Cirque Du Mort: Volume One is a Grand Guignol series of dark fairy tales, with every three or four page vignette focused upon the grisly deeds and fates of each of the colourful Big Top performers. After a neat poetic prologue, we meet Mimi the Mime, and without giving the details of her story away you've only got to look closely at the picture of Mimi, that introduces the chapter, to get a fair sense of how Mimi's story turns out. After Mimi comes Antoinette the magician, posed seductively beside the blood encrusted blade of her guillotine, and the characters that follow include an immortal bearded lady, a fire dancer who - we soon discover - is quite appropriately nicknamed after the Hindu Goddess of Death, and a shattered acrobat whose heart is stitched together by an enchanted costume master (which was easily our favourite story.) It's a mixed bag of grisliness, with the only real illustrations being the portraits of the performers (and one or two incidental press cuttings and posters) and although the stories are well written, very few of them hold any surprises for readers who already know their horror genre.
It's a shame, because the central 'circus of the damned' motif that binds Cirque Du Mort together is an interesting one and, if she had given herself a little bit more space to tell each tale and worked harder at avoiding the clichés, writer and artist Anastasia Catris could have produced something cool and surprising, but the inevitable Tales of the Crypt story structure works against itself and, like most anthologies, one or two of the tales are very good but the majority are simply filler. Having said that, Catris does have an interesting voice and she keeps everything fresh by constantly switching around her storytelling style – the poem about the conjoined twins is excellent, even if the denouement is predictable.
Catris' artwork, though, is fantastic and beautifully designed. The mystical atmosphere Catris' graphics evokes complements her stories perfectly. In fact, if there had been more art and less words (most of the stories would have been so much more effective told in pictures) this could have been a very good book indeed.
Cirque Du Mort is a great idea that's flawed in the execution but despite those reservations it will be interesting to see what Catris does with Volume Two. Personally, we think that if she concentrates less on the performers as individuals, and more on telling an ensemble tale about the eponymous death's circus, we think she'll be on to something pretty special.
CIRQUE DU MORT VOLUME ONE / AUTHOR & ARTIST & PUBLISHER: ANASTASIA CATRIS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW