Postpartum: A Special Merksay Story

Postpartum: A Special Merksay Story

They call me the Fisherman.  But I don’t fish for trout or creel or scallop.  I fish for stories.  And that is my gift, I need no bait for them to come to me.  People see me and think I have but one good eye, but I have two and each serves its purpose just fine.  The eye you see watches the waking world.  The eye you don’t faces inward, and looks to the world beyond, a world more real and solid and dependable, the world of stories.  I see them all if I look hard enough, all the ones connected to Merksay, anyway.  I’ve lived here all my long life, Merksay is in my bones, and its stories run through my veins.  It will always be part of me.

That’s what the tale I have to tell you on this brisk and bitter Halloween night is all about, friend.  Merksay is a place with a power to it, a hold that grips those born there or even those that dally there too long.  The people of Merksay are caught like fish in a net, and no matter how far they stray, be it to the ends of the Earth, they never really leave.  Merksay never really leaves them.  Take Heather Connelly, who was living a contented life in Glasgow with her husband and newborn son.  She thought she was free of Merksay.  But the fish swimming in the net think they’re free too until it tightens around them and hauls them out of the water.  Sit down, join me for a spell.  I hope you don’t mind if I smoke my pipe.  Let me share one of my Merksay stories with you.  The story of Heather. 

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Somewhere, the baby is screaming.  That was the first thought to greet Heather as she was hauled out of what had passed for sleep.  The 4:07 on the bedside clock flashed tauntingly at her, a reminder of the ever-closing window for any sleep on this night.  She lay there for a moment, bleary eyes open, glaring hatefully ahead.  She wasn’t expecting the crying to stop, she would never count herself so lucky.  But she thought that maybe this time Craig would answer the call instead of lying on his side in the bed next to her, his back to her.  He was breathing heavily, pretending to be asleep.  Who could possibly sleep in this house!?  She momentarily considered mule-kicking her husband in the kidneys, jolt his arse out the bed to deal with the noise.  But instead, with a deep sigh, she rolled herself out of bed and shambled out of her room and across the hallway to tend to her son.

Heather flicked on the light and tentatively approached the crib.  Colin was still crying, but his ear-piercing wails faltered a little as he looked up at his mother, his eyes widening with base recognition and expectation.  Heather glared down at this baffling creature that had grown inside her and been spat out unceremoniously into the world, and for a crazed moment she eyed him with the bemused, dispassionate disgust with which one might assess a removed mole or cyst popped into a glass jar and given back to you as a souvenir.  Only here was an excised growth that she would have to feed and bathe and clothe, that she would have to care about… forever.

The thought of how her life might be if little Colin were to go away never once crossed her mind.  Not even here, at her most tired and desperate, did she even momentarily entertain the notion of being happier were the howling stranger stealing sleep from her were to disappear.  Later, when the horror began, this is what Heather would insist to herself over and over.  No wish from her, not even a subconscious one, started all this.

Heather picked up Colin, rocking him gently as she paced back and forth across the room.  She smiled and cooed down at him, hopeful it would mask her hard, glaring eyes, which were silently willing him to sleep.  Finally, he did.  Outside, the sun was starting to rise.

The thought had frequently occurred to Heather that your world gets much smaller after you have a baby.  Before, her life had been filled with both a demanding job and an active social life, each of which she’d managed to navigate deftly.  Now, though, she was on maternity leave, and her friends rarely seemed to fit into her schedule, nor her theirs.  Even Craig felt like more of a guest star in her life, popping in at night after work to eat and sleep.  But Heather’s life had shrunk down to just her and her little boy now, her days filled with ways to keep him safe, happy and occupied.

Today that involved a walk through the park, her pushing Colin along in his pram, patiently indulging the gasps and giggles from old ladies she passed along the way.  The streets of Shawlands weren’t quite what you’d call scenic, but at this autumnal time of year “not raining” was about the best you could hope for.  And more and more Heather relished the opportunities to get out of the house, even if it was just for a wander.  Being cooped up in her house, just the two of them, was enough to stir up cabin fever.

She could already feel her gut tightening at the thought of it as she drew in the pram towards her front door.  And that was before she spotted the letter sitting on the ground in front of the door, placed in a solid black envelope.

Heather didn’t think much of the letter at first, save for a mild curiosity over it not being posted through the letterbox like the rest of the mail.  She assumed the postman must have dropped it, not even registering the fact that the envelope was entirely black, with no name or address written on its surface.  It was only when she picked it up that a chill ran through her whole body, a nagging voice in the back of her mind screaming at her to throw it away, not to dare look inside.  Then the rational part of her mind cast aside this silly thought.  She steered the pram through her front door and into her hallway, then opened the envelope.

It was a card inside.  Hand-made, by the looks of it.  It was crafted from a folded over piece of ragged card, a crudely drawn, bloated baby on the front.  Underneath the drawing, vaguely reminiscent of a child’s, was a scrawled out caption in deep red letters…

YOuR HaPPy DaY HaS CoME!

More confused than afraid, so she told herself, Heather nevertheless found her hand shaking as she opened the card.  There was a message inside.

HeLLo HEatHER,

YoU hAD YoUR ChiLD… THis tIMe.  I aM VeRY pLEAsED.  NoW yOU CaN HoNOuR oUR AgREEmENt.

I SHalL CaLL oN YoU to CoLLeCt… SOON.

The letter dropped out of Heather’s hands, and though she felt a scream rising from her gut, it caught in her throat.  When she opened her mouth all she could manage were sharp, rasping intakes of breath.  There was no name signed on the card, but she knew it was from.  A name came to her lips in that moment, a name she hadn’t so much as thought about in over a decade.

“Bonnie Shaw…”

The girl sits sobbing on the kitchen floor, begging having given away to incoherent, defeated wailing.  Her mother stands in front of her, unmoved, arms tightly folded in front of her.

“Enough of that.  It needs to be done, or you’re no daughter of mine.  It goes or you go, girl.  It goes or you go.”

“Heather?  You still with us?”

Emerging from the dark cloud of her thoughts, Heather looked across the dinner table at Craig.  He was taking a turn at feeding Colin, with perhaps a quarter of it apparently completing its journey into his mouth.  But Craig had paused in his task, now looking at his wife with concern.

“I can’t stop thinking about that card.”

“Come on, Heather, it’s just some sicko playing a prank.”

Heather wasn’t convinced.

“Do you know much about where I come from?”

