Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.
Cullen Bunn’s hunted house story takes a new horrific twist as the secrets of the secluded house are revealed in Cold Spots #4. The horror comic, published by Image Comics and created by Cullen Bunn and artist Mark Torres, has a classic horror movie feel and creates an atmosphere of tension akin to the first half of the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.
In this chapter the Quarrels, creepy homeowners, lead Grace, Sixth Sense type child, down into the heart of the house where they expect her to talk to the beast from below. They have been preparing the girl for precisely this moment, but the sudden arrival of Grace’s father has expedited things.
Meanwhile, Dan, Grace’s father, has not been dissuaded from trying to take his daughter away, despite the attempt on his life. He re-enters the house, weapon in hand, but is he going to make it in time?
Cullen Bunn has written an old-school horror story based on creepy atmospheres and unsettling scenes. This has more in common with the 1963 film The Haunting than it does with the 1999 remake. There is no reliance on over the top violence to provide the scares. Instead, Bunn adopts a much subtler approach. The ghosts are apparitions, they are in the background, only to be seen out of the corner of your eye.
This uncomfortable atmosphere is brilliantly rendered by artist Mark Torres who uses unbalanced compositions and water coloured backgrounds to give the setting an unearthly feel. The characters are unstable in their surroundings, so the reader doesn’t get a sense of safety.
There is a bold use of black throughout, creeping into the panels or highlighting characters. It’s like the approaching evil, slowly taking over the house and then the town. It creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that is closing in on the central characters, enveloping them and trapping them in the house. The only character that doesn’t seem affected by this darkness is Grace who Torres always illustrates with a lightness, an ethereal glow which reflects her innocence but also her, so far, understated power.
Torres uses a lot of detail and shadow work for most of his characters, helping them to emote, but with Grace, he uses simple, fine lines and a minimal amount of detail. This is to separate and distance her from everyone else because she is something special, different from her family and the Quarrels. This issue starts to deal with that difference, and Bunn slowly twists the reader’s expectation of what that difference is.
Simon Bowland’s lettering emphasises essential story elements and reminds the reader how dire the situation appears to be. This issue is about building tension from the very beginning, and Bowland makes sure that speech follows the right beats so that the narrative doesn’t peak to soon or fall flat. He breaks up text within panels, producing a sequence of linked speech balloons that forces breaks between each sentence, controlling the speed at which the reader moves through the boards, and on through the pages. This slows the reading down and allows the tension to build in the narrative.
Cold Spots is a slow-building, creepy horror tale. It is reminiscent of the work Ray Fawkes in design and execution. The emphasis on atmosphere over scare tactics makes it a more thoughtful read and gets under your skin. The final few pages are wonderfully designed and are a perfect ghost story sequence. However, as with all excellent horror stories, Cold Spots is about a family in trouble, and it is that aspect of the comic that will make the reader come back month after the month.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. He has a much underused Twitter account: @DarryllRobson, and his website comiccutdown.com where he writes more about comics.
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