Only in Whispers is the comic that I bought last Sunday at Anime Boston (Issue 1, 2007). It is a product of Free Lunch Comics, a small independent entity, I infer. Nothing wrong with independent. Matt Ryan, the person who I spoke with, is the president of this entity.
I did not dip deeply into the world of underground comix in the day but certainly liked them. R Crumb and his ferocious world view, S Clay Wilson and his odd fascination with bikers and pirates, the intensely psychedelic Rick Griffin, etc. I no longer have whatever collection I made of these things, alas. They were anodyne to the the weary paths much of Marvel and DC comix were on at the time. So now there is a more wide open market for comix, not underground but not Marvel either.
Only in Whispers reminds me of Charlton Comics. Charlton ran a distant um 5th or 6th behind DC, Marvel, Harvey, and whatever. Without consulting Wikipedia, I will say that Charlton dealt largely with horror stories, which is where the comparison with Whispers begins. The Charlton visual style was rough, if I remember rightly. Whispers boasts several different artists but I think the style would be considered manga-like: images expressively stretched across panels and pages.
The cover shows a desperate looking fellow in what appears to be a Grande Armee uniform, tho the hat (shako?) bears a skull emblem, with sword draw (well, the whole picture is drawn). At his feet is a horde of rats, presumably at his command. The background suggests a fiery, hellish scene. So, what is the takeaway?
It is an image of horror. This scene does not relate to anything inside the book. It is just a visceral, powerful image. That is the pull of the horror genre, the inexplicable and disturbing.
Think of Frankenstein's monster. By Shelley's presentation he is basically someone with an unfortunate upbringing who murders a few people. Karloff's monster exceeds those distinctions and presents an unexplainable phenomenon, to iconic levels of intensity. What I am doing here is relating the virtues of the horror genre.
The inside cover introduces a creepy fellow from whose library the ensuing stories come. The Crypt Keeper without the kitsch, and a way to tie the disparate stories together.
The first story is set in Coventry, MA, which gets me right away. I do not believe a Coventry exists in Massachusetts (one does in Rhode Island), but the localization makes me think of Lovecraft. One of Lovecraft's books was published in Athol, Massachusetts, in the mysterious realm beyond Worcester. In stopping there once, and knowing that one Lovecraft fact, I felt the impinging strangeness of HPL. I guess I am drifting in tangents here...
The plot of the story is simple and odd: a writer finds/steals a manuscript written in blood, the Devil's book. The woman from whom it was obtained, a witch, invokes revenge. The End. In the gap between the period and the capital T one sees the writer being caught by numerous spider webs, culminating in the final page spread of the writer grossly ensnared and covered with spiders. The artwork is manga-like and graphic, meaning that the panels stand well on their own.
Next is a short story by Steve Kanarus, who is publisher of Free Lunch Comics (Ryan is president). It is about a magic-involved couple. I think you could say that they teeter on the edge of black arts but finally choose a less nihilistic, more redemptive view. Horror stories are nothing if not moralistic, by which I mean there is always that sense of balance: good/evil, right/wrong.
The next story is familiar enough, a man makes what turns out to be a Faustian deal, and we witness the ensuing decline in his life. It seems to me the inking is too heavy, the lines too thick, for the more delicate style of the artist (Stephanie O'Donnell; story again by Kanarus). The style is more linear than what I call manga-like, and to me less interesting. To each his own, of course. The Faust theme is powerful, and always leaves you wanting to yell, Don't do it!.
"The Conscript" (Kanarus/Anthony Summey) features a black arts fellow in 18th Century Germany. He insinuates himself darkly into some lives there then is banished to America. The story features some very Lovecraftian rats, maybe the cover does relate to this story, and an implication that the story will continue. The idea of this bad influence coming to the New World is a powerful idea. I mean Keats' brother came to the States a little later to join a Utopian community (I think Coleridge almost joined the same one). The belief that America welcomes all receives an early challenge. I think the story should continue, as it does not wholly satisfy as it stands. It ends, I should say, with rats scritching in the walls of the home of the person who had the magician sent away.
The final story, by Andrew Pollock seulement, is "The Wailing". In smaller letters in the title square is the word WitchHound: is that part of the title or the name of a continuing character or series?. Je ne sais pas.
The plot concerns a curst family. Every generation, a male of the family hears the banshee's cry. then dies. A Mr. Delacroix is consulted. I am shakily guessing that he turns into this creature who confronts the banshee. A violent fight ensues, until the dread words to be continued appear.
Well, as I turn the page and look at the ad there, it is for WitchHound, the adventures of which/whom I can see unfold at Wickedsmash.com. Pictured on the page is Mr. Delacroix, the creature who fought the banshee, and another creature, a hulking fellow who is built like Thing of Fantastic Four. Anyway, Pollock's style is flattened expanses of white and black, at times suggestive of Beardsley, leastwise if Beardsley were rattled from his opiate bliss. Er, I do not know if Beardsley experienced opiate bliss, just my impression from his work.
I had fun reading this and would like to read more. Comix are pretty powerful in possibility. If you look at the old Donald Ducks from the 50s and 60s, they had some pretty savvy satire going. The early superhero stuff is rife with goodies to deconstruct, and later day superheroes effort towards serious themes dealt seriously, and now the further array of possibilities. I am not expert in the genre, tho I spent my time and money in the day on these creations, so I maybe I got it 'all wrong'. My own poetics says comix are worth inclusion, or more exactly that inclusion is within the nature of my poetics. For that reason, I hope you have read this far.
Note:According to several googled sources, including the book Opium by Martin Booth, Aubrey Beardsley is indeed believed to have partaken of opium. Good guess on my part.