Readers of The Lost Art

Tell Me, Dark

March 4th, 2009

Tell Me, Dark 

Writer: Karl Edward Wagner

Artists: John Ney Rieber & Kent Williams

Reviewer: Alex


Analysed at face value, this is an okay book, with some good aspects but also some distinct flaws. However, in spite of – in fact, maybe because of – the flaws, there is something strangely pleasing about it. What gives it this peculiar appeal is the way it ploughs into grand dark artiness with nary a care for its ability to carry it off, noticeably without the irony and self-deprecation that has now become so ubiquitous in contemporary sequential art.

¦lt;br /> Appraised of itself, it doesn’t quite work. The art is nice, a mixture of realism and expressionistic sketchiness with gloomy painted colours, reminiscent of Dave McKean, though less multimedia-y. The story (about guilt, suicide and descent into the dark depths of vice and substance abuse, all with a modern fantasy/horror edge) is suited to the art and has moments of engagement. Unfortunately, ultimately it doesn’t stand up as a satisfying read; the characters aren’t hugely interesting and the plot lacks clarity, but its main problem is the way it overreaches itself, unable to match the levels of thematic substance, plot intricacy and stylishness of delivery that it seems to aspire to.

However, in these days where so much sequential art aimed at adults has some element of ironic dissociation (or else is earnest autobiography or obtuse experimentalism), the kind of gung-ho po-faced gothness displayed by Tell Me, Dark is quite refreshing. It comes through in the art and story tone, but also in endearingly pretentious touches like starting each chapter with a Baudelaire quote. Yes, its late-eighties/early-nineties roots are clear, but this is Tell Me, Dark’s allure – it speaks of bygone days, when Gaiman was doing big goth things with Sandman, when coats were massive, when The Cure were ace and the buzz of The Big Three (Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Maus) was still spurring many noble failures in the field of writing comics for grown-ups.

This may all sound like slight praise, but if you’ve read the breadth of current sequential art and are looking for something outside this, something evocative of the time when comics were genuinely believed to be the next big thing, this may be the tonic you need. For anyone else, Tell Me, Dark is alright but not highly recommended.

Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: D C Comics (a division of Warner Brothers – A Time Warner Entertainment Co.) (1 Jan 1996)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1563890887

(First published 20/08/2007.)

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