Heaping praise on Neil Gaiman is like giving King Midas a gold brick for his birthday. Even his “bad” stuff is still better than average, which is why proclaiming that Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire is trope-bending fun shouldn’t drag any jaws to the asphalt. The Dark Horse comic version—out January 25th—is a clever delight right down to its tongue-in-cheek title.
And you can check out some pages for the book in the gallery below!
Bringing the decade-old Gaiman short story to animated life, it tells the persistently tragic tale of an author trying to capture the true essence of an everyday world of haunted castles, blood curses, and ominous talking birds. In other words, it imagines what fantasy would mean to a character living inside a fantasy novel. It’s a warm hug of parody for “a dark and stormy night.”
Gaiman, at his most playful here, stretches the idea past its breaking point without letting it overstay its welcome. There’s always a new, haunting specter of fantasy convention lurking around the next corner, and the bedraggled scribbler is charismatic in his sunny misery.
If Gaiman’s send-up is like a cool breeze in a hot graveyard, Shane Oakley’s artwork is a gorgeous, icy thrill down the spine. Every single page is outstanding, weaving between multiple realities (real, fictional, and real fictional) with engaging, separate styles. There’s a perverse storybook nature to the main, castle-bound and quill-laden narrative which anchors the writer’s silly, flailing woes by presenting them seriously. The parody works because of Oakley—avoiding caricature in the artwork because it’s already purposely present in the narrative.
On the other side of the author’s mirror, Oakley utilized jagged impressionism and wispy shading to create the kind of remarkable comic imagery that makes you reluctant to turn the page. It’s beautiful and chimeric, begging to be studied and appreciated again after the story comes to an end.
The art adds heft to a breezy concept, honoring both the loving send-up of Gothic fantasy as well as the tales that spawned it.
Even though the story is slight, both it and the art operate in concert like goldmines of geeky goodness. Just as Oakley’s drawings offer details hidden behind shapes and shadows, Gaiman packs the parody with enough references to other torrid tales to create an amusing treasure hunt. The sarcastic talking raven is a gimme, but there’s plenty of other Gothic Bingo squares to fill in.
The punchline is obvious from page one, but the groans it induces don’t diminish from living inside the What If of this brooding, poetically cruel adventure. Especially because Gaiman’s touch for humanity is as seasoned as his skill for telling fantastical tales.
Still, the true star is the art. It’s wonderful to see this charming story as a platform for Oakley’s nightmarish talent.
3.5 out of 5 Gothic burritos:
Images: Dark Horse Comics