Winnebago Graveyard #1 is a freaky as fuck. I don’t know why I decided to wait until almost 11 PM the night before it came out to read and review it. I haven’t been this terrified by a comic book since Scott Snyder and Jock’s Wytches. Steve Niles, Alison Sampson, and Stephane Paitreau open the book in a crescendo of flame, gore, and ritual cultist nudity, switch over to domestic drama for a second, and then conclude by invoking one of the scariest settings of all: the old roadside amusement park. The setup of the comic is pretty simple: a father is taking his first vacation together with his wife and stepson and instead of going to one of the Disneys, Six Flags, or a solid, corporately branded theme park, they and their RV stop by the decrepit ruins of a carnival. And the dad makes them leave their phones in the car because he is a complete and utter dumbass. (Or connected to the cult in the cold open, who knows?)
The opening few pages are a master class in using pacing and especially color to set the mood of a comic, and the final few pages are a similar master class in how to do suspense. Niles and Sampson avoid jump scares and sink us deeper and deeper into this Southwestern wasteland. One thing that helps with Winnebago Graveyard”s overall tenseness is that the characters look and act like ordinary human beings. Sampson’s figures are photo-realistic, but not stiff. I darkly laughed at all the faces that the mother, Christie, was pulling as her husband decided to stop at the park and especially her reaction to her son brandishing a stick as they wandered far from civilization with no phones or transportation. Niles writes her as the consummate voice of reason while her husband is definitely the new stepdad trying to overcompensate by showing his stepson a whimsical, or creepy good time. It’s a relatable situation thrown into an environment that starts out as fantastical, but could just be another rural desert area in Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico.
Stephane Paitreau’s color palette truly matches gradual increase in the intensity of Steve Niles’ plot while also subverting some readers’ expectations. For example, it might seem like the carnival in Winnebago Graveyard could be like the infuriating (in difficulty) late-90s arcade game CarnEvil where all kinds of ghosts and ghouls chase you in an abandoned Midwest amused and be the epicenter of the horror in the book. No, Paitreau’s colors are neutral and faded like the glory days of the park. But when the family leaves the park in search of a phone or some form of civilization, his palette turns gloomy. Mountains and Joshua trees that would usually be in the background of nature selfies become just as freaky as a dark wood in a more on the nose horror story in Simpson and Paitreau’s hands.
PaitreWinnebago Graveyard #1 made me never want to leave an urban adjacent area and have my cellphone permanently glued to my hand. Steve Niles, Alison Sampson, and Stephane au are masters of gory and atmospheric horror storytelling, and your heart will feel like the creepy naked guy’s heart in the first few pages when you reach the final page cliffhanger.
Story: Steve Niles Art: Alison Sampson Colors: Stephane Paitreau
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review