December 10, 2013

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Like a Virus

Written by Ken Lowery
Illustrated by Robert Wilson IV and Jordan Boyd
Self-Published

A young woman named Felicity investigates a haunting in New Empire that's been overlooked but holds a close connection to her heart in this tragic ghost story that features real emotions and treats a sensitive subject with dignity and respect.

The thing that catches you about Like a Virus is how ordinary the world seems at the beginning, and only once you've got a chance to look around do you find out that there's a mystical element to the proceedings. It's not until page four that we learn why the woman we come to know as Felicity is interested in this section of New Empire, and another page after that to find that paranormal happenings are common enough that the city has ghost hunters (plural) and that even one as frequent as a recurring death scene is too small-fry for them to handle.

It's great, subtle world-building that combines well-timed scripting from Lowery with Wilson IV's visuals that show the kind of place Felicity and our soon-to-be-discovered ghost live in without being obvious about it. We see the subways and common folks on the cars and passers-by on the street and we know that this is a dense residential area filled with people you'd see in such a place.

Having established that, we move focus to Felicity and the ghost, a woman named Marie who committed suicide and has damned herself to repeating her sin over and over again, every week. Marie's guilt doesn't even need to be vocalized for the intelligent reader to pick up on it--just look at the scenes where she's lovingly polishing a cross and then almost recoiling at the touch.

Once our main characters meet, they engage in dialogue that shows how hard this situation is for both of them. Lowery has them dance around the point, coming at it slowly, reluctantly. Meanwhile, Wilson IV makes the choice of not focusing on Marie as she tells her story. Instead, most of the panels concentrade on Felicity's reactions, as she studies the scene of Marie's "sin." There are no dramatic close-ups or overwrought images showing the pain of a life lead differently from expectations. By playing against the traditional way you'd see this kind of story, Lowery and Wilson IV give it more impact and help to differentiate it from similar narratives.

By the time we reach the conclusion, we find out just why Felicity is so interested in helping Marie. As with the rest of the comic, this is given a soft touch but anyone who has made, considered, or known a person involved in a suicide attempt will see the power in just playing it straight. All we need are the facts--and Felicity's arm--laid bare to understand. The difference between life and death can be as simple as a person offering to help, as Marie and Felicity show. Now Felicity tries to do in death for Marie what wasn't done in life, and we're left guessing as to whether she succeeds.

Like a Virus is such a well-done comic in terms of its plot and pacing. Combined with Wilson IV's distinctive visuals, such as his large, square eyes and the coloring of Jason Boyd, it's an amazing combination. Boyd gives things an overall drab look, so when bright images occur, like the outside world from Marie's window or the cross, it pops against the rest. He makes Marie feel like she's not all there, but doesn't resort to trickery to show she's a ghost. He works with, not against, Wilson IV's designs that are exacting in their details.

I really enjoyed Like a Virus as both a comic story and a way to talk about the feelings of desperation that come from regretting decisions made in life. It's a personal story, as noted in the end materials, and those often make the best comics. This one is special, and is highly recommended.