June 17, 2015

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Wart - Book 1 by Ammar Al-Chalabi and Chris Walsh


Written by Chris Welsh
 Art by Ammar Al-Chalabi
Wart began as an idea in a Reddit thread and, months later, blossomed into a webcomic that has since gained hundreds of dedicated followers. In December 2014 the team went to Kickstarter to ask their fans for the money to compile the first chapters together and, after raising £2500, created this collection of the first three chapters.

The style of this comic is cemented as soon as you glimpse the foreword and is maintained through to the final page. The story told in this volume is framed as a story being read by candlelight from an ancient book which was a fantastic idea that instantly sets you on edge. This horrific world is introduced using narration that Lovecraft himself would be proud of; it contains the right combination of old-fashioned formality and ominous banality.

The art from Al-Chalabi is an exceptional fit to this series as he takes classically exaggerated human features and adds muted colours and a dark layer of shading. This allows each scene to be sufficiently intimidating without crossing over into the territory of extraneous gore. There are plenty of opportunities where some creators would rely on the shock of showing blood and other bodily fluids. It speaks to the talent here that they are able to create such a strong atmosphere without needing to stray into that territory.

However, do not interpret this as a description of an all-ages book. There are a few particular scenes where, even though the grey tones and cartoonish style mask it, the situation is actually quite disturbing. If you're worried about restless nights from this series, then those fears are unnecessary; it manages to be unsettling without becoming genuinely terrifying.

There are three (and a half) chapters within this first collection and throughout them all we are kept as bewildered and unbalanced as our protagonist. He is constantly sucked into different worlds and dimensions and we are taken along for the ride. As we are shown the same amount of information as the character, it removes any sense of dramatic irony and is far more effective at grounding you in the story. It's exciting to not know what's going to happen next and having to piece it all together. Small bits of information have started to give form to the shape of the solution but we are far from knowing anything definitive.

This early in the story, and with the sheer amount of characters that we've been introduced to, it's difficult to tell who's a foe and who's a friend. We meet a wide array of characters that satisfy the classic genre tropes so perfectly that it's hard not to love them; the overpowering and mysterious jailkeeper and the selection of Elder Gods all help to secure this book into the horror genre.

One infamous part of Lovecraft's work is how difficult it is to tell if the protagonist is a sane character genuinely entering a demon world or is simply someone going through a psychotic breakdown. This series manages to fit snugly right into the middle of this and you are always second-guessing everything that's happening.

Despite the primarily sombre nature of the book, it is prevented from becoming too dense and weighty by the introduction of the struggling and incompetent hooded figures. By placing their scenes in between the scenes full of information, it's a great way to break it up so that the reader doesn't get bogged down.

The second scene with the inept team of sorcerers allows Al-Chalabi to play with the nature of the medium as the panels start to come apart.  As the page continues, the order of the panels remains clear and the ridiculousness of the situation is enhanced by how strenuous the kidnapper is finding the job.

This series starts as a pure horror series with a script and art that works perfectly in harmony. You are kept on edge as you simultaneously root for our hapless protagonist and try to work out the rules of the world that he's found himself in. As the story progresses however, particularly in Chapter 3 and 3.5, it starts to introduce more comedic situations that lighten the mood and magnify the horrific scenes when they happen.

It's a joy to watch everything unfold as the creative team gradually start to connect the dots that they've drawn out so far. If you decide that you want to check this series out then, at the very least, go over to their webcomic at www.wartcomic.com where you can read everything for free. If you're feeling generous, treat yourself and buy a print copy of the book. It contains bonus Chapter 3.5 that is exclusive to the collected editions. This series is horrific and hilarious in equal parts and really does deserve a look.