The Horror Spreads – All-Star Collaboration Pixu: The Mark of Evil Is Back In Shops Today
Back in 2008, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Becky Cloonan, and Vasilis Lolos rocked San Diego Comic Con with the first part of a 2 part release of the horror anthology Pixu: The Mark of Evil (apparently pronounced pee-shu). The collaboration among friends followed on the success of a group project, 5, and arose from the desire for the group to work together again, bringing in a variety of approaches to horror, especially since 5 had won them an Eisner Award for Best Anthology that year. Later, in 2009, Dark Horse published a hardcover collection.
Today, the first softcover edition of Pixu appears in comic shops from Dark Horse, and reminds me of another edition–of Cloonan and Wood's work recently, the single edition DEMO. I mention this because Dark Horse seem to be making a habit of going through the previous couple of decades making sure work that was groundbreakingly indie at the time, but which has influenced the direction of current comics, stays in print in accessible editions. We need that degree of continuity for the medium and it's very forward thinking of them. Of course, the twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have an upcoming release at Dark Horse as well, the graphic novel Two Brothers, so it makes sense to bring this work forward at the same time and generate buzz for both.
Pixu takes the form of a slim, compact but solid collection including concept designs by all four creators. The collection is a functional size for the hands while remaining just large enough to make the artwork large enough to gawk at and get lost in. And that's what's going to happen reading this comic.
Comic fans may well be familiar with the idea of the "exquisite corpse" comic where various creators work on parts of a story and then hand it off to the next person, with no preconceived final point the story must reach to conclude, usually. Pixu has many of those traits, but it dwells on certain aspects of horror and the "set up" is clearly in place of environment: a specific apartment house, characters: those living in the apartment house, and focus: the spreading, haunting evil of indeterminate origin that everyone in their own way seems aware of.
When you consider the team on this book is international, they do something really interesting to the reading experience for me by blending together traits of different locations visually so the story seems to happen in its own place and time. In some ways the characters, too, are "modern", in some ways timeless. There's a young couple having extreme fights and relationship issues, there's a grandfather raising his lonely granddaughter, there's a painter who has been mourning the departure of his wife as he faces late middle age. All of that's important, but the story and their lives are also deeply invaded by dread. The sense of movement, of encroaching evil, is the operative factor in the book.
One thing I loved about this book, among several features, was the fact that in horror stories that contain extreme violence (and this one has its moments), usually the characters seem helpless or powerless and also ignorant of what's going on. That state of being does almost nothing for character development–they become mere objects for violence to act against in a spectacle. Here, each character perceives the encroaching "mark of evil" a little differently, and in a couple of cases are self-aware enough to try to protect themselves against it. That scrabbling attempt is very revealing of character and satisfying. Notably, we see characters trying to protect purely themselves and not others, which poses the possibility of communal collapse as people stay isolated and don't realize they will rise and fall with their ecosystem of sorts.
That's some analysis for you, but let me assure you, this book is absolutely terrifying. I think one of the reasons is because it's a psychological version of an "exquisite corpse" comic. Even though some elements of character and plot may be predetermined (probably by the collaborative group), the way in which characters get there is left open for exploration by the creators. And that creates unconscious leaps and associations that are far more disturbing than a lot of conscious control of plot might have generated.
Pixu is the stuff of nightmares while preserving that sense that there's something very human going on here that might be just as horrifying as the creeping evil at work. It's an indie masterpiece and it's a great thing that it's coming back to shops this week.
Pixu: The Mark of Evil softcover arrives in shops today, September 9th.