Pullbox Reviews: Graveneye, Gothic Horror in a unique perspective, from TKO Studios

What if a haunted house was not the horror, but the people who dwell within it ...

Isla’s house has seen its share of blood horror, and the depths of the human soul. Cursed with sentience, it is destined to observe the terrors that lurk inside each and everyone of us.

Acclaimed author Sloane Leong (A Map to the Sun, Prism Stalker) and renowned artist Anna Bowles in her debut graphic novel deliver a dark and beautiful tale of hunger and obsession.

Taking a position as housekeeper, the frail looking Marie was under scrutiny from the moment she stepped through the house’s front door. Not only from her employer, the tall and regal Isla, but from the house itself… her actions, her attention to detail, and importantly the many bruises she tried to keep hidden. Always battered, Marie did her work and never missed a chance to explore the large manor. Isla had said “You may have the run of the entire house… but leave the cellar to me.” Of course Marie would never ignore the instructions of her employer, and there was more than enough house in need of her attention. But what might be in that cellar?

The house knows.

Graveneye snuck up on me, literally in its release, figuratively as I started reading. The digital release took me off guard, not really an easy thing, as I tend to keep track of TKO’s upcoming titles, but in this case I was just browsing the New Comic Day selection on ComiXology and there it was. I snagged it, added it to my quickly growing out of control reading list, and after starting it I had a tough time stopping. There’s something about the narrative pace, the style, and most of all there’s a unique perspective that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a comic before, and its twists and turns kept hold of me to the end.

There’s the question that’s often been asked, a figure of speech that ponders “what if these walls could talk?” Writer Sloane Leong dives headlong into that idea and fleshes it out as she makes the house itself the POV character in the story she wants to tell. Throughout the book, Leong takes liberties with what a house might pay attention to, what or most important who it might love and how it would express that regard. In this case, while the house has acknowledged that Marie is a source of interest and regard, it’s the lady Isla who has the house’s true loyalty. She’s lived within its walls her entire life, and the house knows her like it knows the grain of the wood in its floors and beams. It’s a bizarre perspective, and it couldn’t have been easy to maintain, but Leong takes a lot of care to stay true. As she builds her narrative, she limits herself to the house’s point of view, never actually giving Isla or Marie a voice but using the internal monologue of the house to tell a creeping tale of gothic horror. By the time the reader is aware that Leong isn’t quite leading us down the path we were expecting, it’s too late in the game to back out.

Leong’s story, lacking any true dialogue, relies heavily on the visuals to keep it moving. On that point, we’re in Anna Bowles’s house. Just like the narrative sticks to a specific voice, that of the house, Bowles holds her illustrations to black & white with the notable exception of the color red. From the flowers Marie picks to freshen up a mantle, to the fresh bruises she tries to keep covered… to the blood trails left by Isla on her regular and almost ritualistic hunts. Red shows in sharp contrast to the otherwise stark panels, leading the reader through the story as it meanders from one turn to the next. Bowles has a style that’s perfect for a black and white format, and without a doubt it’s a format all to itself if it’s done well, with a great balance between detail and shading. Panels aren’t cluttered with too much information- the downfall of many black & white comics- just enough to pull the reader along to the next point of interest, the next shocking flip in the story. Finally, the visual perspectives are almost cinematic in their scope as they shift from a long panning shot into a closeup. Bowles attacks her work when she needs to, and creeps in on the unsuspecting moments of quiet.

Graveneye doesn’t take a straight path through its pages, and readers might find themselves taken off guard by some of the turns it takes along the way. But for the one who sticks with it, who follows along and accepts the twists as they come, there’s a great ride to be had. Gothic at heart, shocking at times, this was a fantastic entry in TKO’s already impressive line up of titles.

Final Score: 12/13

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