Long Lost Issue #2
Matthew Erman (Story), Lisa Sterle (Art, cover)
December 27, 2017
One of the most important elements of horror is downtime. Too much blood and viscera and scares and you’re running on adrenaline the whole time, not fear. Horror needs moments of quiet, of anticipation, to really work. There is no fear without surprise.
Issue #2 of Long Lost is that moment before the shoe drops. The quiet, slow-burn dread of the first issue returns as Piper and Frances meet up for the the first time in a long while, joined by some kind of spiritual guest. The figure bids them attend a birthday party for their mentally ill (and presumably estranged) mother, but the interaction isn’t as creepy as its appearance would have you believe. It’s eerie, certainly, but ultimately non-threatening, especially because Frances’ response to its presence is to beat it with a stick.
Despite the horrific atmosphere, much of the sense of dread comes from the interaction between the two sisters. As they sit in the car on their way to visit their aunt Jody, the distance between them is both literal and figurative; they’re often split between panels, with the panels they do share showing their differing body language, their sour facial expressions, and their tendency to not look at one another. This is particularly pronounced with Piper, whose mouth is always downturned in a frown, even she she isn’t outwardly upset.
It’s clear from their interactions that something has happened between them, but their unwillingness to address it compounds the frustration and dread we feel. Caught up in their feelings about one another—nostalgia, irritation, anger—they fail to notice the otherworldly threats that surround them. The comic, in classic horror tradition, ramps up the interpersonal tension while trapping them in a confined space, leading the reader to question which will snap first; the sisters or the supernatural.
At least in this issue, it’s neither. But that’s precisely why it works so well as horror; while issue one set up the sense that something is wrong, issue two sets up the dread. By the end of the second issue, we’re waiting anxiously to find out what’s going on. We have pieces of the story, snippets of the threats, and far more questions than answers. Frances ends the issue with a plan that, in theory, is a logical and smart one—far smarter, in fact, than your typical horror fare. It’s dramatic irony at its finest, as the art gives us the broader context to see what the sisters don’t, such as the figures lurking in the background, the alternate scenes of some kind of ritual, and the echoed warning from earlier in the issue, sandwiching the story between a haunting flashback and an ominous message. They’re surrounded by threats on all sides, but their unresolved conflict is at the center, the supernatural elements feeling like sharks drawn to blood in the water.
Long Lost is a moody comic; it’s the atmosphere and expressions that linger. The story is intriguing, but it’s clear that the first two issues are setting up dominoes that are waiting to be flicked. The characters are most often defined by what they aren’t saying than what they are, just as the comic asks questions it doesn’t answer, letting doubt and dread creep in.
I don’t come away from Long Lost feeling like something is going to jump out and grab my ankles while I’m trying to sleep at night, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective horror. Like all serialized stories, we spend a lot of the time waiting; between issues, between scenes, between panels, but also within the story. We know that frightening things are on the way, but horror lets us delight in the waiting, the anticipation of something terrible driving our desire to turn the page.
What this second issue gives us isn’t much; it deepens the unease and sets the sisters on a journey to elsewhere, but there isn’t much in terms of plot advancement. We don’t learn much we didn’t already know, but that doesn’t mean the issue is unsuccessful. Instead, Long Lost has dug its hooks in deeper, tantalizing me with just enough hints, just enough fear, that I can’t wait until I can turn the next page.