Night of the Ghoul / Us – Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse have a lot of new books out this week, with a variety of titles on offer.  We take a look at two that couldn’t be more different from each other, but are both a lot of fun.

Night of the Ghoul

As the title of this may suggest, Night of the Ghoul is a horror book, written by Scott Snyder, with art by Francesco Francavilla. Originally published digitally across six issues, Dark Horse republished the series last October as a three issue tale. Despite having been published twice before it’s possible that this book may have slipped under your radar, but with the new graphic novel release now is perhaps the best time to pick it up and give it a try.

Night of the Ghoul tells the story of T.F. Merritt, a film director from the 1930s. Already quite well known for his work, the director dropped off the face of the Earth following a studio fire that ruined the end of what was set to be his greatest film, Night of the Ghoul. In the modern day, film restorer and movie buff Forest Inman has stumbled across small parts of the film, believed lost forever. Having found the pieces in a back room at the studio he works at, he’s spent time piecing together the partially destroyed negative to try and salvage as much as he can. Having watched half of the movie, he believes it might be one of the best horror films of the era, if not ever.

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Forest has become determined to track down the missing director and talk to him about the film, and hopefully find out how it was supposed to end. With the help of his teenage son, Orson, Forest has tracked Merritt to an odd, remote hospice facility where he’s being cared for under a different name. Posing as a solicitor, he manages to get in to talk to the dying director, but what he and his son find in that facility will change them forever.

Scott Snyder is a writer whose work tends to be either very well received, or absolutely hated. Even in the books of his I’ve read I’ve found them very divisive. Stories like Batman: Court of Owls is an enjoyable read that adds a lot to existing lore in fun ways, but then things like Dark Knights: Metal and Dark Knights: Death Metal seem to – how do I say this politely? – sh*t the bed completely. As such, going into this book I was very unsure of what kind of story I’d be getting from Snyder. But only a handful of pages into the book I realised that not only was it really good, but I’d been hooked.

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The narrative does a fun thing as it skips between the real world and the rescued pieces of the Night of the Ghoul movie. The movie segments are really cool, presented in a sepia toned black and white way, with rough edges to the panels. When these segments end the pages begin to melt, with the damage to the negative coming onto the page, and the perforation holes becoming visible on occasion to remind you that these segments are from a movie.

Whilst both of these stories run together, and the parts of the film that we get to see don’t just work with the current narrative, but on occasion inform it, these segments would make for a really good story all on their own if the missing parts were included. Snyder has gone out of his way to not just create moments that work for the main narrative but feel like parts of a whole story.

But you shouldn’t ignore the main events of the story. Whilst the film segments slowly reveal the secrets and the lore, the modern day parts of the book have some seriously creepy moments. There are several scenes throughout where something so twisted and disturbing is happening behind the back of one of the characters that it makes your skin crawl. These are the kind of moments that would work fantastically well in a film medium, but Snyder and Francavilla do a hell of a job at translating these scares into comic form.

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Speaking of Francavilla, the art on the book suits the horror tone well. In some ways the art feels very simple, as it doesn’t embellish moments with tons of detail, but it never feels simplistic or lacking. It manages to find this nice balance where you get tons of information whilst not over filling the page. It also uses shadows and darkness a lot, creating some bold images that convey tone pretty quickly. The palette also reflect this, with a minimal range of colours, and shadows and shade often being contrasted with colours that really make some of the moments pop off the page. Perhaps the only criticism I could find with the art is that the character of Orson is revealed to be fifteen during the book, but the artwork makes him look closer to twelve, and as such it does feel kind of jarring when his age is revealed as I’d been reading him as much younger.

Night of the Ghoul is, perhaps, the best Scott Snyder book that I’ve read in years. It manages to weave an interesting and engaging tale that feels very pulpy in places and really manages to capture that 1930’s horror feel. It has some genuinely creepy moments, and a narrative that will keep you guessing throughout. If you want a horror story that doesn’t rely on blood and gore, as horror comics so often do, this is an ideal read.

Night of the Ghoul is out on 15th June from Dark Horse.



Us is an autobiographical comic memoir by Spanish artist Sara Soler, which tells the story about her relationship with her partner Diana. What makes her story interesting is that her partner is a trans woman, and this story begins before Diana came out, and charts not only her journey to womanhood and acceptance, but Sara’s own journey of self discovery in regards to her identity.

Before now parts of US were produced as a small fanzine that Sara created for a comic con in 2014. But since then the book has expanded, becoming this new graphic novel. This is the first time that the book has been produced in English, and it offers a whole new audience the chance to discover a lovingly crafted, beautiful looking, personal story about what life is like both as a trans person, and as someone who loves a trans person.