“Orkney?  Not really, you don’t talk much about it…”

“I was born on an island in Orkney called Merksay,” Heather continued, “I hated the place.  It’s stuck in the past and old ways of thinking in so many ways.  They still believe in a lot of the old legends.  The one that always scared me the most was Bonnie Shaw.”

“Bonnie Shaw!?” Craig scoffed, “Sounds like a country music star.”

“I’m serious, Craig,” Heather said, “Bonnie Shaw would make deals with parents, give them whatever they desired, and in exchange, he’d take their children.”

“You really believe that nonsense?”

“When you’re in that world, it feels real…”

“But it isn’t, Heather.  Some Highland boogeyman isn’t leaving letters on your doorstep.”

Heather said nothing.

“Look,” Craig continued, “This… Bonnie Shaw character, he didn’t just snatch children, right?  He only came if you asked him to.”

“Right.”

“And you love our son, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well you have nothing to worry about.  You didn’t make a deal for Bonnie Shaw to take your son away, did you?”

“No,” Heather replied, after a pause.

Craig stood up and walked round behind Heather, hugging her.

“Look, I get that you’re shaken.  That’s a creepy message to find on your doorstep.  But the kind of person that leaves a card like that and runs away is a coward, they’re not going to do anything.  Just in case, though, I’ll get a burglar alarm fitted.”

Heather smiled at him, feeling a little reassured.

“And you know I’ll be here with you every night,” Craig said, “Nobody’s taking Colin while I’m here.  You’re the two people I love most in the world.  I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

Talking about it rationally, Heather felt a little silly.  Of course there was no such thing as Bonnie Shaw.  It was just a scare story parents used to bully and intimidate their children into doing their bidding.  That’s how it was used on her, anyway.  And even if there was such thing, which there wasn’t, no deal on earth could make Heather give her Colin away.  No way she was going to lose her child.  Not this one.

After a week, the scare she’d gotten had retreated far to the back of her mind.  There had been no more letters with sinister messages, and no more talk of Bonnie Shaw.  Her thoughts were no longer lost in troubling past memories, but looking ahead to returning to work, what would be involved in arranging care for Colin.  Craig’s mother would be happy to watch her during the day, Heather considered as she vacuumed the living room carpet.  Colin was asleep up his bedroom, unusually quiet.  She had the baby monitor set up in the living room so that she could hear any cries coming from upstairs.  But of course he wouldn’t cry now.  Of course he’d sleep peacefully all day, getting up his energy for another night’s wailing.  Heather wished she was able to just sleep all day herself, though part of her speculated that if the baby caught onto this trick he’d start screaming during the daytime as well…

“KRRSSSSSSCCCCCHHHHHHHH!!!”

The burst of static from the baby monitor came so shrill and loud that, even over the noise of the vacuum, it just about make Heather leap out of her skin.  She turned off the vacuum cleaner and approached it.  Some issue with interference?  She picked up the monitor, shook it, and the static sound started to tremble and break up.”

“SSSCCHHHHHHHHHHHHIs Mummy listening?

Hearing a stranger’s voice in your child’s bedroom would be enough to invoke terror in any parent.  But Heather’s thought process did not even momentarily jump to the conclusion that an intruder had broken in.  No, immediately she knew that it was the voice of Bonnie Shaw.

She knew because the voice that she heard through the baby monitor was not human.  It wasn’t what she would call an animal sound, guttural and growling.  It was deep, silken, almost pleasant, but even through the monitor Heather could pick up on a reedy, unnatural quality to the voice that made it sound unlike any living thing.  Or perhaps that is being too analytical.  Perhaps she just knew, on some level, that of course he would come.

As her mind was still unpacking the horror of this creature having breached her home, her legs were working ahead of her, carrying her up the stairs.  It was like she was watching herself from afar, viewing her crazed rush towards Colin’s room with the same frustration she felt watching a scary movie.  “Why are you running towards the noise instead of out the front door?”

But the answer to that was easy.  Because it wasn’t just about her.  Her son was in that room.  So no matter what was in there with him she would run to him, as soon as she would run into a room that was on fire to pull him out.

Heather could not see Bonnie Shaw in the bedroom when she burst in.  And her breath caught in her lungs for a moment as it dawned on her that was because he’d already gone, already got what he’d came for.  He’d snatched Colin and they had left together to whatever nightmare world Bonnie Shaw came from.  But she exhaled in ragged gasps of relief as she noticed that Colin was still in his crib.

“Mummy’s here, baby, mummy’s here.”

But Heather’s relief curdled to dread as she peered into the cot.  Colin was awake, and he looked ashen, too frightened to cry.  He was staring, wide-eyed, but not at Heather.  He was staring past her, up to the ceiling behind her.

And in that moment, with terrible certainty, Heather concluded that Bonnie Shaw was up there, gripped to the ceiling, gazing down at them with his black, beady eyes.  In her mind, she pictured him as being just like in the story books, all poorly proportioned limbs, overgrown head and jagged edges.  In fact, she imagined him as literally being a giant version of the story book ghoul that had frightened her as a young child, right down to only being able to imagine him as 2-dimensional, pressed flat against the ceiling, elbows creasing like folded up paper as his long claws started to reach out for her.  She expected to turn and find him silently stifling a chuckle, like a naughty child hiding from an adult.

Then she’d turn and she’d see him there with his massive mouth crammed with needle teeth.  Hello there, Heather, he would say, we decided to wait for you so we can all go away together.  Then he’d fall on her, and it wouldn’t be like paper falling, it’d be like the ceiling itself falling, and that needle-mouth would open and the blackness inside would be anything but 2-dimensional, it would go on and on forever and swallow mother and son whole…

Letting out an audible moan, Heather spun round quickly, turning to face the ceiling above her.

There was nothing there.  Or at least, whatever had been there was gone.

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It was barely a day after the incident with the baby monitor that Heather found herself on the Orkney ferry, the hills of Merksay looming ominously ahead.  The last time she had seen this view, she had been on the boat heading in the opposite direction, and had vowed that she would never look on it again.  And yet here she was, a decade later, returning home.  And now she had her son with her, absently rocking the pram back and forth on the deck as she tightly gripped onto the handrail.

She hadn’t said anything about the voice or the presence she’d felt to Craig, of course.  She had just told him that she wanted to take her son to visit her family.  Craig had initially been dubious, knowing that not only had he never met Heather’s parents but she never talked about them, but he soon came round to it being a good idea.  Maybe he was jumping at the chance to have the house to himself for a bit.

