What does travel mean to you? Is it that feeling of rootless freedom, of exploration, of new possibilities; those sensations you cannot replicate in the comfort of a familiar place? Or is it the fear of the unknown, the loss of control, the discomfort of the strange? New from Arcana Comics comes The Book, and it is at an intersection of both these interpretations of travel that it sits, weaving together a tale of blood-soaked ritualistic cults with the innocence of adventure seeking young adults abroad.
From co-creator Erik Hendrix and Michael David Nelsen, The Book follows the misadventures of a group of American friends who, through their search for an underground travel guide, become entangled with a mysterious Christian sect. Across the course of the story the origins and motives of the group are slowly revealed, finally resulting in an explosive, gore-soaked conclusion.
From the title page onwards the design choices made on this book cannot be faulted. An eerie, scrawled image set against a background of scarlet leads the reader into the book, and stylised chapter headings complete with small silhouetted teaser panels open each section which accentuate the supernatural and otherworldly aspects of the story. The art fits well with the tone, and Amanda Rachels’ line work has a poppy edge to it but also great clarity, helping to transmit the uniqueness of each member what is a large cast of characters.
The accessible nature of the art also heightens the more gruesome elements of the story, which are pulled off with panache, ably assisted by lush colouring from Gavin Michelli. His work really accentuates the horror elements, while grounding the remainder in well-realised real-world environments. Those pages in which our protagonists are driven through central Rome, past landmarks and through bustling streets, see this second element of the collaboration at its best. Across the four chapters of The Book its art team is given numerous interesting set pieces to work with by script writer Hendrix. Notable amongst these is the opening where Italian police raid an occult ceremony, a beautifully drawn flashback section and the aforementioned taxi ride through Rome.
However, early in the story the narrative supporting these scenes such feels uneven. In the first chapter we are rapidly introduced to the group of seven different protagonists, each with their own character and issues, while at the same time they are forced to relocate from Holland to Italy, due to the misdeeds of one of their number. This feels both rushed and like padding, as despite introducing the eponymous book of the title and the cult in the opening pages, our group’s involvement with it doesn’t begin until the close of the section.
Despite this early misstep, the main premise and story is strong. Once an unfortunate twist of fate has entangled the young travellers with our fearsome antagonists the pace picks up, and is never less than brisk. Having recovered from its early stumble in chapter one the writing becomes lean, and where it is slow to start it marches confidently to the finish. The dialogue especially is well written, and considering the number of characters involved each of their voices, as with their art, is distinct. Conversations feel believable and, despite the requirement at times for it to be expositional in nature exchanges never feel forced, which is of great credit to Hendrix’s script.
Once into its stride the story reads as a chase, like a superior teen slasher film with all the required elements present such as young lust, teenagers trespassing on creepy settings and very gory ends. These combine well and help make for a fun and bloody read. Read as a full story the pacing issue in the first chapter is minor, however as The Book will be released episodically on Comixology from 15th August, prior to a full physical graphic novel release in December, this may pose an issue in getting bringing readers back for the remainder.
With some of biggest names in mainstream comics currently having made their names writing horror and the recent addition of a number of excellent books to the genre, The Book is amongst fierce competition. But all told it is a worthy addition to the field, and features great art, an interesting premise and enough exciting moments to deserve attention of comic fans.
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