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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
Various Writers and Artists
Trade Paperback
Sparkplug Comic Books

I recently received a package in the mail from Dylan Williams, owner/publisher of Sparkplug Comic Books, that contained a very impressive horror anthology called ORCHID. ORCHID is a collection of seven Victorian horror short stories, originally written by the likes of J. Sheridan Le Fanu and Saki (aka H. H. Munro), adapted to comics form by indie comic artists.

These stories are acknowledged classics of early horror, and the contributors do an admirable job in their adaptations. The period, a gothic mood, and a terror of the unknown are well conveyed. Victorian horror doesn't make much use of the in-your-face gore popular today; the terror comes from what we aren't shown, what we don't know, and the fear of madness is a constant one, reflecting the worries of a society that had not yet discovered electric lights, much less DNA. But fear of the unknown is universal and timeless, and once the reader gets used to the slower pace, these stories are still quite powerful.

While I would question the necessity of yet another adaptation of Poe's "The Raven", (a work I personally don't think has ever been translated effectively to comics: it's a poem, and works best in that form), the other tales were well chosen, and the contributors clearly have affection and admiration for them. And that, for me, was the most impressive quality I found in ORCHID. The artists, realizing they were interpreting classics, did not arrogantly try to force their style on a story that wasn't suited to it. The adaptations were done in service to the story, not the other way around, a distinction even "superstar" artists sometimes fail to make.

Speaking of the art, while none of it blew me away, it was quite good. Though the styles vary - from the clean line of Gabrielle Bell to the dark shadows of edward bak - each is appropriate to the particular story. Bell's art is perfect for the droll, dark humor of Saki's "Tobermory", about a cat, taught to speak, who divulges the dark secrets of guests at a dinner party. Ben Catmull's woodcut style works nicely on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's short, eerie "The Little Red Man", evoking the period and mood well, and rendering effective a story that could easily seem to thin to modern readers.

Speaking of which, I was pleased to see that few, if any, concessions or changes were made to the original stories to make them more appealing to "today's audience". Either people will appreciate Victorian-era stories for what they are, or they won't like them no matter how you dress them up. The one exception is Kevin Huizeng's excellent adaptation of Le Fanu's "Green Tea", which bookends the original tale of a reverend going slowly mad due to visions of a spectral creature with a modern-day story about a college student, in similar circumstances, having a comparable - if less disastrous - experience. The student's discovery of the reverend's case in some old papers, and the perspective it gives his own vision, adds a nice extra layer of meaning to the story, and I have to applaud Huizenga for pulling off what could have been a clumsy shoehorning of extraneous material onto an established classic.

With a $8.00 price tag for about 120 full pages of story and art, ORCHID is priced competitively with any other TPB on the market. While fans of blood-and-guts horror will not find much to like within, admirers of distinctly Victorian thrills and chills should definitely give ORCHID a look . I give this impressive anthology four rabid fanboys.

Review copyright 2002 by E.C.McMullen Jr.

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Starring Adrian Paul
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From the screenplay by our own
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Ruth Fletcher Gage.

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