Scared to Death, Vol. 1-2: The Vampire from the Marshes; Malevolence and Mandrake

Scared to DeathThe title Scared to Death may be overselling this series just a bit. The stories contain witches,  vampires, and other spooky stuff, but these are all-ages books and it’s clear that no one involved is interesting in keeping a six-year-old reader up all night with the lights on and a protective wall of stuffed animals arrayed around the bed (not that I’d know anything about that). But while the series isn’t particularly scary, it is a pretty good time. Affable teenagers investigating low-stakes spooky stuff is a tried-and-true formula and artist Mauricet and author Virginie Vanholme deliver fun stories with bright, engaging art.

Like many a meddling kid before them, Robin and Max have an uncanny knack for stumbling into supernatural goings-on and seem to lack the common sense to leave well enough alone. In the first book, The Vampire from the Marshes, the two boys find a vampire in a marsh. In the second, Malevolence and Mandrake, they take on a kidnapping witch with the help of Robin’s younger sister. In both stories the supernatural elements are real, not just some old coot in a mask, but things never get too dire. The second story is more violent, but the kids always seem quite prepared to deal with what’s thrown at them.

This series was originally published in France and the art shows its European roots, with people and settings simplified and softened a bit, but remaining fairly realistic. The page layouts are standard and there’s never a lot of tension or energy in the art, but the characters are well designed and the colors are bright and varied. In both art and text, these books are familiar, comfortable, and fun.

American readers will encounter some cross-cultural weirdness. The translation was done for the UK market and some bits of dialogue contain weird phrasing and word choices that can be distracting: while sometimes it’s British vocabulary to blame,  other times it seems as if French phrasing or idioms were translated literally. Kids might be confused or annoyed by some of this clunky translation, but their parents are more likely to be distressed by some low-level sexuality. For example, when Robin and Max see a photo of a shirtless dead man Max says, “Nice chest . . . shame it’s not a girl!” A lot of parents may not bat an eye at that line, but it’s not something I would expect to see in an American all-ages comic.

Translation weirdness aside, these books are likely to find an audience among kids who are eager to jump into supernatural stories, but aren’t quite ready for some of the gorier or more sensual books in the genre. But then again a Scooby-Doo comic would scratch the same itch with a familiar brand.

Scared to Death, Vol. 1-2
by Virginie Vanholme
Art by Mauricet
Vol. 1: The Vampire from the Marshes, ISBN: 9781905460472
Vol. 2: Malevolence and Mandrake, ISBN: 9781905460779
Cinebook, 2008-2009
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages