GraveneyeThe 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
ISBN: 9781952203176

Publisher Age Rating: 15 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Chinese, Mexican,  Native Hawaiian
Character Representation: Lesbian


Noah went to jail for six years after an opioid raid went wrong. A free man once again in 2012, he returns to his hometown of Redfork, West Virginia to find his family fractured and neighborhood on economic life support. The coal mine keeps some people working, but a curiously magnanimous figure has emerged from its depths by the name of Mr. Gallowglass. He seems to have a magical cure for all physical conditions, from lupus to asthma, but at what price? As Redfork falls under the sway of mining executives and a magical panacea, will Noah’s family be able to resist their allure at all?

Redfork is about a dying town full of dying people, with no hope in sight. Noah’s back from jail and seemingly ready to make amends with his family, but he’s still a violent drunk. Unity, with whom Noah has a daughter, Harper, has visible needle marks and is wasting away. His father is on life support while his mother is spiteful toward Unity and Harper. His brother, Cody, holds down a job and puts on a happy face to support everyone, but that only draws more pettiness between the family. The town itself is depressed, stuck between striking against the coal mine’s continuing accidents and taking a paycheck anyway for lack of other opportunities. The story weaves these different interests pretty well, perhaps wrapping up a little too quickly at the end, but otherwise builds a compelling cast from an all-white town with one black doctor.

Nil Vendrell’s layouts make creative use of panels. In one instance, a page of wide panels showing a truck driving through town is flanked in the side gutters by people standing on the sidewalks. In another instance, Noah and his ex flick cigarettes into a sinkhole in the center of the page from panels taking place all around it. Giulia Brusco’s colors are most effective when there’s a light flickering in the darkness, as when a character monologues from inside a cave-in and when a seemingly magical cure-all object called “snow coal” glows pale lavender.

There’s also plenty of violence and gore, in case the infested roadkill on the cover wasn’t indication enough. Noah is off pain pills, but he still enjoys getting wasted and fighting out his problems. That’s on the lower end of the book’s horrific violence scale, which includes vomiting up massive tumors, melted faces, exposed bones and organs, gunshot wounds, and mutated cannibalism that would fit a Resident Evil comic. Between the carnage, swearing, alcohol, and implied drug use, this title belongs in the adult section and should appeal to fans of small-town horror.

Redfork is another notch in the catalog of TKO Studios, a recent publisher specializing in one-volume genre fiction comics published in multiple simultaneous editions. Their trade paperbacks are most likely to be compatible with libraries’ collections, at an inch or so taller than DC and Marvel trades. A cover gallery for the individual chapters is included at the end.

By Alex Paknadel
Art by Nil Vendrell
TKO Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781952203091
Publisher Age Rating:  (17+)

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)