[16 October 2013]
PopMatters Comics Editor
One question that emerges strongly in writer Caitlin Kittredge and artist Inaki Miranda’s opening issue off Coffin Hill, is one concerning protagonist Eve Coffin herself. Is all of the mayhem that’s roiled thru her life just her? Is Coffin Hill a character study in the question of character as destiny? Are the horrible things happening to Eve Coffin somehow her fault?
In the opening chapter of “Forest of the Night,” we’re not only introduced to Eve Coffin, but to the ostensible technique of storytelling that Kittredge will embrace. Coffin Hill is a horror story to be sure, but what makes it successful is Kittredge’s embrace of the full scope of genres thru which our experience of horror is refracted.
When we first encounter Eve, it seems we’re in an urban horror thriller. Somewhere in the same generic neighborhood as Fallen, or maybe what we all hoped the Witchblade TV show would be. At first Eve’s a rookie cop who suddenly becomes the toast of the town after singlehandedly apprehending a notorious serial killer. She has an ordinary life, although she’s on the cusp of incredible career advancement, as well a domestic situation that seems to place her at a greater risk than it should.
Which is not to say, that this situation we encounter Eve in at the opening of the issue is without its horror elements. Again, this part of the chapter reads more like the kind of film we saw with Fallen, where horror infuses the traditional urban thriller detective story. This isn’t Se7en or even the Bone Collector where the darker elements all arise in a purely human evil. The corpses that litter the opening pages of Coffin Hill #1, the serial killer himself and even Eve’s friendships that are summoned up on Miranda’s gorgeous flashback page, have some connection to a more pure, more otherworldly kind of evil.
“The evil in these woods,” Kittredge writes, “isn’t the kind most people understand. It’s real evil, the kind that seeps into your skin, your blood every part of you.” It’s an extremely dark and clever game that Kittredge plays with the reader. Eve’s language pattern is remarkable—long sentences tacked on one after the next in a way that feels like a corpse bleeding out. And in this specific scene, where Eve and her girlfriends enact a pagan ritual in the backwoods around Coffin Hill, this is a highpoint of Kittredge’s superb mastery of language patterning.
Eve, we discover in the next few pages, and this is what makes the book even more intriguing, isn’t just another twentysomething looking to make her mark on the world. She is the last of an old Massachusetts family (the Coffins, no less), one that traces its roots back even farther than the Salem Witch Trials. And this is where Kittredge is able to play her masterful game of genrebending.
In Coffin Hill (the book itself is named for the family estate), Kittredge deploys genres like a Grandmaster would chess pieces. We see unfolded before us, the young girl in trouble who is on the verge of being snuffed out by her family, we see young women dabbling in the same kind of paganism that caused their ancestors to murder young women perhaps no different than they themselves, we the splendor of Fitzgerald-like parties become infused with Lovecraftian subgenres.
And of course, all of this is mixed together with the urban cop thriller-demonic killer horror genre. The cascade of the sheer numbers of genres is astounding. But even more astounding is Kittredge’s facility at according each of these the right intensity, and her being able to tell a convincing story that has us emotionally involved in Eve Coffin. Because after everything, the central question only comes more sharply into focus; is this all somehow Eve’s fault, is all of this happening, not because of something she’s done, but because of something she is?
Earlier this year, Marisha Pessl’s second novel, Night Film was almost universally hailed as a postmodernist masterpiece. Rather than offer you a simple tale of an investigative journalist with a vendetta against a reclusive filmmaker, Pessl unfurled her story thru blogposts and TIME magazine photo-essays and NY Times obits and protracted the experience even deeper to having YouTube trailers and downloadable apps. And although Kittredge and Miranda’s Coffin Hill is far lower tech, its method is perhaps as deeply postmodern in terms of mashing together genres.
Coffin Hill simply deserves to be read by you, whoever you are.