Creators: Gabriel Ba; Becky Cloonan; Vasilis Lolos; Gabriel Moon
Publisher: Dark Horse
I don’t get to read enough original graphic novels these days. I know that some would argue that the OGN is the purest form of the sequential art medium, establishing and delivering an entire story within the confines of a few hundred pages; the feature-length film to the long-running television series of monthly comic books, if you will. Me, I like to see the charms of both possibilities. But I certainly did enjoy the opportunity of reading a self-contained graphic story for once, especially one as compelling as the horror masterpiece Pixu: The Mark of Evil.
More psychological supernatural thriller than scare-a-minute horror, Pixu tells the tale of five tenants living in the same detached and isolated house, haunted by their own individual traumas, yet united behind the mystical oppression of fear and violence that slowly envelops their dwelling. As their stories begin to intertwine, the madness escalates and begins to embrace them all.
With a summary like that, you can probably take a reasonable stab (pun intended!) as to how it all ends for our disturbed protagonists. But this story is all about the journey rather than the endgame. And, in a relatively short 125 (or so) pages, storytellers Ba, Cloonan, Lolos and Moon manage to deliver a tight, tense, but utterly rewarding – as well as visually compelling – voyage.
Broken down into a series of very short, character-driven chapters, the reader is quickly introduced to the central players. But no time is spent on frivolous introductions, as the creative team launches right into their underlying flaws and failings, ensuring that not a panel or page is wasted as the narrative drives forward. Although there is clearly something mystically evil at work, the tension and terror which unfolds almost from the start is revealed primarily through human interaction rather than the supernatural, which both grounds and heightens the nature of the events as they quickly unfurl and descend into chaos.
But if the story is all about the journey, then the impact of the book is less about the plot, and much more about its delivery. The dialogue is subtle and minimalist but entrancing, moving events along at a pace that is simultaneously frantic and measured. But the greatest strength of Pixu is the visuals, which manage to depict the fragile mental state of the central characters in striking but simplistic (and realistic) ways, while utilising symbolism and surrealism to illustrate the horror and evil that begins to engulf and intoxicate the house and its residents. All this combines to draw the reader into the claustrophobia that builds and builds even as the house collapses, both metaphorically and physically.
This is a perfect example of how do to psychological horror right, regardless of the medium. If you know someone who is unsure about the power of comic books, and thinks it’s all superheroes in tights, then get them to read this. No hexes or ghostly haunting required – the quality of this book will surely change their minds.