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If you don't want bad things to happen or hairy monsters to come and get you, the one place you don't go, especially after dark, is into the woods. Hansel and Gretal, Dorothy and Toto, Heather, Josh and Mike from Blair Witch and the inhabitants of M Night Shulman's The Village all found out the hard way.

It's these and other images from fairy tales, films and folklore that inhabit childhood nightmares. Rachel Cattle brings these fears out of the imagination and into the pages of The Darkness, an oversize comic with a mysterious and haunting narrative.

    

This large, soft pencil-illustrated, 500-edition comic is a real event. Unlike Kingly's previous (conventional perfect bind) publications, it's printed on shiny, pearly paper, staple-bound, and comes in sticker-sealed see-thru plastic, sealed with a DayGlo yellow circular decal showing a creature's foot - a neat extra detail.
Rachel's drawings in this atmosphere-rich, forty-three-frame piece are of animals (bears, mostly), trees, fire, a wooden house (which smoulders at the end), claws, what seem to be ghosts, eerily empty speech bubbles - and the dark itself; and, with the numerous close-ups (Rachel's strong on texture : fur; wood), have something of film stills about them.
Three panels are devoted entirely to darkness, and it's pleasing to see pencil shading rather than a solid black : one thus has the option of being able to stare at the marks and imagine all sorts, allow things to suggest themselves. I particularly like Rachel's giant - two-page - first frame, the left hand side of which is completely empty. Incredibly effective, and brave. And the overall composition of pages and spreads is as impressive as the scale of the drawings.

Publisher Marc Baines wrote that The Darkness "...has a weird beguiling quality... that repays several readings" - and I agree : it's definitely one to keep returning to, like one hopes the following night to re-enter an especially haunting, perplexing dream.
Rachel's web site is a treat, incidentally - well worth visiting for its entertaining collection of click-on-'em swiftly moving objects, her books (one is of sewn images on cloth pages), and her online ice-a-biscuit competition featuring a creature's outline and an inviting palette of colours.

     Stephen Drennan   Bypass online

Bears and other hairy monsters, sharp of tooth and claw, growling their wordless balloons, lurk in the wild woods at night. Like some ominous aftermath, no human is around, only severed tree trunks and a burning cabin in this enigmatic, 100-copy tabloid drawn by Rachel Cattle in pulsing charcoal.

     Paul Gravett   Comics International

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