The more popular a dangerous thing becomes, the more rounded its corners get and the safer it becomes for public consumption. Just look at what happened to punk music: from Sex Pistols to Green Day in just 12 years! It’s plausible that the recent glut of mom-and-teen-friendly horror/fantasy entertainment is in danger of having the same effect on werewolves. Until recently, I was actually concerned about this. A Google News search for “werewolves” would result in a dizzying hall-of-mirrors effect involving Taylor Lautner and Joe Manganiello and I would have to go lay down until the shakes went away. But no more! I’m confident that the werewolf will always remain a creature of horror and gleeful, animalistic mayhem. What changed, you ask? Simple: I read Joshua Boulet’s graphic novel “The Wrong Night in Texas“. This book contains a story that you already know if you’re even remotely familiar with horror comics and movies. There’s a young couple, an isolated cabin and a werewolf whose human appearance identifies him as the antagonist the instant he appears. If this were a song we’d all know the words after hearing the opening four notes. But what makes “Texas” special is the masterful way Joshua plays it– this is no cover. This isn’t even a tribute. He simply owns the story in a way that’s so confident, vicious and downright fun that it feels new and fresh, and as a result it’s impossible not to pay attention. And just when you’re having a good time, confident that you know what’s coming next, Joshua steps right over the werewolf horror tropes and punches you in the stomach. More than one panel had me pulling wide-eyed double-takes. The effectiveness of these storytelling maneuvers is due in part to pacing and composition. William Strunk told writers to omit needless words; here, Joshua omits needless panels. He has a cinematographer’s eye for angles and blocking, and combined with his knack for illustrating just the right beats of the action, the story progresses in a way that’s relentless without ever feeling rushed. The reader learns just enough about each character to believe in them, and to form opinions about them. That most of those opinions will probably be negative matters not a bit; once the werewolf arrives and the blood starts splattering the walls, it’s impossible not to root for these people, even the asshole redneck brother. I wanted everyone to survive because I was genuinely scared for them, which made the shock of the grisly deaths (and there are a lot of them, believe me) all the more effective. The book’s carefully tailored economy isn’t confined to the storytelling. The artwork is spare but packed with details and flourishes in all the right places. Joshua’s faces, for instance, tend to contain fewer lines than one usually sees in comic-style art, but the lines he does draw tell you everything you need to know about the character’s emotions. The plentiful gore is rendered in busy clumps and blobs that imply visceral nastiness without ever getting too detailed– you know when you’re looking at a gouged-out eye or spilled intestines, but Joshua smartly avoids going for the cheap thrills of gore porn. Where Joshua’s art truly excels is exterior environments. When introducing an exterior he often takes a quarter panel or even half the page and fills it with lush, organic fields of colour and stark pools of black shadow. His use of gradients and transparency do wonders for setting up an atmosphere, whether it’s the torrential rain and wind of the eponymous night or the cruel sunlight of the morning after. Even the black and white still life compositions that bracket the story vibrate with the suggestion that they are real places. “A horror story that stays true to the genre”, reads the epigraph on the back cover, and while “Texas” isn’t the first piece of horror media to assert its value by claiming to be authentic horror, it’s the first thing I’ve experienced in a long time that genuinely horrified me. It also thrilled me with its energy, charmed me with its lovingly-crafted aesthetic and, above all, satisfied that primal part of my brain that just wants to see a vicious, monstrous werewolf tearing shit up.
Buy, borrow or skip?
Buy. Joshua Boulet has captured and unapologetically celebrated everything that makes the werewolf wild, dangerous and fun. Available from Joshua’s web site for $10 US + $5 shipping,