Mar 13, 2015
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 17: 30 Days of Night #1, June 2002
This comic, if memory serves, kick-started a horror comic renaissance in the early 2000s when it was published. Aside from the numerous sequels (and the film version) to this series, there was a renewed interest in comics with more atmospheric art styles than the previous decade. In some ways this hearkens back to the early days of Vertigo, when such talents as Richard Case or Ted McKeever were given the freedom to run rampant over comics with their distinctive styles, now affectionately known as "Vertigo-esque." And 30 Days of Night is eminently Vertigo-esque. Where, by the 2000s, Vertigo had moved firmly into its dark fantasy mode, IDW took some chances on people like Niles and Templesmith, and was publishing strange little comics that were unlike most mainstream fare. This is well before IDW became the go to publisher of licensed properties, and the success of their horror fare likely is what put them on the radar of franchises looking to branch out into comics, or, at the very least, that success is what gave them to economic heft to compete with others who were looking to publish licensed characters and stories.
But what about the comic itself? I think, of all the genres, horror has to be one of the most difficult to pull off in a graphic medium. Templesmith's art is remarkably evocative and atmospheric. The splash page on the second and third pages of the comic evoke that stifling darkness that comes with a twilight snow storm, and that burning eye of a sun that struggles through the clouds, that slowly sets, adds to the storm a feeling of the world ending. Which, narratively, is precisely what happens for a number of people in the town of Barlow, Alaska. There are moments where Templesmith's art verges into the abstract, especially when he's depicting brutal killings, and it is occasionally difficult to really figure out what's going on. Though perhaps, given that this is vampires killing people that they consider cattle, the abstraction is a mercy. And this is how horror can work in a graphic medium. I'll go on at length in a few years about the adaptations of Lovecraft into comics, and why the vast majority of them fail, but in short it's because atmosphere is sacrificed for detail. In the case of 30 Days, I don't necessarily need to see what's been done to the victims in order to know that something has been done to them. And chances are whatever I can imagine is worse than what would present itself in a less-abstract illustration.
(Though Ennis and Dillon's Preacher occasionally blows that theory out of the water.)
As for the story, the writing, Niles is a competent comics writer. The idea for the story is great, and the reactions of his characters to their increasingly horrific plight is believable and nuanced. I can't, off the top of my head, think of anything else he's written that I've read, but I look forward to seeing if his talents stretch beyond the horror genre.