THE SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED #1
Hidden somewhere in the dense countryside of Eastern European is a school unlike any other. As well as an education establishment, the Gothic mansion also acts as a sanctuary for all the freaks and monsters of the world to escape from persecution and live in peace.
The story begins proper in 1936, when a small unit of Nazi soldiers attempt to commandeer the school for some nefarious purpose, during which we get to know its inhabitants, many of whom are lifted directly out of the period horror films from which the comic takes its inspiration. Some are recognisable by sight, such as Dr Caligari and Cesar (from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari) and Count Orlock (of Nosferatu), while others you’ll know by name like Medusa, Victor Frankenstein, Gabriel Utterson (the narrator of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and Johnny the Half-Boy (from Todd Browning’s Freaks). However, rather than coming across as a simple gimmick, the mash-up of classic characters immediately expands the story, developing it beyond its base concept by their mere presence.
The dialogue echoes the feel of those same vintage horror movies, where pleasantries charged with contempt mix with matter-of-fact declarations of otherworldly power, while the personalities that lie beneath the surface of the legends begin to come forth. These creatures might be monsters but they are also people, just not humans.
The strategically shaded black & white artwork creates a Gothic atmosphere that perfectly complements the exchanges. You can practically feel the chill of the cold night air and hear the howling of wind over the desolate moors as a fat moon glows through the wispy clouds and shrouds the forest in a darkened silhouette. Small details add to the ambience, such as cracks in the school’s front pillars, lit candles hanging off a back wall, or a ribcage protruding through the stone skin of a gargoyle, and whenever a raven (who you may not be surprised to learn is named Edgar) flies across a room your mind fills in his coarse cawing and the fluttering of his obsidian wings.
Interestingly, only two pages of the comic takes place in the present, where Orlock makes a promise before the school’s populace that outside interference will be met with forceful resistance, declaring “We shall not go quietly into the night, for the night belongs to us.” As well as a brief prologue from six years previously that offers a vampiric scourge as the true reason for the evacuation of St Kilda and an epilogue that also acts as a epilogue to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the rest of the story is a brief flashback prior to that moment, where the teachers meet the Nazi threat head on with all the ferocity their reputations invoke, leaving behind a tacit epitaph of You Should Have Left Us Alone. Opening issues don’t come much more intense or attention-grabbing than this.
INFO: THE SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED #1 / AUTHOR: JOHN FARMAN / ARTIST: JAMES DEVLIN / PUBLISHER: VITAL PUBLISHING / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW