SEA OF SORROWS
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Writer: Rich Douek
Illustrator: Alex Cormack
Letterer: Justin Birch
WHAT IS IT?
Imagine there’s a literal boatload of treasure at the bottom of the ocean and it’s all within your grasp.
Now imagine you're stuck on a ship with a bunch of mistrustful, mercenary ne'er-do-wells in the middle of said ocean, and there's an overly-enthusiastic man egging you on to untold riches – or certain death.
Think John Carpenter meets Seabury Quinn, and you're a quarter of the way there.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Douek, Cormack and Birch just wrapped their second jaunt into historical horror with this brutal five-issue mini, and some further rumination on greed and survival.
This time, it's 1926 and the eerie lull between World Wars lures some profiteers to an alleged boatload of sunken gold, with devastating consequences. We’ve got a ragtag (and hostile) crew, some war trauma, a big expanse of treacherous ocean and a mysterious, violent entity that’s claimed two men, and will likely claim more.
Oh, and a personalized Pied Piper for everyone's delight and certain doom.
Horror requires mood, and mood is hard to build in comics when our eye can move pretty much anywhere on the page at any point. Douek and Cormack do a great job establishing a tense atmosphere with a slow pace, world-building conversation and a whole lot of black in the first three issues, and issues #4-5 really get to kick over the block tower for some satisfying visceral payoff.
Douek balances a large (for the space) cast and has to craft tight dialogue to keep the plot moving in the first few issues. We need to understand who people are, but we also need to maintain our sense of tension and confinement as the monster starts stalking the crew – and that requires less monologuing and more serviceable set-pieces that don't feel like scaffolding. We get enough to determine who's got beef, who's got trauma and who's got a bit of craziness that'll likely play out in really bad ways down the line. It's a very hard balance to hit, and Douek knows when to sit back and let Cormack's art do the storytelling.
Cormack’s art is evocative, with a precise line, diagonal shading and texture, and a boatload of shadow. There's deep shadow above and underwater, and the final issues draw us out of the mystery and into good old-fashioned gore. The siren is a stellar reveal in issue #5 – as is the Kraken – and Cormack does a lot of work to force perspective and maintain claustrophobia throughout the series so when the ocean opens up again and the monsters rise, we're desperate for a break. We don't get it, in the best possible way.
Cormack also gets creative with the color palette in Sea of Sorrows, and draws color through these first two issues in some interesting ways. The flare of a cigarette cherry bathes a character’s face in the same gold as the bar in the previous scene, and there’s some nice transition work on a page turn with a flare shot into a night sky that precludes a different kind of red. The final issue carries that gold motif to its sinister conclusion, and there's a lovely glow on the bar that ups the utter horror and unreality of the book's denouement.
Issue #5 treats us to a lovely small-panel montage of the utter carnage and destruction that was inevitable, but no less horrifying in execution. Cormack's excellent blood splatters dominate, while the few panels without the gristle pop because of their pauses.
We have a large cast, and Cormack breaks early conversations up with background washes that are appropriate for each locale (on deck at sunset, in the orange-lit galley.) We’re on the hunt for color in all of this blackness, thematically and literally, and Cormack does not disappoint. We definitely get it in later issues, and issue #5 goes deep on blood, a neat little gas effect and more above-ocean sky space. It's a clever choice that brings the full force of the monster to bear in what is, essentially, broad daylight.
Birch keeps everything readable and ticking along with a deceptively simple font. Gs, Os and As sport some nice little tweaky details, and the font gives Birch room to add some splashy bursts and keep things period-appropriate when necessary. The balloons have a nice stroke to complement Cormack’s line, too. There's plenty of gross sound effects throughout, and they get larger and poppier as we head toward the end.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Cormack favors an almost negative style for some of the underwater scenes, and it can be difficult to orient characters occasionally. The high points are there, but there might be too much intentional obscuring of the ship and submarine structures. We sometimes have to hunt to orient ourselves a little too often to support the eerie stillness or quiet dread the team goes for.
Birch accents some of the balloons with air bubbles for the underwater scenes, and some of the bubble outlines intersect the letters. It’s a very small quibble and the intent is likely to obscure, but that obscuring can break the book’s reality for a second.
If you're looking for a slash-fest right out of the gate, you're going to want to temper your expectations and buckle in for a nasty and well-paced horror mini. It pays off. Trust me.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you’re a fan of Road of Bones and you want to see what else this creative team has up their sleeve, this book’s a must-read. If you like John Carpenter’s The Thing and feel like horror’s not horror unless a bunch of people are crammed into a bottle and hunted to the ends of their sanity and patience for each other (and life,) this book is for you.
Douek, Cormack and Birch uphold the fine pulp storytelling tradition of quick jaunts into high drama and very grim territory, so if you're a fan of horror in general, this book's definitely for you.
Sea of Sorrows promises a good story and ultimately delivers on the high spots it wants to hit, and the interpersonal drama and self-reflection we need from a horror study.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Gutter Magic by Rich Douek & Brett Barkley
Sub-Mariner: The Depths by Peter Milligan & Esad Ribić
The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus & Chris Shehan
If you like the art:
Road of Bones by Rich Douek & Alex Cormack
Sink by John Lees & Alex Cormack
Black Badge by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Rich Douek (@rdouek) – Writer
Dream Team: all three members of this creative team made Road of Bones last year - a dark mini set in a Russian gulag
Rich’s forays into horror are netting comics fans some grisly and unique material. Stay tuned.
Alex Cormack (@AlexCormack4) – Artist
Cormac’s work on Sink and Road of Bones cemented his chops as a distinctive horror artist.
You can take a peek at what he’s dreaming up on Patreon.
Justsin Birch (@JustinBirch) – Letterer
Name Recognition: Lettering aficionados take note - Birch has a Ringo award nomination under his belt and has worked for everyone from DC to Vault.
He’s also a member of the AndWorld Design lettering studio.
WHERE DO I BUY IT?
In TPB form on September 22!
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