The second First Look of the month spotlights this fabulous debut graphic novel that will strike a chord with anyone who grapples with depression or their own mind.
Caitlin Skaalrud’s debut graphic novel is an intensely personal exploration of the artist’s own turbulent psyche. Already a strong voice in the world of indie comics thanks to her own Talk Weird Press micropress and her part in putting together the Autoptic comics festival, Uncivilized Books is bringing her work to a larger audience.
The protagonist of Houses of the Holy, a young woman, looks to repair terrible damage to her mind and soul, descending through a horrifically Dantean journey of the macabre and a suffocating depression. The occult plays a large hand, symbolic arrangements of bones and plastic both as the woman opens a sequence of doors in turn that leads to her eventual journey forth.
Light on words and empty of dialogue, Skaalrud’s poetic expressions of inner turmoil are boldly honest, a mysterious building of hints to events already transpired and her struggle to triumph over the darkness within.
The stark black ink cuts across the pages, reminiscent of the European expressionist woodcut novels of old, perfectly echoing the sense of engulfing darkness that can swallow souls whole and spit forth a wrecked shell of a mind. The collection of images that at first seem surreal and disconnected across panels, soon unlock the readers own most close guarded thoughts, a personal invocation from the artist of the way in which our minds hide truths in symbolism and denial.
Skaalrud’s pacing here is unusual too, the sense of anxiety at quickening action tempered by drawn out moments on particular details, reminding the reader of the importance of the journey itself.
Houses of the Holy is an exorcism, not perhaps of the darkness itself but of the fear and self-loathing it inspires within the psyche laid bare upon these pages. Intensely personal yes, but relatable and cathartic to many.