Book of Evil, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
Writer: Scott Snyder
Book Designer: Emma Price
Publisher: comiXology Originals
Writer Scott Snyder, who years ago moved from prose to comics, has in a way gone back to his roots for his newest collaboration with Jock, Book of Evil. Released through part of a deal with comiXology Originals, Book of Evil is a new graphic novel released in chapters that span between 40 and 50 pages. The first two are out now. While the writing is closer to prose, this book still has some truly wild illustrations, and bringing it all together is the keen design work by Emma Price.
Book of Evil tells the story of a group of kids on the cusp of young adulthood. Growing up in a future society where 92 percent of people are psychopaths, our near-teen protagonists struggle with the violent and often brash environments they’re forced to live in. In shifts, they work in rotating departments with names like Breeding, Feed, and Archives, serving the psychopath class. As you age in this world you get closer to the point of psychopathy, which seems to onset during puberty for most people. This to me is where the story shines most: in the moments when the reality of growing up, dealing with developing hormones, and those first feelings of confused adolescence take over the descriptions of the city and the adventurous nature of the story. The scary things are not always the person on the bus with scissors in their purse, but the possibility that one day your childlike wonder and the life you have will be gone.
Each character is given the name of a famous poet. The main narrator, Homer, introduces us to the world through his eyes. To set the mood upfront, Book of Evil Chapter 1 begins with an encounter Homer has on a bus with an old lady. It’s tense and nearly violent, punctuated by a sketchy, dark reproduction of her face, with blinding white eyes and teeth and a pair of bloody scissors. This image — taking up an entire page — is where you begin to see the kind of magic that Jock brings to the book.
On a panel at New York Comic Con, Jock said that he reads these Book of Evil scripts with a pencil in hand so that he can sketch things as he goes. I wish they had leaned more into that look — hand-drawn sketches over written journal entries, side notes, and reflections stacked on top of the narrative. Because this book was released digitally, I feel like there could have been a lot of room to play with the form without having to worry too much (at least for now) about the complications of printing the physical object.
Coming from big mainstream comics like Batman, Snyder and Jock are taking a swing here. This is not a sequential graphic novel in the way that it could have been. No, it’s an experiment with the form and the mechanics of telling long, narrative stories in an interesting way. While ultimately I think it could have taken a few more risks, the story is compelling to read in this format. The pacing has a tight grip over what you know before you get to a page flip, which at times could either be a vast city sketch or a tense character reveal. At the end of the first chapter, Homer’s brother has disappeared, leaving behind a box of objects. The group debates whether he was able to escape the city somehow or if, like most people in their lives, he has aged into psychopathy. In the next chapter, this spurs the group to make a decision and take some risks they all knew were inevitable. And the adventure begins.
Like Stephen King’s The Body, Book of Evil Chapter 2 finds its characters at the turning point of their young lives, trying to survive the world they live in while still holding on to wonder and adventure. Despite being in a terrifying futureworld, the feelings they describe to each other give you the perspectives of their age; the scared feeling of losing the person who knows you best, the backed-into-a-corner feeling of being young and out of control, and the small feeling you get when your surrounded by everything you know is bad about the world. The story is transplanted into this walled-in city, but it could have easily been Bangor, or Dayton, or Portland, Ore., because the feeling is universally relatable and personal at the same time. The sketches could have been your sketches, and the words could have been your words, if your life (and the world) had been just a little bit different.
The illustrations by Jock, especially in Chapter Two where there’s a lot of movement and action, hammer in both the quiet and tense moments of their journey. But there’s also space made for the city and the rooms the kids live in, the things they see while on work detail, and the often cruel nature of the people around them. While I think the capitalized and highlighted words are a bit distracting in practice, they give important emphasis to the fact that these are not words that people use anymore in the world of the story. They’re before-time words. Designed and laid out by Emma Price, the typesetting is in concert with the writing and the images. It’s not traditional prose formatting, which I think adds even more to the moments of violence and the threat that anything could happen.
If anything, Book of Evil is a stepping stone into weirder and darker stories from a very solid team of comics professionals. It’s exciting to see what graphic novels, and stories can be. The third chapter of Book of Evil is out March 7 via comiXology Originals and Best Jacket Press, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen. The story could go a lot of different ways, which is really exciting. If you were, like me, a fan of Stephen King movies or Fear Street novels, Book of Evil will make you nostalgic for strange tales of adventure and terror.
Book of Evil Chapters 1 & 2 are available now via comiXology Originals.
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