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Horror is defined as any story that creates terror within the reader, but there are many ways authors create this terror. One author does this by depicting unabashed, unforgiving violence; geysers of blood; and mind-melting imagery that could have the most stalwart and sensible protagonist doubt their sanity. Another author might rely on a quieter horror, one that creates an underlying, excruciating tension throughout. Instead of a revving chainsaw through the torso, it teases with cold fingers across your neck. Instead of a visceral palette with varying shades of red, think deep blues and dark shades where just about anything could be hiding and waiting. This quieter, slow-build kind of horror is on display in Anna Byrne #1, with a creepy story by Mary Farnstrom and Chad Dalstrom with mood-inducing artwork by Felipe Kroll.
The story focuses on Anna Byrne, the protagonist who is drawn like a magnet toward supernatural phenomena. Thanks to an invite from a secret society, Anna begins her exploration of haunted locations across the country. This first issue details a journey up the Oregon Coast to the Hecate Head Lighthouse, a bed and breakfast housing residents who aren’t necessarily alive. Once Anna arrives, she finds lodging with some tight-lipped caretakers and explores the foreboding lighthouse, discovering what–or perhaps who–gives this lighthouse its haunted reputation.
ANNA BYRNE #1 by @puzzleboxhorror— Horror Oasis (@Horror_Oasis) July 24, 2021
"...what this issue gets right is the quiet horror, the feeling that the walls could be breathing and the tortuous buildup pulls you into the story like an anchor that drags you underwater." - @Jamesrgwrites https://t.co/NRoI0JUUBT #comics
If the story seems familiar, it’s the usual fare for paranormal exploration/extermination tales. Think the series Supernatural without the guns that blast ghosts to incorporeality in a cloud of salt or large silver blades specifically made to slice up shapeshifters. Anna’s role seems to be more of a cataloger of these phenomena, recording their existence, learning what she can about them, and then moving on to the next site. However, while the story is light on explosions, eviscerations, and ear-splitting creams, it is practically soaked in a briney Gothic atmosphere that brings to mind drowned sailors and Lovecraftian entities. In telling this story, Farnstrom and Dalstrom go with a less-is-more approach that I appreciate. Having read comics in the 90’s where Wolverine was delivering long-winded soliloquies in the time it takes to leap at a villain, I enjoyed seeing comic pages that weren’t littered with captions and dialogue. Anna’s inner thoughts and exposition are just enough to let the reader know what’s going on and let the artwork do a great deal of the storytelling, and Felipe Kroll’s art does a great job of telling a scary story.
The artwork features a painted style that fans of edgier 80’s and 90’s books, like Batman: A Arkham Asylum, will find both familiar and atmospheric. Using darker colors that make the shadows always feel like they’re ready to close in on Anna, Kroll invoked a sense of paranoia and even claustrophobia. Haunted houses in these kinds of stories are often thought of as antagonists in their own right, with the protagonist basically having to navigate the house’s guts before the house digests them, so every room that Anna’s in looks to be hiding some kind of threat.
Fans of screeching, blood-splattering, stomach-churning horror might be disappointed with Anna Byrne but what this issue gets right is the quiet horror, the feeling that the walls could be breathing and the tortuous buildup pulls you into the story like an anchor that drags you underwater. Fans of traditional Gothic novels or those that harken back to more modern takes on quiet horror like Robert Aickman should enjoy this tale, and Issue #1 has me interested in where Anna’s journey will take her, but there is a caveat. It’s a fine line between tension and tedium, between fear and frustration. Horror that’s too loud threatens to make the reader feel like they’re simply being bombarded with stimuli, but horror that’s too quiet can leave readers resenting your story if they feel like nothing of consequence is happening or will happen. The creative minds behind Anna Byrne have the atmosphere down. Hopefully, writers Farstrom and Dalstrom dig some into Anna’s past or leave some threads about this secret society in future issues that make the reader willingly dive in and keep going deeper.
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