Closer: Distance Means Nothing
by Antony Johnston,
Mike Norton, Leanne Buckley
(Oni, 2004)

To any fan of American horror, the scene is almost so familiar as to be almost iconic. There's the crumbling mansion, set on an isolated windswept outcropping of the New England coast. Here's a collection of disparate guests, most old, one young and obviously out of place, summoned by the host for unknown but no doubt nefarious purposes. But here's the host himself, a lean old gentleman, promising all that this familiar mansion is not the cage it appears, and if they don't want to be there, they don't have to be there -- or anywhere -- ever again. He'll illustrate his point. If we'd care to come Closer...?

Artists Mike Norton and Leanne Buckley combines straightforward "camera" angles with complicated layouts to create a rising sense of unease with very little gore onscreen. His character designs flirt with realism, but the details fade out in his bold linework, leaving complicated, layered faces that are still as recognizable as a funny animal cartoon. Anyone who bought comic books in the days when they were printed on cheap newsprint with badly matched four-color printing may find the grey-toned, artificial style of shading creates a nostalgic feeling for the art. Action scenes are sometimes hard to comprehend, and poses are often stiff, but even that contributes to the overall feel of Closer as an old-fashioned gothic horror movie in ink.

There is gothic aplenty here, with dark ancient gods, forbidden knowledge, a cackling, monomaniacal villain, twisted family secrets and even a modern fashionplate style Goth in the form of young Serena. Surprising, then, that Closer, for all its familiar ambience, never feels predictable. Few horror stories manage to break away from the shackles of the genre, but Antony Johnston moves Closer so fast that the familiar scenery blurs, the landmark plot points fading into the distance almost before they can announce their presence. I wasn't really shocked by anything in the pages of Closer, but I wasn't bored either.

Johnston, Norton and Buckley don't transcend the barriers of time and space with Closer. But in giving a horror story the exact length and space it needs for effect, and not one page nor panel more or less, they manage a feat almost as impressive.

by Sarah Meador
11 November 2006