It’s difficult to pin a label on Chronophage. Is it a horror? Is it Science Fiction? Is it a drama? The answers are not straight forward, like the book itself, however the only thing you really need to know is that it is good.
Let’s give that the emphasis it deserves, so you know that we mean it: It’s VERY good!
This new graphic novel is written by Tim Seeley, drawn by Ilias Kyriazis, lettered by Crank!, and is published by Humanoids. It’s release date is the 15th of February, and it has 130+ mind bending pages of exquisite storytelling.
The plot revolves around a single mum, Chloe, and her relationships with her daughter, Kai, and a travelling businessman named Heath. At first the family drama unfolds with a hint of supernatural terror but before long the twists and turns of the characters lives spiral out of control as the genre bending narrative not only plays with the lives of it’s cast but also with the very medium itself.
Tim Seeley’s script is tight and naturalistic. The characters are comfortable within their bodies and their speech reflects this. Their changing tones and inflections match the people we are introduced to. As a reader, you are instantly drawn into their lives and the mystery unravelling in the plot is secondary to the characters, to begin with. By opening the book with a character-driven, relationship-heavy, examination of life, Seeley creates a safe springboard for the readers which eases you into the world of Chronophage while not giving any hint as to where the story is going.
In fact, one of the triumphs of the book is that at no point will you guess where the story will lead. The family drama gives way to an urban ghost story before travelling along a number of different genre lines ending in a superb ‘where-will-it-go’ finale that is satisfyingly upsetting. All of these twists and turns could so easily have led up a blind alley or two but Seeley keeps a tight control over the narrative and allows the strong characters to lead the readers into one of the craziest but most satisfying narratives released in the last few years.
Removing the Fourth Wall
From the design and layout of the opening nine panel grid you know that you are in for an artistic treat. Ilias Kyriazis’s hand is so obvious on the page. The wobbly panel borders and loose, sketchy inks, demonstrate a personal – almost intimate – touch and is present from the very start. This style draws the reader into the comic and the narrative, making Seeley’s characters more empathetic and emotional. You can’t help but have feelings for Chloe and her daughter, and even her brash mother and dodgy new boyfriend.
The everyday feel of the characters and settings in the opening salvo of the narrative grounds the story and allows the readers to identify with the characters. This makes the occasional emotive panel leap from the page as they appear alien among the recognizable other. Emotional outbursts are rendered with an overlay of red across the entire panel thus soaking the moment with anger and rage, a contrast to the more natural panels that lead up to and follow such moments. However, these moments become more significant as the comic unfolds and the true nature of Seeley and Kyriazis’ story is exposed. Without wanting to spoil anything, as that would be an absolute crime for a book of this nature, the way that Kyriazis uses the plot to examine the nature of comic book storytelling is simply brilliant. There are moments where the artwork doesn’t so much break the fourth wall but simply refuses its existence. Cheeky blink and you’ll miss them moments, such as the use of a ‘censored’ black rectangle grabbed by a character to cover up his genitalia, are subtly woven into the panels, preparing the reader for the larger, in-your-face moments where the comic’s Reality is questioned.
You can follow this book through simply to engage with the clever and moving narrative, but it does raise more interesting and exciting questions about the nature of the format itself. The use of the panel becomes more than just a way of containing each image and is transformed by Kyriazis into a portal through which stories and characters can move and interact, outside of the usual principles of narrative. The possibilities of Comics as a medium is examined within the confines of a science fiction horror story in much the same way that the BBC television show Staged challenged the format of modern TV sit-coms.
As the pages build a complex narrative and critical subtext, control over the flow of the story falls onto the lettering, here handled brilliantly by Crank! There is as much going on with the text and the sound effects as there is in the rest of the book. Difficult to navigate conversations have been laid out in simple yet effective patterns, allowing the reader to navigate the often unusual flow. Certain elements of the speech have unique qualities that are required to be both confusing but readable, not an average ask in mainstream comics. However, in Chronophage, challenging conceptions of story and the comics format appear to be the name of the game. Luckily, Crank! excels and appears to enjoy pushing the possibilities of his craft.
Despite the title of this book, Chronophage, sounding like the name of a 1980’s European time wizard, there is amazing work between the covers that will entertain you but also make you think about what you are reading. There are twists and turns a plenty but a strong character-driven undertone makes the most outlandish parts of the book totally acceptable.
I would recommend approaching this book with no prior knowledge of what it is about. The promotional material, in my opinion, gives too much away. It is far better to be in the dark and learn, with Chloe, what is happening in her world.
And there is a lot happening. There are moments of disturbing horror, grotesque sci-fi, and experimentation with the Comics form itself. This book has it all and that makes it difficult to pin down, except of course, for these important words: This book is VERY good!