There’s something elemental about the fear of “the monster in the closet.” It’s really the fear of the unknown, that if it’s possible something could be hiding in there, it is all your brain needs to conjure up a demon or beast or killer that is just waiting to come out and get you. It’s something a lot of kids go through, but what if it isn’t just imagination? What if something really is in there and no one believes you? That uncertainty is being explored in “The Closet”, written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Gavin Fullerton.
Tynion was already a prolific comic writer, putting out so many titles that one assumed he stumbled upon some kind of time travel. A lot of those series (Something is Killing the Children, The Nice House on the Lake, The Department of Truth) show what a master he is at horror, especially tackling relatable fears that blend belief with reality. The Closet is no different, telling a story of a family getting ready to move across the country and the cracks already existent in these relationships.
It all begins within a familiar scenario of a man pouring his feelings out onto a bartender. The man is Thom, an Elijah Wood lookalike whose small frame is swimming inside a wrinkled white shirt. He and his wife are having problems, the stress of the move is exacerbating them, and he’s convinced himself that getting drunk is going to help. He also mentions that his kid is scared of a monster in the closet and that the move should help with that as well as give the family the fresh start they need. When we see the child, Jamie, we already sympathize with him before he’s even left alone in a dark room. His parents don’t put much effort into shielding him from their arguments, and Thom’s half-hearted attempt to calm the boy’s fears leaves much to be desired.
In haunted house stories, we usually meet the family as they are arriving in the new place and start to realize there is something not right. But there’s great thematic resonance with a story like this where the horror was with you before you left, and that when you think a new surrounding will solve all of your problems, you don’t realize that you are most likely bringing those problems with you. That seems to be the case here when after an encounter that could be supernatural, science fiction, or maybe even a figment of Jamie’s trauma manifesting itself, the child delivers a simple line in a jagged dialogue bubble: “He’s coming too.”
The art does a great job of focusing on the characters’ emotions, while the environments are left sparse enough that we could be in the 1980s or the present day. Many of the page layouts use thin horizontal panels, giving us close-ups on the action and putting the reader right in the center of the story. This all helps the story feel like it’s happening to a regular family while also acting as a classic horror fable. Packing up your life and moving can already feel like a nightmare, but it’s clear this one is going to be especially horrific.
I found myself immediately hooked by this first issue. If it’s acting as the first act of a tale, it did what all first acts should do. I felt connected to all the characters, though I do hope that we get more from Maggie’s point of view later in the story. But I love when there is enough drama already existing in the normal world to be intriguing, and the genre elements that eventually come in just push everything over the edge. I’m dying to know if what Jamie is seeing will bring this family together or be the thing that fully rips them apart.
This three-issue story is already available in full for paid subscribers of Tynion’s substack newsletter but is being released in print for the first time in June, July, and August. This issue may have convinced me to sign up, and who knows, maybe he reveals whatever time travel secret he holds there as well. One way or another, I will need to see what happens to this family during their move and what shadow may be following along.