Mantis Woman is a 2003 collection of short stories akin to the R.L. Stine-esque books that we all read as kids and the camp legends that we all told our gullible younger tent mates. Writer and artist Senno Knife’s simple, if beautifully rendered, tales of possessed toys, creepy family heirlooms, evil substitute teachers and reclusive new neighbors aren’t going to keep anyone up at night hiding under the covers, but it’s still a fun read. Mantis Woman has a familiar charm to it that you’ll recognize as the same joy you get reading Weird US or re-watching Friday the 13th. It’s that same X-Files, Eerie Indiana, Supernatural season 1 monster-of-the-week formula where you know what’s going to happen and who’s going to die, but you just don’t care. It’s just too much fun watching a nuts-o family dressed in tiger print leotards chase petty criminals and bullies through a torture dungeon. Or learning how a gumball machine from Hell dispenses vengeful, wish granting kewpie dolls.
(Spoilers) Ever wonder why it’s pre-teens and teenagers who are so often the protagonist de jour in horror? With adults in horror there better be a damn good reason why they take the risks that they do, or else the audience will turn against them. That’s part of the reason why slasher movies starring vapid beach bums are so appealing. With kids and young adults it’s different. There doesn’t need to be almost ANY motivation for a kid to put themselves into dangerous situations in horror. This is especially true in Mantis Woman. When a 14 year old who is a poor swimmer sees an empty pool that is rumored to be haunted yet would make an ideal place to practice swimming, she uses it despite the pool’s creepy history. When a timid, loner sees her Other Mother lookalike substitute teacher playing with figurines that look like baby sized string dolls her curiosity forces her to follow her teacher and break into her run-down home. While the term “idiot kid” may be rolling around in your head right now I would like you to consider the following. Yes, while most kids couldn’t be bothered or would be too scared to swim in a pool allegedly haunted by a dead girl I like to imagine that the kids in Mantis Woman are actually thinking what most adults think when they hear someone go on about how aliens built the pyramids or when they hear someone say, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a pretty good movie”. It’s that immediate gut wrenching repulsion followed instantly by the thought, “Can this person be that stupid?” Kids aren’t dumb and can be just as cynical as adults, so when a 14 year old goes to practice swimming without letting anyone know what she’s doing, what else can she hope to do but prove in her own head that her classmates’ fears about a ghost haunting the pool are stupid.
If you do something like that as a kid while in a group you would look like you were trying to impress them and show them how brave you were. Why would you do this when you were on your own however? With no audience of her peers, what else can the young lone protagonist accomplish by going into unknown territory unless she is there to disprove the fears around her. These kids aren’t idiotic themselves for not listening to admittedly outlandish rumors, they’re trying to disprove idiocy. Admittedly while taking huge risks onto themselves if the pool does turn out to be haunted or the substitute teacher is actually making living dolls out of her victims. Oh well, live and learn.
Other than that there’s not really much else to say about Mantis Woman. Senno Knife’s very fine pen lines and soft use of tone sheets make the artwork look very detailed and precise without any loose lines, almost as if Senno Knife’s technique was for producing cell animation. The publisher Iron Cat Entertainment did a good job on the print and paper quality, although the binding is very thin with almost no glue holding the pages to the spine so watch out for breakage. No other English publishers have picked up Mantis Woman or Senno Knife’s other works since Iron Cat Entertainment aka Studio Ironcat folded in 2006, so once again the best source for a physical copy is pray for it from Santa Claus.