When humans are presented with a face like theirs, but not like theirs in some subtle way, we know that it’s wrong. We cannot always articulate what is unusual…which tiny clues make us cringe, or why something like this scares the ever-living hell out of us so unnervingly well, but we all know it: the Uncanny Valley. At some point, seeing something that was close to us was dangerous to us, and we don’t know why, but it’s a trait common to every person in the world. Richard Fairfray has the ability to not only see that uncanny valley, but to also understand its contours and paths and lead us through it with unerring accuracy. With his first volume of Black Sand Beach, he set us quite the intriguing hook: A boy who’s not been to a beach house in five years finds a journal he seemingly wrote just the summer prior…and the second volume delivers on that promise with gusto and perhaps a little glee. We’re pushing farther along the path now, the light is fading, and he’s chuckling as we founder in his domain.
Mr. Fairgray has a plan, and it’s to put all of the things that you love into a blender and serve them delicately enough that you come back for seconds. The premise of the book (as the subtitle so delicately displays) is to fill in the gaps in Dash’s memory and let the reader in on more of the fantastical world that he has created. There are not as many deviations from that plot this time ‘round, but those small packages between the main action do fill out our tales nicely and out to keep the reader from diving too hard into the heart of the things that go bump while still delivering their own scares and providing context on the greater world around the action. Finding an ingenious way to advance the plot while splicing in lore and background, Fairgray builds a natural pacing that keeps the reader constantly falling forward breathlessly into the narrative.
I thought that I was ready for everything that Mr. Fairgray could throw at me. I was wrong. Through a masterful technique of staging and using triggering angles, he provides even more horror to the world that he’s created. He thrives in that uncanny valley, tilting the camera ever so slowly until you realize that nothing looks the way it should. The panels are exquisitely staged, drawing focus right where it empowers the story best and making every image crucial and unique. When we get a solid look at what would be the big bad of this volume, he’s built the tension up so masterfully that the reveal is almost effortless in its execution. He’s got the confidence in his story and designs that allows him to simply let his creation exist, and it’s enough to horrify you. It’s the courage of a great storyteller that brings this effect to life.
I’m thoroughly hooked now and look forward to the next installment with great fervor and trepidation. This book is a great read for all ages, because it focuses on the core of what horror is, recognizing that the shadow at the edge of your vision could very well be the backing of the mirror through which we see life, and that what lies inside the pane is close enough to us to make us indescribably uncomfortable. Not everyone wants to be scared, not everyone wants to find their world unraveling, but this kind of book is important because not only does it get your heart pumping (same as exercise, I would argue), it reminds us that we may always be one closed door away from something that frightens us, a moment from our doom, and to realize that is to live in every moment fully.
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Creative Team: Richard Fairgray (writer/illustrator)
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