil is layered and nuanced, full of cruelty but also deep compassion. The story centers around a woman who, through the machinations of someone she trusted, ends up with the power to kill evil people with a single touch. There’s a catch, though: When they die, their consciousness ends up inside of her, trapped there with everyone else she’s killed. As the mystery of where the power comes from and why Ada was targeted to receive it unfolds, questions of ethics and morality come up again and again. Ada is struggling to protect her loved ones and do the right thing at the same time, fighting external forces that want to control this power she’s inherited. It’s harrowing in its honesty, and as the stakes get higher, Ada’s choices become that much more fraught. There’s a little bit of Wytches in Touching Evil, and maybe some Stranger Things. It’s not often that audiences get to see a single mother at the center of a story like this.
Just as much as Dougherty’s writing style for Touching Evil is vastly different from Beardo, his art style is, too. Beardo is clean, relatively simple, and a little cartoonish. Touching Evil is more realistic, heavier, and darker. It’s also formatted like a traditional comic rather than a comic strip. Dougherty worked with inker Monica Ras and colorists Wesley Wong and Kanila Tripp on some of the seven issues that are collected in Touching Evil Volume 1. The consistency of Dougherty’s art at the center means transitioning from one colorist to another is relatively seamless. The team as a whole is polished and talented. Particularly when it comes to showing what’s going on inside of Ada’s head, Dougherty knows how to set the tone of the book with visuals. Already starting off the second story arc with issue #8, Dougherty is well on his way to creating a powerhouse supernatural thriller with enough horror to be perfectly suited for the season. [Caitlin Rosberg]
With each new project, Eleanor Davis reaffirms that she’s one of the most compelling, surprising cartoonists working today. Her latest comic, Libby’s Dad (Retrofit/Big Planet), tells a short story about adolescence, rumors, and domestic disturbance via a group of girls that meet at their friend Libby’s house for a pool party and sleepover. Libby’s father allegedly told her mother that he was going to shoot her with his gun, and this town gossip lingers over the teens, interrupting their joyful, carefree experience as they become increasingly fixated on personal drama that they don’t truly understand.
Libby’s Dad is drawn entirely in crayon, and the strong cultural connection between crayons and youth creates a juvenile atmosphere that perfectly fits a narrative about teens that have a naïve, simplified view of the complex reality of married life. The opening pages establish a bright, festive tone with a wide spectrum of colors, but as day turns to night, the color palette becomes much more limited and Davis focuses on the contrast of deep red and blue to increase the tension. This contrast in the back half of the book illuminates one of Davis’ artistic choices in the front half: The central character, Alex, picks red flowers off blue plants when she learns about Libby’s parents, and she ventures deeper into the red and blue foliage as she continues discussing the troubled marital relationship.
One of the most remarkable things about Davis’ work is its fluidity and the smooth flow of words and images on the page. There are no panel borders in Libby’s Dad, and having individual moments bleed into each other on the page makes the story feel more like the recollection of a memory rather than a literal depiction of events as they truly happened. Certain images are given more prominence to reflect how heavily they weigh on Alex’s mind, particularly toward the end when a small accident sends the group into a panic.
When a bottle of red nail polish is spilled on the blue carpet, Davis zooms in for a tight close-up on the bottle, followed by the shocked faces of the three girls painting their nails. Davis then cuts away from the action with a full-page splash showing the silhouette of a handgun against a blue background, a blunt, powerful image that indicates the change in the thought process of these girls as they recall Libby’s dad’s weapon. That gun is pointing directly at the girls on the opposite page, and their shock quickly turns to panic, then terror as they consider the potentially deadly consequences of their actions.
Davis depicts their childish expectations of the dad’s reaction with stark brutality, but all the tension dissolves when those expectations prove wildly incorrect. Libby’s dad proves them wrong in that moment, but the girls make the mistake of assuming his behavior around them reflects his behavior around everyone, and a single shot of Libby’s mom crying as she stares at a box of Fruit By The Foot hints at deeper trauma that the girls don’t consider in their blissful ignorance. Instead they just jump right back in the pool, enjoying a new sunny day unmarred by the pain of adulthood. [Oliver Sava]
In his introduction to this print collection of his webcomic, Jason Shiga remarks that “we live in an extremely exciting time for comics.” He admonishes himself, though, saying that his lurid and pulpy Demon Vol. 1 (First Second) is decidedly not in the vein of recent high-profile and award winning “serious” comics. On the surface he is right; Demon’s plot is simple, straightforward, and has more in common with Total Recall than Fun Home. Jimmy Yee really wants to kill himself, but every time he does, his soul leaps into the nearest person and he possess them. It essentially takes the basic notion of Quantum Leap and repurposes it to facilitate gore, viscera, and rapid-fire carnage. In Shiga’s hands it’s much richer than even he gives it credit for.
Shiga does not draw with the naturalism one might assume from how effectively he tackles body genres. Instead, he draws simple figures that are taken to the event horizon of abstraction. Everything in art is a symbol substituted for reality, but everything in Demon is a symbol of a symbol of a symbol substituted for reality. Hair is represented by black clumps, and bodies are composed of interlocking geometric shapes. Shiga draws eyes as a simple pair of concentric circles, and he sometimes leaves his figures without mouths.
This simplicity has two principal effects: It makes Shiga’s panels readable in a direct, immediate, and propulsive way. Each one is understood in an instant before urging you on to the next. Shiga compounds this effect by offering similarly clean page layouts; they don’t always make full use of the page, but Shiga organizes his panels so that they intuitively track with the natural movement of the eye. Some are the classic nine-panel grid, while others feature a great deal of negative space, panels going down and over in “L” shapes or zig-zagging in “Z” shapes. The tone and rhythms of the page dictates the layout, and Shiga wonderfully paces each scene—slowing down the more dramatic or tension-building moments, speeding up for more anarchic ones.
The second effect of this simplicity is that the moments like when Jimmy shoots himself in the head are truly shocking. And not just for its exclamatory appearance in the narrative, but the way Shiga draws it. Whereas Jimmy is rendered as flat and devoid of texture, Shiga draws someone’s head exploding with a ferocious smattering of chunky gore and viscous viscera. The dissonance is particularly clear in these brief moments of lurid violence; Jimmy’s head, suspended in mid-air, maintains a flat effect of two dimensionality. Whereas his innards have a semi-liquid texture to them, his flesh and musculature still seems like porcelain.
Shiga’s ability to move between these two aesthetics, to combine them to affect shock, repulsion, curiosity, underscores his capabilities as a cartoonist. He set out to make a dynamic comic, one that would both encourage and facilitate readers to turn the page again and again, and with a subtle blend of incredible formalism and aesthetic simplicity, Shiga achieved that goal. The result is something goofy, funny, harrowing, and exciting in a way that action comics rarely—if ever—achieve. [Shea Hennum]