TW for the book: rape, sexual assault, stereotypical red-headed pimpled misogynistic teenage boys.
If creepy settings, queer POC characters, and reckoning with sexual assault are your thing, this is your book. I went into this comic TP completely blind, having picked it up only because I knew Carmen Maria Machado was the writer behind it. Machado can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned, she’s a stunning writer.
El and Vee are best friends living in the town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania, where an underground fire has been raging in the mines for decades. People live in the town only because they are stuck in the past, or because they have nowhere else to go. After waking up in the cinema with mud on their shoes and having no memory of the movie they just watched, they suspect that something sinister is going on, and they start to dig in to secrets that the town has held for decades.
I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, but I will say that Machado nails a suspenseful story that brilliantly explores consent, identity, and friendship. She’s a master at creating well-rounded characters, and this collection is no exception: El and Vee are immediately recognizable without being stereotypes, and all the secondary characters (bar one*) are fleshed out.
* The red-headed, pimpled, misogynistic teen boy I mentioned at the top was very two-dimensional.
Lastly, the art by Dani was gorgeously eerie. Her drawings straddle the line between realistic and sketchy, and really helped bring the nightmarish town alive.
I’ve popped this in the Gateway category for CBR Bingo for two reasons:
- I think it is an excellent entry into comic books for people who don’t often read them. The story is fantastic, and the art is a nice mix of ‘conventional’ comic book panels and more creative use of the medium (like in the middle of the image on the right);
- It’s also a fantastic gateway into horror if you’re not normally into that. I love horror as a genre and enjoy stories that play well on the surface level, but horror truly shines when it is used to tell a more complicated story, as it is here.