I am a lifelong horror fanatic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always consumed copious amounts of horror content – from Universal Monsters and Edgar Allan Poe as a child, to slasher movies and Stephen King in my early teens. Now, it’s everything: movies, books, haunts, and yes – comics. Rarely does anything get under my skin anymore. I can watch horror movies alone, in the dark, in my log home in the middle of the woods – a horror movie scenario just waiting to happen – and still sleep soundly at night.
So, what is it, exactly, that makes The Autumnal from Vault Comics one of the few comics to really unnerve me? How can a comic bring a desensitized horror fan to a cold sweat in the fall at the sight of a stray leaf in her home?
There are several elements within The Autumnal itself that are just the sort of horror themes that whet my appetite when done correctly. One of those themes involve dark secrets within small towns (as a girl that comes from a small town herself), as well as dark secrets within families. Aspects involving murderous cults in anything always make me happy and tying that into the secrets within the story is perfect.
Another aspect that I find horrifying that The Autumnal explores is the concept of motherhood. I know that sounds horrible and maybe even confusing initially. But consider this: this small human, this piece of you that grew for months inside of you, this piece of you that you taught to walk and talk and everything else, is out in the world, perpetually in danger. Tragedy could strike at any moment. An accident you couldn’t prevent. Disease or sickness could take them. But then you have something like the situation in the Autumnal, where a supernatural entity has a bone to pick with your family. You have your own issues with your own dead mother, no guidance and in the dark about the horrible elements at play. And all the while, you have to try to protect your daughter. Protecting that child is instinctual, and terrifying, and can leave you feeling powerless against forces beyond your control.
But many stories explore these sorts of elements, so how does The Autumnal not only stand out, but also disturb readers? It’s simple: it’s execution. The amount of skill from every single member of this team crafts this story into a beast of it’s own. The tension and mystery within the story, slowly built up, keeps the readers feeling like the horror is creeping in on them. The artwork brings the horrors to you visually, and expertly – never giving too much, and always giving these subtle hints and images that leave you sure that something isn’t quite right. Like a stray leaf lingering, normally something you wouldn’t acknowledge. But as you do notice it in this story, it sends a chill through you. Like you’re also being watched, and not just the characters. Top that off with colors that set the tone and bring that autumn feel to life, with lettering, designs, and editing that all tie the story together beautifully and keep you submerged in the horrors, and you have one of my favorite horror comics.