Murky Depths: Issue One / Review
“The Quarterly Anthology Of Graphically Dark Speculative Fiction”
- Death and the Maiden / Richard Calder
- Looking In, Looking Out / Gareth D. Jones
- Come To My Arms My Beamish Boy / Douglas Warrick
- Paston, Kentucky / Jonathan C. Gillespie
- The Other Woman / Chris Lynch
- 67442 / Paul Abbamondi
- Supply Ship / Kate Kelly
- State Your Name / Jon Courtenay Grimwood
- Empathy / Luke Cooper
- Snowblind / Marcie Lynn
- Cyberevenge Inc. / Eugie Foster
- Today Is Not / Michael Sellars
- I Bleed Light / Edward R. Norden
- The Quality of Mercy / Ron Shiflet
- Naught But Ash / Anne Stringer
- The Pattern Makers of Zanzibar / Lavie Tidhar
Although this is issue one of Murky Depths, it isn’t the first to be released; there is an issue zero promo, which we previously reviewed here.
Death and the Maiden written and drawn by Richard Calder is part one of a series. Because of this and the fact that space is limited, due to the nature of the publication, it simply doesn’t come across as anything special.
The black and white computer created artwork is predictably dark and the panels range from good (vehicular movement and weapons usage) to average (character representation and emotion) to crap (indistinct scenes, no atmosphere). The latter, I presume, is because the artwork was drawn larger and shrunk to fit on the page.
Even though the artwork is dark, Calder has failed to make it gritty enough. There’s too much blurring and simple blends, obscuring and damaging the original artwork, which go part way to make it a beginners Photoshop frenzy of effects.
This female ‘cat girl’ (prostitute? maiden?) is picked up by a punter, and then a zombie appears and kills said punter (with an impressive gun, I must say). The dialogue is boring at worst, but does have its humourous moments. And come on, isn’t a scantily clad sexy female in high heels, short skirt and thigh high leather boots just a bit cliched?
It remains to be seen if this art strip will improve - the vagueness of the story made the whole thing fail to capture my imagination.
Looking In, Looking Out written by Gareth D. Jones is an unorthodox piece, set across a double-page spread, read anti-clockwise in chunks of days. In centre there is a neat bit of art of a baby in front of a planet which reminded me in part of the film 2001.
Each day text is in the form of a report from an alien on his attempted communcation with humans on Earth. An easy read, which packs a not so obvious sad ending when it’s realised just what the alien is communicating with, and why communication ends.
The layout and presentation, and the diary form of the story makes it a compelling read; a truly memorable story.
Come To My Arms My Beamish Boy by Douglas Warrick is a strange, haphazard story of man named Cotton in the throes of Alzheimer’s. It reflects on his life while trying just a little too hard to show him believing his memories are being stolen. It has its moving moments, where Cotton can remember certain things, but not the most important - the face of Audrey. Towards the end, and quite predictably, more memories disappear in ‘real-time’, Cotton becomes more desperate, until he finally sees an image of Audrey ‘looking like an exclamation point’. Huh?
In tune with the magazine, it is dark, but doesn’t really seem to pull itself off - which could be a relection on the type of story I prefer.
Paston, Kentucky by Jonathan C. Gillespie is set in a world where metal stealing nanobots have been let loose on the world. They hoard metal into large structures, or hives, which tower high into the sky. It has some great imagery of these towers, great imagery of the nanobots taking metal from anywhere - fillings, bullets embedded in flesh.
A band of survivors, including one of the original designers, set out to shutdown the hives and nanobots for good. The story is quite short, but packs a lot into itself, and builds slowly to a tight, atmospheric, fast-paced ending.
Post-apocalyptic near its near best.
The second full graphic story is The Other Woman written and drawn by Chris Lynch. A guy buys flowers and some chocolates for his wife as it’s their anniversary. He goes to the cinema, buys two tickets, but he is alone while watching the film (which incidentally appears to be Metropolis, judging by the poster on the wall as he walks out).
He is then intercepted by someone who appears to be a doctor. The doctor explains to the man about his wife. I can’t really say more, or else it will spoil the story.
The artwork is what I would term old fashioned spare artwork; minimal line drawing, and it works beautifully. It goes to show that you don’t need effects upon effects to convey visual atmosphere. The story seems to be set (roughly) in the 40s or 50s, and this kind of artwork fits in just right. The timing of the panels for the unexpected twist in the final few panels is spot on.
The only issue I had with this is that there is no character build (again, because of the limited space), which means empathy for the characters might not be as high as it could have been.
It’s creepy, and something which might not be too far from the truth in a few years time (normal disclaimers apply).
With the shortest name, 67442 by Paul Abbamondi is also the shortest story in this issue. An apparent artificial man, identification number 67442, is stripped of exterior and personality. He gets a new identification as a teacher, ready to be inserted into society. It’s not clear why this is happening, or if this being is always 67442, or whether he’s improved with each birth. It’s clear he momentarily remembers his ‘previous life’ which, with new memories of being a teacher, he realises was wicked.
It’s quite good descriptively, but lacks a beginning - it really only contains a middle and partial end.
Supply Ship by Kate Kelly is a well written piece with a totally unexpected ending.
Set on a bleak, barren world, the inhabitants build a beacon from scrap so they can get a supply ship to pass and drop badly needed supplies. Kept to a tight budget of words, it is succinct while not being too short. Mainly though, it’s the twist-ending which makes the story. The associated artwork suffices and compliments the story.
