In his first graphic novel entitled House, writer/artist Joshua Simmons tells the tale of a trio of teenagers (one guy and two girls) who stumble upon an abandoned, dilapidated mansion in the middle of a forest. At first, the teenagers freely meander through the mansion, taking a few moments to walk across the roof, skinny-dip in a submerged section of the residence, and explore the seemingly unending hallways. At the same time, there is a subtle subtext of jealousy as two friends move towards a budding romance. After walking through a labyrinth of corridors, the trio eventually find themselves in a room decorated by a solitary painting.
The painting (also the cover of the book, above) is a haunting head-and-shoulders image of a bearded general William Sherman-like figure in a Civil War-era uniform. Any indication of warm humanity is lost within the dark recessed of the man’s sunken eyes. While there are no pupils to speak of, the sullen figure appears to be looking right at you. Basically, it’s kinda creepy.
After staring at the painting for a few seconds, the teenagers discover a boarded passageway that leads into the trio’s shocking journey through the house.
What makes Simmons’ story so unique is that it’s told entirely with black-and-white visuals without the use of any words whatsoever. Everything in the story is communicated through the visuals by way of Simmons’s scratchy linework and his remarkable composition. The first half-dozen pages are open and white. But as the teenagers make their way towards the mansion, the imagery becomes dense. Once they are inside the house, white is replaced with black and the artwork becomes more claustrophobic.
It’s difficult to go into further detail about House because it really is one of those books you have to experience for yourself. I know that might sound cliché but there’s a discovery that comes along with the story; a horrific, intense discovery. Even using the words “horrific” and “intense” in this review don’t mean a thing unless you take 5-10 minutes to go through the pages and follow the trio through the mansion. Then you'll get it. Then you’ve gone on the 80-page ride as Simmons intended. Then you’ll understand when I say that I doubt a collapsing stairwell has been rendered in such a frightful fashion. Is that a tease? Damn right it is!
You can find out more about Joshua Simmons at his website and his blog. You can purchase a copy of House at the Fantagraphics Books website.