If there was a list of rules for what not to do in a horror story, there would be a rule about not using a magical or cursed item, especially one that grants wishes (in such a list, that particular rule would be in the top twenty). To see why this is an important rule, read W. W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw” or simply think back to any story that involves wishes magically granted and see how well that works out for someone. Writer David M. Booher looks at the dangers of wishing through glasses colored with ‘80s nostalgia in his latest graphic collection Specs, which is illustrated by Chris Shehan.
In 1987, best friends Kenny and Ted were outcasts in their small Ohio town, but they could be outcasts together. Both were dreaming of a way out of their small town when Kenny receives a special pair of x-ray specs, which allows their wearer to wish for virtually anything. They both enjoy the sudden power they have until Kenny wishes for their bully to disappear. This poorly conceived wish leads to circumstances that threaten to pull the boys apart while giving the specs more opportunities for people to make terrible wishes.
The heart of Booher’s tale isn’t the evil x-ray specs but the relationship between the two protagonists and what makes them outcast. Kenny is struggling with how to come out to everyone, including his best friend Ted, and Ted, the only black kid attending their school who constantly faces the town’s prejudiced views. Having the wish-granting specs doesn’t help that situation, either; in fact, it only makes it worse. One moral of this story is the old adage about being careful what you wish for, but what Kenny and Ted learn through their own individual experiences helps this book stand out from other “bad wish” stories.
The x-ray specs, however, decide the overall tone of the book, along with Shehan’s artwork. Much of the composition and design choices are aesthetically similar to horror comics of earlier decades but in particular to Creepshow, an anthology comic series that had a resurgence thanks to the Creepshow movie by Stephen King and George Romero. The faces are realistic, especially when they are horrified, and the dead things in this book, of which there are a few, do indeed look dead. However, those expecting the violence of a Creepshow might be surprised. There are ghosts and there is the tiniest amount of blood, but there is actually little violence in this book. The scares it does provide are from the creepy atmosphere and the banal evil of the townspeople. Horror graphic novels might find their way into the adult collection but this title definitely skews young adult because of its protagonists and because of the issues the still-relevant social ills it discusses that don’t involve wish-granting specs.
Specs By David M. Booher Art by Chris Shehan BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684159185
Publisher Age Rating: 13 years and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Gay, Character Representation: Gay,
Whenever a movie adaptation of a popular book comes out, some people will bombard their social media with angry posts proclaiming that this movie will fall way short of the book’s genius. It’s a popular and well-worn refrain to say that the book is always better than the movie and people could spend all day compiling examples that prove the validity of this statement, but is the same true for the visual medium of graphic novels? Graphic novels tell a story visually, just as a movie does, through the use of comic panels and word balloons, and may sometimes even utilize sound effects like POW!, but is the retelling of a story through a visual medium automatically a lesser representation of the original work? The graphic novel adaptation of Joe Hill’s Rain, adapted by writer David M. Booher and illustrated by Zoe Thorogood is evidence to the contrary.
People who have read Joe Hill’s novella are familiar with the premise: One day, instead of water droplets falling from the sky, needle-like crystalline shards descend from the clouds, shredding any living thing that isn’t under cover. This day was supposed to be the best day of Honeysuckle Speck’s life, the day she moved in with her girlfriend Yolanda, but the rain came and punctured her happily ever after. After surviving the storm and burying her girlfriend, Honeysuckle goes on a quest that takes her outside of the city and under a sky that could any minute rain death upon her.
Joe Hill’s original story does what great apocalypse stories do best: it makes clear the always-present danger of this new status quo while showing moments of humanity from its characters. Honeysuckle has already had so much taken away from her that she makes the perfect protagonist that could survive a rain of crystal nails. Booher’s story doesn’t miss any of these fundamentals that made the original work. There seem to be some changes here and there, but they also weren’t drastic enough to change the story’s overall tone and conflict.
Does adding artwork to Hill’s tale add or subtract to what the original created? It’s one thing for Hill to describe with text what a rain of crystal nails would do to a human body, but Thorogood’s artwork shows how one can be visceral even without a slaughterhouse’s worth of blood. In apocalyptic television shows and movies like I am Legend and The Walking Dead, images of life after that apocalyptic event serve to constantly remind the viewer that the reliably civilized world these characters have occupied for a majority of their lives no longer exists, and Thorogood’s artwork is a constant reminder that every moment for Honeysuckle Speck and the other people occupying this universe is a fight to survive.
It’s possible that Joe Hill-written graphic novels like Locke & Key and Basketful of Heads are already in a library’s collection, and this book could fit right alongside it, as well as find its way into a collection on its own merit. By reimagining Joe Hill’s story for a new medium, Booher and Thorogood not only create a harrowing, heartfelt apocalyptic tale; they have also created an example of how telling a story through a visual medium doesn’t diminish it.
Joe Hill’s Rain By David M. Booher Art by Zoe Thorogood Abrams, 2022 ISBN: 9781534322691
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Gay, Character Representation: Lesbian,