Pullbox Reviews: Obscura – A headlong dive into the macabre…

  • Obscura
  • Created by Luke Cartwright & Aaron Nyerges
  • Written by Luke Cartwright
  • Illustrated by Lukasz Wnuczek
  • Available March 15th, 2020

Whatever you do, please… read no further. Stop right where you are! There’s nothing beyond this point but pain & suffering, disappointment & tragedy. Bad… very bad things. The denizens lurking in the shadows of Van Diemen’s Land, an island more commonly known these days as Tasmania, can only dream of the ignorance with which you’re blessed, the innocence which will only be strangled in the iron grip of fate. They were never given the choice you now have… to live a life free of knowledge. Please… please, reader, don’t throw this gift away.

Still there?

Sigh… okay. Here we go.

Obscura is a story that defies definition. It’s a story of gothic horror, of intrepid seekers trying to answer the unanswerable. It’s a tale of tragic romance, because in any story where the word “gothic” is used in a description, there can be no other kind. It’s a morality play, exploring the question: how far would you go, how deep would you dig, to achieve your heart’s desire?

William Morier’s mother died soon after he was born. His father, the undertaker for Van Diemen’s Land, is at heart a good & honest man. As is often the way of things, William finds himself on his own far too soon, the sole proprietor of the family business doing his best to honor the memory of the man who raised him. Everything changes for young William, as things often do, when he meets Catherine. The rest is history, twisted & sordid.

If I were to sum Obscura up in one word, it would be mood. In coming up with the story, creators Luke Cartwright & Aaron Nyerges tapped into the fascination with the macabre that consumed the late 1800’s. There was still a connection to Old World superstitions, hiding just beneath the more modern world that had been superimposed over the surface. People were stuck between concepts of science- much of which was still in the earliest stages & barely out of the realm of theory- & the many mysteries of the “great beyond”.

Luke Cartwright takes that mood & builds on it, fashioning his narrative into a shape that’s perfectly suited for the tone he’s looking for. Obscura reads as a submission to one of the old penny dreadful magazines, even including a foreboding introduction from E.J. Bloodworth, editor in chief & “purveyor of monthly macabre”. Once into the story, Cartwright continues with that theme by inserting handwritten letters from William Morier himself as he attempts to set the record straight on the whole string of sordid circumstances that was his life. Through William’s point of view, Cartwright is able to lay out his tale of woe without divulging too much too soon. The reader knows what William knows at any given time, with plenty of room for revelations as things progress.

Lukasz Wnuczek takes the mood established by Cartwright’s story, building a world of heavy shadows & hidden truths around it. Obscura is a comic that needed to be done in black & white, there’s no doubt in my mind. While that may present unique challenges to an artist, creating a tightrope between the clutter of too much detail & the boring emptiness of a comic with not enough, Wnuczek digs in and owns it. He handles his business well, working within the setting of historical Tasmania, a world of flickering candlelight & oil lamps. The other aspect that really impressed me was how Wnuczek dealt with William Morier’s work as a dabbler in the fledgling field of photography. A huge part of the story hinges on manipulation in the development process, & it couldn’t have been easy but I thought the effect paid off here. Finally, Wnuczek works some magic in the more subtle moments, using facial expressions to develop characters & allowing Luke Cartwright to take a breath rather than having to rely on heavy-handed dialogue.

The bottom line is that Obscura is a darkly stylized work of art, tooled into a story that’s a respectful tip of the hat to “true horror” magazines of the past. It plays on the fascination people of the time had with spiritualists & mediums, just as science was pushing forward into the 20th century. Populated by a host of characters living in their own personal framework of grudges, prejudices & superstitions, it’s a solid read for anyone who counts themselves a fan of old school macabre. If nothing else, hop on over to the website for a free 30 page pdf preview.

Final Score: 9

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