It’s not often that I get an uncomfortable feeling when reading a graphic novel, but The Strain, Volume 1 is appropriately eerie.
Based on a novel, and possibly a film or television series (I’m not entirely certain) created by Guillermo del Toro, The Strain twists the vampire legend back into something darker and more in keeping with the origins of the legend (that it is something vile and hideous and not romantic, as modern tales have made the vampire out to be). And for anyone familiar with del Toro, it should come as a shock that the creatures are hideous, loathsome, and exceedingly creepy.
The book starts out in a manner SO entirely possible. First, a brief ‘history’ lesson from 1927 Romania, and then to the present day when a plane lands at a New York airport but the entire passenger and crew are dead and the CDC don’t know what caused it. Given recent fears in the news about the virus Ebola and flights that may have carried Ebola victims into the United States, this story seems almost prescient.
Horror can be a tough genre to pull off, particularly in a graphic novel format. I’ve read a fair number of attempts and none of them have really satisfied. This one however, does exactly what it sets out to do, which is to tell a dark, disturbing story that gives the reader the willies. It does this, in part, by not being like a typical graphic novel.
This may sound strange, and I can’t quite put my finger on the reason, but this doesn’t read like a graphic novel. Perhaps this is because the focus is on the larger story and the creators don’t build little individual comic issue story arcs (which would drive me crazy if I were reading this in individual comic issues)? Perhaps it’s because it’s a much more faithful adaptation of novels or the television series? Whatever the reason (perhaps someone can help me identify this) this is almost more like reading a movie. The way the story builds and the way the art complements the story rather than being a more obvious aspect of the book, creates a rather unique read. I know…I know…this sounds strange, but I can’t seem to find a better way to explain the feeling I got while reading this book. It was a unique experience.
I’m not typically a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro. He always seems to be on the verge of something powerful that fails to deliver. But in the hands of author David Lapham, The Strain, Volume 1 builds quite nicely.
Mike Huddleston’s art is very appropriately dark. It is more ‘sketch-like’ than highly detailed finished work, and it is also highly stylized, all of which adds to the atmosphere of the book. it works well for telling this story. Dan Jackson’s colors really tweak the art to encourage the creepy, dark atmosphere.
Looking for a good book? This is not a book that everyone will enjoy, but if you like dark, strange stories with vampires that are absolutely hideous, then The Strain, Volume 1 is a great book to read.
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The Strain, Volume 1
story: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
script: David Lapham
art: Mike Huddleston and Dan Jackson
publisher: Dark Horse Books
paperback, 274 pages