Now that Merksay was in Heather’s sights, all the old fears which had felt distant and irrational suddenly felt very real, and very near.  The monsters hadn’t gone, they had just been waiting.  She did wonder if it was the wisest decision to bring Colin with her to this awful place.  Perhaps not, but Heather knew there was no choice in the manner.  There was no way now that she would ever let her child out of her sight, he would be with her always until she knew he was safe.  And she knew that the only answers to be found would be here, where all this began…

Walking through the roaming fields of Merksay, it was like she’d never left.  Maybe the life she’d lived since then, the intervening years where she had become an adult, got a higher education, found a job she was great at, fell in love with a man and married him, and had a beautiful son, had all been a longing daydream, and she’d never escaped this place after all.  But the pram she was pushing ahead of her gave lie to that notion.  It wasn’t easy going, the ragged terrain ill-suited to the wheels.  Navigating the island took longer than she thought as a result, and the daylight – gray and listless at the best of times here – was already waning when she came across her old family house.  It looked so small, now.

She opened the rickety gate and tentatively made her way up the path towards the crooked, stone-cobbled structure before her.  This was no longer home to her, if it had ever been.  She had no desire to be here, certainly not for the reconciliation Craig had bought into.  She told herself that this trip was purely about information.

Heather knocked on the door, and for a few silent, hopeful moments there was no answer, and she entertained the comforting idea that the house had been abandoned.  But then the door opened, and Morag Creig, Heather’s mother, was standing at the threshold.

It appeared that time had withered Morag Creig.  Heather hadn’t seen her in the 10 years since she’d left for Glasgow.  Just as resolutely as Heather had vowed never to return, Morag had long ago pledged never to leave, and she had stuck her guns much longer than her daughter.  But she looked like she had aged twice as much, her hair now a shock of white, her stature shrunk, her back stooped.  But she still had the same hard eyes, which were now coolly assessing the woman standing on her doorstep, and the baby she brought in tow.  After what felt like an eternity, Morag was the one to break the silence.

“Your da’s dead.  You best come inside.”

Little conversation passed between mother and daughter in the ensuing minutes, with most of it being about the particulars of the passing of Heather’s father.  And Morag did not even acknowledge her grandson until well after they had all sat themselves in the tiny kitchen, Heather’s untouched tea going cold.

“So, you had another one.”

Heather felt the bile rising in her throat.  With a struggle, she swallowed it down.

“His name’s Colin,” she replied curtly, “And his father and I love him very much.  I’m married now.  I’ve made a life for myself in Glasgow, which I’m very keen to get back to.”

“Don’t let me keep you,” said Morag, “Hurry back to the sooth-moother you’ve shacked up with…”

“I want to talk to you about Bonnie Shaw.”

And with the very mention of the name, Heather saw Morag’s eyes widen in fear.

“Don’t say his name in this house!  We don’t want to invoke him!”

“But you already invoked him, Mother,” Heather replied, “All those years ago you brought him into our family.”

“That was you, not me!” Morag snapped back, “You’re the one who asked him to take away the unwanted child in your womb.  And the one who visits granted your wish, leaving you free to live your life without the shame…”

Heather launched herself to her feet, standing up with enough force to knock the chair behind her to the ground.  She was trembling with anger.

“Bonnie Shaw did not take my child,” she said in a hissed whisper, “I had a miscarriage.  I was a 16-year-old child who did a foolish thing, and I was scared, and all the fear and guilt you put me through probably brought it on.  You told me you were going to give me to Bonnie Shaw yourself if I didn’t offer my baby to him.  Your own daughter!”

Morag just looked down at the ground.  Shaking her head with contempt, Heather continued.

“I remember thinking, why Bonnie Shaw?  Why not just take me to get an abortion?  But that would have required a trip to the mainland, wouldn’t it?  Couldn’t leave your precious Merksay!  Well, if Bonnie Shaw got the baby, where was my end of the bargain?  In return I asked for him to undo everything, for it all to be forgotten.  But this town never forgot.  You never forgot.  All I was ever going to be here was the teen slut who got pregnant, I couldn’t get on the ferry out of here fast enough!”

Finally, Morag had found her voice, glaring at her daughter.

“If you don’t believe in the one who visits, why are you asking about him?”

“I said I had a miscarriage.  I didn’t say I didn’t believe in Bonnie Shaw.  And now that I have a child, a child I love with all my heart, he’s coming after my boy as payment for the child I denied him.”

Morag slumped back into her seat, horrified.

“That’s why I’m here,” Heather continued, “I need you to tell me about any way of undoing a deal with Bonnie Shaw once it’s been made, or point me to who would know.  I’ll do whatever it takes to break this curse.”

At first, Morag shook her head absently.  But then, realisation dawning her eyes, she turned to face her daughter.

“There is only one thing you can do.”

“What?  Tell me!”

“Kill the boy,” Morag said plainly, “Snap his neck, suffocate him, cast him off the edge of the cliff.  Something quick.  If you truly love him you will do this, as it is more merciful than what awaits him if he lives.”

Heather could not believe what she was hearing, looking on in dumbfounded silence as Morag laid out this morbid scenario.  When she finally did reply, her voice was low, shaking with rage.

“You did this to me.”

Morag took the words like daggers to the chest, shrinking back into her chair, her face etched with shame.

“You’ll never see us again,” Heather said, “I hope you die here, alone, and soon.”

And with that, Heather wheeled Colin’s pram around and left the house, never once looking back.

Night had fallen on Merksay, and Heather was still pushing the pram through the fields, desperately trying to remember where to find Baubie’s Bed and Breakfast. She let out a scream as a front wheel caught on a jutting rock, snapping the wheel off and causing the pram to slump to its side.  In her mad scramble to catch the pram as it collapsed, Heather herself lost her balance, ending up in a heap on the ground.  She was scratched and battered, but thankfully, Colin was still nestled in his blankets inside the upturned pram, looking bewildered about being on his side, but nothing worse.

Heather abandoned the pram after that, choosing to carry Colin in her arms.  She limped through the green wilderness, and she could swear that there had been houses here before, but now there was nothing but long grass.  It was if the island itself was shifting around her, conspiring to leave them lost and alone in the dark.

Then, about as far ahead as Heather was able to see under the light of the moon, something moved in that long grass.  She told itself it was just a fox, that they were known to wonder here.  But then that something rose up far beyond the grass, its long, spindly limbs attached to a bulbous, misshaped torso, a mess of hair all over.  Was the shape rising up from a crack in the ground, some portal from another world, or had it been here the past decade, lurking in the grass, waiting for Heather to come to this exact point with her child in hands, ready to be delivered?

