[*Mild Spoilers for Providence #1 below! If you really want to know nothing that happens in the comic, stop now.]
Nothing overtly horrific happens in the first issue Providence, the new monthly comic from Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, out this week. I mean, not in the sense that you might expect from a horror comic based on the life and work of HP Lovecraft. Not in the first issue.
Instead it's all in the choice of detail and moment. Pairing the two who gave us the deep nastiness of Neonomicon means that at every point I am expecting something awful. And I don't get it.
There is suicide, yes. But it happens off screen. We see a literal "Dear John" letter being ripped in two, but instead of paper, my mind sees flesh. The suicide happens in the very real and horrifically appropriate Exit Gardens in New York. And as the lead character Robert walks the street of New York, I am constantly left with the feeling that he is being watched. And then I realise he is, by me. I have been made complicit in this activity by Moore and Burrows and frankly my skin starts to crawl. This comic takes all the comic book reading conventions from which I usually take in a story and uses them to freak me out. What DC Comics tried to do in the text of Multiversity, Providence does by just… being.
I wish I could explain it better. It angers me that I feel I'm not able to. There are some points I could point to, the shadow of the tree reaching across the building Robert enters into, the steam on his breath in the cold room, or the patterns on the wallpaper, but frankly I can't. Maybe it's the use of framing, the cold soullessness of the walk across town portrayed in mid shot, but nothing that I can actually put my finger on. I just feel creeped out by reading this story and I can't come up with any explanation that truly satisfies myself.
It's one thing to be affected by a comic. It's another to not actually be sure why.
Could it be that there are a lot of foreground legs and arms cut by the panel, so the identity of the owner is unknown, suggesting disembodiment and amputation? Maybe. I just don't know. Could it be a similarity of scenes to the emptiness of the paintings of Edward Hopper? Possibly. But I couldn't guarantee it.
It doesn't help that this kind of influence plays a large part in the story. The idea of a book that can send people mad, can drive people to suicide just by reading it. And the very earliest ideas of a book that might have influenced Lovecraft to concoct the Necronomicon. Their very existence and the act of reading having a influence that is far greater than the sum of its parts. And, oh yes, The King In Yellow by Robert Chambers, which refers to a play that was meant to inspire madness. Some may see that as revenge against True Detective stealing Moore's scene from Top 10 for its finale – but this script was written years before True Detective was filmed. Another one for the conspiracy theorists.
I'm going to hide now.