Felicity Gustafson: Twisted Dark is a collection of demented tales that walks the fine line between horror and just plain insanity. Though I suppose if you squint, you can see where the two would merge. The characters in these stories range from Columbian drug lords to 10 year old girls and everything in between. There’s no universal base Gibson used for his stories beyond the requirement of a greatly suspenseful, dark storyline.
Kelvin Green: I do wonder if the collection as a whole is perhaps a bit too dark, as there’s something of a flattening of tone. I’m not about to ask for any happy stories – it is called Twisted Dark after all – but the anthology does seem to take itself very seriously, and a few laughs here and there would have been welcome without hurting the overall mood; there is a hint of humour and even a touch of sweetness at the end of “Cocaína” for example, and it makes for one of the better stories in the book.
Tristram Taylor: The relentless darkness did get to me a little bit by the time I finished this book, but everything about the cover and title warns you that this is not a happy-go-lucky affair. I’ve always enjoyed the occasional dark story, having grown up reading R.L. Stine and Stephen King, so this was refreshing. I agree though that some lighter moments here or there certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Gustafson: When I first picked up the book and realized it was broken up into many stories, I was a little disappointed since I usually prefer one long, in-depth story, but the way Gibson managed to twist each story’s ending and change what you’ve read to reflect a new perspective… I can’t complain.
Green: I’m a big fan of anthologies, and I wish they were more common. Given the nature of the stories contained in Twisted Dark – more Twilight Zone than Stephen King – an anthology format is probably appropriate; I’m not sure even the best of the stories herein could support a longer narrative.
Taylor: The anthology set up worried me at first because the the first couple of stories seemed to follow the same formula. I was afraid that it would end up feeling repetitive. My worries were unfounded though. This could have easily felt like reading one type of story with different settings. Instead several (though not all) of the stories had their own unique “voice”, though Gibson’s style is
Gustafson: Gibson has a talent for taking a picture perfect, happy tale and throwing brutal reality in the reader’s face. Even if the story begins with a darker aspect, Gibson adds one little detail that completely changes the level of horror. It got to the point where I was starting a new story and I’d try to predict when and how the plot was going to twist because I just knew it was going to happen. Despite knowing that there will be a twist, I had a hard time guessing exactly what it was and how it would be implemented. Being unable to second guess the ending multiplied the need to know and kept me hanging onto each word, completely captivated.
Green: Some of the twists are a bit predictable, although that’s not in itself a bad thing; “Routine” is still powerful even if the twist can be seen a mile off, waving a big neon flag with “I Am the Twist” written on it in large, friendly letters; on the other hand, “The Pushman” seems to be setting itself up for a much darker revelation than the one we get.
A bigger problem is Gibson’s tendency to be over-reliant on narration, which pushes a couple of the stories away – and I realise this is a fuzzy distinction – from being comics and more towards illustrated prose. The tale of Rajeev told in “A Lighter Note” and “A Heavenly Note” would be much improved if the writing got out of the way of the art, and “Routine” is a strong story which is almost scuppered by the overbearing narration. To be clear, Gibson is by no means not a bad writer – there are too many good stories in this collection for that to be the case – but he does perhaps need to learn to apply a lighter touch to the writing.
Taylor: A twist is a hard thing to pull of consistently, particularly when the reader knows it’s coming. Luckily, Gibson doesn’t try to complete floor you each time. Sometimes the ending just offers a subtle change in perspective, which is nice. After giving the book a second read through, I appreciated the ending to “The Pushman” a bit more. I liked that it wasn’t even really a twist at all, just a culmination to what was story was actually building to. It was an almost logical look at such a menial position.
Kelvin, I agree that these stories are very heavy on the narration. I feel like Gibson tries to set up such elaborate scenarios that would have been hard to create without just heavy use of narration. One of my favorite stories, The Game, probably had the least amount of narration and instead utilized a lot of dialogue.
Gustafson: Most of the stories each had a different artist, though a few artists did more than one story. I found that I liked the differences in the artwork. It gave each story its own flavor, so to speak, and made it easier to transition into the next story. The differences in the artwork also allows for a wider spread of audience. Everyone has to be happy with at least one art style. All the stories were done in black and white, but rather than detract from the story, it seemed to add a more ominous tone.
