Canaries by Haan Lee, Jezinkas by Noel Franklin (Writer and Artist) and CB Webb (Letterer), Dead Rain by Ram V (Writer and Letterer), Kishore Mohan (Artist), and Merryn John (Letterer), Cover Art by Aatmaja Pandya and Interior Cover Art by Shing Yin Khor
Limits are good. Limits are also bad. These are contradictory truths with which all artists must live. Making a zine might allow a creator to cut out middlemen who will censor their work, but without support from publishers and big name distributors, they must deal with financial barriers. These barriers are part of why zines are usually shorter than traditional books and graphic novels. However, page limits can push artists to create work that is mind blowing, as is the case with Blood Root: Issue Three.
The Blood Root anthologies are a project organized by Sawdust Press, a tiny but adorable micropress founded by Shing Yin Khor. According to the Sawdust Press Tumblr, the organization is “…devoted to publishing a diverse range of narratives, with a similarly diverse slate of creators.” The creative teams featured in Blood Root include many women and people of color, and the third issue collects stories that travel from South Korea to Poland to Mumbai.
Blood Root: Issue Three clocks in at forty-eight pages, including the front and back covers. Each of the three stories it contains must meet the challenge of terrifying or unsettling their readers in less than twenty pages, and each is very successful. If horror makes you a little nervous, or even kinda jittery, take a deep breath and stick with me as we preview each tale.
Haan Lee’s “Canaries” is a brief glimpse at a post-apocalyptic South Korea. Using very simple layouts—most of the story’s fifteen pages use a two-by-three square panel set up—he captures a sense of hopelessness that is so overwhelming, you may need a break and a strong drink afterward. Lee is a master of show-don’t-tell; he uses just the right amount of violence, and the gray and white colors of the comic are perfect for creating a deeply depressing atmosphere. “Canaries” will make you feel perfectly terrible.
The transition from Lee’s stark, static art to Noel Franklin’s “Jezinkas” is jarring. Jet-black ink spills manically but beautifully onto each bright white page, giving Franklin’s panels the uneasy feeling that there are things in the dark, moving almost imperceptibly. This style works wonderfully for the story, which deals with blindness and fairy tale violence. “Jezinkas” is an adaption of a Polish folk tale in which a young boy encounters three beautiful witches who steal men’s eyes. If you’ve ever read an older version of a Grimm fairy tale this will have a familiar feel; the heroes don’t quite feel like heroes, and when you reach the last page you may not be certain where the evil in the story really lies.
By the time you reach the anthology’s final story you may be comforting yourself with the thought that horror lies in fantasy. “Dead Rain” teases you with an introduction that’s just like a clichéd cop show: a portly detective reflects on how it’s always raining in Mumbai, his partner greets him with coffee in a Styrofoam cup, and he promptly asks, “So what’ve we got?” Ram V and Kishore Mohan’s story is the shortest in the anthology at twelve pages, so they pull you into the grim reality of a homicide detective’s strange daily life quite swiftly. The story touches on violence against women and reminds the reader that horrors sometimes come from within our own minds.
I was pleasantly unsettled throughout each of these three stories. If you’d also like to be unsettled, you can snag a PDF copy of Blood Root: Issue Three, as well as the other two collections on Sawdust Press’ Gumroad account. The anthologies will be available in print again in October when the Sawdust Press store reopens. I picked up a copy of Blood Root: Issue Three at Quimbys—Chicago’s beloved independent book and zine store—but you can also check the Sawdust Press website to see if their publications are available at a distro near you.
Sleep tight, horror fans.