Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers, By John Harris Dunning and Nikhil Singh

Exotic and exquisite alchemy
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The Independent Culture

Salem Brownstone is an invitation to a world of the bizarre.

"There are those who love the rum and unusual," it begins, "the uncanny, the macabre. Perhaps they wish for thrilling horrors in their own seemingly mundane lives...But they should beware what they wish for."

Now picture the scene: a looming Gothic mansion, inherited by Salem on the death of his mysterious father; an interior mosaic of the curious and absurd, complete with taxidermy specimens, armour and a tribal mask; an alluring contortionist from the nearby circus poring over a book of rune marks; and a thicket of grasping shadows with an agenda of their own. Hunted by the shadow creatures, Salem soon finds himself amid the protection of the circus folk, custodian of a glittering "scrying ball" – although its powers and purpose elude him.

Salem knew little of his father before his untimely death, and Dr Kinoshita's Circus of Unearthly Delights is as new to him as to the reader. He learns that his father had good reason to stay away, and an important role in preventing the wicked machinations of the Dark Elders of Mu'bric. They rule over the Midnight City, a vast megalopolis where citizens are covered in "a fine ash of unimaginable cosmic despair". The Dark Elders long to enslave souls from the world of women and men, and in order to do so they must possess the "scrying ball".

Salem Brownstone is the first graphic novel by the duo of John Harris Dunning and Nikhil Singh. It has already won the attention of Alan Moore (the author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta), and it is easy to understand why: here is a book both exotic and exquisite, a delight to the eye and a call to the imagination. The characters are edgy and stylish, drawing on traditions as diverse as film noir and Seventies rock. It holds within its pages the mysteries of a zoological museum, what one might call an eyeballs-in-formaldehyde charm, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's explorations of the disturbing and grotesque. It will speak to those among us who, as small children, liked to turn over stones in the garden and watch the scurrying beasties that lurked beneath.

The visual appeal of the book is striking. Singh's confident line drawings conjure vertiginous angles and complexity, contrasting the sharp clarity of faces against a backdrop of extraordinary detail. The alchemy of Dunning's imaginative storytelling and Singh's illustrations make Salem Brownstone a book to explore at leisure.

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