The Ninjabot

Universal Horror – TPub’s “Twisted Dark”

Posted on July 14, 2013 at 5:32 am by Tyler Waterman

I am not a huge fan of horror comic books. Hell, to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of horror anything. Something about horror stories always leaves me disconnected; I find myself incapable of forgetting that what I’m watching or reading isn’t really happening, and because I can’t get immersed in it, I get bored faster than I get frightened. So when I was sent a review copy of TPub’s Twisted Dark, a compilation of short horror stories by Neil Gibson, I certainly intended to read it, but didn’t expect to enjoy it.

My expectations were terribly incorrect.

Twisted Dark tells several dark tales, each one subtly connected to each other, and I do mean subtly. In fact, it wasn’t until I read it through the third time that I really started to notice the connections, and while they aren’t essential to the effectiveness of the stories, it reveals just how much thought Gibson put into these tales. Too often do I read horror comics where you can tell the author had two or three really interesting ideas and built a shaky, uninteresting foundation around them; Twisted Dark is not one of these. Each story stands strong on its own, but read together they build a greater sense of terror at the real world itself than any man in a hockey mask or with a chainsaw could ever invoke.

I say this because so much of Gibson’s writing steers away from telling “scary stories” and instead is out to remind you that this is a very scary world we live in already, without us needing to invent more scary things. One of my favorites in this compilation was “Last Laugh,” which is a story about ants and fungi. Yes, you read that right: it is a story about ants and fungi, and it is terrifying. It’s a reflection of just how monstrous Mother Nature really is, and if the epilogue doesn’t convince you to never visit Oregon, you’re a braver man than I. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how effective the art and particularly the layout works for the story; Dan West draws nature like a photo, and using a backdrop of scientific text was downright brilliant.

lastlaugh

However, if Gibson shines at showing us how nature is scary, he positively excels at reminding us that human nature is even worse. The majority of the tales contained in Twisted Dark focus heavily on just how frightening the human condition can be, and the reason these stories are so effective is that they aren’t just portraying humans doing scary things (with the exception of “Blame,” featuring excellent art from Atula Siriwardane), but instead tend to focus on real-world conditions that drive “normal” people to do terrible things.

In “The Pushman,” we see how a thankless life and a mundane job drives one man to bring pain to others, and what makes that story so effective is that the actions this man takes are incredibly small. His nine-to-five doesn’t drive him to brutal murders, he just hurts people, and somehow that tiny action seems so much worse. “Munchausen’s Little Proxy” takes a legitimate mental condition that many people have probably never heard of, and quickly teaches you how a need for attention can be responsible for a story that nearly leaves you sick to your stomach. In “Cocaina,” Gibson pairs with Caspar Wijngaard and Olga-Mila Gots to spin a downright captivating story of the Columbian drug cartels, and the way one father and son’s lives are defined by them. This doesn’t sound like a story that lends itself to “horror” per se, but when read in the context of this graphic novel, you can’t walk away from it not feeling shaken.

cocaina

That isn’t to say that Twisted Dark is missing some more classic horror conventions, either. One of my absolute favorite stories was “Routine”, which I can’t really talk about without giving it away, but I can say that just thinking about the last panels and how effectively they start to remove objects is giving me goosebumps as I write this. (Trust me, you’ll understand what I mean once you read it.) Also fascinating was “Windopayne”, which adds a bit of science fiction to the otherwise grounded-in-reality graphic novel, but doesn’t suffer any lack of realism (or fear) because of it.

What really makes this book shine, however, isn’t just Gibson’s writing; it’s the incredible artists he’s teamed himself with. I’ve already mentioned a few who appear in this compilation, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t take separate time to discuss the Wijngaards. Caspar and Jan Wijngaard provide the majority of the art for this book, and their styles simply couldn’t be better suited for Gibson’s writing. Both draw with a style that is oddly cartoonish yet extremely realistic at the same time, and there is something about that contrast that really brings these pages to life, especially at the moments where you find yourself wishing it didn’t. Make no mistake about it; Gibson’s name is going to be big in comics for sure, and the Wijngaards are going to be right behind him.

As you read through Twisted Dark, one iconic image that keeps reappearing is a malicious smile, and that is exceptionally fitting for this book. I say this because I imagine every time Gibson and these artists complete another tale, they’re each wearing a similar smile on their faces, because what they’re creating here is horror so good it even appeals to someone like myself who rarely enjoys the genre. These are creators with a genuine passion for what they do, and they have certainly earned this comic reader’s respect; I just hope I never meet them in a dark alley.

And seriously, folks – don’t ever go to Oregon.

You can find more info and samples of Twisted Dark and other works by Gibson and company at neilgibsoncomics.com. You can also follow Gibson on twitter at @neiljamesgibson, and you can follow TPub at @TPublications.  

You can find Tyler on twitter at @BatmanIncVP.

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