Bonnie Shaw stretched his arms out wide, head arched upwards to the moon.  Then he turned to look at Heather, and smiled.

Up until that moment, Heather had been transfixed, watching this beast take form out of the darkness in a state of dreamlike terror.  But once Bonnie Shaw turned his attentions onto her and her boy, she found the wherewithal to run, screaming into the night as she did.  With the adrenaline kicking in, she wasn’t even limping anymore, pounding through the fields with her son clutched tight to her chest, even though she didn’t have a clue where she was running to.  Knowing what she was running from was enough.

But none of it did her any good, the screaming or the running.  The screams went unanswered.  And every time she dared look over her shoulder, Bonnie Shaw was still there.  He did not seem to be any hurry, her mad dash contrasting with his slow, casual walk.  And yet every time she looked he seemed to be a little bit closer than he had been the last time.

Then there was nowhere left to run.  Heather found herself standing at the edge of the cliff-face, looking down at the black, tumultuous waters below.

“No no no no…”

She turned around, and Bonnie Shaw was THERE, standing right in front of her, towering over her.

“Stay back!” Heather screamed, “Stay away from us!  You can’t have him!”

Heather grabbed a large stick off the ground and started swinging it wildly, a savage protective instinct taking over her.  But Bonnie Shaw just smiled, unfazed by the blows to his body, letting her strike at him until she was exhausted and dropped the weapon of her own volition.

I can have him, Heather,” Bonnie Shaw said calmly, “You gave him to me, many years ago.”

“I never gave you Colin!” she screamed, “I gave you the other one, the one that died.  And I didn’t even want to do that.  That ended our deal!”

But Bonnie Shaw just shook his head at this foolish idea.

“You do not decide when our deal ends.  I was promised a child from you.  It is my right to take what is mine.” 

Heather started to sob uncontrollably, backing further towards the edge of the cliff.

“N-no!  After all these y-years I’m finally happy and whole.  Colin is my w-world!  I can’t live without him.”

A long, clawed hand stroked gently down the side of Heather’s cheek, wiping at her tears.

“Yes you can, child, and you will.  I do not just take.  I give, too.  I know what you are owed in return for the boy.  Happiness, acceptance and contentment, free from the pain of loss.  You can have it.” 

Tears streaming down her face, Heather shook her head, taking another step backwards.

“I am not blind,” Bonnie Shaw said soothingly, “I know you made your deal with me under most dire circumstances, how broken your heart was, and what it has taken to put it back together.  You can lose everything to escape me.  Or I can make you be happy, can ensure you feel no pain, no loss.  Do you wish to be happy?”

Now, at last, Heather pulled her eyes away from Bonnie Shaw.  She looked down lovingly at her son, Colin, gazing deep into his curious eyes, taking in every little detail of his face.

“Yes,” she whispered, never looking away from her son.

Bonnie Shaw grinned, reached a clawed hand out towards her.

“All you need to do is take a-hold of my hand…”

It was a beautiful day in Glasgow, unseasonably bright and sunny for October.  Heather walked through the park with Craig by her side.  The thought occurred to her that she should cherish the little joyful moments like these as they were happening, and so she did just that, drawing in closer to Craig and resting her head on his shoulder.  They looked into each other’s eyes and smiled.

Colin was with them.  She pushed the pram in front of her, and he looked back at his parents, giggling playfully.  Everything was going so well.  Soon she would be back at work.  But not until after Christmas.  Their first Christmas as a family!  Just this morning she’d phoned her mother, who was so excited to make the trip out to Glasgow to spend Christmas week with them.  It was all exactly as it should be.

Just as they sat themselves down on a park bench, Craig’s phone rang.  Smiling apologetically, he walked a little down the pathway to take the call.  Now it was just Heather and Colin again.  She took her son out of the pram and sat him on her knee.  He was wrapped up warm.  She always made sure to keep him safe.  She smiled at him lovingly.  He looked back at her, and just for a moment, a chill ran through the air in this pleasant October afternoon.  Just for a moment, Heather got the inexplicable feeling that things were not exactly as she should be, that this thing on her lap looked at her with that old recognition and expectation, but none of the simple love that had always come with it.  And a cracked little voice in the darkest recess of her mind croaked futile, meaningless words…

Somewhere, your baby is screaming.

Then Colin smiled at her, and Heather immediately forgot such foolish notions before they had even formulated as coherent thought.

“Mummy loves you, dear.  Mummy loves you.”

And Heather lived a happily ever after, of a sort, in Glasgow.  But part of her, perhaps the most important part, is forever here in Merksay.  It’s the part we all leave here.  And so many of us have stories to tell.  One day I may tell you another. 

But not tonight.  The light is fading, and the chill is setting in.  Off you go now to carve your turnips and go guising in your fancy dress.  Be merry, enjoy the festivities.  Silly old stories like this shouldn’t linger for long amid all the fun.  But maybe, once the decorations are gone and the costumes are back in the cupboard, when you lie awake at night, they’ll come a-calling once more.  Happy Halloween.

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Coming Soon: Thought Bubble 2014!

It’s been a fun convention year for me, hitting my local shows at Glasgow Comic Con in July and MCM Scotland in September, then traveling to New York Comic Con in October.  And as has become tradition, the convention year will come to a grand close with Thought Bubble in Leeds.  Held at Royal Armouries over the weekend of Saturday 15th November to Sunday 16th November, it’s always a great show with a buzzing atmosphere, and this year promises to be the biggest ever, with an array of high profile guests including some of the hottest names in comics.

Oh, and I’ll be there too.

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You’ll find me at Table 77 in the TB Teepee, the brand new exhibitor venue on the Royal Armouries campus.  I have a table of my own this year, partly because the amount of comics I now have available for sale is spiralling madly out of control and can no longer be contained to a half-table.  But though it says “John Lees” on the marquee, this is very much another case of “John Lees and Pals”, as I’ll be joined by some awesome guests.

