Time is weird.

Although under consistent conditions, the passage of time remains the same (relative to the speed that you’re travelling), our perception of it can be radically different. These past few years have felt particularly strange, given the existential dread and disruptions of routine and schedules many of us have been under. The rhythm and flow of time has felt off, as if something has gone terribly awry. It was only 2017, only five years ago now, that Underwinter – Symphony by Ray Fawkes and Steve Wands, was released, but it feels like a lifetime ago. For a string quartet playing monthly at an exclusive event blindfolded, time is running out.

Underwinter follows a string quartet as they get a gig that promises to be quite lucrative, but has the strange caveat that they must play blindfolded, never seeing their audience and playing their music by memory. Why exactly they can’t see who they’re playing for isn’t explained to them, but for one of them the covering slips, he sees the strange audience, and madness begins to set in. For all of them, really. It’s interesting how Ray Fawkes plays out their transformations, the corruptions of their identities, and does so in a fashion that more or less has the reader experience it over the course of a regimented story, rather than outright tell us. It’s a compelling and immersive mystery where the bits and pieces that we’re seeing are outright horrifying in their own right.

Fawkes’ artwork is fascinating. He uses a minimalist style here that features vague outlines of people, very few details and lines, and a smattering of watercolours and what might be pencil crayons. It kind of reminds me a bit of how Kent Williams approaches his splatters and how Dustin Nguyen has pared down his artwork, with an even more ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere. It’s art that you’re required to feel, more than necessarily watch, immersing you into the hallucinatory nature of the story. They aren’t really the kind of visuals that you can really rush to comprehend. It slows down the pacing and requires you to take your time to see what’s going on.

Steve Wands’ letters add a good depth, delineating some of the sequences through their style. The dreams get their own mixed case font, helping to separate them from reality. There’s also an interesting breakdown of the narration boxes as the world starts to crumble, very nicely incorporating them into the overall design of the pages.

Underwinter – Symphony by Fawkes and Wands is an insidious kind of horror story. One which keeps you coming back for more, watching these characters change, but not really knowing why until it’s far too late to turn back. Its spare, impressionistic beauty acting almost like a dream, making you wonder about what you think happened.

Underwinter - Symphony

Classic Comic Compendium: Underwinter – Symphony

Underwinter – Symphony
Writer & Artist: Ray Fawkes
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
When a fallen denizen of Heaven claws its way to Earth, four talented musicians are drawn into a web of perversion and violence in an attempt to stop it from bringing its curse to the entire living world. A new horror series begins here, by award-winning creator RAY FAWKES, author of Gotham By Midnight, Batman: Eternal, and INTERSECT.
Release Date: October 31, 2017

Read last week’s entry in the Classic Comic Compendium!