As countless movies, shows, biographies, and behind-the-scenes documentaries have shown us, being famous is a double-edged sword. Fame puts people on pedestals, but that just means those on pedestals can’t reach anyone down below. Yet no matter how much the so-called dark side of fame is covered, people still crave celebrity and social media has made it more accessible than ever. Another bit of media that deserves a dark-side-of-celebrity tag is Parasocial. Written by Alex De Campi and illustrated by Erica Henderson, Parasocial is a new take on the well-known trope of obsession turned dangerous.
This story’s object of obsession is Luke Indiana, a star whose brightness has considerably waned. Once the breakout star of a sci-fi show, he now makes his money traveling the convention circuit while also soaking up his fans’ adoration (of course, he’s also staying safe during the pandemic). At one convention, Luke runs into his biggest fan, then runs into her again when he’s stranded out on a desert road. Lily’s Good Samaritan act is the perfect opportunity for her to capture Luke and bring him to her trailer, where celebrity and stalker engage in a battle of wits and wills that just might darken Luke’s star permanently.
A lot of people might compare this story to Stephen King’s Misery, but compared to King’s gradual horror, De Campi’s story is like riding a bullet train. Within the confines of this single graphic novel, De Campi reveals Luke’s backstory, that of an actor whose focus on himself is to the detriment of those around him, and then takes off with Luke’s abduction and attempts to escape. Luke might be a shallow, narcissistic actor, but readers will root for his escape as he learns to dig deep within himself. Lily is not a monster like Misery’s Annie Wilkes; she simply wants Luke to reciprocate her feelings for him. The dichotomy of the two characters actually highlights their symmetries and makes their dialogue intriguing.
What helps move this story along at a frenetic pace is Henderson’s artwork. The contrast between the fine-boned, strikingly handsome features of Luke and the more realistic yet average appearance of Lily shows through images which side of the fan/celebrity spectrum both fall even before De Campi’s story starts scratching their individual surfaces. The standout of Henderson’s artwork, however, is when she evokes social media. Whether it’s through text messages or Instagram posts, these panels keep the story moving without getting bogged down by exposition while also exploring the boundary between the persona social media sees and the reality.
This book is a self-contained story that doesn’t go across multiple volumes, which might be appealing to those looking for a quick, exciting read. Adults who love graphic novels, a good thriller, and a story that doesn’t demand too much of their time should savor this surprisingly filling story.
By Alex De Campi
Art by Erica Henderson
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)