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And Then Emily Was Gone #1-#4 will all be on sale from my table, as will a selection of exclusive prints based on the series’ eye-catching covers.  This horror-mystery series tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a former detective plagued with monstrous visions, whose search for a missing girl takes him to the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening.  This has been a breakout hit this past summer and really seems to have built up a bit of momentum, so I’m really excited to bring it to Thought Bubble and hopefully introduce it to some new readers just in time for the final issue coming out a couple of weeks after the con.  To represent the book, I’ll be there, and so will Iain Laurie, the incredible artist of the series.  He’ll have some original art from the comic for sale, and is doing sketch commissions too.  I’ve seen him work on the show floor first hand, and trust me when I say an Iain Laurie convention original is something any serious comic art collector is going to want to add to their repertoire…. a sight to behold!  Iain will be at my table for most of the weekend.  And Then Emily Was Gone letterer Colin Bell will also be on-hand at the show… he’ll be at his own table in New Dock Hall, table 161, selling his own excellent comic, Dungeon Fun, so when you stop by his table to buy that make sure to get him to sign your copies of And Then Emily Was Gone too!

TheStandard06_03I’ll also have, for the first time at Thought Bubble, the entire series of The Standard available to buy.  The Standard #1-#4, and the double-sized finale, The Standard #5The Standard is the award-winning story of a superhero legacy that spans across two generations, and the interconnecting lives of the men who have worn the mantle.  Supplies of issue #1 are VERY limited, so make sure you get to the table quick if you want to pick up a copy.  Also in attendance at the show will be Will Robson, a highly-talented artist who joined the series as co-artist for issue #5.  He’ll be at my table signing and sketching from 12:00-1:30pm each day.  When he’s not at my table, you’ll find him at his own table in New Dock Hall, table 181a.

I’m really looking forward to Thought Bubble, and can’t wait to meet up with friends old and new and spread the word about my comics.  If you’re at the show, please stop by Table 77, TB Teepee, and say hello!

This Weekend: MCM Scotland Comic Con!

From Saturday 6th September to Sunday 7th September, MCM Scotland Comic Con will be running at the SECC in Glasgow.  The show returns to the venue after the huge success of last year, which saw an attendance much bigger than anticipated, and massive queues on the day.  So, book your tickets ASAP! This year’s event promises to be bigger and better, and that carries over to this year’s expanded Comics Village.

I’ll be there, and just today I received a shipment of full-colour copies of And Then Emily Was Gone #1 and #2, which I’ll be selling at the show, along with a black-and-white advance preview edition of issue #3.  I also have a fresh supply of the And Then Emily Was Gone prints that proved so popular at Glasgow Comic Con in July.  Both issue #1 and #2 of And Then Emily Was Gone have sold out at a retailer level worldwide, and so these comics weren’t easy to get a hold of!  Supplies are limited, so if you want to pick them up, make sure you get to our booth – table A5 – while stocks last!

I’ll also be bringing my remaining Glasgow exclusives of THE STANDARD #5 and #6, along with my remaining stock of all the other issues.  Again, stocks are limited, so stock by the table quickly to avoid disappointment.

I won’t be at my table alone this year.  I have a tablemate in the form of the incredibly talented Iain McGarry.  He’s an up-and-coming writer who’ll be launching his debut collection of work, Night & Day, at the show.  Trust me when I say this will be an essential purchase of the Comic Village this year!

MCM Scotland was a total blast last year, and I’m looking forward to another fun show this weekend.  So, come along, and make sure to stop by Table A5 and say hello to me and Iain!

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My 2014 Convention Schedule

Glasgow Comic Con has come and gone for another year, but I still have a few convention dates on the calendar.  Here’s an overview of what conventions you’ll be able to find me at over the remainder of 2014, and what I’ll likely have available there.

MCM SCOTLAND EXPO, 6th-7th September

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We’re just a couple of weeks away from the second annual MCM Scotland Expo in Glasgow’s SECC.  Last year’s inaugural event had a few question marks hanging over it.  With Glasgow Comic Con already firmly establishing itself as my hometown’s native con, was there a niche for another con on the calendar?  And with the comics quotient reduced to a Comics Village within a more general geek culture event, did exhibitors risk being ghettoized and overlooked?  And with relatively little publicity for the event beforehand, would people even show up for it?  The answers ended up being yes, no and HELL YES!  The show ended up being massive, with queues round the block and people waiting hours to get in.  The event was so huge that this year it has been expanded to a two-day event to cope with the demand.  It’s a suitably different event from Glasgow Comic Con, based in a large warehouse rather than the more intimate vibe Glasgow Comic Con creates by peppering multiple small dealer’s rooms across the CCA and nearby venues.  And the demographic MCM attracts seems to be a lot younger and more diverse, a lot of teenagers – teenage girls in particular – more into anime and manga than traditional comics.  But last year, this new audience seemed very keen to explore the Comics Village and try new things, so let’s hope that carries over to this year!

For this show, I’ll be sharing a table with Iain McGarry.  Iain is an exciting upcoming writer I’ve been a fan of for some time.  He’s been making a name for himself by having his shorts published in various anthologies, but at MCM he’ll be debuting Night and Day, the first collection of his work.  Trust me when I say this is going to be one of the hottest comics of the show, and one you’ll definitely want to get your hands on.

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As for me, I’ll be selling copies of the full-colour Diamond edition of And Then Emily Was Gone #1, along with black-and-white advance preview editions of issues #2 and #3.  I’ll also have a supply of the highly popular And Then Emily Was Gone prints from Glasgow Comic Con.  I’ll also be selling through my remaining stock of The Standard: be warned, stock for some issues is VERY limited!  I’ll have Glasgow exclusive editions of the final two issues, so anyone who missed out at Glasgow Comic Con will have the chance to find out how the story ends ahead of the worldwide release at the end of September.

 

NEW YORK COMIC CON, 9th-12th October

TheStandard6CoverThe biggest show on my calendar, my annual trip to New York is something I eagerly look forward to each year.  This will be my fourth time attending the big show at the Javitts Center, and I can’t wait to meet up with my American comics friends once again.  But this year is extra special, because not only will I be joined at the ComixTribe table by returning NYCC veterans Tyler James (Epic, The Red Ten), Joe Mulvey (Scam), Cesar Feliciano (The Red Ten) and Alex Cormack (Future Proof, I Play the Bad Guy), but Iain Laurie, artist and co-creator of And Then Emily Was Gone, will also be coming along for the trip and making an appearance at the show!

And what a jampacked table of goodness you’ll find at the ComixTribe booth.  You’ll find all the available issues of Scam, The Red Ten, Epic, as well as the gorgeous hardcover collected editions of Scam: The Ultimate Collection, The Red Ten, Vol. 1, The Oxymoron and C is for Cthhulu.  As for my stuff, for the first time at NYCC I’ll have the entire run of The Standard, all 6 chapters collected into 5 comics (including the double-length final issue set for release in September).  Having the whole series available at New York Comic Con is a major milestone I’ve been wanting to reach for years, I’m so happy to have finally made it happen.