I feel a small disclaimer is needed before going too deep into Us: I am a trans woman. I’ve made no secret of that on this site, and have talked about it a number of times, but thought it would be worth mentioning here as I feel that reading Us felt very different for me than it would to a cis reader, especially one who might not know much about what it’s like to be trans, or the trans experience. My review will absolutely be coloured by my own experience (as would anyone’s review), and I think that I’m going to connect with this book in a different way, but one that made reading Us a very special experience.

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Us begins with a couple of pages that gives the reader a lot of info up front; Sara doesn’t bury the lead here. It explains that Diana is a trans woman, that some of the stereotypical experiences of being trans in the media are not going to be present here, that all types of gender discovery journeys and expressions are valid, and gives a little history on the book. After that, we begin with what is to many trans people one of the most frightening and nerve-wracking experiences: Diana’s coming out. Most of the time these scenarios are presented from a trans perspective, so seeing it from the point of view of the person that’s on the receiving end is an interesting change. Sara knows her partner well, and knows when something is bothering her, and slowly teases the information out of her, encouraging her to open up. The way that the fear and the panic around Diana is drawn feels incredibly relatable, that aura of pain and worry that leaks off of you.

This sparks an interesting part of the book – Sara’s own journey. Whilst Diana’s initial coming out doesn’t go very far, and she represses her feelings for two years and pretends to be a perfectly fine and happy cis guy, it doesn’t stop Sara from having to think about what this would mean for her. She begins to question if she’d stay with Diana, if that would make her gay, if there had ever been any signs of her being queer in the past. In some ways Diana’s coming out changed who Sara was, though it wasn’t until Diana couldn’t keep pretending anymore that she came to a firm conclusion about her own queerness.

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After this somewhat rocky start, of Diana not knowing if she wanted to come out or not, of the two of them not knowing if they could even stay together if she did, they come to an acceptance that Diana is a trans woman, and that Sara is bisexual, and that their love and relationship would continue.

From here the book covers a lot of the things that you would expect: Diana beginning to medically transition, having to come out to family and friends, having to deal with both open and veiled bigotry, and about finding the kind of person you always were meant to be. But again, this story also has Sara there, going through the same, supporting her partner, and dealing with those same issues. It’s rare to see a duel coming out story like this, and whilst much of the focus is on Diana and her journey the book never forgets to show you Sara’s perspective, and her feelings.

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Sadly, as with most trans stories, the book has to deal with some dark things. Diana and Sara’s journey isn’t a smooth one at times, and bigotry does rear its head in Us. It can be hard to write about such things in a way that doesn’t feel full of doom and hopelessness, and talking about experiencing bigotry can easily bring the mood down because it’s an awful experience. But somehow Sara Soler has managed to make these moments not as bad as you’d expect.

Yes, they were painful to read at the time, in part due to having experienced the same and it bringing up those memories, and trans people being targeted by hate is an incredibly common occurrence (I’ve literally received messages on social media whilst writing this very article where I’ve been called a paedophile and a groomer just for being trans). But, thanks to Sara being there for Diana, and thanks to the way the book is presented, these moments are a fleeting speck of darkness in what is otherwise a wonderfully bright and hopeful narrative.

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Sara isn’t just the writer of the book though, she’s also the artist. The art on Us is very, very pretty. The artwork on the front cover is absolutely gorgeous, but isn’t what you’re going to be getting throughout the book 100% of the time. There are several moments that have that style, but for the most part Sara uses a much simpler style, with stylised and cartoonish versions of characters. And this style works wonderfully for the story.

Thanks to the kinds of emotions running rampant during Sara and Diana’s story, it could be a lot less fun to draw in a more realistic way then you’re drawing yourself and your loved one in panic mode, going through fear and heartbreak. As such, the more stylised version means that it’s easy to convey these emotions without having to go deep into them. It also means that the flip side is easy to do too, and the moments of pure joy, the times of gender euphoria and love are represented in wonderfully fun and clear ways. And the moments when Sara and Diana break the fourth wall to talk to the reader directly feel right for the tone too. Plus, the colour palette of pink, white, and blue works perfectly too.

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Us is the kind of book that brings me very mixed emotions when reading it. The lows feel really impactful, the moments that remind me of my own journey’s stumbles and pains hit hard, but it also means that the moments of happiness and joy grab me too. There’s a lot of love in the pages of this book, not just in how they were made, but in the people this story is about. Sara and Diana are a beautiful, wonderful couple.

Their love story isn’t just engaging, it’s inspiring. With so many people casting loved ones aside when they come out as trans, and with some women who leave their partners for being trans being so disgusting as to call themselves trans widows, seeing a story of such unconditional love, of such deep affection and caring for a trans person is the kind of story we all so desperately need right now.

Us is out on 15th June from Dark Horse.

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