Inspired by the article I posted a link to about comics and architecture, I recently bought a copy of Josh Simmon's wordless graphic novel House. Being wordless you'll read this in about five minutes, but just because its easy to digest doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile. In fact the decision to make this a wordless graphic novel has certainly weighed in Simmons favour. All the tension, the atmosphere, every last nuance is achieved perfectly without having to resort to a single word balloon or caption explaining the situation. House starts off like a slightly more grown up children's adventure/buddy movie (see The Goonies, or even traces of Stand By Me) as three teenage friends meet up to explore an abandoned mansion in the woods. We get subtle hints at a budding romance, and sparks of jealously alongside beautifully rendered structures (that old cliche of beauty: urban decay) that at times seem like fantastic other worlds (for example the scene where they find a lake littered with the sunken corpses of other houses). Soon however the atmosphere changes. I make the cinematic link because House reads like a skillfully rendered storyboard to a very successful horror movie. As a fan of horror films whose occasional inability to empathise with characters makes it difficult for them to feel fear (except of the unknown jumps and starts that litter any film) I know House does a good job because it manages to make me feel the teenager's fear, their claustrophobia, their eventual hopelessness, all without the aid of a tension building soundtrack. That old mantra 'it's what you can't see that scares you' is pretty well suited here.
It is similar in a vein to Spanish horror film REC or a less hyperbolic Saw. It manages to make me wonder how I would cope in the same situation, the ultimate compliment for any horror film/comic. The eventual engulfing of the black panel borders onto the images themselves represents the fading light of life and hope in the situation, the desperation, the claustraphobic element of their surroundings. A partial blur of an unkown figure seen by the boy who has lost is glasses is also a nice touch. The ending comes as a twist, it is a rare thing in a horror movie (especially where a teenage cast is concerned) that no one survives, but this is the shocking power of House, and the fact that they mysterious forces at work in the mansion are never revealed is also another teasing and tantalising touch. A perfectly chilling read!