“Houses of the Holy is a comic that deserves a lot more attention. Its stark, stygian atmosphere, engrossing narrative, and visionary art make it one of the finest horror comics I’ve read. And the Madefire tool is a wonderful vehicle for enhancing the book’s sinister beauty.”
Houses of the Holy #1-5
Written by Mike Carey
Art by David Kendall
Published by Madefire
Rating: 9 (of 10)
I’ve never really been creeped out by a comic until now. Thanks to the nightmarish minds of Mike Carey and David Kendall, I now know what sloshy, stomach tentacles might feel like.
Over the holiday break I thieved my wife’s iPad and downloaded the Madefire app just so I could experience their horror series, Houses of the Holy. I use the word “experience” because the comics on Madefire are definitely that. The app offers “motion books” that transform a comic book into an interactive event. You click to progress panels like any digital comic, but word balloons appear separately, and there’s occasional movement during the sequences. Along with the images, motion books also feature background music and eerie sound effects.
Houses of the Holy is a foreboding but gorgeously crafted tale that oozes more dark mystery than a black hole. Set in 1930’s Berlin, Carey’s script focuses on four main characters: Reinhart Fohl, a senior clerk in Goebbels’ propaganda ministry; Wachtmeister Jaeger, a detective who holds no allegiance to the Nazis; Welcome, an aging basilisk that has turned into an old, sentient house; and Magda Bescu, a gypsy child vampire who has an immortal brain tumor that will gnaw away at her sanity and memories if she doesn’t feed.
Even if you’re sick of goddamn vampires like me, don’t let that oversaturation turn you away from this series. Carey has developed a different kind of nosferatu in young Magda. The way she goes about stalking her victims and feeding on them is unique, as is her back story (detailed in issues #3 and 4). Not only is she a tortured cancer survivor and monster, she’s hunted by the Germans who want to eradicate the gypsy people she belongs to. Magda also has a compelling relationship with the basilisk, Welcome. At first, it seems she is simply skulking around indoors and talking to herself (thanks to her undead tumor), but over time, it’s revealed that she’s actually conversing with the living house. Like Magda, Welcome must feed. Carey creates a tenuous partnership between the two that nourishes the series – Welcome provides a roof over Magda’s head and Magda brings fresh victims for Welcome to consume before she kills them off.
Ideas like this are what make Houses of the Holy rise high above typical horror story tropes. Along with the intriguing relationships and mysteries, Carey also does a hell of a job creating an atmosphere that’s bone thick with terror. His choice to set this tale in 1930’s Berlin places the story in the middle of a time and region gripped by trepidation. Blending that mood with a backwoods supernaturality creates a nefarious mixture that’s so potent you can almost feel it.
Dave Kendall’s painted artwork is equally stunning. His wicked portrayals of the characters and shadow-drenched settings make Houses of the Holy one of the best looking horror series in comics. But even more impressive are his panel compositions, which have to be crafted a bit differently to make the Madefire technology work. One of features that sets the Madefire tool apart from other digital comics apps is the ability to create a 360-degree, wraparound page that you can explore by swiping your finger along the page. It’s, by far, the coolest and most immersive technique I’ve seen in digital comics. To create it, Kendall had to construct a room of panels that could be connected using Madefire. The panoramic page in Houses of the Holy #2 features an absolutely chilling gallery of victims that have been turned to stone. Spinning this page around made me feel like I was trapped in a Tool video that’s playing inside that fucking box Pinhead carries around in Hellraiser. It’s that disturbing.
Houses of the Holy is a comic that deserves a lot more attention. Its stark, stygian atmosphere, engrossing narrative, and visionary art make it one of the finest horror comics I’ve read. And the Madefire tool is a wonderful vehicle for enhancing the book’s sinister beauty. Give this one a try immediately.
The first five issues of Houses of the Holy are absolutely FREE when you download the Madefire app. Unfortunately, if you are looking to add it to your mobile device you can only do so on Apple tech like the iPad and iPhone. You can, however, experience Madefire on your PC at http://madefirestudios.deviantart.com.