Josh Simmons creates deeply disturbed, deeply disturbing comics. This collection of short horror stories deals with themes of rape, incest, monsters, insanity and extreme violence. It’s grim reading. You can’t really talk about it in terms of being ‘enjoyed’ in the traditional sense. It has an unputdownable curiosity value, as you wonder how it could possibly get any worse, but the pitch-black dark fantasy doesn’t get any easier to read as you progress through the book.
The first story is a fantasy pastiche. As two elves frolick through the woods, they stumble into enemy territory, and are soon confronted by an evil wizard and his foul-mouthed dragon. I won’t spoil the twist (and there is one – the stories are all competent and well constructed) but it rapidly descends into a bloody, horrific rape scene that’s been turned up to 11 on the gratuitous scale.
It doesn’t get any better. Characters and situations are expertly built-up, only to see them come to horrific, humiliating ends. Either that or they’re flipped, and the hero becomes the monster, inflicting the horror on others.
The illustration is accomplished too, with a naturally unsophisticated style that jars with the grim imagery it depicts. It’s powerful stuff, but you can’t help but wonder whether Simmons could create something truly amazing if he was prepared to ease off on pushing so far beyond the boundaries of acceptable taste. Of course, if you’re into this kind of horror, feel free: we suspect there’s stuff in here that might make the most desensitised shock-seeker wince.