Matthew Erman (Story), Lisa Sterle (Art, cover)
Long Lost doesn’t look like a horror comic. What sticks in my memory is not the gruesome imagery, nor the dark robes of whatever mysterious figure is haunting sisters Piper and Frances, but the sisters themselves–their facial expressions, the amount of personality we get from even their brief introduction, and their individual styles of dress, which are just as important to how we perceive them as the words they say.
Eerie imagery and dread are all important, but it means little if we don’t feel that the characters in danger are human. That’s precisely what good horror should do, and it’s why Long Lost is so successful. Piper and Frances are estranged sisters who are introduced not through their relationship to one another but through their distance. We meet Piper first, who seems to live alone but for the shrouded figure that seems to be haunting her. She has nightmares and seems ill-equipped to take care of her dog, Pockets. She reads as aloof–she feeds her dog cheese, ignores texts from her sister as she sits on the toilet, and responds to a strange, grotesque object that flies through her window with a sort of detached obligation.
Frances is her opposite. She’s perky and friendly, but how outspoken she is also has an air of crassness to it, a feeling that she’s more interested in espousing her views than in thinking of others. Even her physical appearance seems like an inversion of Piper’s. Frances has blonde hair to Piper’s black and her outfit–a dark, spaghetti-strap dress over a heart-patterned t-shirt, in comparison to her sister’s casual black shirt and flannel–has a similar feeling of reversal. Their outfits and hair wouldn’t be remarkable on their own, but, as visual inversions of one another, it’s hard to miss the way even this first issue sets them up in opposition to one another.
The artwork in Long Lost is deceptively simple, and echoes the way the two sisters are different from one another. Frances’ section is light and almost manga-like with its cutesy patterned backgrounds and more flat coloring. Piper’s, on the other hand, is packed full of sketchy lines, texture, and a distinct use of layered ink that gives those sections a sort of frenetic energy and gloominess, even when they’re at their least creepy. With only touches of color, the comic is largely in shades of gray against a cream background, which, despite the story’s dark tone, makes it feel warmer than your average horror story.
While this is only the first issue, it sets a good standard for what to expect–it’s clear that while Piper and Frances are in a horror story, it’s their distance and differences that need to be mended. The comic isn’t caught up in presenting itself as horror, but rather as a human story in a frightening framework.
As a reader perfectly pleased with being along for the ride, I found Long Lost’s first issue, which is more about introductions and teasing than anything, to be the perfect taste of what’s to come. Unlike many comics, it didn’t assault me with information until I wasn’t able to follow what was going on. Here we have two estranged sisters, a dog, and a mysterious shrouded figure that seems to be associated with nightmares. We know that Piper, at least, hasn’t seen her mother in 15 years. We don’t know why, nor do we know if we’ll ever find out. But this is a horror story that rests, letting fear build up in the moments when nothing is outright wrong. It relies on dread, not continuously bombarding the reader with blood and viscera.
The viscera is there, certainly, but it’s sat next to images of naked bodies, of mushrooms, of hair. There’s a biological, earthy, natural component to it, one that serves the same purpose as the tantalizing hints at what’s happening to this family. You’re being thrown in the deep end and effectively told to figure it out as you go. If the ride weren’t so smooth and well-executed, it’d be easy to drop Long Lost from this first issue, but as it is, it’s engrossing rather than frustrating.
There are many places the comic could go from here. We’re left on a note that’s both eerie and sad, one that hopefully will lead us into a series that’s every bit as unnerving and interesting as its bold first issue.