The Autumnal is a new horror series from Vault Comics that should have your attention. Set in a quaint town in Comfort Notch, New Hampshire, the story follows a woman and her daughter heading to the town she grew up in before being sent away at a young age. Living a hard life of abuse, Kat Somerville and her daughter, Sybil, head home for a spell to lay to rest Kat’s mother. But is Comfort Notch what it seems to be?
When you crack open this book, it immediately feels like we’re dropped into a world where characters are misunderstood and not in the right place. Written by Daniel Kraus, drawn by Chris Shehan with colors by artist Jason Wordie, and lettered by Jim Campbell, the series introduces us to Kat as she’s picking up her kid after getting in a fight at school. Her daughter Sybil is still quite young, but has the spunk and maturity to handle herself quite well. Living a hard life will do that to you. Kraus helps us quickly connect with the dynamic of this mother and daughter rather quickly. You trust Kat is doing her best and Sybil knows it. Both living lives where physical violence is present, you feel for them, but want to know how they might set their lives straight.
Then they find out Sybil’s mother has passed and a trip is in order. There’s a good turn in this story where we feel like this might be the change they need. This is, of course, going to be the exact opposite of what they truly need. The story carries on breaking from expectations — even though the sunny Comfort Notch seems to be a place you’d want to grow up, there’s a seedy nature to this book thanks to the use of colors, the way panels are smudged with white as if they’re breaking apart, and the use of shadow and light seem to play with your eye. With a feeling of unease on every page, the reader is transported into a story where you hope they can better their lives, but know it’ll get worse before it gets better.
If you haven’t guessed so far, this first issue slowly unveils its characters. That’s a good thing — you’ll be on board with both characters, and the bond between them is interesting as it’s almost like a sibling relationship than a mother/daughter one. Maybe abuse would do that to you. Or, maybe it has something to do with how Sybil and her mother parted. In the final chunk of the book, we get a bit of insight into that that draws you in. The last page is a perfect one to make you want more.
The art works well to bring autumn vibes to the book. Leaves falling down the page, apart from the panels, and the use of what appears to be leaves added by stippling help lift the characters away from the environment, which is clearly creeping into the narrative as the book carries forward. The white streaks above are also incredibly haunting and unnerving. I suspect some readers might miss it, but once they do notice it they will go back and reread looking for it. It’s a neat effect.
Lettering by Campbell is also spot on. The placement of a balloon talking off the page and the point breaking into the gutter, or how balloons connect with cutters along their edges, helps add a layer of unease to the book. The lettering is tops and I highly recommend lingering on them to see the artistry in them.
The Autumnal sets the stage for an interesting mother/daughter narrative that highlights the horror at the edges of the abuse we face and the darkness at the edge of the brightest of suburban ideals.
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