ATEWG4CoverBAs for And Then Emily Was Gone, by the time New York Comic Con rolls around the first three issues will have been released worldwide.  We’ll have all those in stock at the convention, but by that point, we also expect all the artwork on the series to be complete, so we could possibly have an advance preview edition of issues #4 and #5 available for those in attendance: watch this space for more news on that front.  With Iain Laurie in attendance, there’s also a good chance you’ll be able to get a sketch from one of the breakout comic artists of 2014!

And that’s everything.  Oh, wait, one more thing…

OxymoronTeaserAt New York Comic Con last year, ComixTribe announced Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare, a 4-issue miniseries with a story from me and Oxymoron creator Tyler James, and art from the incomparable Alex Cormack.  The series won’t be launching until 2015, but the script and art for the first issue is complete, and word on the grapevine is that, with Alex, Tyler and myself all in attendance, attendees who stop by our table might just get a first look a little bit sooner.  Again… watch this space!

With such a wealth of content, ComixTribe seems poised to stand as the king of the Small Press section on the NYCC floor!

THOUGHT BUBBLE, 15th-16th November

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Thought Bubble is always a cracking way to wrap up the con year.  Really cool venue, and a great, relaxed atmosphere, it gets bigger every year but has still captured that elusive intimate small con vibe.  But this year is poised to be the biggest yet, with some huge names from the world of comics descending on Royal Armouries in Leeds for a weekend of comics festivities.

I’ll be in attendance, with my table at the Thought Bubble Teepee at the center of the convention campus.  I’ll be sharing a table with Nathaniel Walpole, a very talented cartoonist whose distinctive, experimental work is sure to see him get a reputation in the years to come.  I’ll have all the stock I sold at New York, some of it making its first appearance on UK soil at the show.  Also, Will Robson, co-artist on issues #5 and #6 of The Standard, will be in attendance, and will likely be on-hand to do a bit of signing and sketching.

And that’s how my convention calendar is looking.  I hope you’ll be in attendance for at least one of these shows.  If you are, please come find me and say hello!

 

Is 2014 Comics’ Summer of Horror?

EmilyInterviewTeaserOver the past couple of months, it feels like I have been immersed in horror. Over the course of this month in particular, it’s starting to seem like my every spare moment has been dedicated to talking up my horror comic series, And Then Emily Was Gone. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid my social media PR onslaught, here’s the series synopsis:

Greg Hellinger is a man who sees monsters. Driven to the brink of madness by monstrous apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening…

Equal parts Twin Peaks, True Detective and The Wicker Man, with an atmospheric rural Scottish setting, And Then Emily Was Gone is a comic I’m really proud to have written, and artist Iain Laurie, colorist Megan Wilson and letterer Colin Bell have all done stellar work. The five-issue miniseries will be released monthly by ComixTribe, with the first issue hitting comic shops in July. That means this is the month it’s in the Diamond Previews catalogue available for order, and that’s left me thinking a lot about the marketability for this weird little book. From the early stages, there was concern that there might not be an audience in the comic market for this kind of morbid, gruesome story, that this might sit as something of an oddity among the more bombastic, action-orientated fare available in Previews. But recently, it’s started to occur to me that something dark is afoot in the comics world. Horror comics are on the rise, and now And Then Emily Was Gone is feeling less like a strange curio and more like a small part of a big movement.

EMILY 0108Just look at the new releases on the shelf of your local comic shop this week. Wednesday 7th May marked the launch of two new horror titles: Nailbiter and The Woods. Nailbiter is an Image Comics series from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson, about a small town in the American heartland that has been the birthplace of 16 prolific serial killers, and the disquieting secrets that town may hold. It was first announced at Image Expo in January, and did not seem like the most high-profile unveiling of that weekend. But over the past couple of months, I’ve watched buzz steadily built, first as people were floored by the blood-drenched preview art coming from Mike Henderson, then as the word-of-mouth started slipping out from those who’d read advance copies and were blown away. There was something palpable in the air that Nailbiter was going to be very special indeed, possibly the latest Image #1 to make a big splash. It says a lot that in the week that both Marvel and DC’s big crossover events of the year debuted – Original Sin and Future’s End respectively – the coverage and “book of the week” accolades going to Nailbiter threatened to upstage both of them. And having read the first issue myself, I can assure you it’s worthy of the hype. Mike Henderson’s moody artwork is a revelation, and while Joshua Williamson already turned heads last year with his impressive work on Ghosted, but Nailbiter sees him up his writing game once more. A single issue efficiently presents us with a well-realised world with intriguing/disturbing characters, and a steady accumulation of dread literally visualised on the page with a recurring THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP heartbeat growing ever more prevalent.

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But as impressive as Nailbiter was, in my humble opinion The Woods just about matched it step-for-step. From Boom! Studios – the latest addition to their slate of quality original content as they become ever more serious in emerging as a match for Image’s dominance of the creator-owned market – from writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas, The Woods tells the story of a high school filled with pupils and staff which is suddenly and without explanation teleported to an alien world, at which point the people in the dramatically relocated building very quickly find themselves having to fight for their lives against monstrous alien beasts out to hunt them. The plot very quickly becomes gripping, and drew me in as a reader both in terms of the immediate tension presented in the high-stakes nature of the characters’ plight, and in a more overarching sense of thinking of the larger mystery behind how and why the school was brought to this world. But what really made The Woods stand out was the characters. Amongst the 513 people caught in this extra-terrestrial event, a small core ensemble of characters quickly emerge as figures to care about and get emotionally invested, already been drawn as real, likeable kids whose safety we are going to fear for. It’s very much cut from the same cloth as Manga horror classic Drifting Classroom, pushing the same buttons of intense claustrophobia, child endangerment and what sides of human nature will emerge out in the wilderness, but with enough of an American twist to give it its own identity.

TheWoods1So, two horror comics debut in the same week, both are quality books with buzz and critical acclaim behind them. What is it indicative of, if anything? It’s not like the comic medium is any stranger to horror. There’s in fact a rich history of horror comics. The biggest creator-owned comic in the industry today is The Walking Dead, ostensibly a horror comic, though I’d argue it’s evolved into more of a sweeping post-apocalyptic epic. And in recent years we’ve had our share of modern classics in the genre: Locke & Key, Severed, Echoes. But what stands out as different this year is the density with which these horror titles are hitting, and the splash they’re making. Nailbiter and The Woods both seem poised to go from strength to strength, but there are more debuts on the horizon. Spread, written by Justin Jordan and drawn by Kyle Strahm, is built around the delicious high-concept of “The Thing meets Lone Wolf and Cub,” and boasts some truly blood-curdling imagery. It caused a sensation at last year’s New York Comic Con, and now Image Comics have picked it up and have it slated for a July release. It got a major spotlight in this month’s Previews, and is already starting to build something of a social media steamroller behind it as that advance buzz brews. Watch this become one of the sleeper hits of the summer.

