The Shape of ElviraMost people know of Elvira, the character created and played by Cassandra Peterson, from her TV and film appearances. They might simply recognize that particular iconic look: big, dark hair; short, tight, dress; and white makeup with black lipstick. Horror fans might recognize her as the Mistress of the Dark, a purveyor of schlocky B-movies that feature buckets of blood and bad acting. There was even a time where Elvira’s face was on everything from T-shirts to cardboard cutouts in beer aisles. Elvira is not only a character; she is most definitely a brand, a brand that fits all things both spooky and silly. Spooky and silly are, for better or worse, the main adjectives that describe Elvira’s latest foray into comics, Elvira: The Shape of Elvira.

The story follows the character of Elvira as an actress who gets a starring role in a movie directed by big time horror director Billy Bullworth, which could mean big money and perhaps an Oscar (specifically mentioned by Elvira). This movie is, of course, a movie about a scientist falling in love with an Amazonian river monster (confession: it was a few days after reading this comic that I realized the title was actually a play on Guilermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water). Art, of course, imitates life as Elvira begins to sympathize with her monster costar, who may not only be an actual monster but also a prisoner. Elvira, with the help of a nerdy but endearing writer, investigates, and hijinks ensue.

Those familiar with the character of Elvira will feel at home with the overall tone of this piece created by writer David Avallone, as well as his depiction of Elvira. Elvira has always been known as a character who’s quick with the quip and the double entendre, a fact that pushes this title into an older teen/adult rating. Elvira, whether she’s hosting B-movies or actually starring in them, is a character who has always straddled the line between gothic beauty and self-deprecating sarcasm, bombarding her audience with one-liners even as she navigates various outlandish situations. The situations she finds herself in with this story are no different. Apart from a writer with whom she adorably flirts, Elvira is the star of the show, with most of the appeal of this title coming from her reactions to the various weirdness around her.

Fran Strukan’s artwork is passable, serving the purpose of the comic’s narrative tone, but is also inconsistent. Elvira has the typical big hair and tight dress that she has worn for decades, despite still looking like she’s all of 25 years old, but she also looks nothing like Cassandra Peterson, the actress who brought her to life. For a story so focused on an iconic character, that may be a cardinal sin. The river monster does, however, strike the right balance between a monster and an emotive character, but the humans overall look somewhat generic. Readers can tell the difference between characters by their outfits and their body builds, but faces largely look the same.

The faults of this book can be overlooked by its true audience, the longtime fans of the Mistress of the Dark. There are those out there who have collected memorabilia with Elvira’s face and body on it for decades. The title does capture the spirit of who Elvira is as a character, her humor, her down-to-earth appeal, and that might be enough for fans, but it might become an issue for librarians deciding what to put in their collection and weighing how many Elvira diehards among their patrons would want them to get this book. For me, I’d probably skip this one unless there was a high demand for the Mistress of the Dark. There are frankly better books, even better horror comedy books, with which to build a graphic novel collection.

Elvira: The Shape of Elvira
By David Avallone
Art by Fran Strukan Gardner
Dynamite Entertainment, 2021
ISBN: 9781524111977
Publisher Age Rating: 16 years and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

  • James

    | He/Him Circulation Librarian, Clark County Public Library


    James Gardner is a Circulation Librarian at Clark County Public Library in Kentucky. Along with writing his own stories, he reviews horror for his own blog The Foreboding Home of the Scary Librarian and other places. But graphic novels are another love of his, having grown up loving Spider-Man and the X-Men. Reviewing graphic novels is a dream gig because the graphic novel is a medium that is full of great stories. One of the best things about being a librarian is always having an excuse to read graphic novels among other books, which is because readers’ advisory depends on reading books (while advising is the other half, of course). He also enjoys role-playing games, which is another opportunity for him to immerse himself in a story.

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