What better way to celebrate the run up to Halloween than with a new Horror Graphic Novel. Released this week from AfterShock Comics, Horde is a haunted house story with a difference. Possessed objects and demons roam the pages ready to put the frighteners on anyone brave enough to read.
When Ruby’s father passes away, she is left with the difficult job of clearing out his house. But in order to do so, she must return home to confront her mother, and her difficult past. Bitter memories and anger rule the house where Ruby grew up before she was banished for being ‘destructive’. Her mother, Mia, is a hoarder who protects her possessions with a love she could not afford for her daughter. Her obsession, however, has allowed the demons into her home, demons who will not allow Ruby, or anyone else, to change anything.
And so begins a journey into self discovery, family history and all kinds of horror, influenced by some of the best in the genre.
The opening sequence, a flashback scene of the central character as a young girl, sets the tone for the rest of the comic. It starts off heavily scripted with lots of family and history explained via caption boxes. Marguerite Bennett’s script is emotional exposition which gives the reader an insight into the Ruby’s character and how she perceives her mother. There are hints in this opening monologue at what is to come and the reasons behind the horror that Ruby will face.
The visual story sets up the horror, and in this sequence Leila Leiz draws on inspiration from Japanese horror: the thick black liquid like ectoplasm oozing from various orifices and the possession of a young girl with a powerful stare reads like a Junji Ito tale of horror.
The two elements of the comic, script and art, combine to create both tone and narrative groundwork for what is to follow. The reader is put on the edge of their seat, waiting for demonic elements to return as Bennett builds up the characters and their relationships. The reader knows that there is a real threat on the horizon and Bennett shows us exactly what our central character has to lose.
From this point onwards the comic indulges in a number of horror tropes: a seemingly normal house; brief premonitions of impending disaster; family bitterness. The story touches on the very real problem of hoarding and goes some way to look at the issue from both the outside, via Ruby, and the inside, via Mia. The objects and memories build a framework for the later acts of the narrative to play on as the story dissolves into chaos.
Conjuring The Horde
The pages are packed with detailed art work from Leiz, reflecting the collective nature of Mia and the vast array of possessions she owns. Hints of the darker aspects of the story are brought out through the coloring work. Guy Major gives corners of the panels heavy, gray shadows drawing the readers attention and at the same time making them work harder to see what has been illustrated. For Mia’s memories, he uses a simple grayscale approach imbuing the images with happy nostalgia.
The effect is that the reader is bombarded with conflicting information and character viewpoints. Even within the relatively normal situation of a house clearance, there is a darker undertone, a sinister element that the reader can’t quite see.
As the conflict between the mother and daughter becomes more hostile, so does the house itself. And it is the middle third of the comic where the cohesion of the narrative begins to falter. It becomes a jumbled up mix of a Stephen King version of the movie Labyrinth and the House on Haunted Hill. The exposition takes over the story with one character acting as nothing more than an information dump for most of his ghastly appearance.
Marshall Dillon does a splendid job of giving the characters their own voices through the use of contrasting speech balloon designs. The human and demon, or otherworld creatures, have distinctive styles constantly reminding the reader of the real world and the one created within the house. Unfortunately, no amount of clever design can hide the vast amount of speech and text that Bennett introduces into the story. Dillon is able to break the speech up, giving it a steady pace in the panels and across the pages but at times it does overshadow the art work.
Horde is a great exploration of the horror genre , mixing a number of styles and influences into a single story. Some of the influences are obvious and are used to varying effective within the story. The Art work, especially the coloring, is consistent throughout and Leiz has a highly detailed style that enhances the creepiness of the comic. The relationship between mother and daughter is mirrored by the clutter in the house. As the relationship intensifies, so does the surrounding.
Horde is very successful when it comes to the character interactions. Where it starts to come unravelled is with the depictions of the possessed items within the house. A large number of these end up being weird Disney-esq caricatures, as if Ben Templesmith redrew Beauty and the Beast. The scare factor is diminished and some of the edge is lost.
However, Horde is an enjoyable read and easy to digest in a single sitting. Like so many modern horror’s it has an enthralling build up with an entertaining, if somewhat waning, finale.