A requirement for horror fiction is atmosphere, namely a foreboding atmosphere, and a main component in atmosphere is where the book is set. That setting may be dark, taking place at night or in places full of shadows, but it also should be isolated. An excellent horror setting is one that tells the reader that if, and inevitably when, whatever lurking evil decides to go hunting, there will be no escape for the protagonists. Whether it’s the top of a mountain during a snowstorm or the endless depths of outer space, the best horror settings will make sure protagonists have no way to call for help and that any help will be unable to reach them. One such setting is the sea, miles of endless blue as you float atop it, but a crushing darkness once you dive below its depths. Sea of Sorrows, written by Rich Douek and illustrated by Alex Cormack, uses the setting of this tale of underwater horror to great effect.
After the Great War, the North Atlantic is teeming with riches for willing and able salvage operations such as the men and women of the SS Vagabond. The crew soon learn of a sunken U-Boat full of gold, and that retrieving the gold could be quite risky. They may be no strangers to risk, but the sea has other dangers. Not only are tensions rising among the crew, there is also something beneath the waves, down in the dark, something hungry, something that has been waiting on them.
Douek’s plot is fairly by-the-numbers, with tension that deepens as the story progresses, and a powder keg of a ship with many crew members either pursuing their own agendas or struggling with their own traumas. There’s Nick, a war veteran who is already familiar with the cold embrace of death. There’s also Captain Harlow, who is doing his best to hold his splintering crew together. The mysterious Pfeifer, the benefactor who has given them the location of the ship, basically moves the plot along, even as the reader becomes more and more suspicious of his motives. Like any good crew, every character has their own specific job. The first mate Sofia, a woman who smokes, drinks, and even curses like a sailor, serves as the most likable character, almost in some areas of the story becoming the comic relief.
Alex Cormack’s artwork is what really brings the terror. Oddly angled POVs are used to create the feeling of a camera resting on a tossed ship’s deck. The color black is greatly used to represent the shadows where anything could be lurking, especially in the ocean’s depths where a creature waits for the crew. And what a creature it is, thanks to Cormack’s design. What could be a simply throwaway idea for a siren (perhaps a mermaid with fangs) becomes something truly monstrous as well as beautifully alien, perfect for a creature designed to lead men to their deaths.
Sea of Sorrows is a fun yet frightening trip on the High Seas that ends in its lowest depths, a dark carnival ride that fans of aquatic horror will really be into. Those librarians looking to build a horror graphic novel collection for their adult patrons should give Sea of Sorrows a look because it not only provides an entertaining story but it shows how the graphic medium can pull a reader deep into a story and maybe let them come up for air.
Sea of Sorrows
By Rick Douek
Art by Alex Cormack
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)