The Nightmare Factory

[13 February 2008]

By William Gatevackes

Horror is not easy to do. The effectiveness of it waxes and wanes with whatever fears the consumer brings to it. Comic book horror, especially in comparison to print or movie horror, is extraordinarily difficult. Novelists can use as many words as they need to jump start the reader’s imagination, painting pictures with a carefully constructed phrase. Filmmakers have the benefit of motion and sound which can be used to heighten tension and make the scares more visceral. Comic creators don’t have these weapons in their arsenal.

You might think that successful comic book horror simply finds a middle ground between those two medium, but that is not the case. What works in horror books or horror films doesn’t always translate into comics. This collection is proof of that.

This paperback adapts four stories by horror novelist Thomas Ligotti. You might not be familiar with Ligotti’s work, but he apparently has quite the cult following. And his style is certainly unique. However, the uniqueness of his style does not lend itself easily to a comic adaptation.

Ligotti’s stories have a bizarre, dream-like quality. There is a narrative thread to them, but it is frayed and fuzzy. The esoteric nature of Ligotti’s style requires a wordy adaptation by the graphic novel’s authors. There is caption upon caption, dialogue balloon after dialogue balloon of exposition, which is a detriment to any comic book.
This is not a shot at the skills of the creators. Writers Stuart Moore and Joe Harris are veteran comic book writers, and they are joined by a quartet of the best comics artist the medium has to offer: Colleen Doran, Ben Templesmith, Ted McKeever and Michael Gaydos. Editor Heidi MacDonald is one of the best in the field. With this amount of talent, if Ligotti’s stories could have been successfully adapted to comics, they would have done it.

Comics are a “show, don’t tell” genre. These stories are a lot of telling to provide clarity to the showing. This may well be a faithful adaptation of Ligotti’s original text, but as a graphic novel it stumbles into the major pitfalls that make it an unappealing example of the medium.

How are the stories themselves? Well, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, horror is subjective. Ligotti is an acquired taste. Fans of slasher movies need not apply. Lovers of the classic EC Comics will be challenged but might find value. However, if your taste is a bouillabaisse of classic Vertigo mixed with the Lovecraftian/Kafkaesque themes by way of the Twilight Zone, then this book might be right up your alley. Dream of a Mannikin, the most straightforward tale of the four, comes off best.

Ligotti’s fans might love this volume, but those of you unfamiliar with his work might wish to seek out the original prose collection. Because despite the best efforts of a group of talented creators, Ligotti’s style doesn’t translate well into comics.

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