Writer: Tim Seeley, Artist: Ilias Kyriazis, Letterer: Crank!.
Gutters, the space between panels, are an in-between space where the reader invests a piece of themselves into the story. This space is where all the deductions are made, where personal experiences dictate the supposed "little moments" that transition one panel to the next. Gutters are easily overlooked as our eyes move hungrily from panel to panel, our brains "filling in the gaps" between them without our even knowing. The function of gutters has a gnarled reflection in life. Often we "fill in the gaps" of our lives that seem tedious or monotonous for the sake of reaching something more important or entertaining; however, these little moments make us. We are all living puzzles and, yes, that plain, blue piece near the upper-left corner still matters, even if you don't remember putting it there.
This is the idea behind Humanoids' new 136-page graphic novel, Chronophage. Chloe, a single mother, endures multiple jobs to give her and her daughter, Kai, a life. . .but life can be relentless. As the stresses mount, Chloe is swept into a romance that offers a better life. Though, there must always be a cost. As Chloe's life improves, pieces of her past disappear. She's losing time and everything that came with it.
Chronophage is a romantic, science fiction horror show that drags you into the gutter with a story of intimate terror. The dynamic use of the comics form creates an enthralling horror experience full of raw emotion, desperation, and hope.
The coloring in this book is so emotionally dynamic. Much of the book carries a muted palette that gives passion and intensity to those interspersed moments of robust color. These colors are saturated and warm, colliding on the page like that lava lamp you stare at in random moments of peace. This helped me understand Chloe and empathize with her in the rare moments of comfort she experiences outside the responsibilities of life.
The absence of color is equally important. Off-white panels convey intimacy and comfort, feelings that are slowly weaponized against you throughout the book in the same way they were given. This pairs with the stellar art that is visceral in its depictions of emotional intensity. Each setting achieves a balancing act between too much and too little detail, creating a "this could be anywhere" atmosphere. Characters follow the same trend, with those in foreground bearing detail and those in the background disappearing into obscurity, as our attention is pulled in each panel.
I read Chronophage in one sitting that left me going to sleep at 5 A.M. post-weeping. I like to think of these precious reading experiences as "literary rubber-necking". I was unable to tear my eyes away from the tragedy occurring before me (in a good way, of course). The writing is tight while still leaving room for each character to have an individual voice, tone, vocabulary, etc.. I was grounded by the writing, and enjoyed how it fueled my connection to each character and made their actions understandable, though not always excusable. The humanity in this story lay in its embrace of flaws and the role they play in who we are as a collective species. To err is human.
Since finishing Chronophage, I've not stopped thinking about it. I've many different interpretations half-screamed into my voice memo app and yet still I'm not comforted, which probably means this is a good horror book, yeah? Just maybe not in the way you think. Go into this title ready to dive into the gutters where something lurks. Into the gutters where you as a reader invest your own history to connect one panel to the next, where something lurks.
Chronophage releases February 15th from Humanoids for $19.99! I highly recommend this book and if that matters to you, you can find it (hopefully) at your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP!!! If you're not up to that then tap your finger, make some clicks, and get it from Humanoids' website!
RECOMMENDED READING: If you like Chronophage, then I have two suggestions for you: Heaven No Hell by Michael DeForge is a deeply human anthology that often popped into my head while reading Chronophage. If you lean more towards fun and bloody horror romps, read Hack/Slash from the same writer as Chronophage!
Austin Kemp read Batman #315 (Batman vs Kite Man) when he was 5 years old, and hasn't stopped reading comics since. Austin is a college writing teacher and has a masters degree in Comics Studies. Austin and his partner, Savanah, live in Massachusetts with their master, a cat named Chaplin.