The five short stories in this black and white anthology embody diversity in female protagonists, settings, and types of monsters while exemplifying effective horror tales evocative of a virtuoso storyteller sitting around a campfire with an attentive older audience. They are arresting in their execution and filled with unsettling suspense married with the recognition of various human experiences, especially lonesomeness while surrounded by family and community. Here we discover that not is all what it seems when you seek consolation and friendship in the dark unknown. While none of the tales literally take place at the legendary crossroads at midnight, they all exemplify what could possibly happen when the supernatural is invited into your heart and home.
The 350-page book itself has heft, lending its weight to the seriousness of the material within and the well-developed characters in each story. In the first tale, “The Girl in the Fields,” the reader is introduced to Frankie, a queer teen whose relationship with her religious older parents is volatile. She begins a friendship with a voice and eye through the fence to the peculiar neighbour’s farm. The growing friendship soon descends into a perilous adventure with the monster, who may not be exactly as advertised. This gruesome story is followed by a tale about an entirely different type of monster. College student Christina, in “Mattress, Used,” finds an old stained mattress that is being discarded. Since she has been sleeping on a pile of blankets, she regards this as a major piece of luck. Unfortunately, Christina’s health, well-being, and education are the currency paid for this “find.”
“The Boy from the Sea,” features Nia, a young girl, who is vacationing at the beach with her family. Left on her own, she is befriended by a young boy who only visits at night. His antics and promises arouse suspicion in Nia’s older sister with devastating and long-lasting results. The next tale also takes place by the water with an antagonist much more recognizable as a monster than in the previous tales. The water creature in “Our Lake Monster” began as a popular tourist attraction maintained by a family but when the creature grew and caused a fatality, the family and monster went into hiding. The monster kept growing and the family decided to sell it for research purposes. However, things quickly go amiss when the youngest member of the family disagreed with the decision.
“Kindred Spirits” is the final story, and my favorite. An elderly woman, living in isolation beside a bog, is surprisingly open to a friendly visit from a corpse from the bog. The woman, after communicating with the corpse and the others who subsequently arrive for tea, consults the library and local history experts for information about the cadavers. Armed with the knowledge and understanding of the nature of her nocturnal visitors, she immediately panics but realizes that, perhaps, the situation is not as dire and dreadful as she imagines now that she has friends.
Howard’s black and white illustrations are evocative, spooky, suspenseful, and often grotesque. Her use of crosshatching on white backgrounds adds to the intensity of the stories being told. Howard is skillful with facial expressions, portraying unmistakable realistic and vivid characters of diverse ages, ethnicity, and body types. The atmosphere in each of the tales is distinct but efficiently retains a cohesion to the overall ambiance of the volume. Her ingenious use of shadows creates an effective spooky intensity in each of the tales, establishing and maintaining suspense and tension, often beyond the final panel.
All these tales together offer a glimpse into the unsettling horror that can be awaiting each and everyone of us. While many monsters may be supernatural, the fear and longing driving both the humans and the monstrous is not so far out of bounds, closer perhaps than the famous crossroads at midnight. I highly recommend this graphic novel, which began as a Kickstarter project, for teens and adults who love to read horror and to be frightened safely within the covers of a book.
The Crossroads at Midnight
By Abby Howard
Iron Circus Comics, 2020
Title Details and Representation
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)