Reviewing SIGHT UNSEEN Graphic Novel
Written by Robert Tinnell
Art by Bo Hampton
Published by Image Comics
Review Copyright 2011 Heroic Times
All rights reserved
When was the last time a book with pictures… scared you?
Gross you out? Yes. Surprise you or excite you? Certainly. With a clever page reveal, WALKING DEAD surprises all the time.
But scare you?
Sequential art (I don’t use the term comic-book, it’s not about elitism, it’s just I don’t like misnomers. The term comic-book may have been accurate 80 years ago, it just isn’t today. So you’ll catch me using a bunch of terms, GN. Trade, Collected Edition, Monthly, Slim [you read it here first:) ], but very rarely comic) being too far out of your head, lacks the ability a novel offers to surrender yourself to your internal dialog, and Sequential art being too much in your head, doesn’t allow you to surrender yourself to someone else’s external dialog.
So that should spell no to the idea of getting scared by the marriage of words and art, because fear requires loss of control, the surrender of your senses to the violation of the other (in terms of media film/tv/radio drama) or the hypnotism/violation of the self (novel).
Graphic Literature, slims, manga (insert your favorite nomenclature here) 🙂 is a bastard medium that is somewhere removed from those two extremes of submission, and as such is a medium that is in large part about viewing specific moments at your leisure. The ability to linger on a particularly affecting panel, or race through multiple panels, or rereading a word balloon, all define graphic sequential viewing as a medium for lovers of the moment, and as such you tend to be an aloof master of time in sequential stories, and fear requires you to be time’s slave.
I’ve read all kinds of slims. All kinds of horror GNs. I’ve read slims that have sickened me, disgusted me, surprised me.
But I have never read a slim that has scared me.
Based on all the reasons given, there is no such thing. At least that’s what I thought till I read Robert Tinnell’s and Bo Hampton’s SIGHT UNSEEN.
Published by Image Comics back in 2006, 5 years ago at this writing, it is a relatively unknown book and somehow that almost seems fitting; as if it is one of those whispered of tomes, more myth than matter.
SIGHT UNSEEN is a ghost story and like all ghost stories it requires, not that you believe, but that you want to believe. It requires that ineffable quality that all ghost stories require, your willingness to be— seduced. If for you horror is less splatter and gore and slasher or zombie, and instead is crystallized by titles like The Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Haunting (1963) than SIGHT UNSEEN is a book that waits… for you.
Specifics I always find idiotic things. I don’t read spoilers, I don’t read the back of paperbacks, that tend to give away lots of great things you should experience, rather than have told to you.
I come to reviews not looking to be told, beyond the most generic themes, what I’ll find, rather I ask only that you enlighten me to what I may feel.
And with that consideration, is how I review.
The most generic description of SIGHT UNSEEN is it is a book about a man who seeks to see the dead, foolishly perhaps not preparing… for the dead to see him. There’s a nice technological hook to the story that elevates it out of the ‘routine’ ghost story, and into the unusual and innovative.
Yeah, I hear you saying, but where does the scare come in?
Robert Tinnell creates an immersive engaging story, but with any other artist it would suffer from that normal distancing effect, that makes for a great graphic novel, or a nice static story, but not anything more than that.
No, the true alchemy here is with artist Bo Hampton.
Bo Hampton, does something in this GN that I have never seen in three decades of reading comics, he makes the characters move.
These static images, he arranges, he places, he cuts, he juxtaposes in such a way, that in moments he breaks that anchor of control, of distance, that is always there between word and picture, and should be there.
It is the charm of the medium that it is there, our control, and Bo Hampton with foreshortening, and blurring, and angles, and an inexplicable understanding of how to get behind our eyes, in brief moments sets us adrift from our control, and we find ourselves, not watching bad places, but in bad places and among bad things.
And that bit of immersion that the story of Robert Tinnell married to the art of Bo Hampton pulls off, is as close to alchemy as anything you’ll read in the story.
He creates sequential art that does two things that sequential art seldom or never does, match perfectly the tone of the story the writer tells AND match perfectly the angles and perspectives and images those words would invoke in your own head.
Hampton shatters that normal, fun difference and dissonance between writers perspective, artist perspective, and readers perspective that makes comics so expansive a medium, and by collapsing these three perspectives he creates a fetid, claustrophobic, dank, limiting idea space, that pulls you in.
And watches you.
In the years since first reading this… accident on paper, this odd confluence of genius or mania, I have never come across another sequential art book, by the creators or anyone else, that does what this book does. That makes a thing of words and pictures… writhe.
The book is called SIGHT UNSEEN and if your brain is wired anything like mine, the book will make you do something a ‘comic-book’ wasn’t designed to make you do.
It will make you look over your shoulder.
Your mileage may vary, but if it doesn’t… you are in for a treat.
Grade: 4.5 out of 5