Whugh. Now that the Small Press Expo coverage is done, looks like it's about time I get on with a new title from our friends over at Fanboy Comics. This new one, called Identity Thief, came out on September 25th (my birthday!) but I got a free copy from them a couple days before which was real nice of them. Only now have I been able to get around to it, but hey, better late than never, as the exhausted platitude goes. You might remember that I did a review of Something Animal, which was also by Fanboy Comics. That and this current work both speak to a consistent theme, with a few subtle changes to reflect a different perspective on it. Identity Thief, in this context, is a fascinating contrast to Something Animal, while still being an adequate tale of horror by itself.
I think I'm interested in horror graphic novels not so much for how much they "scare" me (I haven't found one that does it yet) but rather for finding out what the creators think horror can be. Identity Thief revolves around a young couple, Craig and Daphne who've just moved into a new apartment in California, trying to start anew after some troubled times on the East Coast. Turns out there's a monster in the attic though, and this monster has some subtle ways of taking over Craig's life.
Craig and Daphne themselves aren't very interesting. They're essentially the setup for the monster's punchline. We do get some characterization- Craig likes comics and has a stained past, and Daphne likes comic nerds. That's about as far as it goes- dialogue is the typical boyfriend/girlfriend/relationship problems chitchat we all know and love in our own lives. It makes them real, but not very distinct. It's a thing you see in horror movies, but if they were hoping to make vibrant characters they'd need more pages for it. The monster is the star of the show, really. Faceless, wordless, skittering around in the shadows, its favorite method of terror is to disturb and unsettle.
If there's a consistent theme between Fanboy Comics' two titles, it's "corruption". Something Animal showed us a protagonist that witnessed a psychologically devastating event which robbed him of a loved one and dominated his thinking until he became a monster himself. Identity Thief is about what happens when a skeleton in a closet quite literally emerges from forgotten depths to take over a new victim, using their own proverbial dirty laundry to entrap them. (I mean if it was literal dirty laundry it'd just be gross.) In this way, I think the Dillons and Sam Rhodes have done a great job of capturing that theme in both works.
The art by Meghan O'Keefe is, of course, superb. Taking on the same design choices as Something Animal, characters tend to alternate between some kind of Picasso-esque, slightly misshapen figure and more traditional designs. The emphasis on teeth and bones is there, along with the shadows, the dark blues and blacks. Colors are splattered across scenes and drip off characters. It's very effective at giving you that slightly uncomfortable sense that if something isn't wrong now, there will be soon enough. The monster is suitably grotesque, some kind of hunched-over homunculus that wheezes and clambers around.
"Claustrophobic" doesn't even begin to describe the panel layouts. Already set in a small apartment, scenes, characters and objects have so little room to maneuver that they occasionally break panel barriers just to get breathing space. Only in pivotal scenes do things spread out. It's almost uncomfortable to read, as your eyes try to push through a page looking for more details to grab on to. I've never been in a confined space situation, but firefighter training got me close, and it's a feeling I remember while I read this. Motion is sometimes explained with words where mere pictures cannot convey a sense of kinetic energy, but it's not much of a problem. It does give sound more emphasis, which helps.
Aside from a lackluster set of protagonists, I think this comic is good at emphasizing sense over plot. I also think it would be pretty cool if they kept doing this kind of thing, exploring corruption in its many forms and indirect methods. Strong art, strong feelings.
TL; DR: Identity Thief is a short but fancy look at psychological horror that does a great job on atmosphere.