The List by Bedford, Pop, Bonin – review

The ListThe List is a graphic novel written by Paul Bedford and illustrated by Henry Pop (pencils) and Tom Bonin (inks). It has lived through many incarnations, originally released in serial form and now available as a self-published single-volume graphic novel. It’s interesting to note that this edition was financed through crowd-funding with a successful Pozible campaign.

The List tells the story of a young man with a deep obsession. He has a list tattooed on his stomach, given to him by an angel. His father has already completed his list and reached “enlightenment” and the son must now work through as his father did. The angel drives him on, the ghost of his father lambasts his mistakes and the reader is never really sure if any of it is real or just extensive psychosis on the part of the son, Matthew.

This is the key idea behind the narrative style. Very little is given away and there’s a lot of room for interpretation, which is generally a good thing in any story. The tale is violent and powerful and does little to protect the reader from the depths of insanity surely gripping Matthew. Clearly this book has a lot of fans (given the crowd-funding success and many positive reviews) but I have to admit that I found the whole thing rather two-dimensional.

The art style is bold and stark, which works in many ways, but the consistent lack of backgrounds and the constant use of solid black or solid white in panels made the book seem stangely flat. This helps to focus on the story, but it does detract from the immersive experience you’d expect from a graphic novel. There are several pages with very little text and panel after panel of story told purely with pictures, reminiscent of the cinematic style in books like Lone Wolf And Cub, and this works well, but still suffers from that lack of secondary detail.

The same can be said of the story. There’s really nothing else going on except Matthew and his list. The writing and story idea are servicable though not outstanding, but the focus is so tightly on the primary idea that we’re left with no nuance of world or place, or character history. I suspect this is deliberate, but it does leave the overall experience feeling somewhat empty and isolated in time and place.

However, having said all that, the tale is strangely compelling and I had no trouble reading the book in a single sitting. Several comments about the work try to draw attention to its no-holds-barred approach and unflinching horror and depravity, but it’s really nothing new in that respect. In fact, compared to something like Garth Ennis’s The Boys or Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss, it’s positively tame. But I was pleased that the story was explored to its full depth and not sanitised. I would have liked more from both the story and the art, but I still found it to be a satisfying read. It’s something a bit different and a good effort from a team working in isolation and supported only by their passion and hard-earned fans. This is definitely worth a look for something unusual if you like your horror of the psychological and mysteriously supernatural kind.

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About Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He is the author of the dark urban fantasy trilogy, Bound, Obsidian and Abduction (The Alex Caine Series) published by HarperVoyager Australia, and the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign (The Balance 1 and 2) from Gryphonwood Press. He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. Alan also writes short fiction with more than 50 stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France. His short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (forthcoming), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others, and more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (2010 and 2012). Alan also writes narrative arcs and dialogue for videogames and wrote the popular writer’s resource, Write The Fight Right, a short ebook about writing convincing fight scenes. He has twice been a finalist in the Ditmar Awards.

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