A few months ago we cast our critical eye over prolific author Neil Gibson’s small press horror comic creation TWISTED DARK (click here for our review of Volumes 1 and 2 of the series, and here for Gibson’s website). Not one to rest on his laurels, Gibson has recently concluded Volume 3, which, like its predecessors, is an eclectic anthology of short stories, encompassing a number of genres but with an emphasis on psychological horror, illustrated by a range of talented artists. Also like its predecessors, it’s chilling, smart, and eminently readable.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Volume 3 picks up where the previous collection left off, and follows the same broad template. Each story is introduced by a brief frontispiece, usually involving a quote, which both sets up what we’re about to read and sheds a little light on the narrative’s origins. All the stories are standalone and could probably be read in any order, but Gibson has deliberately structured them to emphasise their varied nature. As with the previous collections, the author demonstrates that he’s not afraid to tackle any subject matter in any geographical (and even temporal) setting. While the authorial voice is clearly his, the various characters are individual and nuanced enough to convince (even if a few of the more familiar idioms and colloquialisms don’t ring true to their native terrains). The breadth of research involved in commendable, as is the scope of the project, which, once again, demonstrates an ambition that transcends the work’s small press trappings. Collectively the three Volumes entail almost six hundred pages of comics, a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards, and Gibson shows no sign of letting up, with a fourth Volume on the way...
If the stories are remarkable in their consistency, barely putting a foot wrong, the artwork is marked by its diversity. This is no bad thing, especially in an anthology, but there’s no getting away from the fact that some stories suffer in comparison to their more visually arresting counterparts. When they’re good they’re very good (Leonardo Gonzalez, who illustrates SILENT JUSTICE, is a particular standout, with some exceptional draughtsmanship and inky, oppressive artwork that bleeds menacingly into the story; PEACE AND QUIET’s Atula Siriwardane also impresses), and Gibson demonstrates a talent for pairing artist and subject matter (as evidenced by THE BID, illustrated with pitch-perfect quirkiness by Hugo Wijngaard). In the main the artwork is at least competent, often excellent, but there are occasions when standards slip, and the story suffers.
As Gibson points out in his introduction, not all of the stories have twist endings, although those that do tend to be the most memorable. In terms of sheer creepiness, the aforementioned PEACE AND QUIET is probably the most effective, and the closest to a conventional horror movie, although the story that leaves the most lasting impression, and is the most affecting, is the haunting PERFECT, again illustrated by Wijngaard. It’s a slice of life story, without so much as a hint of the supernatural, and with an ending that’s not so much predicable as inevitable. It’s sad, compelling, and entirely believable, and as such is probably the most accomplished articulation of what Gibson is trying to achieve so far. The other standout feature of Volume 3, and one of the things that sets it apart from previous Volumes, is its interconnectivity. While the stories are standalone, they often reference, or even continue, other stories in the collection, usually from a different perspective. This helps to create the sense of a tapestry, an interwoven web of vignettes that as a whole is greater than its parts.
TWISTED DARK can be purchased through Gibson’s website or on Amazon. While imperfect, particularly in terms of the inconsistent artwork, Volume 3 is a strong collection of eclectic, convincing horror-themed short stories, told with enthusiasm and conviction. They’re rarely predictable and often gripping, and the self-conscious attempt to associate the disparate tales, both subtly and overtly, adds a new dimension of cohesion. Highly recommended.