Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Andrew Waugh, Jamie Smart, Jonathan Edwards, Gary Northfield, Paul Harrison-Davies, James Howard
Edited by Andrew Waugh and Paul Harrison-Davies
I’ve been meaning to write about this one for quite a while, since we did an Upcoming on it at the end of October in fact. Sure, I may have missed Halloween, but this collection of seven top-notch Brit artists creating a proper horror comic for kids, one that doesn’t pull its punches at all, one intended to send a really big shiver up the spine of the younger readers, is something well worth waiting for.
Edited by Andrew Waugh and Paul Harrison-Davies, Boo! is a small, yet rather perfectly formed horror comic for kids (although there’s a lot in there for us grown ups as well). In many ways, not least quality, production values and some shared artists, it has something of the same comic DNA as the Phoenix Comic. Currently just Smart and Northfield are Phoenix regulars, with Cadwell an occasional contributor, but any of the remaining four would prove an easy fit both tonally and stylistically. In fact, Boo could easily have been transformed into a Phoenix Halloween special, it just has that sort of feel to it.
I was expecting something fun, certainly something very well crafted, you only need look at the list of seven very, very good artists involved to realise that. But what I wasn’t expecting was just how darkly creepy some of these pieces managed to be. I’m not a big fan of modern shock ‘em and make ‘em jump horror, I much prefer psychological horror that sends a shiver down your spine and fills you with some indescribable, illogical, primal fear, the sort of fear that means grown men and women pause slightly before opening the door in the dark or looking outside into pitch black for fear of what may be out there.
So if I told you that a couple of the pieces in here, a comic designed for children I should remind you, managed to send the chills down my old spine, how good do you think this will be on the little ones? Unless they take it the wrong way in which case you may be in for weeks of night terrors, months of checking under the beds and years of leaving the light on. This may be the only flaw in this exceedingly good little horror comic!
There’s chills, scares, even out and out gore (Cadwell’s strip is, when you think about it at all, is really bloody and nasty, albeit tempered with a comedy line), but the abiding feel is something designed to really chill and scare good and proper, with most of the tales giving the children nothing to remotely cling to in hope of a happy ending; the familiar crutches and saviours are ripped away, the vengeful monsters equally likely to take the good kids as well as the bad. The majority of the stories, with the sole exception of Jamie Smart’s tale (we’ll get to why in a moment), all share those common themes, essentially Boo! goes out of its way to convince children that the monsters are real, and everything they fear really is out there.
Have to say, the creepiest of the creepy comics has to be Andrew Waugh’s The Visitor, where a little girl has to cope with the usual trouble from imaginary monsters, weird noises, you know the sort of thing, the shadows and noises you convince yourself simply aren’t real, that it will all be alright.
The trouble here is that they’re very real, and they’re coming to get you….
Bloody heck, that’s creepy. You can see it all in the girl’s eyes. The respite and comfort of mom is sought, but as I already mentioned, we learn that even that just isn’t going to be enough to save you now. Genuinely creepy. Perfect timing and precise yet simple art, relying on a repeated imagery to drive home the point, everything building to a shiver at the last.
Warwick Johnson Cadwell: The Night Piper
Bullies might be bad enough for a poor lad out walking a little too late at night, but could the rescue by the mysterious Night Piper be worse? This pied-pier doesn’t bother stealing all the children, just the squishy bits, and he doesn’t care whether you’ve been bad or good either.
Jamie Smart: The Nth Little Pig
This is the one piece that actually feels a little out of place, veering off from the remit of terrifying a generation of comic reading children with spooky tales, to something that’s more time-travel, Terminator, Doctor Who based, a retelling of the Three Little Pigs tale, with pigs and wolves travelling back and forth in time, with terrible warnings of altered futures, indestructible houses, nukes, and big, big hammers.
So, yes, it’s definitely out of place in here, but it’s still very good, very funny. Just look up there at Smart’s big, bad time-travelling wolf and his “basically, use this sledgehammer” line, so deapan it hurts, and you get the idea of how twisty turny and funny it is. It might have been better slotted in as the final tale though, rather than breaking the scary tension as the third tale.
Jonathan Edwards: School Dinners
Oh, those wide eyes, saucer-like in their horror. This one is pure Enid Blyton investigates coming up against a nice bit of nasty foodie horror, and again there’s no pulling away from the kicker at the end for the poor child reading this. Christ, another to send a shiver up your spine, and another that doesn’t pull a punch either.
Edwards’ art is something I’ve banged on about before, but here he’s refined it for something that, although it’s nowhere near a house style for Boo!, certainly fits in well with everything else here, a big eyed, almost childish look, immediately familiar to the readership.
Gary Northfield: The Devil and Billy Beetle
“Little Billy Beetle is being stalked by the devil… “.
Oh, divine, Gary Northfield doing something in the style of old Rupert strips, pics and text underneath. Thing is, with this much text involved, this is actually a really good read, far more involved than the meagre page count implies. And the art is divine Northfield as usual.
Poor little Billy Beetle, hearing a strange voice gnawing away at him all day, and then spots a shadowy figure waiting for him amongst the foliage. Poor little Billy.
Paul Harrison- Davies: Night Terrors
Real life and dream life are muddled, uncertain, the fear we may be just in another horrible nightmare is getting to all three children here, and thanks to Paul Harrison-Davies it may be something that the readers start experiencing as well.
Just like his recent success in Astro Dog, Harrison-Davies’ artwork here is simply gorgeous, and although it’s mostly happening at night his use of colour to suggest nightmarish moments is simply perfect.
James Howard: The Closet
Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad. What the hell would you do that for? Seriously messed up parenting leading to a lifetime of terror and relying on childhood rhymes to repel them.
Pretty much a summary of most of Boo! A great end to a wonderfully chilling little comic. Children and adults alike should get so much out of Boo!