Green: Although Ant Mercer and Atula Siriwardane deliver impressive work, the standout artist for me is Caspar Wijngaard, who has a bit of Philip Bond about his art. His storytelling is strong, and the slight cartoonish exaggeration he gives his characters lends them a great deal of personality. It was also interesting to see Wijngaard using different styles; I didn’t realise at first that “Routine” and “Munchausen’s Little Proxie” were by the same artist!
Taylor: The art was very impressive throughout. The use of black and white really did help set the tone for this book. I agree with Kelvin that Caspar Wijngaard was the standout artist. His three stories were the most fun to look at, but were so diverse that it wasn’t obvious that they were drawon by the same artist. I was also very impressed with Atula Siriwardane. Though I didn’t really enjoy the story, the art on “The Blame” really struck me. In fact, this entire book is visually stunning. As Kelvin mentioned above, it wouldn’t have hurt to let the art tell the stories a bit more and use narration a bit less. The artists were certainly up to the task.
Gustafson: While some of the stories were better than others, overall I was very pleased the book in its entirety. I really enjoyed reading Munchausen’s Little Proxie and Routine, but The Pushman fell a little flat. Munchausen’s Little Proxie lacked the unseen plot twist, but was based on such a dark concept that the eye popping twist wasn’t necessary and Routine… well, I wasn’t expecting the revelation ending of Routine at all. It completely blew me out of the water. The Pushman lacked the creativity that the other stories possessed. I wasn’t really interested in reading about a guy who lost his big break and ended up vindictive over it. He wasn’t really crazy, just a little emo. Other than the Pushman, I liked at least some part of every other story. The Last Laugh was the perfect ending note to the book with the geographical marking that looked like the creepy smile on the cover.
Green: I think “Munchausen’s Little Proxie” might be my favourite of the lot, not only due to the strong art of the aformentioned Wijngaard, but also because it adds a bit of depth to a couple of the other stories through some subtle connections; it’s a bit of a SPOILER, but the somewhat weak “Windopayne” is much improved by its relation to “Munchausen’s Little Proxie”, for example, giving the protagonist in the former some much-needed context. “The Game” is also a favourite, a complex and ambiguous story with a great deal of depth, and “Cocaína” is an effective bit of drama. I’d agree with your criticism of “The Pushman”; while the intended bitterness of the story comes through, it lacks an edge. “Blame” and “Suicide” also seem a bit limp, perhaps due to their relative brevity.
Taylor: As I mentioned above, “The Game” might be my favorite story in this book. Again, I agree that “Munchausen’s Little Proxie” was strengthened by its connection to other stories (I’m starting to feel like a parrot). I’m would be very interested to read more stories involving the Payne family. Personally, I was a bit bored by both of Rajeev’s stories. Not that they weren’t well written, I just never really got into them. I thought the ending to “Cocaina” was more of a letdown than the ending of “The Pushman”. I never felt that “The Pushman” was building to anything very grand, just a new look at a strange occupation in a different culture. That being said, “Cocaina” was a great story, I just miscalculated its direction.
Gustafson: It’s obvious that many hours of hard work and money went into the making of Twisted Dark. Between thinking up 12 different stories and getting 6 artists to draw for his book, this is clearly Gibson’s baby. I massively enjoyed the variety of artwork and the disturbing plot twists. I would easily recommend this to any suspense or horror lover.
Green: I fear that I may have been too critical of what is an impressive piece of work; how many other writers can put out a two hundred page comic as a debut? Not every story is a winner, but that’s true of any anthology and is indeed one of the strengths of the format; if one doesn’t like a certain tale, there’ll be another one along in a few pages. There are some recurrent problems, but Gibson is a new creator with many more stories in him – I happen to know that the second volume is almost complete – and plenty of time to perfect his art. So while Twisted Dark is not perfect, there is much to enjoy and I too would recommend it to a fan of, er, dark and, um, twisted storytelling.
Taylor: I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read any comic of this nature so this was really refreshing. I would imagine it would be just as impressive to regular readers of the genre. Gibson is a very talented writer and it’s obvious he put a lot of work into this, and has collaborated with impressive artists. I highly recommend this book and I’m looking forward to reading volume 2.
Felicity Gustafson was born in Ohio and, after the astounding realization that there was more to do than look at trees and cows, she decided to become a nerd and got into comics, anime and video games. New to Comics Bulletin, she sticks mostly to reviewing things out of the horror and comedy genres. She spends most of her time working in the manufacturing industry, finishing her computer degree and steadfastly avoiding ham fat at all costs.
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, the Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don’t get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn’t hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.