Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Youth In Decline Week: Frontier 4-6

Frontier #4 (2014) is by illustrator Ping Zhu. It's perhaps the biggest outlier in the series in terms of theme, though it does fit into publisher Ryan Sand's aesthetic of being interested in pure illustration and allowing the reader to put their own narrative and emotional spin on them. It's more difficult to do that with Ping's drawings because they are simple crayon drawings for the most part of animals and vegetation with the occasional lush, painted figure thrown in for contrast. It has the look and feel of a sketchbook by an artist with a remarkable command of anatomy, bodies in motion and gesture.

Frontier #5 (2014) is by talented young artist Sam Alden and is a companion piece to Hollow, an emotional horror story about a family and the bizarre sinkhole that seems to follow them around. Alden absolutely nails how dread-inducing the hole is, as it's literally the abyss, an absence of anything that threatens to swallow its protagonists whole. At the same time, this issue is very much a coming-of-age story that fits perfectly into Sands' interest in stories of transformation. The story follows two sisters on a beach and shows just how carefully Alden uses color as a powerful emotional and narrative signifier. The issue follows two sisters who are sharing that both of them can see the hollow, and Alden uses a flashback device dependent on color to clue the reader in as to when things were flashing back to the present. There's a clever sequence where the two sisters are talking about whether their mother holds in secrets where a flashback starts in the middle of the modern-day panel as a door starting to open with their mother peering out. The flashback concerns the girl's mother looking in disapprovingly as the girl may have been masturbating under a blanket, and the girl resolutely tries to explain herself to her mother, who is uninterested in talking about it further. Going back to the present on the beach, a sinkhole opens up and nearly swallows up the girl who had been flashing back, with a color pattern on the sinkhole identical to that of the chair her mother had been sitting in when she dismissed her. The sinkhole suggests that it's a physical manifestation of the family's guilt, repression, anxiety, trauma and secrets. The sinkhole appearing was akin to a panic attack nearly swallowing her up. None of this is mentioned, but the girl's reaction to it appearing was "It heard us", a horrific realization that her anger, guilt and fear could swallow her up at any time. With his stripped-down style, Alden continues to be an ace with regard to gesture and figures interacting in space.

Frontier #6 (2014) is by horror cartoonist Emily Carroll. It's based on a true-life Ontario murder/haunting of a woman named Ann Herron. Like all the best horror stories, it has one foot in reality and another foot in possibility. It generates fear by slowly and carefully building up facts and anecdotes, first starting with how to play the children's game "Ann-By-The-Bed", a sort of summoning activity not unlike playing with a Oujia board. Carroll cleverly shifts back and forth from drawing photographs (later showing them stained with blood) to traditional comics panels to a floor plan that acts in much the same way a grid might. The comic shifts between recounting the tragic life of Herron and the way that she apparently appears by the bed of those who summon her, with a number of different accounts given as to what she looked like, what the experience felt like, etc. Carroll recounts her own experience of dreaming about Ann and then waking up and finding her on her chest. This is a common manifestation of sleep paralysis, but it's no less frightening in context. Carroll considers other rumors about her death, that it might have been her brother-in-law killing her. She looks at odd details like Herron's blood apparently being found in every room in the house or the supposition that the family was cursed, and ends with a chilling warning. Carroll's mastery of atmosphere, pacing and keeping the reader off-balance with a barrage of different visual approaches (the switch from black and white to color and back is especially jarring) transforms an ordinary ghostly urban legend into something legitimately frightening.

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