Halloween is a lot of things, scary, dark and horrifying well among them.
The Me You Love in the Dark by Skottie Young (I HATE FAIRYLAND) and Jorge Corona (NO. 1 WITH A BULLET) embraces all those tantalising terrific elements, and much more, in a seductively disturbing tale of what happens when something as supposedly pure as love turns out to have a whole other murderously gruesome quality.
In this evocatively drawn graphic novel, which brings forth suffocating mood through judicious use of dialogue and panels that suggest rather than outright display, we meet Ro, a burnt-out artist who, after earning her artistic street cred working in a coffee shop while trying to get noticed, has found success so abundant that it has stifled her creativity.
In a desperate bid to restart the creative engine that powered her to much-loved, collection selling-out stardom, she’s retreated to a small town, and specifically, an archetypal-looking haunted house which the real estate agent from which she rents it cautions seems to have “a lot of stories about [it] being haunted — whatever that means.”
Ro isn’t put off by this delicately delivered warning, saying “Thank you, but haunted or not … it’s exactly what I’m looking for”, fateful words that add weight, in time, to the idea that you should be careful what you wish for.
Tired of producing “bright, colorful, happy crap”, she tries her hand at producing edgier, grittier works, using her isolation and her unwillingness to step foot back out into the world to fuel art which diverges completely from her artistic persona to date.
Ro has some fun with the idea that the place might be haunted, demanding that the ghost help her unpack or at least pour her a glass of her liquid muse, red wine, and make themselves useful.
It’s all fun and playful at once, but becomes decidedly less so when the “ghost” answers back and Ro finds herself on an altogether different journey that starts out all The Ghost & Mrs Muir but ends becoming something quite a bit darker and more terrifying.
Saying any more than that would lessen the impact of Young’s stunningly evocative writing which delves deep into what it means to come to the end of yourself, and to hope that a change of location might be the way to find some new ground to tread, existentially and artistically, only to have that hope upended in some harrowingly dark and terrible ways.
Even so, at first Ro is liberated and comes alive, finding herself enthralled by an entity that seems to be caring and nurturing in the way she needs, both personally to heal some unstated but clearly deeply-cut wounds, and for her art which comes alive in the presence of an otherworldly being who promises the healing Ro craves.
What makes The Me You Love in the Dark such an emotionally impactful story to read is the way it lays the very best of human intention and hopefulness hard up against the darkness of what happens when that isn’t realised, and the world, far from getting brighter and better succumbs to the very worst of impulses and twisted love.
Corona’s artwork is beautiful but bleak, capturing in single artfully-rendered panels what it feels like to sink into yourself and to find some measure of reinvention and then to have that reinvention, that newness of experience and person turn into something entirely different.
The creeping sense of Ro discovering how something so good becomes so very, soul-scarringly bad is brought to us in immersive detail, with Corona using a white wisp at first to represent the creature which is eventually revealed somewhat in all its horrific glory, its love of movies and music a cover for some very ancient and dark ideas.
The Me You Love in the Dark is the perfect marriage of Young’s insightful writing and Corona’s bright but darker-hued art, offering a tale which is a sobering caution about believing that all that glitters is gold.
It’s a tough road to hoe narratively because it you don’t want to suggest that every time something wonderful happens, something bad lies in wait, but The Me You Love in the Dark sidesteps that universality of terror lies in wait everywhere by making it clear that the outside world remains very much alive and as rich as it’s always been if Ro can just get out the door.
In her new hermetically-sealed world, hope curdles into pain, artistic freedom into a death trance in paint, and Ro finds out that sometimes the very things you think will save you actually end up imperilling you further instead.
Make no mistake, The Me You Love in the Dark is a harrowing read by the end and it’ll be a strong, concrete hearted soul indeed who isn’t shaken by the final act, but even so, this is a story that combines the light and the dark of humanity to devastatingly good storytelling effect.
It will leave you sobered up and keenly aware of the capacity of life to turn its good things into those that are most manifestly not, but even as you read it, you will feel yourself empowered by the way Ro handles her strange journey and how she emerges at the end an altogether different person.
Not necessarily better because you suspect these are scars that will take a long time to heal, but different, in the way that all life-changingly traumatic events reshape those that undergo them.
Beautiful and hopeful, dark and horrifically hopeless until it’s not, The Me You Love in the Dark is a masterpiece of haunting love and bleak hopefulness that tells with real nuance and heart what it’s like to give yourself to something, find yourself enveloped by it in ways you don’t see coming and to find freedom at great cost, the kind that will influence your life, no doubt, for many years to come.