Black Ship Books Reviews John Carpenter’s Asylum

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Created by John carpenter, Thomas Ian Griffith and Sandy King
Writers: Bruce jones. Sandy king, Trent Olsen
Art: Leonardo Manco
Cover:Nick Percival
Publisher: Storm King Comics

I only recently had the pleasure of encountering John Carpenter’s Asylum. As a long time fan of Carpenter, I was fascinated to see his exploration of sin and temptation brought to life through the medium of comics.

Unfortunately Carpenter himself doesn’t write this work but his influence, insidious as a shadow, pervades the comic.

Asylum deals with very dark horror. This is no post-modern deconstruction of the genre, something that has become common-place in recent times. Instead, Asylum tries its best to both frighten and discomfit us. And it often succeeds.

Rather than humor, the comic series offers us occasional quirky character interaction, which is one of the hallmarks of many Carpenter films.

Since many of the characters face horrors, their attempts at humor can be read as gallows humor, a means of coping with their demons, both metaphorical and real. In a nutshell, character interaction feels real, adding weight to the story. The reader can not only suspend disbelief when it comes to the supernatural events portrayed in the story but also when it comes to the human element.

This is an essential element that many modern horrors lack. If you can’t relate to the characters, be they important or mere “canon-fodder”, why will you care if they’re dismembered by the legions of hell?

But the writing in Asylum is strong enough to make you give a damn. The characters are often deeply flawed but this makes it easier to slip inside their skins and vicariously experience their terror.

Gritty real-world horror is among the toughest sub-genres of horror to master. Not only are you asking the reader to believe in impossible monstrosities, you’re also asking them to believe these same monstrosities could prowl their city streets and small town lanes. It’s an uncompromising form of fiction and often as hard to pull off than a self-aware send-up of the horror genre.

But Asylum succeeds in making its monsters and demons seem not only threatening but possible. When you read it, you’re able to believe that such things could be lurking just beyond the edge of your peripheral vision.

The writing is solid, well-structured and does its job of moving the story forward. The various writers who’ve worked on the project so far have been wise enough to let the artwork explain events without the unnecessary clutter of exposition.

Spare, tense narrative boxes and flowing dialogue mesh together well – in many ways, Asylum reads like a detective story with somewhat….unusual adversaries. The writing would be a perfect fit for the gritty world of the Marvel Max line and is reminiscent of the better story arcs of Punisher Max.

But unlike them, the text in Asylum never descends into macho wish fulfillment and manages to balance action scenes with moments of genuinely disturbing horror.

All in all, the writers of Asylum consistently fit plot, character interaction and mystery together as elegantly as a Cenobite’s puzzle box.

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If the writing provides the underlying structure of the story, the art is the decoration. Nowadays many comics are carried by writing that is strong enough to compensate for average or below-average art. Asylum benefits from both quality writing AND quality art.

With evocative, disturbing covers by the likes of Nick Percival and elegant, well-rendered interior art by the aptly named Leonardo Manco, the artwork in Asylum can be summed up in one word – stunning.

The interior art manages to summon up a believable world with Manco lavishing attention on both ordinary day-to-day scenes and moments of intense horror. A simple driving scene is turned into something haunting because of the artist’s elegant line work, shading and choice of angles. And the horror itself is so beautifully rendered that you’ll catch your breath in both admiration and fear.

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Although dead things may feature in this comic series, the artwork itself is very much alive. Figures and backgrounds are richly textured, giving each page a tactile feel, a sense of immediacy that is so necessary in effective horror. Surreal moments and entities are brought to life with this hyper-realistic style. Combined with the almost dream-like coloring, the pages feel like a fever-dream, vivid and disturbing in equal measure.

All in all, Asylum is a welcome throwback to the days when horror was meant to scare you. It was meant to challenge and disturb you. This makes for a comic that is often an uncomfortable read and that’s a good thing. Unlike today’s fast-food scares, Asylum will stay with you long after you put down the comic. Not only will it haunt your dreams, it may also give you new reasons to sleep with lights on.

LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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