A Doorway into Terror: Dave Baker and Nicole Goux’s Suicide Forest

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Hello hello hello comicbook and graphic novel lovers!

Many months have passed since my last review! Seasons have changed; timed has moved forward and probably not given you a chance to catch up. A nasty election season is finally over, and for us, the major comic con season is over as well.

Since the last review, we attended Long Beach Comic Con and Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con (formerly known as Stan Lee’s Comikaze), which means that I have collected some new (and of course old) comics to spotlight for you.

To kick off the return to comic book reviewing here on this blog, I have selected Dave Baker and Nicole Goux’s Suicide Forest. At Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, we had one of the most refreshing and energetic conversations about comics as a medium rather than an incubation arena for films with Baker and Goux, and their dedication to making comics a visual communication form unbounded by the panel-to-panel, page-to-page conventions that have often defined comicbooks shows in Suicide Forest.

The beautiful cover of Suicide Forest

The beautiful cover of Suicide Forest

Taking cues from the theater tradition of the single room setting meeting horror à la Paranormal Activity, Suicide Forest starts and ends in a child’s bedroom. Each page presents half of the bedroom, giving plenty of space to examine each action and every detail. As you turn each page, a new action, large or small, occurs, and with each turn, you notice a new detail that you missed on the previous page. The plot of Suicide Forest is simple, and some may argue its plot devices are derivative of horror cinema; but, its elegance comes from its execution.

On what looks like any normal night in American suburbia, a child sleeps in her bed. We see her hugging a teddy bear fast asleep with a full moon casting a soft light in the room through a window. The room has various pictures and toys surrounding a bed with built-in drawers (remember the popularity of those beds in the 90s?); it is a standard child’s room you would see in the idyllic suburbs. Everything looks calm, but of course, we know that something will change.

Within a matter of a four pages, we see a thin, hunched, masked figure, dragging a baseball bat and walking in the hallway, all through the doorway of the bedroom. Quickly, sounds of a struggle flow into the tranquil room, and after seeing/hearing the sounds, we see a fight between a mother and the figure occurring.

We as the audience see most of the major action for Suicide Forest through the door, which acts not only as peephole for us to see sequences through but also as an entry point where a terrifying outside world not too far away will invade and conquer the child’s room. Consequently, as we anticipate the action that will come through the door, we also feel this enormous dread about what we will see with each page turn, and this desire to see what happens while being concerned that what comes next will be something unpleasant is the strength of Baker and Goux’s technique. The thin, hollow-faced man has changed the lives of the family forever in a matter of small moments, and even though he never steps into the room, we know that all innocence has been lost.

The moon does not change. The Sailor Moon sketchbook does not change. The toys in the basket stay unmoved. But, we know that life for the child and for the entire family will forever be haunted by the man and his actions in their house, and as a result, the house itself, the inanimate setting will disturb them as well.

When you see the masked man in Suicide Forest, you will immediately think of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween, but do not be fooled by the character similarities (though you could argue that the experiments in perspective in the two make them closer), Suicide Forest shares more with Richard McGuire’s Here than it does with Halloween. Like Here, Suicide Forest uses the fixed, one room setting technique to elicit not only emotion out of the plot and the page changes but also an overall viewer experience. In Suicide Forest, you watch the actions ensue as if you were standing in the corner of the room, and as a result, you feel the impact of every step, every scream, and every word.

Though I personally would have liked Suicide Forest to be longer because the visual technique is one I would have loved to spend more time with, the graphic novel accomplishes what it intends to achieve with a supremely minimalist approach. Suicide Forest strikes quickly, just like its antagonist, the masked man who you fear to see in your doorway.

