When talking about horror comics, Kelley Jones has to come up. The work he’s done with Swamp Thing alone is visionary, and there isn’t an artist who can play with light quite like him when it comes to monsters. He’s teaming up with Laura Marks on the latest Hill House Comics series, Daphne Byrne, set in 1886 New York. It’s a series Joe Hill told us on the Comics Podcast is “a 19th-century feminist Omen. A ghost and gaslight take on the child born to end us all.”
What this comic has in droves is plenty of great art by Kelley with ghastly eyes, spines coming out of the backs of monsters, and creepy details in costumes and even the trees behind characters. Kelley does an exceptional job with the material, keeping the unnerving darkness visible in all the cracks and pockets of every single panel. Michelle Madsen backs up Kelley on colors, utilizing a strikingly bright color whenever the creepy level needs to be high especially in a subtle way. You see it in the bright red cushions of a carriage seat or in Daphne’s eyes. Speaking of which, Kelley illustrates them in a striking way that draws you in. They make her feel quite magical.
As a historical horror story, Laura Marks does a good job of establishing the setting and characters. There’s a rather scary looking homeless man that adds sufficient scares and creepiness early. That keeps the book firmly in a place of horror well before the monsters and supernatural stuff kicks in later in the story. Daphne is a strange little girl and she’s established as a bit of an outsider with her father now dead. By the end of the book, the themes of growing up and womanhood appear to be established, giving the book a strong identity about growing up. Now, if that involves killing folks now that she’s reached her womanhood that’s a whole other ball of yarn, but it’s fun to piece together her growth in the story. It’s clearly a case where the character is lost, alone, and likely going to be influenced by outside forces.
There are some visual tropes standard of Kelley that pop in that make this feel a little less original. The bones coming out of the back of monsters, in particular, is a familiar one, as well as characters walking down cold stone staircases. There are some interesting visuals I’ve never seen from Kelley though, like the focus on eyes, the play of shadow in unconventional settings, and interesting close-up shots. The cliffhanger is an interesting one in regards to Daphne’s story, but it did leave me wanting for more details on the bigger mystery in play here.
This is a good start to yet another excellent horror series in the Hill House Comics line. It’s dark, brooding, and delightfully disturbed in its coming-of-age underpinnings. Daphne Byrne will send shivers down your spine.
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