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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The Nightmare Factory"

If you’ve been following Fantasy Book Critic for a little while, then you might know that I am a fan and supporter of comic books. Up to this point, I haven’t actually reviewed any comic books, but when I recently received a graphic novel from HarperCollins, I decided to make an exception.

So what is a graphic novel? Basically, it’s a format that uses a combination of writing & artwork to tell a story, or in more general terms, it’s a comic book, but longer and usually self-contained, although short-story anthologies and collections of previously published issues of a comic book series also apply. To me, it’s basically a comic book wrapped up in better packaging. So why start reviewing them now? I may be mistaken, but it seems like more and more book publishers are starting to accept the graphic novel as a legitimate form of literature. For instance, you have HarperCollins publishing the graphic novel that I’ll be reviewing shortly, Hachette Book Group USA who recently launched their
graphic novel/manga imprint Yen Press and have a graphic novel called “Shooting War” that is coming out in November, and Del Rey whose upcoming graphic novels include original stories based on Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas. In short, I believe the graphic novel is only going to grow in popularity, not counting the already successful Manga properties out there, and I think you’ll be seeing a lot more graphic novels produced in the years to come, especially as more publishers & creators get into the game…

Returning to the topic at hand, “The Nightmare Factory” is the third release from the Fox Atomic Comics / HarperCollins partnership that began in July 2006, and features adaptations of four stories from award-winning horror writer Thomas Ligotti:

The Last Feast of Harlequin”. Written by Stuart Moore—novelist/comic book writer (Firestorm, Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist). Art by Colleen Doran (The Sandman, The Book of Lost Souls). Basically, what starts out as an anthropologist’s curiosity for a town’s local traditions, becomes something much darker involving cults, sacrifice and metamorphosis. Of the four stories, I thought this one was the weakest, because it was kind of slow-moving, but the Lovecraftian payoff at the end was nice :)

Dream of a Mannikin”. Written by Stuart Moore. Art by Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell, Hatter M). This story revolves around a psychiatrist, his patient, and her dreams which represent mannequins in either a literal or metaphorical sense… The shortest of the four, this strange little tale had my head spinning and Mr. Templesmith’s artwork, as usual, is quite stylish.

Dr. Locrian’s Asylum”. Written by Joe Harris—filmmaker/comic book writer whose credits include “Darkness Falls”, “Tooth Fairy”, “The Tripper” and Spider-Man/X-Men comics. Art by Ted McKeever (DC’s Elseworlds, The Matrix Comics). Featuring a sanitarium and its dark legacy, a town faces madness and destruction when they decide to remove a remnant of their past… Fast-paced and intriguing, backed by haunting artwork, “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum” only stumbles at the end, where events felt a bit rushed and too ambiguous even for my tastes.

Teatro Grottesco”. Written by Joe Harris. Art by Michael Gaydos (Alias/The Pulse, Snakewoman). Probably the most bizarre of the four, the plot has something to do with artists and a mysterious troupe known as the ‘Teatro Grottesco’. While I’m still not sure what happened, the art by Michael Gaydos is breathtaking, and probably my favorite in the whole book.

Having never read any Thomas Ligotti, I don’t know how faithful the adaptations are, so I can only assume that certain aspects of the originals may have been lost in the translation, while others were more profoundly conveyed by the artwork which is the experience I’ve had with other comic book adaptations. Aside from that, I wish the graphic novel had been a little longer—112 pages seemed a bit on the short side—and, as capable as Stuart Moore & Joe Harris were writing-wise, it would have been nice if a couple of other writers had been brought on board to apply their own unique style to the source material… (For an 8-page preview of "The Nightmare Factory" check out IGN's exclusive look HERE. Age verification is required since the graphic novel is suggest for mature audiences)

Overall, “The Nightmare Factory” is a winning combination of diverse comic book talent and masterful storytelling that will appeal to readers who appreciate horror of the more cerebral variety. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and of course Thomas Ligotti should take note…

FYI: As mentioned above, “The Nightmare Factory” is the third graphic novel from Fox Atomic Comics / HarperCollins, following their release of “28 Days Later: The Aftermath” (April 2007) and “The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning” (July 2007). I’m not sure what they have in store for readers next, but if “The Nightmare Factory” is any indication of the high-quality material that they’re producing, you can bet that I’ll be waiting in line for the next release!

“In addition to the upcoming graphic novel, “The Nightmare Factory” brand also exists as an online series of horror-themed short films produced by Fox Atomic. Each is tied into a specific contest, whereby half-completed nightmares are posted on
foxatomic.com and visitors are asked to complete them. Fans then vote for the top ten stories and the studio selects one winner. Eight such films have been completed to date, with three currently in progress in support of Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming theatrical release Death Sentence (Opens August 31). Even more “Nightmare Factory” interactive activities are planned for Halloween 2007. Information is available at www.foxatomic.com. Fox Atomic Comics also have a blog HERE and a Myspace page HERE.”

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