When you’re a child the adult world can seem a nonsensical, mystifying environment, full of arbitrary rules and baffling contradictions. But what if, in your family unit, you’re not only the youngest member but also the sanest? That’s the predicament that ten-year-old Dylan Sandifer finds herself in within the pages of Christopher Sebela and Shawn McManus’s new miniseries House Amok, another weirdly entrancing book from Shelly Bond’s Black Crown imprint at IDW Publishing,
This intensely paced first issue throws us directly into the action with the Sandifer family as they embark on a road trip seeking answers; a cross-country odyssey that acts as the book’s central driving force. Their kidnapping of a gas station attendant and his subsequent fate at their hands immediately underlines the family’s apparently paranoid and delusional interactions with 21st century life. But are they really deranged conspiracy theorists? Or is there something to their belief that existence is being altered by the mysterious Reality Adjusters?
Flashing back to family life in the family household we’re introduced in greater depth to the Sandifer parents, son Tyler and twins Dylan and Ollie. Dylan acts as our point of reference to this world, narrating with a peculiarly adult voice (which may in itself be a plot point in future issues) and inviting us to see her odd clan through her eyes. It’s a cast of characters who, intriguingly, evoke contradictory emotional reactions from us as an audience. Sebela portrays them as loving and tight-knit but also as indulging in sibling rivalries and petty squabbles that give their realisation an added authenticity. Our unlikely sympathy for this quintet is in obvious direct contrast to their violent activities.
As the story progresses the reader begins to question just whose truth can be trusted on multiple layers. This is not simply restricted to the perspective of the characters but also becomes a narrative issue as we are kept guessing as to which events are being seen from our “objective” viewpoint and which are the characters’ perceptions. A stop-off at a remote point to investigate a point in space and time where reality is fractured implies something distinctly otherworldly. But Dylan’s thoughts imply other levels to the enigma…
House Amok asks for a more involved interpretive relationship between reader and page but that necessary extra investment also gives the readership a deeper connection with the characters. Shawn McManus’s art emphasises the duality at the heart of the book’s characterisation, with his fluid and appealing line making the innocuous seem sinister and creating an atmosphere that is therefore all the more disarming than, ironically, a more realistic and gritty style would provide. His tight panelled pages mirror the claustrophobic tension of the story with Lee Loughridge’s largely muted colouring also adding to the brooding overtones of the book.
For a comic so oblique in its narrative veracity this is, bizarrely, perhaps the most relatable of the Black Crown offerings so far. A creepy, detached thriller with an unpredictable forward momentum that looks set to continue to tease and surprise us in the months to come.
Christopher Sebela (W), Shawn McManus (A), Lee Loughridge (C), Aditya Bidikar (L) • IDW Publishing/Black Crown, $3.99
Review by Andy Oliver