Writer: Lonnie Nadler
Artist: Jenna Cha
Colors: Brad Simpson
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Covers: Jenna Cha, Tim Daniel (Variant), Nathan Gooden (Variant)
In Canada, no one can hear you scream. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that drastic, but it comes pretty close in Lonnie Nadler’s Black Stars Above. The story follows Eulalie Dubois, the daughter of a French-Canadian fur trapper and a native woman, who is struggling with her lot in life. The year is 1887, and while her father stubbornly denies it, the fur-trapping business is dying and being swallowed up by the HBC.
While she is stopping in town to sell goods, she is met by a mysterious stranger who gives her a peculiar mission: Deliver a parcel to the city north of the woods known as The Green Ribbon–the very woods her grandfather warned her about. Oh, and she can’t ever, ever look at what’s inside. As the situation at home gets more dire–including an unwanted arranged marriage–Eulalie decides to take on the errand. It’s not long before she encounters strange happenings in the woods.
Black Stars Above #1 is, simply put, a hell of a debut issue. You’re almost immediately hooked by the haunting opening before it shifts into the wonderfully dreadful story of Eulalie. Part of the appeal is the many different sources Lonnie draws from to craft this wholly unique tale. I felt like I was re-visiting a lot of familiar friends–Jack London, John Wayne, and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft. It takes the slow-burn horror of The Witch and translates it into the 19th-century Canadian wilderness.
On top of the atmosphere, there’s a lot of thematic elements that you can discover and re-discover from this one issue alone. There’s Eulalie’s struggle with her independence and free-will vs. the “legacy” of her family. There’s Eulalie’s Métis identity. There’s that awkward place between the old way of life and the new way. We hear Eulalie’s thoughts on the relative briefness of our existence. I believe that well-crafted horror stories are able to take a lot of thematic elements like this that ground us and allow us to empathize–and then add that scary cherry on top. Black Stars Above does just that.
Jenna Cha has a very distinctive, hand-drawn style that comes out brilliantly in this book. The character designs give our cast their humanity while the set designs bring the world to life. Add on top of that Brad Simpson’s colors, and you really feel like you are in this book. Simpson does an excellent job making us feel the icy coldness of the snowy Canadian wilderness and the warmth of a fire in a small, isolated cabin. Some of my favorite pages were after Eulalie sets off on her journey–the combination of the linework and contrasting colors was stunning. And all the creepy bits deliver the punch they are meant to deliver. And don’t forget Otsmane-Elhaou’s ability to give us unique narrative boxes and create an old-fashioned script that is still entirely readable.
Black Stars Above is grounded in themes that provoke empathy and familiarity while also managing to scare the bejesus out of you. It’s only one issue in, but it already has so much that you can skin from multiple readings.