The Nightmare Sketchbook is a new anthology-style graphic novel similar in format to Tales From the Crypt or comparable EC Comics fare. In this case, the framing device is a long lost tome full of accounts of suffering and atrocities compiled by a neutral observer known only as The Illustrator. With the conceit established, The Nightmare Sketchbook #1 tells the story of a demon summoning which inevitably goes awry and spells disaster for the inadequate summoners.
The art is immediately striking and continually impressive throughout this book– Felipe Kroll and Moacir Muniz really knock these stylized characters out of the park. Take a look at the cover and imagine that level of detail applied to pretty much every page and you’ll have some idea of how gorgeous the book is. Add to this some very effective color and design choices (especially in the way the constant blue flames contrast the ruddy backgrounds throughout to create a bright glowing effect) and you’ve got a real visual winner.
I wish I could say the writing is just as good, but truthfully it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The ideas are great, and the opening pages meant to establish the titular sketchbook are especially effective. I appreciated that this is a hosted anthology that doesn’t seem to care for the constant and often cheesy humor of its forefathers, opting instead for a genuinely dark tone. What lags a bit is the dialogue and the plot once we get to the story itself.
On the one hand, The Illustrator being constantly present to narrate the story he’s recording is a major divergence from most character hosted horror anthologies and it pays off in his ability to comment on the subjects of the story, sometimes snarkily and sometimes with poignance. His character could develop over the course of the series and it would be fun to read more of his personality. On the other hand, his presence doesn’t save the story from being a bit bland and predictable from the word go. We know immediately what’s going to happen, which would be fine if the dialogue pulled its weight. Unfortunately, since a huge amount of that dialogue is repeated chanting and invocation it gets tedious quickly. This is clearly somewhat intentional, as the whole thing is focused more on The Illustrator’s running commentary to the audience than the plot itself, but that decision makes the whole thing a lot less fearful than it could be.
That said, I enthusiastically await further entries in The Nightmare Sketchbook— the art alone is worth the price of admission, and there’s a lot of promise in the format and the tonal risks being taken. The introduction to the series (which, again, is really well done and probably my favorite section) also mentions the predictive nature of the sketchbook with entries spanning far into the future as well as the past, and I think that angle could make for some interesting stories far outside the normal scope of anthology horror comics.
Rating 7 out of 10 Maple Summoning Rods