Spread1As the summer continues to roll on into August and beyond, some of the biggest names in comics will be getting in on the action. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock – the creative team behind one of the most celebrated Batman stories of the past decade, The Black Mirror – are reteaming for Image Comics to bring us Wytches. Now, Snyder is no stranger to the horror genre. One could argue he cut his teeth in the genre, with both his breakthrough Vertigo hit American Vampire (which since its Second Cycle relaunch has really seemed to bring the horror to the fore) and the aforementioned Severed. Even his mainstream DC work on the likes of Batman and Swamp Thing has had a fair share of horror elements injected into it, and The Wake was rich in horror trappings before morphing into an equally compelling but tonally distinct entity in its second half. So it makes a statement when Snyder talks about Wytches being the darkest and scariest he’s ever gone. This is something that’s quite fascinating for me, as horror is still something of a frontier in comics, and creators are still experimenting with how best to use the medium to scare the reader. Snyder has already been amongst the most successful, with Severed in particular making for harrowing reading, so when some of the best in the field are pushing at the forefront and striving to go further than they ever have, it suggests it’s an exciting time to be a fan of horror comics.

Wytches1Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a horror comic is also on the agenda for Nameless, another Image Comics offering. This also sees the reunion of the creative team of an acclaimed Batman run, this time Batman Inc, as artist Chris Burnham pairs up once more with writer and comics legend Grant Morrison. Details of this series have been sparse, and we don’t even have a concrete release date yet, but Burnham has talked about this being “the ultimate horror comic,” while Morrison has suggested that his ambition is to capture the zeitgeist and use Nameless to project a definitive statement about what frightens us on a primal level in modern society – “doing hopefully for now what H.P. Lovecraft did for the wartime generation,” as Morrison puts it – and considering that when Morrison set out to make the definitive statement on the superhero he gave us All Star Superman, we should all be very afraid at what he has in store for us with Nameless.

Nameless1But even with these big name talents with debuts lined up, there is one horror comic that I’m looking forward to more than any other. Ever since I first heard about it last year, there has been a graphic novel pencilled in as one of my premiere comic events of the year. The graphic novel I’m talking about is Through the Woods, by writer/artist Emily Carroll. When last I heard, it was set for a July release, but the marketing has been quite low-profile. But those who know about it are very excited about it indeed, as Emily Carroll is arguably the current master of the horror comic. His Face All Red is one of the single greatest horror stories to emerge from any medium in recent years. Like all the best horror, it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading, makes you think, makes you ask questions then leaves you troubled in the late hours by the implied answers. Her work has been a big inspiration to me in terms of opening my eyes to what kind of horror was possible in comic form. And up until now, her output has all been in the form of free webcomics. Through the Woods marks Emily Carroll’s first foray into the realm of print, with His Face All Red being collected with some new stories. Any horror fan should be marking this down as an essential purchase. In the grand picture of “the summer of horror” and the rise of horror in comics, Through the Woods could end up being the most important book of all.

ThroughTheWoods1There’s a quote from actor/writer Mark Gatiss I particularly like, spoken at the beginning of the BBC documentary series, A History of Horror:

The cinema is where we come to share a collective dream, and horror films are the most dreamlike of all, perhaps because they engage with our nightmares.

Just as horror films at their best have a unique power with the way they utilise the tools of that medium in the most visceral and potent of ways, I think that the comic medium has the same potential for engaging the senses. It’s a visual medium, and a well-crafted image can be seared on a reader’s psyche, yet despite the notable works in the field I feel like much of that potential remains untapped. Recently, I feel like horror cinema has lost much of its edge, and there haven’t been that many genuinely great horror films over the past several years. So, I talked about the frontier before, and I believe that more and more comics could become the proving ground where we go to scare ourselves in the most inventive and rewarding manner. For years I’ve felt like the horror market for comics could be huge, and this year it feels like we could be taking major steps in that direction. I don’t claim to be anywhere on the level of all these exciting works making their way to comic shops in the coming weeks and months, but if all the “summer of horror” does indeed prove to be a significant movement in the comics industry, I’m proud that And Then Emily Was Gone can be part of it.

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And Then Emily Was Gone #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY141251.  For more info, follow the Facebook page or check out the official blog.

Through the Woods is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code APR141272

Spread #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY140579

Wytches is released in August.  Nameless does not yet have a release date. 

Nailbiter #1 and The Woods #1 are available to buy now from all quality comic shops.

Black Leaf Debuts at MCM Scotland Comic Con!

2013 has been a busy year!  At Glasgow Comic Con back in July, I debuted a new issue of The Standard, and also launched two new titles with the first issues of And Then Emily Was Gone and Bad Sun.  I’ll be bringing all of those books to MCM Scotland Comic Con this Saturday, 7th September, at the SECC, but I’ll also have a new addition to the lineup, making its worldwide premiere at the show.

Black Leaf is a horror graphic novel I’ve been working on with artist extraordinaire Garry McLaughlin.  It tells the story of Stuart Lockie, a 12-year-old boy from Glasgow who travels up to the Highlands with his family to care for his ailing grandfather, and while there he uncovers ancient, dark powers residing within the local woods.  The versatile talents of Garry McLaughlin are on stunning display in this book, as he uses a grayscale ink wash technique to create a dark story-book vibe that permeates through the narrative.  And Colin Bell brings the whole package together with his masterful lettering and production prowess.  The final package is going to be 76-pages of story, but to build some buzz, the creative team decided to serialise Black Leaf exclusively for the convention market.  This first installment, containing the first 22 pages of the graphic novel, is getting a very limited print run, so if you want to get a copy, you better get yourself to MCM this weekend!

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here’s a peek at the cover to Black Leaf #1.  You can get your copy, as well as copies of all my other comics, by visiting me at the Comic Village at MCM Scotland Comic Con, Saturday 7th September, at the SECC.

