HOUSE OF SWEETS
Writer: Fraser Campbell
Art: Iain Laurie
Publisher: Cabal Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A surreal tale of two people descending into madness in the middle of the woods.
Both Shakespearean and Lynchian at heart, it's a poetic tale of horror for fans of art-house films and media.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Hans and Retha are wandering the woods. They tease each other, but they also seem to be on the same team, two people who care about each other and are often simpatico.
Retha seems to be recovering from a break-up, while Hans is there to write – he's on a deadline, but his writer's block is giving him trouble.
They settle at a cabin they stayed at in their youth. But when Retha's trips into the woods get more bizarre and Hans wakes up with no memory of the pages he's written, things quickly begin to spiral out of control.
If you've read other Campbell/Laurie comics before, you know you're gonna get a surreal mind$&*# of the highest quality. If you haven't, well, now you know what you're getting into.
Every aspect of House of Sweets is unsettling. It reminded me of watching Mother!, how throughout the film, I felt more and more uncomfortable as the narrative become more unhinged. I should note that I liked this story much more. But from the tense, situational build-up of insanity to the crow spinning rhyming riddles made up of crazed nothings, to the detached way our characters speak to one another, the horrible sense of foreboding is almost too much to bear by the end of the story. Almost.
Letterer Colin Bell uses captions instead of balloons to achieve that effect of detachment between characters. From each other. From the world around them.
Bell's typeface also helps drive home that unhinged vibe in the comic. It's messy, with capitals and lowercases mixed throughout and, though it's a set typeface, the letters look hand-scrawled. I also particularly enjoyed his blurry balloon effect, shown below.
Trees are a recurring theme throughout. They seem tall, dense, ready to swallow our characters up or hide things from them. We also see treelike or plant-inspired, brambly panels tied to the surreal moments in the comic. It's especially creepy when Hans's eyes look like branches, or like the pages he'd unconsciously written. It makes you think about how the eyes are the windows to our souls and what that means for Hans. Also, it makes you wonder why Retha's eyes don't do that.
Phen they're not brambly, panel borders are textured to fit with the art and environment or to make the tone of the story within the story creepier. They’re always wavy, and it makes you question what’s real, elevating the feeling of madness.
David B. Cooper's colors, along with panel borders, help differentiate between scenes, as well as the real world or present-day and the past or scenes from Hans's story. They also help make an already creepy story that much more unsettling.
There's a scene with papers and pages falling around Hans like autumn leaves, and it is reminiscent of the surrealist film, Brazil, in the best way.
As soon as you finish reading House of Sweets, you'll likely want to read it again. In fact, I recommend you do so.
So many fangs.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
If you're not into psychological horror or art-house style stories, you might have some trouble getting into this one.
The surreal bits aren't easily translatable or telegraphic, which may be frustrating to readers who like to easily interpret art or feel like they understand the creators' intentions. The poem in the story, for example, is creepy as all hell, but it's difficult to tell if it means something specific to the story and we need to decipher it or if the lines are intended to be nonsensical madness. Some of the imagery could fall into this same issue.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
House of Sweets is unsettling, beautiful and terrifying. It's Fraser Campbell and Iain Laurie at their best, and David B. Cooper's colors and Colin Bell on letters are the icing on top of this creepy cake.
If it were a film, I'd buy the Criterion Collection edition. Like a fine piece of art, it's an experience that, though it may make you feel uncomfortable, you can't help but be awestruck as you take it all in.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Alex Automatic by Fraser Campbell & James Corcoran
Coffin Bound by Dan Watters & Dani
Frank at Home on the Farm by Jordan Thomas & Clark Bint
If you like the art:
The Edge Off by Fraser Campbell & Iain Laurie
And Then Emily Was Gone by John Lees & Iain Laurie
Moon Knight, Vol. 3 by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Fraser Campbell – Writer
Multitalented: Has a background in comedy, writing for radio, and co-writing and co-directing plays
Outlander: Hails from Scotland
Iain Laurie – Illustrator
Also posts art on his Twitter that's dark and dreamlike, always accompanied by a short story laid out like a twisted poem
Outlander: Also from Scotland
David B. Cooper – Colorist
Multitalented: Also a cartoonist
Outlander: Lives in Glasgow, Scotland
Dream Team: Also worked with Fraser Campbell on Alex Automatic
Colin Bell – Letterer
Multitalented: Has also written a couple comics, one of which (Dungeon Fun) won a SICBA award
Outlander: Lives in Scotland
Dream Team: This entire team worked together on The Edge Off
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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