Suicide Forest is independently published by Dave Baker and Nicole Goux; it can be purchased here

Understanding Transience and Time – Here by Richard McGuire

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Upon picking up Here, I admittedly knew nothing about Richard McGuire, and I suspected there was another reason why our dear friend Chris sent over this graphic novel beyond its content. Once I finished this brilliantly minimalist work, I reached the sleeve insert on the back cover, which revealed Chris’s motivation behind this gift and an insight into the tone and style of the novel: Richard McGuire founded Liquid Liquid, one of my favorite New York No Wave/Disco Not Disco bands. With this enlightened knowledge of McGuire’s musical history, a sudden clarity on the intention and the voice of the novel struck me.

Cover of Here

Like Liquid Liquid’s musical construction, destruction, and reconstruction of familiar themes and rhythms, Here combines familiar motifs and settings to create an overall mood of transience through utilitarianism. Despite all of the fragments and interruptions placed in each page, there’s a constant rhythm to Here parallel to the constant rhythm underlying wavering moments in Liquid Liquid’s musical compositions.

Set entirely within one room, Here documents the evolution of a space over time through moments layered and weaved into other moments. Within Here, McGuire completely disassembles the concept of chronological order to create fragments of time ready to be compiled into neat and orderly collages. Each page of Here displays the date used for each piece of the collage, thus revealing how little or how much people, animals, language, mannerisms, and non-living items such as decor change.

Cleverly, McGuire begins the novel with a family’s memories in the room, providing a human-centric perspective of the room in the 20th century and making you suspect that Here may be a graphic novel version of the acclaimed Up Series. However, that suspicion begins to quickly disappear when fragments of prehistoric, pre-colonial, and colonial times begin to interrupt the narrative following the family. Gradually, glimpses into the future begin to appear on the pages next to other moments older in time, and, despite the potentially disorienting shifts and interruptions of time, we begin to develop an overall sense that the world as we have understood it for the past 300 years is only a tiny lapse in the course of the world’s history.

Illustrated in the most unassuming color palette and flat drawing style, Here approaches the line of pretension with its grandiose message delivered through its utilitarian illustration and uniquely non-linear yet rigorously organized narrative technique; however, its dry, distant style fortifies the argument of the narrative. With so few lines and figures to become attached to each image, each moment, each object, and each person in time, we, as the readers, better understand the overall capricious nature of existence because we do not have any anchors to attach ourselves to any character or any moment in the narrative. Reading Here feels like you are traveling in time viewing only the life of others without any memories or foresight into our own, thus giving us the distance to reflect and ruminate on the meaning of our own lives in the context of history and time.

By constructing an overall mood rather than a narrative with major plot events and characters to complete a story arc, Here encourages us to dissolve any sentiment of hubris. By the end of the novel, we see the past, and we see what the future holds, a future brought about by our own creation of destruction and then atoned for by nature. We have brought about our own end, but alas, nature continues to survive to reinvigorate and repopulate the Earth with life, though clearly non-human again as in prehistoric times.

Possibly interpreted as a work of nihilism, Here reminds us that humans are only a small moment in the life of the Earth and universe, and we will most likely be nothing more than a small moment in the course of history like the tyrannosaurus rex or woolly mammoth. Though it minimizes the significance of human existence, Here establishes that message of insignificance through a certain reverence for forces far bigger than human life, making the novel much less dour or pessimistic. Here does not condemn humans (though it does put into perspective the damage we have done to other living creatures); instead, it reminds us that we are an era in the Earth’s history, like eras before and eras to come.

Here is less about the concept that everything is nothing and more about the understanding that all life has its own cycle on Earth. Consequently, with this understanding that this human era will one day meet its end, we should not fear death, and simultaneously we should not fear life. Here stresses the fact that we as humans cannot believe we can live forever and change nature’s plans. The only control we have is over our own current actions in our own lives, so we should live life as fully as possible without holding on to too much to our past, without fearing the future, or without overestimating our own strength. For, regardless of how powerful we may think we are now, how much we fear our own future, or how much we ruminate on our pasts, one day, our home will be the grazing field for giant creatures who are the new inhabitants of Earth, and our remains, if we are lucky, will be the soil for future species of blossoming trees, and we have absolutely no control to prevent this all from happening.

Here by Richard McGuire is available now via Pantheon Books.