If Heaven is, as the great poet Belinda Carlisle once said, a place on Earth, then is Hell one too (as Belinda didn’t go on to say)? That’s the question which inspired UnEarth, a new one-shot from writer John-Paul Bove and artist Conor Boyle.
The action begins in Sicily, 1895, where archaeologists excavating a long-dormant volcano find traces of a long-dead civilisation. They create plaster casts of the ancient inhabitants – à la the ghostly statues of Pompeii – only to find they’re not exactly human-shaped. What’s more, the demons who inhabited this hellscape aren’t exactly dead, either.
Inspired by the old religious concept of Hell being a physical place, there’s a rising feeling of biblical terror in Bove’s script, with an atmosphere somewhere in between Indiana Jones and Dante’s Inferno, while big themes such as the relationship between religion and science make sure you think as well as shudder. Boyle’s art and Bove’s own colouring reinforce the terror very well, giving us a gruesome array of creatures, strikingly highlighted against the darkness – jet blacks and bloody reds are the key colours here.
Importantly, both the script and the artwork show an understanding that the key to good horror is in holding back the nastier reveals and building up suspense – though the double-page spread depicting the gang of plaster cast creatures in all their glory is (literally) one hell of an image. There are also some very clever uses of the comic format – the speech bubbles of the workers around lead archaeologist Edward Francis fade into the background as he stares in awe at his discoveries.
Telling the entire story in twenty-two pages, UnEarth goes by in a flash and leaves you wanting more. It does feel a shame that we never get to know the characters as well as we would in a longer format – the opening scenes introduce the somewhat combative relationship between Englishman Francis and his Italian counterpart Dantini very well, but this plays second fiddle to the horror in the latter half.
Nevertheless, being left wanting more is always better than getting bored waiting for something to finish, and as the comic book equivalent of a short horror story, UnEarth is a spine-chillingly good way to spend fifteen minutes. Also included is a fascinating commentary from Bove, shedding light on some of the creative choices made and how he came to be interested in the story’s themes; we’ll be looking out for more from this promising creator.
UNEARTH / AUTHOR: JOHN-PAUL BOVE / ARTIST: CONOR BOYLE / PUBLISHER: BAR NONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW