Written by Neil Gibson
There’s something really immediately impressive about Twisted Dark, a collection of stories from writer Gibson and various artists – and that’s the sheer ambition of the book. Gibson’s a new writer, and to put out a collection this big, just shy of 200 pages, just off the bat, certainly shows a commitment.
The size of the volume means that Gibson has the length to let his stories develop, to pace them well, let the darkness in them all develop slowly, and Gibson certainly, for the most part, does this extremely well. His stories never fall into out and out gore horror and are all the better for it – the title’s very apt – dark, twisted tales where your mind does the extra work to generate horrors around Gibson’s darkness.
Yes, there are faults in the work, Gibson’s ambition isn’t always matched by his ability – particularly when he over-reaches and tries to really shock with a big twist. It’s a little too obvious where Gibson is going with the story sometimes. And yes, there are artistic weaknesses, but it really doesn’t detract too much from a really well put together set of solidly entertainingly dark tales.
(Routine by Neil Gibson and artist Caspar Wijngaard)
In strips such as the father and son hunting drama “Routine“, I can see Gibson is really hoping for a big, shocker of a twist at the end, but it just isn’t forthcoming, and it’s too obvious, telegraphed pages before. But most of the strips here are more subtle in their darkness, small scale twists rather than huge ones here, and Twisted Dark benefits greatly from it.
The little twitch of a smile at the end of modern slavery tale “A Lighter Note” or the Columbian drug dealer’s downfall in “Cocaina” is far, far more satisfying than the full page twist of Suicide for example.
But just as an indication of how Gibson is really pulling the whole thing together, every single strip here, even the one referencing ant colonies and Honey Mushroom fungi, has a unifying artistic finale – to a greater or lesser degree, everyone finishes with a twisted, dark smile – just like the very effective one on the cover. Nice, unsettling touch to each strip’s end.
Just to prove my point, my favourite two strips here, are ones where the twist is either practically non-existent or reader derived:
In the impressive, although very brutal, “Munchausen’s Little Proxie” Gibson is freed from needing to pull the big twist (you know exactly where it’s going from the title after all), and ends up spinning a great story – a very dark, very sad tale of mental illness, destroying more than one life in the process. And the art, by Caspar Wijngaard, is not only some of the best in the book, but of Wijngaard’s three strips here.
(Munchausen’s Little Proxie by Neil Gibson and Caspar Wijngaard)
Munchausen’s is dark, it’s good, but it’s also shows how carefully Gibson is writing all of these stories – there’s a link to a previous tale, something easily missed but once you catch it, it really adds to that tale.
My other favourite is the Manga styled “The Pushman“. It has no real overt threat or horror at all, just one man’s monologue over the everyday scenes of his job as a Pushman on Japan’s railways. but in his words, Gibson manages a real sense of creeping dread, of a threat, of a menace. That it doesn’t resolve in the story here is immaterial – Gibson has planted the seeds in your mind and you’ll have to suppress a shudder as you continue the story in your head later.
(The Pushman by Neil Gibson and Jan Wijngaard)
One final thing I really had a problem with. And maybe I’m just being too damn sensitive here. The story “A Lighter Note” is a tight and well drawn tale of modern economic slavery, as one man finds his freedom stripped away until even his most compliant and gentle of nature can take no more – and the final little twist is perfectly, all too humanly believable. But it’s ruined for me by Gibson feeling the need to return to the tale with “A Heavenly Tale“, months later, further through Twisted Dark, going down a far too stereotyped route of religious fanatacism.
However, that one sour note aside, everything else about Twisted Dark is nicely done, with stories ranging from obvious yet interestingly done all the way to fascinating and hugely enjoyable.
The Artists on the book all performed well, and although all of them slipped up here and there, it’s nothing too distracting. Whether Gibson meant to or not, he’s picked artists with a thematically similar approach – so although his stories have different artists, the artistic styles are similar throughout – in effect it’s a best of both worlds, each story having an artistic life of it’s own, but all falling within the Twisted Dark style. Special mention to Caspar Wijngaard though, three different tales, and three subtly different art styles – most impressed.
The stories here cover a wide range of subjects – abuse, accidents, plotting businessmen, Colombian drug cartels, simple train workers – but they all share a common theme – a simmering, twisted darkness. Sure, I liked Gibson’s stuff far better when his twists weren’t huge things, but even though some disappointed there’s more than enough in here to say it’s a good book. Twisted Dark is an impressive debut from Gibson, one he’ll hopefully build on for his next projects. As is, Twisted Dark is just that; a series of nicely written twisted and dark horror stories.