Think back to the 2008 election and the suppositions that flew about when a certain segment of the public found out Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein and his father and paternal grandmother are Muslim. According to an interview with author Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Aaron Campbell, the seeds for Infidel were planted in 2008 when Obama stepped into the presidency and Islamophobia gained traction in the United States. Upon its publication ten years later, the story’s relevance has only multiplied, with the current administration’s multiple attempted bans against citizens from majority-Muslim countries entering the U.S.
Infidel is a horror comic that explores xenophobia and racism with a twist of the supernatural. Named one of NPR’s Top 100 horror stories, Infidel succeeds in the genre because many parts of its premise are just a little too real for comfort. The main character, Aisha Hasan, is a Pakastani-American Muslim living with her white agnostic boyfriend Tom and his daughter and mother. The family lives in an apartment building that recently experienced a bombing at the hands of a supposed terrorist. When Aisha begins having terrible nightmares and seeing spectres, she believes she’s just imagining things. But what she’s seeing proves altogether too real. As the plot unfolds, we find that parallel to our world is one filled with pure emotion, and the divide between our worlds can be torn by an event that creates an intense flare of emotion. After an immigrant is blamed for a bomb detonating in the apartment building, the veil is torn and the poltergeists of hatred and fear are unleashed.
The plot increases in complexity with each issue, and the trope of a haunted house is pushed to its limits. Characters project their own experiences of racism, sexism, and phobias onto the people who are different from them, failing to see when they’re doing what others have done to them. These fears and assumptions ask the reader not just to confront their own fear of people different than themselves, but also to ask where this fear stems from. Even if you’re unable to find an answer, the fact that you’re asking the questions allows for a dialogue when too often silence reigns.
In a digital age of horror flicks that vie to scare your pants off more quickly than the one before, it can be difficult to convey terror in a two-dimensional comic. However, Aaron Campbell creates suspense and horror with each panel. The deformed spirits leap from the walls and closets, gnashing their teeth and grabbing your ankles from under the bed. They scream filth at you, spewing slander that’s etched on the paper like carvings on a dead tree. Blood spatters, sprays, and seeps onto adjoining panels, reminding you that there is no real divide, no safety. In short, Campbell’s art renders Pichetshote’s story a living, rasping thing, even without cinematic tense music or the sound of wet flesh tearing.
By now, you’ve perhaps deduced that this comic is best saved for adult audiences. Older teens would probably do just fine with it. In fact, if memory serves me right, age 13 was when the pressure to watch terrifying horror movies first set in. However, the nuances of racism and xenophobia would perhaps be better appreciated by an older audience. Those who don’t fancy blood, demons, swearing, or general terror should avoid this book. Those seeking to create a more robust horror comic selection should purchase this right away. While a good horror story creates expectations, a great horror story like Infidel subverts them, leaving you with plenty to think about, long into the night.
By Pornsak Pichetshote
Art by Aaron Campbell
Publisher Age Rating: M
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Black, Pakistani American,
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator