The sentient mansion of Graveneye is more introspective than haunted. It feels protective, fond, proud, and curious. But it tells us it does not feel remorse. The house tells the story of its beloved owner Isla. Even though Isla’s lifetime is only a quarter of its own, you get the impression that the house loves her best. No one understands Isla the way the house does. No one else hears her red voice and embraces her hunter nature. A new maid, Marie, is hired to care for the house and her timid presence pricks the interest of Isla and her home. We see her before we see Isla, a keyhole filled with bright red leads to the front door opening on its own. Marie’s entrance is marked by a bite from the house, the door’s strike plate cutting her hand open and spilling bright red drops across the greyscale panels. The relationship between Isla and Marie blooms slowly, keeping pace with Marie’s transformation from a woman curled inward by domestic abuse to one open to warmth and comfort. It’s impossible to resist being enchanted by the story, to feel the love of the house.
Even though the house is showing you Isla’s history. Even though you know Isla is foremost a hunter. Even though you know it’s a horror story, not a romance.
The writing is spellbinding. While the subject matter is very different from Leong’s award-winning YA sports story A Map to the Sun (to label it too broadly), there’s a similar sense of the story taking just as much time as it needs to be told. With a languorous pace and gothic flourishes, it meanders through the story, showing flashbacks of Isla’s life, her hunting trips in the surrounding woods, and even speculates at Marie’s terrible home life. The house uses imagery of trees and buildings in its narration: Isla has “skin that looked not unlike the lightning struck oak in the courtyard. She was as regal as a maple” and Marie is a “young spruce-white wisp of a girl”. It reads like a fairytale. Isla is a powerful, darkly flawed character. Leong doesn’t pull any punches, we see some of the most horrifying parts of Isla’s past early on, but she remains fascinating. Marie seems to believe she’s in a different kind of story. The contrast is jarring and almost as violent as the action.
Anna Bowles provides the art to Leong’s script. Unlike Leong’s kaleidoscope-hued A Map to the Sun, the grayscale pages of Graveneye are filled with the shades of a stormy sky. In flashes of blood and the copious gore, bright red pierces the gray. It also appears as an accent to intense emotional moments. The lines are sketchy and the backgrounds lush. The house’s finery and architecture looms large. At times the character faces can be indistinct and lacking the polish of other moments, though the various anatomical sections show a lot of skill. The art carries a heavy load, fleshing out the characters. Seeing the emotion flit across the faces of the women makes broad changes to the house’s words. Isla is first shown in a full page splash, standing bold and strong, her clothing lining every muscled curve and angle of her body, juxtaposed with Marie’s tense body broken up by jagged panels, in a messy sweater and sneakers. There are no dialog bubbles, the house rarely feels the need to tell us what the characters are saying. Its narration comes in neat boxes or floating freely on the page. Every visual element serves the mood and motion of the story, it joins the writing perfectly. For a story told entirely in voice over narration there is a delicately balanced ratio of text to page. This is an incredible graphic novel debut for Bowles and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Any adult library collection where horror comics circulate well should pick this up immediately. Its closest graphic novel relative is Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle, but horror classics like The Shining, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle also share a lot of DNA with it. In case the blood red cover and the woman with blood coating her chin and neck didn’t tell you, there’s a lot of gore and violence in Graveneye. There’s a scientific context surrounding it in the book that makes it feel less gratuitous, but it should still be noted for content and to keep this in the adult category. There is also a lot of female nudity, but no sex.
Open the cover to Graveneye, step into its welcoming halls, but be warned that this is a story that will linger in your mind long after the last page.
By Sloane Leong
Art by Anna Bowles
TKO Studios, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 15 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Chinese, Mexican, Native Hawaiian
Character Representation: Lesbian