Story by Kate Herron and Briony Redman
Art by Leila Leiz
Color Giovanna Niro
Letters Pat Brosseau
Cover Artist Veronica Fish
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
THE STORKENING is issue #2 of Skybound’s AFTERSCHOOL horror anthology that remixes afterschool specials, and takes a stance on bodily autonomy and reproductive justice by telling a story about a teenager defending their right to choose to end an unexpected pregnancy. The phrase “teenager defending their right to end a pregnancy” is a reflection of the real-life horror unfolding in front of our eyes. Kate Herron and Briony Redman developed this idea years ago as a way to show the fight for reproductive rights and, unfortunately, Roe V Wade overturned by the Supreme Court made this comic timely.
The fact that this subject is important to discuss and bring into the light, that it reflects the horrors of what is happening around us, creates another layer of urgency to this story. We are fighting for our rights, and so is the main character.
We meet Leah, who is sitting in class when gossip of another classmate having a child reaches her and, thanks to Leila Leiz’s expressive art and Giovanna Niro’s atmospheric use of color, the tone from “teenagers sitting in class on a sunny day” shifts to “scared teenager wondering what will happen to her life.” The mood and scene shifts from a ray of light through the classroom window to discussing the crisis with her friends before a thunderstorm. The added detail of crows and thunder in the distance further adds to a sense of foreboding.
This is all terrifying enough as it is. Being a teenager is terrifying, but what makes this a horror comic is the fact that Leah is marked and one of her friends informs her that mark is The Storkening. A clap of thunder and flash of lightning joins expressive lettering as THE STORKENING takes up part of the page, adding a touch of campiness. These are teenagers, and the style fits in well with a teenage after school special horror story.
Leah, with the unconditional support of her best friend, must grapple with who to tell and getting an abortion, all while living with this fear of a stork stalking her, forcing her to keep an unwanted child. At this point, when Leah is sitting in her bedroom during a storm, I noticed one of my favorite details that reinforced the theme. There is a poster of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in her bedroom.
The bird symbolism in this comic isn’t limited to the zombie stork that will probably give me nightmares. Outside of the Stork, creators introduce crows, usually used as a sign of foreboding, a peregrine falcon – a bird of prey, and a reference to a story about two love birds adopted by a couple that leads to violent swarms of birds preventing people from leaving their homes. Why does a teenager have that poster on their wall? Earlier in the book, she says “I feel trapped” and Hitchcock’s The Birds plays heavily with that idea. Trapped in your own home by birds that fell in love. The writer’s use of several types of birds, but especially that callback to a movie, might be my favorite thing about this story.
As the stork – wonderfully drawn and colored to be absolutely terrifying – shows itself and begins to chase Leah and her friend, the story moves readers to a Tunnel of Love. The backdrop of idyllic, heteronormative relationship courting, against a teenager whose belly is growing more with each stork encounter, leading up to a gruesome fight was almost too perfect. The lyrics to “Love is in the Air” accompany the entire scene (which can change the feel of the scene depending on which version of the song you’re familiar with). The commentary is critical and this story takes place in a culture that pushes specific relationship styles without making it the clear focus. Using that as the final setting at the very end while Leah battles for her future, for her life and choices about her body, is an excellent way to focus on Leah and how abortion rights activism are rooted in societal relationship norms we are exposed to from a young age.
The only thing about this comic that bothers me is the overuse of sound effects and lyrics, which at times distract from other things happening in the panels. Overall, this is an important story that is wonderfully drawn and colored. Unfortunately, it reflects the horror of the reality in which people who can get pregnant live, which includes teenagers, and the hope of Leah potentially winning her bodily autonomy in this scenario left me sad because I know that people who have abortions for many reasons, with the circumstances of pregnancy varying, will have an uphill battle. If only it was as easy as battling a wicked stork with your best friend.
The writers’ earnings from this comic will go to Planned Parenthood, and Skybound is matching that donation in addition to its ongoing donations to nonprofits supporting reproductive rights. I appreciate that the creators had the support of Skybound Entertainment and the publisher is making their stance clear: bodily autonomy and reproductive healthcare are fundamental human rights.
Skybound Presents Afterschool #2 will be available at comic book shops and digital platforms including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, comiXology, and Google Play on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.