I’ve never been a huge fan of horror. I don’t know why, but so much of the genre always seemed to rely on incredible amounts of bloody gruesomeness and jump scares that I never enjoyed. And I have held this aversion to mainstream horror so long that I’ve forgotten… I actually love it. Now, I’m not fibbing above; I’ve never seen most of the big-name slasher flicks, and the last horror film I recall seeing was Blair Witch, which wasn’t frightening to me because they were careless in shooting and I didn’t think that you could get lost in the woods that close to the roads. (Camera angles hid the actual roads, but tree ages and symmetrical placement were just kind of dead giveaways.) No, when I recall scary stories that actually pique my interest, I think of the works of Neil Gaiman, the Bachman Books by Stephen King, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon. Well, the subtitle for the first part of the Black Sand Beach definitely invokes its influences, and Richard Fairgray nails the feeling of that terrifying boundary between curiosity and revulsion.
I’ve always been a fan of stories that allow you to examine the world that we inhabit from an unusual perspective, and Fairgray takes great care in setting us delicately in a perfect viewing angle on the whole of ourselves and a trip to the beach. Dropping us into what seems like a simple trip to a beach house for the summer, we are quickly given plenty of very obvious warnings of the scares and humor that await us inside. Even though this is appropriately aged for grades 3-7, there’s something so very reminiscent of Eric Powell’s tongue-lolling-out-of-cheek horror about his playing with the boundary of gags and frights. There is also a great care taken in weaving the seemingly disparate narrative pieces together, building the idea of a mystery much larger than we first expect and creating a lore cannon that is excitingly intricate, driving the reader forward with enough clues to madden us as we come upon more forks to the story. The plot threads circle back to linger in our subconscious while a fresh curiosity is piqued by the next tale, only to let the established plotline bubble back into the forefront and devise a web most enjoyable to untangle.
The character designs are fun and colorful even with the somewhat muted palette, allowing instant recognition without over-saturating the senses. Everything flows very nicely from panel to panel, and intensity is built through accentuating the storyline rather than overpowering it. The great care brought to every scene only reinforces the impression of a living, breathing world, where anything can become vital at any moment, adds to the complexity, and allows the reader to really work to uncover any clue as to what might be coming next. Add to that an entertaining approach to creature construction and what we have is a vibrant playground that evokes the seriocomic fun of Jhonen Vasquez.
Peeling back the stickers of reality can lead to some of the most wildly imaginative works, but really grounding that imaginative energy in a well thought out way is what brings that magic to the series and what makes the fantastic possible. Black Sand Beach carries with it the promise that all of the great works that I listed above do: the possibility that if you lift the curtain of reality just a little bit, this could all be true. That’s something that a reader of any age can enjoy.
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Creative Team: Richard Farigray (Writer/Creator/Illustrator)
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