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The Dark is Rising


Then It Was Dark: A Paranormal Anthology

It’s Halloween week, and I ain’t done near enough reviews of scary stuff, so let’s remedy that now with a nice fat graphic novel/anthology of spooky stories.

This book, edited by Sarah Benkin, collects short stories from a wide variety of independent comic creators, all telling (supposedly? possibly?) true stories of brushes with the supernatural and paranormal. There are demons and ghosts that attack sleepers in the middle of the night; scientific experiments with seances that don’t go as expected; ghosts that help out at summer camps; reincarnated twins; ghost children playing tag; UFO sightings; floating, severed heads; historical hauntings; and much, much more. Some of the stories are entirely unexplained — just weird experiences that no one ever figured out what was happening. Some have actual scientific explanations — one tale about a haunted mansion in the 1920s ends with the revelation that the house’s furnace was in terrible condition and was belching carbon monoxide into every room of the home.

As I said, there are a ton of creators who contributed to this, including Molly Ostertag, Diana Nock, C.B. Webb, Dirk Manning, A.R. Lytle, Henry Gustavson, Sarah Dill, Sarah Winifred Searle, Jen Hickman, Karen Kuo, Cody Pickrodt, and many, many more. There are even a few non-traditional comics creators like Wesley Sun, a minister who writes (with Simone Angelini illustrating) about performing an exorcism on a friend in college and his fears that his inexperience may have left her permanently possessed by a demon.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a lot of spooky stuff in here, in a ton of different artistic and storytelling styles.

There are a lot of these tales that are clear night terrors — essentially waking up while your brain is in REM mode, so you’re paralyzed, not breathing great, and basically having waking nightmares that feel incredibly real. I had these for several years and only broke the cycle by never sleeping on my back. So the descriptions of these nighttime encounters with demons and ghosts sitting on your chest, keeping you from moving, and scaring the holy howling hell out of you were very familiar to me, and didn’t really scare me. I wanted to tell the creators to sleep on their sides and they’d feel better. A lot of the other stories were about things that I suspected were just extremely vivid dreams.

But you know, the fact that I could find rational explanations for them doesn’t mean they aren’t still nicely eerie tales, especially told in the volume we get here. You get four or five stories in a row about nightmares and night terrors, all illustrated with astonishing creepiness, and you’ll still find yourself flipping a few extra lights on at night.

And there are quite a few stories that didn’t seem like bad dreams and didn’t come with easy explanations. Tales with multiple witnesses are harder to dismiss, of course. And some of the stories are just fantastically weird. There’s a very short story by Lauren Ashizawa about a man forced to use a rural outhouse. He suddenly realizes the cat that’s been watching him through the slats of the walls is actually something way bigger than a cat. The tale doesn’t end with any sort of explanation — but it does feature the best gag in the entire book.

This is a very fun anthology, wonderfully creepy and perfect for the Halloween season. For now, it’s only available digitally, though I’ve got a physical copy because I backed the Kickstarter. But however you get it, make sure you go pick this one up.

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