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REVIEW: Ghosted #1

Image Comics are on quite the killer roll when it comes to series debuts, aren’t they?  Two weeks ago, we had Lazarus, then last week (at least in the UK, where it was shipped a week early), we were treated to Sheltered.  And this week we have the marvelous Ghosted #1, from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Goran Sudzuka.  I originally had no interest in picking this up, for the most embarrassing of reasons, which I shall now confess.  I got Joshua Williamson, writer of comics like Masks & Mobsters, mixed up with Kevin Williamson, screenwriter of Dawson’s Creek, the Scream films and the risible TV series The Following.  And I thought, “Pffft…. another TV bigshot thinking they can slum it in comics, no thanks!”  But after reading some glowing reviews, and hearing that the artist was Goran Sudzuka, whose work I greatly admire, I decided to grudgingly check out the first issue, only learning of my error after the fact.  And I can say now, what a tragedy it would have been if that mistake had caused me to miss out on this comic treat!

Before I get into the story, I want to first pay my respect to the incredible artwork of Goran Sudzuka, as when I was in the comic shop and on the fence about picking this title up, it was a glance through the pages at Sudzuka’s work that tipped the scales in favour of me giving it a shot.  I initially became a fan of his with his work on Y: The Last Man.  Everyone thinks of Pia Guerra as the artist of Y: The Last Man, and yes, she was the co-creator and primary artist on the series, doing fantastic work.  But a sizeable amount of fill-in issues and arcs were handled by Sudzuka, who did a fine job, but perhaps he didn’t quite get his due as he did such stellar work in recapturing the spirit of Guerra’s visuals and crafting a sense of visual consistency rather than really letting his own style shine through.  But with Ghosted, Sudzuka gets the chance to shine.  The opening page splash is as immediately arrresting an opening image as you’ll find in any comic, instantly marking out Sudzuka as an artist of superstar quality.  And he’s definitely given some superstar moments, with a couple of jawdropping double-page tableaus popping up in the book, though he equally excels in the quieter moments of character interaction where the heart of the story truly emerges.

There’s a real trend towards roughness in art these days, and overall I really enjoy it.  Artists like Fiona Staples, Nick Pitarra, Riley Rossmo, Iain Laurie, Jeff Lemire and Rafael Albuquerque have emerged as some of my favourites in recent years with a sense of looseness and fluidiity that gives their imagery an unorthodox, vibrant energy, whereas the safer Big Two “house style” of much of the artistic A-list is starting to leave me a little cold.  But standing out against this more abstract trend emerging in comics (particularly creator-owned comics), Sudzuka’s meticulously crafted and structured figures and locales with their clean, thick ink lines feel strangely refreshing, like a throwback to an earlier age of storytelling while at the same time feeling utterly modern and relevant.  It’s a blend of the old-school pulp of a Darwyn Cooke with the pop vibrancy of a Mike Allred, while still very much being its own distinctive aesthetic.

But credit should also be given to colorist Miroslav Mrva, whose colors blend so organically into Sudzuka’s art that it’s difficult to distinguish the two.  But the colors are crucial for establishing the mood of the comic as the genre hopping (which we’ll get to in a bit) continues apace.  The cold, clinical blues and greens of the opening sequence put us into the bored, despairing mindset of Jackson T Winters in that early part of the narrative, then once things take a turn for the strange and fantastic proceedings seem to become drenched in a psychadelic red wash, which at some points reminded me of the effect Brian Bolland achieved in the original colouring of The Killing Joke.  Then once we get to the Trask Mansion, it’s like all color is just sucked out of the story and we’re plunged into a world of dreary, foreboding grey as the narrative takes a darker turn.

And what of the writing of Joshua “Not Kevin” Williamson?  Quite simply, he plays a blinder.  This is a superb story, build around a delicious high concept I wish I’d thought of: I actually had thought of something quite similar, but this covers that territory so well I now feel like I’d be as well abandoning the idea.  In short, this is about a heist in a haunted house, resulting in a genre mashup that’s equal parts Ocean’s Eleven and The Haunting.  If that doesn’t make you go “Ooooooh!” and make you want to go pick up this comic immediately, I seriously fear there’s something wrong with you.

As far as first issues go, this is remarkably dense, and feels packed with content and narrative incident.  I felt like I’d really got my money’s worth and got a good chunk of story here.  As opposed to say, Guardians of the Galaxy #1, where I closed the book feeling like I was really very little the wiser to these characters and their world after reading and that we had progressed very little into the story, Ghosted is marvelously paced, covering a lot of ground and, indeed, spanning multiple genres.  As we open, we’re in a prison story, and it’s in these early pages that we get to know Jackson T. Winters.  While the prison segment is over with pretty quickly, Winters carries that with him, and in that we can see how damaged an individual he is.  From there, we slip briefly into Hammer horror territory, with sinister older gentlemen in red smoking jackets in lavish mansion studies, and supernatural doings afoot.  In this sequence, the plot is truly set into motion, as Winters is employed by enigmatic millionaire Markus Schrecken to “steal a ghost” to add to his collection of mystical artefacts, pointing him in the direction of the notorious Trask murder house.  After that, we make the seamless transition into the most giddily fun sequence of the narrative, as we slip into the heist caper genre.  Here, we see Winters recruiting his team, an oddball band of misfits who in their brief introductions all quickly establish their own personalities and interesting wrinkles, making me think this will be a fun band to watch interact.  And just when we’re thinking this is going to be a fun, cool adventure, we take all these crime characters and pop them down firmly into the horror genre, with Williamson quickly crafting a sense of dread as the ensemble enter into the Trask mansion, menacing even in daylight hours.  I just recently said in conversation with someone that the haunted house genre is considered nigh impossible to pull off in comic form, so I’m keen to see how the creative team manages as we progress into the next issue.

In summary, Ghosted #1 is quite simply a delight.  Readers in America will be fortunate enough to have both this and Sheltered #1 hitting shelves at the same time.  These are very different books, but they have a few things in common.  For one, even against the murmurs from fans about Image becoming more and more of a playground for the biggest names in comics rather than the proving ground for the stars of tomorow as it has been before, both titles demonstrate that Image is still a great platform for emerging talent to present comics that deserve to be breakout successes.  And, of course, both are excellent.  In a week where both Batman and Superman Unchained came out, its these two Image titles that I would mark out as the essential purchases for savvy comics readers.  If you’d told me when I first read it that the fantastic Lazarus would be my least favourite of July’s Image debuts, I would have laughed you out of the room, but Image are going from strength to strength.  If you like comics with great ideas, backed with stunning art, there should be no reason not to give Ghosted a try.

Ghosted1Ghosted #1 is available in all good comic shops now.