Horrere [available online]
B&W / £0.50
Review by Tom Mortimer
Laudanum is the tale of a man struggling to hold on to his sanity, after the recent death of his wife.
It is Victorian in setting, but writers Rob Jones and Michael Sambrook manage to avoid the usual pitfalls of playing with that era while retaining many of the charms. This does not mean it is a story devoid of tropes – there are a few elements here you’ll recognise – but everything is stripped back to basics, and there seems to be a real investment in setting the tone.
Artist Alisdair Wood navigates this challenge well, and his visuals really hold up to scrutiny. Part of the strength of the internal artwork is that the tonal layers effectively complement the black line work. Often I get frustrated when I come across a comic where the additions of the colourist add extra complication and conflict with the craft of the line. That’s not the case here. Alisdair has the tones cut down to a low range, for a bold but balanced chiaroscuro. There is a consistent smoothness in the absorption of his work. In a few places, the comic even carries a quality reminiscent of film – it’s not difficult to imagine certain frames as an adaptation of a Hammer Horror scene, for instance.
While it carries a silk-like delivery, the story itself is often erratic. There are leaps through time, and initially it can take the reader a moment to adjust. But this doesn’t throw you off – there is enough hook for investment, and these fluctuations weave together into a coherent whole. It makes sense – and is quite daring – as it doesn’t hand the reader everything on a plate.
Successfully negotiating the dangers of a Victorian tale, Laudanum also takes on the challenges of a horror comic. A question that often faces the genre is, is it actually scary? Here, as in general, I find the answer to be not particularly. Certainly not in the same way as a film. However – Laudanum should be celebrated for overcoming this shortcoming, it uses horror in comics in the way I’ve found most effective and admirable; the horror elements don’t necessarily have to induce genuine fear, but instead can provide a wider accessibility, as a framework, for an experimentation of what comics can do. Much as science fiction, it overcomes some of the alienation of more pretentious methods.
My one criticism is that the comic is let down by its cover. I found the ‘airbrushed’ approach wasn’t representative of the distinctive line work inside, and piles over or complicates some strong imagery. It’s a minor quibble, but with such bold artwork inside it’s a shame that the cover is not more indicative.
Ultimately, I really hope people make the effort to pick up Laudanum. It’s incredible value for the price, and I’m sure if you take a gamble with this it won’t be a decision that will come back to haunt you.