As if starting sixth grade wasn’t scary enough, Whit Garcia, a soft-spoken photographer, discovers that his new school houses more than just defective metal detectors and spooky run-down buildings. After reluctantly joining the yearbook club made up of the school’s other resident weirdos, Whit and his crew are thrown into the midst of a supernatural mystery as the ghosts of missing children start appearing. And yet, their presence seems more like a warning than a haunting, harbingering a sinister threat that seeks to add to its collection of specters. With his camera and friends in tow, Whit must confront his fears to get to the bottom of this investigation, even the ones that aren’t about ghosts and ghouls.
Fearbook Club, with its colorful and endearing cast of outcasts, tells a meaningful story about what it’s like to be stuck in a constant cloud of fear. Author Richard Hamilton taps into the familiar perils of tweenhood, whether it be struggling to fit in, experiencing bullying, or trying to survive in a world where metal detectors on campus and combination fire/tornado/school shooter drills have become the norm. Balancing these domestic threats with the more supernatural ones leads the story to provide an interesting conversation on how fear has an influence on how these situations are approached and resolved with varying results. The blasé and ultimately ineffective methods the school uses to combat the fear of its threats is a stark contrast to how Whit and his friends handle their paranormal ones, as they get to the root of what causes their fear rather than simply acknowledging it. This distinction leads to a timely and needed message on how kids can properly recognize and process what terrifies them, leading to a greater preparedness in facing them.
Though the story comes to a satisfying end, there are still aspects that come off somewhat underdeveloped or rushed. The comic has a steady pace until the last third, where a time skip leads a wonky, disrupted flow of events. A lot of off panel character development could have used focus to give a more well-rounded growth to the cast. That aside, Whit and his gang have a great collection of personalities that naturally bounce off of each other and form a tight bond over their shared weirdo status.
Artist Marco Matrone’s style thrives in this horrific setting, his use of dimmer colors and blurring effects in more suspenseful moments heightens the comic’s perfectly creepy atmosphere and overall gives a deeper feeling of unease. The designs of the ghosts are particularly inventive and frightening, their dark forms appear like they just walked out of the negative of a photograph. Even down to the character’s expressions, Matrone best utilizes each feature to convey the right amount of terror, concern, worry, as well as relief and contentment. For all the scarier moments of the comic, the art also brings out more emotion in its softer beats, as Whit and his friends sit under a bright pink sky at the end of a day where they have grown closer as friends, the mix of bright and dark hues more calming and comfortable than those seen before. It is a period of relief from the ominous presence that hangs over them while at school, and Malone graciously extends those feelings to the reader as well.
Those that are drawn to stories about a ragtag group of misfits going up against supernatural forces will no doubt fall in love with Fearbook Club. Think Ghostbusters meets Stranger Things with a Goosebumps vibe thrown in for good measure. While the comic has its fair share of scares, there is nothing overly disturbing that would unnerve seasoned horror lovers or those starting to dip their toes into the genre. The back of the comic states that it is intended for a young adult audience, but, due to its themes, setting, and moving afterward message from the author, I think it would appeal most to the middle school crowd or specifically kids ages 10-13. Librarians and educators who are interested in purchasing more horror titles, as well as those that exhibit impactful emotional storytelling, should consider purchasing this title.
By Richard Hamilton
Art by Marco Matrone
Seismic Press, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Korean-American