The Autumnal is a new horror series from Vault Comics that struck me as mature and brooding with its first issue. That’s exciting, as it’s not like anything else you’ve read. The second issue is out this week, right in time for Halloween, and it’s an unnerving and slow-burn sort of horror. In that respect, it’s got me thinking about storytelling and craft. Another good thing.
In the second issue, we open on our main characters Kat and her daughter Sybil who are wandering in a park with nowhere to stay. Kat is waiting to get the keys to her late mother’s house, but they’re both accustomed to living hard. Soon, they encounter an oddly friendly stranger who helps them out. This takes place over six pages, which might seem long for the length of most comics, but it is masterful in how to captures the quiet between characters and between each moment. There’s an unease that’s unmistakable and a mystery you’ll want to crack about this town.
Writer Daniel Kraus, artist Chris Shehan, and color artist Jason Wordie have done an exceptional job taking their time with this series. Instead of rushing into gore and shock horror, we endure along with Kat and Sybil the strangely quiet and unnatural unease of suburban America. The town is not a natural place for these characters, but the reader will feel it too, which further connects you with them.
There are scary elements in this book in the traditional sense, but they are few. Again, the book works best because Krause and Shehan don’t over do things, which makes “normal” moments feel uneasy and scary. Shehan maximizes each scary moment with the kind of shock one might expect from a jump scare, but again it is done in such a way that your mind doesn’t quite see it for half a second. It’s subtle enough that’s it’s not overt and there’s more power in that. For that, I commend the creators. It’s quite clear there is a deft hand at the wheel and we’re experiencing a unique horror comic you can’t get anywhere else.
The art continues to impress and the edges of panels, which seem to be torn away with a cool effect, add to the unease of the book. The autumn vibes in the book continue to enhance the chilly nature of the story. The horror elements are nearly everywhere, but you wouldn’t notice at first glance. When they do strike you it’s quite shocking, but it’s also in the posture and movement of characters. Something isn’t right with this town and you’ll be screaming for the characters to move along. There are other visual elements that add to the unease and odd nature to the town, but they are there on the periphery that may not be immediately obvious. For that reason, I’ll say keep your eyes open so as to not spoil things.
The obtuse nature of the horror and unease may leave folks questioning what this book is really about. You need to sit down and put effort into the book to truly understand it. That said, I did find some of the art a bit too blank with its background work. There are scenes where a color fills a background instead of giving the reader detail on where characters are standing. That can be an issue when say, Kat is standing outside her mother’s house and there isn’t enough information to know if there are other houses nearby when two kids stop by.
This is a smartly written and absorbing sort of story that will capture your imagination and your interest if you let it. It’s also a story that requires your attention because it’s in the subtleties and dynamics between the panels where it truly shines. The Autumnal is a story that you can’t put down as the unease grows and your imagination tries to find its hidden meaning.
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