And Then Emily Was Gone #1,
John Lees, Iain Laurie, Megan Wilson, Colin Bell,
“The Devil hides in corners. Evil festers in the right frame or door. The right kind of box… There are… things I must do. This is where I’ll put you. This is where you’ll stay.”
There’s been a bit of a buzz in the UK comics community about this first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone, and with the first issue out this week I had to have a look. I’m glad to report I wasn’t disappointed – it’s an enjoyably disturbing slice of Scottish horror. The first page presents us with only a glimpse of a character we will encounter again later, seen here only from behind, or close ups of his hands, as he mutters to himself about the Devil and evil, caressing an intricately carved wooden box, arrays of sharp tools lining the wall in the background, tools for carpentry, for creation, but somehow here giving off a creepy, menacing vibe that those tools could be used for something else…
We cut to “somewhere else” and a very unkempt man, a man who seems mentally disturbed and alone in a world he can no longer cope with. It looks like our world, but in best horror tradition he sees things, things others can’t see, awful, vile, disgustingly misshapen creatures, riding on the bus, sitting in the pub trying to drown the world away, in the bathroom mirror, even as he tries to numb his mind with drink to sleep, but they are always there, there is no peace for him. He tells himself it’s in his head, it isn’t real, he’s had a breakdown, but it doesn’t matter, they are still there.
And then the doorbell rings and young Fiona walks into Greg Hellinger’s ruin of a life…
Greg was once a detective, one of the finest in the police force, he could “find people that no-one else could” as Fiona puts it. Greg gestures round his dump of a living room, strewn with empty bottles and litter – “that was a long time ago,” he tells her, “Take a look around. I can’t even find a remote these days.”
But Fiona needs his help, and, it seems, not just the powers he had when he was the pride of the detective force, but the abilities he now has, the curse that has blighted his life, the horrid, horrid things he sees everywhere. “Maybe you see things no-one else can,” she tells this broken man. And she thinks perhaps it is one of those monstrous things that no-one else can see, that really should exist only in our folk tales, not in the real world, that took her best friend, Emily, vanished from their childhood home in the Orkney Isles. She was mortally terrified, telling Fiona she had seen Bonnie Shaw, a bogeyman everyone thinks is simply a story to frighten misbehaving kids with, a folkloric monster with a gaping, horrifyingly huge fang-lined grin, who offers deals to parents, to solve their woes in return for their child. Emily is so scared she wants to run away, talking Fiona into going with her, but she vanishes before they can leave. And so she comes to this wreck of a man, begging his help.
And the rest I won’t go into, because I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say there’s more in there from our barely glimpsed muttering man at the start, and there is a second story strand involving a seemingly normal couple of friends who are anything but normal, which at the moment seems unconnected to the main story, but no doubt we’ll see it converge more in the later issues. There’s a nice, disturbing sense of doom and dread hanging over the whole issue, generating an appropriately creepy atmosphere, between Lees’ story and Laurie’s artwork, which adds in no small way to the creeping dread feel of the story. In some places Laurie’s art reminded me a little of mid-80s Brett Ewins (yes, that’s a compliment) with monstrous, misshapen creatures and even the human characters all being odd to behold, but more cartoony than Ewins’ work, and perhaps a dash of Shaky Kane influence in there too. That cartoony nature would, you’d think, actually work against the moody atmosphere, but the unusual look of even the human characters helps sustain a feeling of a world that is just wrong, and the monsters he conjures, that only Greg can see, or the depiction of Bonnie Shaw, which in some ways almost resembles a child’s drawing of a monster in its simplicity, and yet which has a real power to disturb.
My only complaint, and it is minor, is that perhaps three story strands worked into a single issues, especially the first one, is perhaps a little too much, but then again it does keep the pace going along at a cracking pace, so swings and roundabouts. But that’s a minor gripe and overall this is an enticing and very unusual looking slice of horror and I look forward to seeing how those strands converge in coming issues.