Sana Takeda and Marjorie Liu are a creative force to be reckoned with, one of those rare comics partnerships that tend to start new conversations based on the quality and complexity of their work. This was the case with their award-winning series Monstress, a fantasy-horror story about magical beings that can create psychic links with monsters, all in an intricately built world where politics and persecution make for a dangerous life for those with powers. There’s nothing like it on the stands. The same can be said of their new graphic novel The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night, a book about family, demons, and expectations that’s as disturbing as it is funny.
She Eats the Night, the first in a trilogy, follows Chinese-American twins Milly and Billy and their strange parents Ipo and Keon, both Chinese immigrants with a mysterious past that gets told bit by bit during chapter breaks. It’s set in the middle of the COVID pandemic as the twins struggle to keep their restaurant afloat in New York City while their mother, Ipo, finds her kids need a crash course in growing up in light of the existential curveball the pandemic throws their way.
Ipo’s solution is to have them learn a lesson or two inside a haunted house, where family secrets are laid bare and life-changing revelations do their magic to help the twins toughen up. Demonic entities and creepy dolls hold up their end of the bargain while something darker and more dangerous readies itself to shatter the family’s status quo.
In her author spotlight panel at New York Comic Con, Liu stated that the book took form during the early days of the pandemic, pre-vaccines, when fear was at its peak and lockdowns forced families to help each other whether they liked it or not. This concept permeates throughout the story, commenting on a people’s reaction to adversity being a reflection of the teachings (or lack thereof) their parents imparted during their formative years.
As a horror story, the supernatural elements contained within serve a healthy portion of metaphors about the unfathomable unknowns of parenting, about how much emotional risk should be wagered in the process of preparing one’s children for the world. The genius behind the idea, and what truly makes it shine, is that the scary stuff is backed up by intricate lore and worldbuilding, all of which makes it hit harder as both a metaphor and as a legitimate source of terror.
In her panel, Liu spoke to Takeda’s masterful approach to silence and the volumes of story she gets in when words are absent. She Eats the Night is a testament to this, to Takeda’s skill as an artist and how she gets every single inch of a panel to serve the narrative and its world. Moments of levity come off as honest and playful with or without text, whereas moments of horror are presented with a depth that hints at evils with long and winding histories about them.
It’s nothing short of impressive. The creative team’s chemistry is so apparent that it practically jumps from the page. Liu knows when to let images alone do the talking and Takeda knows when to give the text the space it needs to land as well as it can. This is one of the reasons they’re such a formidable creative force. They play to their strengths and they support each other in the storytelling process like very few other creatives do or can.
Liu and Takeda’s character work is another defining feature and here it results in one two of the most compelling characters in comics today: Ipo and Keon. Without giving too much away, these two characters are the heart and soul of the book and not just in an endearing and emotional way. They also harbor a lot of darkness that must be confronted and worked through, a lot of which spills over generationally. The Chinese immigrant experience gets a deep and nuanced treatment through them, informing and layering the horrors that will later haunt the twins. Their story is what makes this tale feel so transformative and important.
On top of all of the things they achieve with the story, it’s also a very funny and heartfelt book. It’s not out to scare you senseless and leave you a broken vessel of screams. It’s genuinely comedic and approachable. In fact, it champions hybridity. It dares readers to switch between moods, tones, and genres to get a different sort of narrative experience.
She Eats the Night is an achievement. NYCC goers are in for an early treat if they got to the Abrams Books booth (#3129) as they are selling copies of it before its October 11th release. Run to the booth if you’re at the con. If not, call your local comics shop and make sure to reserve your copy. Liu and Takeda have a classic on their hands with She Eats the Night and you’d do well to experience it as soon as you can.
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