State Your Name written by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. The world is falling apart, and the UN are evacuating people ‘with enough points’ using freighter ships. Those who don’t have enough points have to queue up at an ‘exit gate’ which sends them far into the future, past the next ice-age. It isn’t made clear whether people who have passage on the freighter ships will also end up in the same place as the people who go through the ‘exit gate’.
Two threads of story come together at the end with another unexpected ending, but because of the lack of knowledge of each parties destination, the story doesn’t quite work.
Again, the design dictates duplicate cropped artwork. The images are superficial, don’t add anything to the prose, and in this instance would have been better to have been smaller, and not reproduced throughout the story.
Empathy written and drawn by Luke Cooper is the third full graphical story. A father holds a gun to his daughters head, saying that she’s not his daughter. Three policemen hostage negotiators are on the scene. One of them, goes to talk to the father.
The artwork in this story is brilliant. Grey scale, atmospheric. It’s drawn in two layers, with the focus on the front layer, and the background blurred out to add emphasis to the focused layer. Great dialogue, hardcore swearing in just about each speech bubble, gun fire (but not over the top blood results) lends itself to Tarantino. Very moody.
Another great twist at the end. A twist in that it tells you everything up front, but only when read in the end scenes does its context change to something else. Stunning.
Snowblind / Marcie Lynn is three verses of poetry, with some effective, yet simple artwork. It seems to be an evocative piece on true love, with a splattering of weirdness. Though I’m no expert on poetry it did linger in my mind after I’d read it.
Cyberevenge Inc. by Eugie Foster has a self explanatory title. It possibly have been better with a more ambiguous name, maybe ‘Customer Service’, so as not to give too much away prior to the first read.
Anyway, it’s a head-on cyber blood-fest revenge story of a woman who, through pseudo-virtual reality and some hi-tech gadgets, takes revenge on her stalker in a physical way. Written so as not to give away that it’s done for real until the end, makes it easier to show the dismembering in more graphic detail. It is quite a powerful story.
Personally, I’m not into this kind of story, it’s been done too many times, and seems like violence for violence’s sake, and we’re not even privvy to the thinking behind the stalker. The pain, torture and death metered out by the woman is somewhat overblown based on the actions of the stalker (he doesn’t physically abuse her, he does it using superimposed pictures and swear words against her, and black marking her with her publishers). But then, what constitues physical vs psychological damage: they’re possibly the same.
A thought provoking read, with the kind of ending I like.
Today Is Not by Michael Sellars is about a mentally disturbed woman who has lost her family, and believes that she needs to find a saviour in bits of broken glass (for example a car window). She then tests the bits of broken glass on her shrink, whom she has locked down in her cellar. If they cut him, then they’re fake. If they don’t cut him, then they’re part of the magic she’s looking for.
Well written, but my attention wavered during the middle, only making up for it at the end. The complimentary artwork is atmospheric, and done in one of my favourite drawing medium. A charcoal / wet paint effect with a grainyness scratched into it.
I Bleed Light written and drawn by Edward R. Norden is the second installment of poetry, this time with a more emphasis on the art. Drawn in a ’scrappy’ way, it works well. The text is also written white on black, in what looks like a pen, in ‘real handwriting’, which comes across as suitable to the purpose. I’m no expert on poetry, but this is a nice read - again dark.
The Quality of Mercy by Ron Shiflet is smart story of someone who thinks they know better than everyone else. The artwork in this piece is very vague, and makes it redundant really.
A guy is born with a second sight. He is able to see how people will (graphically) die. Not pretty. Slow prose, but builds to a particular ending which I can’t work out is great (for the twist value), or just plain stupid. You decide.
Naught But Ash by Anne Stringer is a straight forward story of an old doctor who looks after people in a small town and remembers a time before the human race was split up, and large cities destroyed by ‘lights in the sky’. A whole family has been wiped out by a loner. It is investigated and the culprit found and hanged. No twist ending, but it is a macabre piece about doubting what one sees, what drives people to perform sick acts, and being unable to answer bigger questions. Quite haunting, but more of a mainstream murder story, with interesting artwork adding to the story.
The Pattern Makers of Zanzibar by Lavie Tidhar is written in a one sided correspondance between a reporter and his publisher. The reporter is investigating the slave trade in Zanzibar, and finds some unusual activity.
I found the characters a bit bland and the one sided ‘conversation’ seems slow and doesn’t fill in all the blanks. The ending was ok, but the ending shouldn’t justify the means. The artwork is nothing special, although the style of the artwork I liked (drawn in just black and white and quite bold).
So, overall? If you’ve managed to read this quite long review to the end, then you’ll already know there is a lot of substance to this issue. The design irks somewhat, because the two-page spread of art is reproduced in a cropped fashion on subsequent pages of the same story. It seems lazy. This is done on a few of the stories and is a waste of space, which could be used for more artwork or more prose.
The smaller size of the publication means it can easily be read without the pages flopping about. The quality of the paper is excellent, as is the front page artwork (though, maybe just a bit too much blue).
The main thing to remember is that Murky Depths issue 0 was pretty amazing, so it has set the bar high, and in comparing issue 0 with issue 1, issue 1 as a whole doesn’t come across as strong.
This is definitely an experimental publication, experimenting with a mixture of graphical stories, short stories and poetry. Even though some of the stories didn’t quite do it for me, I will be keeping an eye out to see how Murky Depths develops.