The correct thing to do in the fall is to watch The Addams Family in October, then Addams Family Values in November. And then, if you’re plagued by awkward family around the holidays, a re-watch of One Normal Night from the musical.
But of course, an embrace of the macabre needn’t be limited to the cold winter months. When I was in college, eight thousand years ago, my cohort used to dress all in black once a month and head over to Manray in Cambridge for goth night. On those nights, the club would be redecorated with industrial cages, plastic skulls and flickering light bulbs, and for some reason a spread of erotically arranged fruit on top of the pool table. We would dress to match: black cobwebby lace; eyeshadow upon eyeshadow; clothing covered in buckles and cuffs that secured precisely nothing.
One month, we got the date wrong, and the club was closed, so we all just went to Ben & Jerry’s down the street. Any location can be made gothic if enough people glower.
I bring all this up because this week’s comic book releases are particularly creepy and kooky. Not exclusively, of course — there’s also a very nice all-ages book about flowers — but there’s a grim-grinninger pall than usual cast over the books that caught my eye. Let’s get spooky.
There’s something wrong with the shadows in Zadie Lu’s small town — they seem to be trying to kill her. Whenever it’s dark, something sinister stretches out from the gloom, something destructive enough to rip holes in her clothes as it pursues her. Meanwhile, Zadie’s also grappling with standard teen angst (kissing boys, mean girls, etc etc) as well as a family health crisis. Her older brother was seriously injured, and she knows that she should react to it with grief, but she’s dismayed to find herself lashing out with anger instead. There’s a shade of Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks in her frustration, or if you’re an old person, Angela from My So-Called Life. What do you do when you’re 16 and you have more feelings than you know how to handle or even explain, and everyone else seems to have everything under control? Zadie’s shadow, and the monsters that lurk at the edges of her vision, may be of her own doing; but that doesn’t mean she has the ability to control them.
Monsters are such nerds. Fangs, by Sarah Anderson, is a delicious portrait about a vampire and a werewolf in love, and … that’s kind of it? There’s no larger narrative going on here, no story, just a little vignette on each page of four-ish panels. It reminds me very much of the original Addams Family comics that ran in The New Yorker — a quick-gag joke with some economic black-and-white line illustrations. The humor is Addamsesque as well: “We should have a baby,” says the werewolf; “for dinner?” asks the vampire. But there’s also a cute wholesomeness; when the werewolf shifts, he warns her, “people get scared.” Then she comes home to find a big shaggy adorable wolf curled up on the couch snoring. Later, there are belly rubs. It’s the same macabre sweetness that I adore about Gomez’s affection for Morticia, or Elvira’s genuine love of campy films — edgy, but not so aloof as to be without passion. If you want to be technical about this book, this isn’t a new release since it came out a few months ago; but I didn’t review it back then, and Phoenix just got more in stock, so THERE.
There is no edge whatsoever to Wildflowers, a slender book suitable for ages 4 and up, nor should there be. It’s a kind-hearted romp through the imagination of three small children, an excellent book to read on a couch next to whatever young people are in your life on a rainy day when it is too blustery to go outside. We see the imaginary adventuring of the trio brought to life, Calvin-and-Hobbes-style, with a terrible plane crash, a tiny gorilla, and a dragon that is scary but not too scary. There is no deeper hidden adult meaning to be gleaned in their chaos — although, I dunno, if you wanted to interpret one you probably could? Like the dragon represents capitalism? Sure, knock yourself out. But I think the book works best as a prompt for one’s own imagination, motivating the reader to look around and spin stories out of whatever elements in the environment tickles their fancy. The book has an accompanying lesson plan, which certainly indicates that adult readers are expected to be teachers.
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There are several more monstrous titles this week, starting with Beta Ray Bill #1 — a Thor-adjacent adventure about an alien trapped in a terrible body. Though it looks like an explosive adventure, I was startled to find a moment of tender sadness and body dysmorphia tucked away between action scenes. Also of interest is Orphan and the Five Beasts, a martial arts grindhouse blood-and-guts story with lots of lovely detailed art and some truly disgusting viscera.
For something that’s dark and beautiful, take a look at issue #1 of Silk, a fantastic story about the other young person bitten by a radioactive spider. Unlike Peter Parker, Silk lived in a bunker for most of her life, but now she’s up above ground, fighting crime and misunderstanding basic social norms. It’s great fun. Just don’t call her Spider-Girl.
Or maybe you’ve had your fill of the macabre, in which case you will like Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide, Volume 1. (I’m a sucker for manga with unreasonably long titles.) It’s a cutesy boys-love romance about a globe-trotting gay couple that is super duper adorable and surprisingly character-driven.