I’m David: Tobin & Ferrerya’s ‘Colder’ is Creepy, And Should White Writers Work On Black Characters?
You should judge books by their covers. That’s what they’re there for, right? Covers are designed to catch your eye, interest you in the contents of a book, and to set the tone for a book. Kids’ comics tend to have bright covers with a lot of simple action. Covers for grown-ups may be abstract or concrete, violent or sexy, and those descriptors set the stage for what’s inside the book’s pages. When you look at a comic’s cover, you should be able to accurately tell what kind of story you’re going to get inside. When I saw the cover for Juan Ferrerya & Paul Tobin’s Colder, published by Dark Horse, my first instinct was to close the tab, uninstall my web browser, and hit my computer with a hammer, just to make sure none of its poison got inside me.
I’m David, I’m a big fat crybaby when it comes to eyeball trauma, and Paul Tobin & Juan Ferrerya’s Colder is a really good comic.
I have an eye thing. Back in the day, I think it was third grade, I got a papercut on my left eyeball. Some kid was doing something stupid with paper in art class and I paid the price for his fun. I had to wear an eyepatch, which wasn’t as cool as you would think, and I can still see a marked difference in how my eyes perceive light and vision quality. It’s not a big deal, in part because it happened forever ago, but it has had one lasting effect: I’m a total crybaby about anything to do with eyeballs in movies and comics. The Aeon Flux intro? Nope. That bit in the otherwise execrable 28 Weeks Later when the guy pokes out that one lady’s eyes? NOPE. The cover to Paul Tobin and Juan Ferrerya’s Colder, published by Dark Horse? Hmm, let’s see:
NOPE. NO WAY. NO HOW.
I saw this cover online back before the book came out and had two thoughts. The first thought was unsuitable for print and polite company. The second thought was something along the lines of “I wonder if they can live up to the cover? Not that I’ll ever read this terrifying-looking comic book.”
To make a long story short, I put on my big boy pants and read it, because Paul Tobin is a pretty good writer and I was curious to see what he would do with the story. I’m less familiar with Juan Ferrerya’s work, but that cover is striking enough to get me to dip my toes a little.
Colder is good. I expected it to be good, but it’s actually good in a way I didn’t expect. I hadn’t read any solicits or interviews, so all I had to go on was the cover and creative team. The cover led me to believe that it would be the kind of horror that I don’t particularly dig, the kind that’s bloodthirsty and full of emotional trauma for the victims and the reader. Instead, it’s something more like Silent Hill in tone — creepy crawly and sinister, rather than horrific. Colder is a skeleton quickly running its fingertips up your back while whispering the day you die in your ear. Colder is about things being wrong. It’s about reality being a thin veneer that sits on top of our worst nightmares.
The villain of the piece, Nimble Jack, is an otherworldly being who eats craziness and misery. In the first issue, he persuades a man to hang himself in his prison cell and then, once his feet stop kicking, he absorbs the pain. He eats it. Years ago, Nimble Jack encountered a man named Declan while Declan was in a mental hospital seventy years ago. When we pick up the story, Declan has been completely out of it for decades. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t cry. He’s just blank. On top of that, his body temperature has been steadily dropping over the years.
Reece, our point-of-view character and Declan’s caretaker, is more normal than Nimble Jack and Declan, but she’s not quite right, either. What kind of nurse takes a patient home for live-in care after the clinic he was checked into closes? What kind of nurse takes care of a catatonic stranger for years and just lets him sit in her front room? When Declan wakes up, she rolls with it. Her curiosity outweighs her common sense, clearly, and then things begin to go south.
That strain of wrong continues into the art. Juan Ferrerya’s palette wouldn’t be out of place in a comic from the Big Two. It’s not quite full-on pop comics, but it’s the next best thing. The visual style is on par with Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin’s Beasts of Burden, up to and until the point that the horror aspects of the story begin creeping in.
Ferrerya’s great at body language and facial expressions, but it’s his use of color that gets my motor going the most. When Nimble Jack is watching the prisoner die, the scene slowly fades from full color to something closer to greyscale. When he sucks the emotions out of the corpse, they appear as a burst of colored light against a depressing grey. When we see the crazy world of our unconscious, it looks like a noir-tinged nightmare, not a bright hellscape.
The wrongness of the story and wrongness of the art are perfectly matched. Tobin’s giving you a story where nothing is quite right, where evil lurks behind every muttered conversation on the street. Ferrerya is playing tricks with the visuals to reinforce that feeling, changing reality as we perceive it into something else. Together, they’re creeping me out.
Forgotten Dialect asked: What’s your take on white writers working on/creating solid black characters?
I’m all for it! ‘Cause here’s the thing: I don’t own the black experience. There are several million different black experiences in this country, each of them unique, and it’s not my place to say if someone can or cannot give their take on it. I can look at their take and figure out whether or not it jives with my experience or if it falls into certain ugly neighborhoods or whatever, but past that? Writers get to do what writers do.
Some of my favorite black characters have been written by white writers. I’ll follow Garth Ennis any where he goes. Fred Van Lente did an incredible job on Shadowland: Power Man. I dug Jen van Meter’s work on Black Lightning Year One. Grant Morrison’s writing in Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian was great.
I’m all for it! Write those dudes! Good writers tend to write good things, whether their leads are black, white, or something else entirely. The only thing that matters is care. Do your research as best you can, understand the culture you’re writing about, and generally treat writing black characters the same as you would treat anything else: put your best foot forward and do your due diligence.
This doesn’t mean that every portrayal is, or will be, perfect, but I’d rather take the chance that some jerk might make me mad instead of locking off a certain segment of the population from writing a certain type of character. (That would be hard to enforce, anyway.) Like most things, I’m with Malcolm X when he says, “I, for one, will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”
Do your thing.
If you have a question, let me know by leaving a comment or hitting me on Twitter @hermanos. Let’s talk comics, movies, music, video games… anything goes.