Sam Alden’s Haunter is one of those comics, the kinds that take you to another world and completely immerse you in that world, never stopping to give you any context on what you’re reading or about the mysterious place that you’re exploring. This silent story is exquisitely drawn in a style that seems to channel a mythological approach to the material and colored in an empathetic palette that lends an exquisite level of drama.
Haunter has been available as a webcomic for some time, and an excerpt from the story was chosen to be included in the 2013 Best American Comics anthology, so very attentive comics readers have hopefully picked up on Alden and the tremendous work he did on this graphic novel. But if you’ve never held this book in your hands, this is work that deserves to be found at your LCS and on the convention circuit.
Haunter is a thrilling and visceral tale. It begins with a moment that seems familiar, as we watch a young woman in ragged clothes chase something that looks like a wild boar. We immediately have questions about the woman as we watch her emerge from an abstract-looking forest that seems bathed in nonfigurative watercolors that imply a strange and unknown world. There’s some green in the forest and some red and orange, but as the scenes shift around and the girl attacks the boar, the backgrounds seem to shift and change as we read along until it’s clear that the important thing isn’t that this scene portrays a forest, but the fact that this scene implies a forest, that we understand that our protagonist has emerged from a long chase, clothes and attitude all bedraggled, just looking to try to complete her hunting trip.
Oh, but this chase will turn out to be fateful, as a painful spill down a cliff leads our hunter to a mysterious temple in which she explores an unknown relic of some strange, lost land. It’s here that this book really shines. Alden strives to keep the reader as mystified about the temple as the young woman is, forcing us to react as she reacts and learn about the world as she learns. When she’s swimming around in ugly green water, we can metaphorically feel ourselves swimming around; when she wanders through mysterious caverns, we can feel the chill of the cold air flowing through these strange places, wondering just what in the hell this place is all about…
Until she – and we – encounter a mysterious creature who aims an arrow at our hero, and finally the title of this story makes sense. Haunter isn’t a pun on the idea of a hunter – well, maybe it is, but not completely anyway – but it’s also a comment on the creature who haunts our protagonist, who leads her– and us – on a wild and desperate chase through strange wooded lands and terrifying threats.
And when the final confrontation occurs, all blood and viscous fluids and massively powerful energy in Alden’s line work and exquisite coloring, we have come to empathize with this mysterious leading woman because we’ve survived her adventures right next to her. Somehow, through the magic of silent comics and great storytelling, readers have come to empathize with this mysterious heroine.
It’s no surprise that Haunter was considered one of the best comics of 2013, and it will be no surprise for this slim but wonderful book to be considered one of the best collections of 2014. This is a haunting journey for reader and heroine, and a beautiful book to be savored.