Writers: Jared Barel & Jordan Barel
Artists: Jared Barel & Alex Goz
Publisher: Loaded Barrel Studios
In Brielle and the Horror Volume One, the time has come for a short-run comic first distributed at New York Comic Con in 2007 to take on a full-length life of its own. This book collects the original single-issue tales of Brielle, along with new material from the creators that continues the story of the sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, haunted from early childhood by demonic hallucinations and what psychologists have diagnosed as multiple personality disorder. When Brielle’s date winds up brutally murdered at the carnival they had been attending, however, a detective working the case gets his first inkling that Brielle’s hallucinations may be anything but.
It’s a fairly typical horror premise, but the execution sets this book apart from others in its category. While some of the standard genre tropes make an appearance—a supernatural birth foreshadowing demonic developments in the child’s life, a Catholic priest battling against the spiritual forces of evil—there’s enough of an independent streak running throughout the story and characters to throw a wrench into any attempt to pigeonhole Brielle as just another horror comic. The dialogue, while plagued by the occasional typo, is remarkably natural; each character speaks with a voice that seems very much their own rather than the writers’, and the scenes featuring Detective Grossman avoid the forced, constructed feel that many often bring to behind-the-scenes police work.
The art of Brielle and the Horror is probably the most striking aspect of the book. Jared Barel, brother of his co-writer Jordan Barel, has built on the solid foundation of photographs taken by Alex Goz using studio models in full costume. For a 200-page graphic novel, that is an impressive undertaking, so the creators earn points for that alone. More than that, though, the art is damn pretty from beginning to end, and Barel’s touches make this far more than yet another of those photo comics we saw so many of in the ‘90s. It’s hard to tell exactly what technique Jared has used, whether the photos have been altered digitally or lightboxed and traced (or even some combination of those two approaches), but the end result comes out looking like a moodier, more detailed version of the digital rotoscoping seen in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. And it works. Very well.
The quality of the illustrations remains consistently high from the first page to the last, but the overall look, from the color scheme used to how much of the underlying photograph shows through unaltered, unfortunately varies quite a bit. This is especially apparent in the first third of the story, and one gets the feeling that the gap between the production of Brielle’s first two chapters and the rest of the book may be the reason for this. Lucky for us, though, the duo of Barel and Goz ultimately settle in for their best work as chapter three begins, and they maintain this same style for the balance of the book.
There are some other production issues, especially in the earlier material. Odd choices for the lettering mean that it’s sometimes difficult to tell which character is speaking until they address another by name. As mentioned above, there are a fair number of typos as well, but on the whole these do little to distract from the polished, professional-as-hell piece of work that this book is.
Horror is a strange genre, and tastes can run the gamut from simple slasher flicks to more cerebral stories. That fact makes it somewhat hard to give a blanket recommendation for one horror tale or another, but this comic is one that any serious horror fan should check out. Even if it’s not to your taste, there’s no denying that a great deal of love and attention has gone into crafting this story. Brielle and the Horror is not only a spine-chiller in the truest sense of that term, it’s also a beautifully illustrated, top-notch example of today’s indie horror comics.