February 27th, 2009



My friend David Wellington gave me a copy of Josh Simmons' outstanding graphic novel House for my birthday. It's truly an amazing piece of work. Eighty pages of entirely textless imagery -- no dialogue, no captions -- telling the story of three teenagers exploring an abandoned house and the terrifying fate that awaits them. It's quiet horror, more on par with the psychological terror of The Descent, though without any monsters, than an overt haunted house story like Matheson's Hell House.

It's a testament to Simmons' abilities that his art rings narratively loud and clear without the use of words. As the black-and-white panels get progressively darker (and smaller, adding to the claustrophobic nature of the mounting dread), you can feel the characters' panic and fear. Other emotions come through clearly too, like one character's jealousy that the other two are hitting it off so well. It hints at a background story without divulging it explicitly, and that's hard to do with drawings alone.

The result can also be a little distancing, though, and I have to wonder if that was Simmons' intent. Without hearing the characters speak, we don't get to know and like them, and so when things get crazy I could, as I said, feel their panic, but that was more about putting myself in their shoes than it was about caring about them as people.

But that's a minor quibble about a stunning graphic novel. I really liked it, and I think Simmons has a great talent as both a storyteller and an artist. Some of the images are breathtaking, such as the discovery of an entire neighborhood of abandoned, derelict houses at the bottom of a lake, and some are harrowing, such as when one character wakes up in complete darkness after falling through a hole in the stairs. I'd recommend it for anyone who likes graphic novels and creepy stories.

Up next, Jenna Jameson's 2004 memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. I'm not even kidding! I've already read the first couple of chapters, and it's amazing!