The publishing history of Sam Alden‘s Haunter to date is a convoluted one. The print version of the comic first came out in 2014 from Study Group Comics via a Kickstarter campaign, although its original audience was online when it was published as a webcomic on the Study Group site in 2013. This month the book was solicited in the February issue of Previews (code FEB150912) meaning, hopefully, that a far wider audience will get the opportunity to sample it in physical fomat. After all, no less a luminary than Jeff Smith has said of Haunter, “It’s impossible to start the thing and not keep reading it. It really flows.”
The story was Alden’s first longer comics narrative and Smith’s inclusion of a portion of it in the The Best American Comics 2013 volume signifies just what a remarkable piece of pure panel-to-panel comics storytelling this is.
In a strange, seemingly otherworldly terrain a young huntress discovers a forbidding temple-like building carved into a bank within the forest in which she is pursuing her prey. Making her way into this eerie structure she finds a network of passages and catacombs filled with arcane sculptures and odd artefacts that represent the remnants of a long forgotten era. Her curiosity will not come without a price, however, as deep within this near cavernous stone maze she will awaken something monstrous, something best left undisturbed, and the hunter will in turn discover what it is like to become the hunted…
While superficially the plot of Haunter is a slight one, its thematic depths are far more profound. There’s something very Decadence Comics here. Indeed, I was immediately reminded of elements of Lando’s strips for Decadence (see my review of his Gardens of Glass from Breakdown Press last week in this column here). There’s that same suggestion of humanity’s irrelevance in a world that has left it behind and similar echoes of a society that may have collapsed under the weight of its own moral indolence, especially in light of some familiar artefacts within the tunnel complex the huntress finds herself in.
But what distinguishes Haunter as a truly masterful piece of comics storytelling is that sense of image-to-image motion within the main chase sequence. Alden presents a pursuit of breakneck speed through claustrophobic shafts, flooded passageways, imposing stairways and out into the wooded environs, as the obstinate creature – whose grotesque appearance in itself may or may not have symbolic overtones – continues to relentlessly bear down on its prey.
What is so memorable here is not just Alden’s exquisite pacing – although it’s exemplary… pure sequential art poetry – or even his use of perspective to accentuate the strip’s sense of motion and the immediacy of surroundings. The most vital thing the reader will take from Haunter is how rapidly they are pulled into the huntress’s mindset, as they follow her desperate, frenetic attempts to evade the malevolent force hot on her heels.
It’s an immersive, adrenaline rush of a comics experience with Alden’s skill at pulling the audience into the narrative ensuring that the protagonist and the reader share an almost symbiotic sense of frantic panic throughout the cat-and-mouse game between central character and monstrous temple guardian.
The last few pages of the story see Alden manipulating a sense of time on the comics page to create an altogether different emotional tone. Together with his use of vibrant – borderline psychedelic – ink washed coloring to evoke a sense of the alien and the other, this is an eerily atmospheric affair. A frenzied but flowing piece of tense drama, Haunter underlines just why Sam Alden’s star continues to rise with such brilliance on the US indie comics scene.
For more on the work of Sam Alden visit his site here. You can read the story on the Study Group Comics site (part 1 here and part 2 here) or buy a print copy from their webstore here priced $15.00. Haunter was solicited in the February issue of Previews and can be pre-ordered (code FEB150912).
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