Friday, 07 October 2016 15:46

‘Speak No Evil:’ Comic Book Review

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The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear, is fear of the unknown. ~ H.P. Lovecraft

Last year marked the 125th anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft, and, as a result, there has been a renewed interest in the horror writer who explored the strange and horrific world of slimy, tentacled monsters that inhabited a world he created through his Cthulhu Mythos stories. He also created the Dreamlands (or Dream Cycle) world that sometimes intersected with his mythos tales via a character’s dreams. During the celebratory year, a number of retrospectives analyzed Lovecraft’s stories, and creators ranging from Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Joe Lansdale, and Joe Jill created adaptations of the original source material or were inspired to spin their own Lovecraftian yarn. There have also been mash-up stories that brought together unexpected licenses such as Mike Mignola’s Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham or the less-surprising teaming of Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator from James Kuhoric, Sanford Greene, and Nick Bradshaw.

Loosely finding a home in this latter group is Gray Bear ComicsSpeak No Evil written by Justin Corbett (Comical Podcast) and George Tripsas (Metal Geeks Podcast). Joining the team is artist Samir Simao, colorist Chunlin Zhao, Warrior Innkeeper Creative supplied lettering, and Meredith Nudo on board with editing. This 29-page comic book issue included a prologue to Chapter 1 “The Box” and concluded with a two-page short titled “Speak Up, Chuck!”

The prologue brings together Lovecraft and Nicola Tesla in an upstate New York log cabin in 1927 during a chaotic experiment at ends in death. A unique story unfolds in the first chapter, ten years after the prologue, which follows two brothers named Silas and Edwin. They have nicked a truck from dubious individuals who give chase. The boys accidentally find shelter in a derelict cabin in the woods, and they soon find a box (a crate actually) that readers know to have Tesla’s equipment from the ill-fated experiment a decade earlier. “Speak Up, Chuck!” is a short scene between Tesla and his lab assistant, Charles, when they first arrived at the cabin – a prequel to the prologue.

Corbett and Tripsas have written an intriguing story that drops the reader right into the heart of an experiment out of control. The pace is brisk, while words are kept to a minimum yet are complimented by some sound effects. It’s rather humorous to read Tesla, Lovecraft, and even the clean-cut lab assistant dropping curse words in the heat of the moment. The banter in the first chapter between brothers Silas and Edwin works well. There’s an intimacy of shared history in the way they talk with each other that is reminiscent of teenage coming-of-age stories such as Stand By Me and The Sandlot. Corbett and Tripsas end the first chapter at an excellent point; hence, they have given the readers a strong lead into the story, but have left the reader wanting more, which will bring them back for the next issue. Thanks to the editing direction of Nudo and lettering by Warrior Innkeeper Creative, the text appeared to be clean, precise, and error free. And because the writers are prudent in their use of words, more of Simao and Zhao’s work is allowed to shine.

Simao’s art complements the standard set by the writing team. Be it the cabin’s interiors, in the truck with the boys, or their surroundings, Simao balances the details of each panel, adding some wonderful design nuggets for readers to find. For instance, in the lower-right panel of the second page, one of the creature's upper teeth shape a jagged corner of the panel, and the two-page spread further on in the prologue leads the reader across the pages with four rows of panels that efficiently keep the momentum going so as to not break the pace and energy of the scene. The artist shifts gears with the boys, taking on a more whimsical visual tone. It’s a subtle touch that heightens the enjoyment of the exchange between Silas and Edwin.

In the prologue, Zhao comes out with gusto – the colors pop off the page. Glowing blues and greens leave no room to mistake that there is strange activity afoot in the cabin. Deep red creatures balance out the palette and in the first chapter, the colors are more subdued to complement Simao’s visual shift, as well as the lackluster colors that are usually associated with many early 20th century city scenes. The woods scene with the boys is the only time the pale colors seem to compete for attention, resulting in a minor challenge in picking out the subjects, particularly the goat.

In the landscape of Lovecraftian comics, Gray Bear Comics’ Speak No Evil has set up what could lead to a deliciously inspired horror story. It will be interesting to read chapter two and see how the tale develops. If the writing, art, and colors are any indication, then this comic book is worth checking out – especially if you collect and read Lovecraft-inspired tales.

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