Dusk (2009) is a self-published graphic novel written by David Doub and illustrated by four different artists, three on pencils and two doing inks. Although the story and concepts are interesting, the execution is uneven and falls short of the creators’ ambitions. Drawn in the heavily chiaroscuro style typical of black and white comic art in general, the art does not always serve the story or the reader in the ways that it needs to.
The book consists of four stand-alone stories that are not obviously sequential in either narrative or timeline. In Chapter One, we meet Eve, an “enhanced” human who works for a vampire named Ash. Ash is a benevolent if somewhat avuncular figure whose interest in Eve seems wholly paternal. Eve herself acts in the capacity of a slayer or enforcer, à la Buffy or Anita Blake: petite and feminine (and appearing younger than her years, according to dialogue in Chapter Three) but able to kick plenty of butt. She is addicted to drinking small amounts of vampire blood, which in Doub’s universe apparently doesn’t turn a human into a vampire in and of itself. Ash reluctantly supplies her with blood, but it’s unclear whether this elixir is responsible for her powers or not. In Chapter One, Eve is sent to track down a rogue vampire, with unhappy results.
Chapter Two shows us more of Eve’s history, current living situation with Ash and past relationships. Ten years ago, she fled an abusive husband only to fall into the clutches of an evil vampire who enslaved her. I found the ending of this story rather touching, but it mostly serves as a retrospective on Eve herself. I wish we could have learned more about her experiences with her evil master, Van Kraken, and what happened to him. I really wanted to know more about Ash’s “business trip” somewhere deep “beneath the Swiss Alps” (where he still has cell phone service).
In Chapter Three, Eve joins forces with another mortal hunter to stop a rogue vampire. We get more hints here about the vampire subculture which Eve and Ash apparently serve, but very few details.
In a story quite different from the previous three, Chapter Four deals with a bullied high school student who dabbles in black magic. Here, Eve displays a gift for the magical arts as she tries to stop the student from pulling a Carrie on his high school tormentors.
Artist Maki Naro (inks by Chris Scott) makes the most creative use of layout and composition in Chapters One and Two. However, sometimes creativity interferes with comprehension, and it’s a little hard to follow what’s going on. This is especially true in a couple of the action/fight sequences. The panels tend to have too much solid black, so that the black overwhelms the imagery rather than highlighting it by contrast.
Chapter Three, with pencils and ink by Jerry Gonzales, almost lost me completely. The art is a muddled mess, with characters who are indistinguishable from each other and long action sequences in which I couldn’t figure out what the heck is going on. Blasting guns don’t translate well to static graphics for panel after panel. Whole panels of dialogue are in unelucidated Italian or German, as well, and I’m afraid I’m a bit rusty in those languages. I’d have appreciated subtitles.
I’m glad I kept reading, however, because Chapter Four is the best of the book. Artist Franc Czuba (inks by Chris Scott) does a fine job here, albeit with a slightly jarring inconsistency with the interpretations of the characters in the previous three chapters. By the time I got to the very end of Dusk, which is not paginated, and saw Czuba’s “Eve/Ash cover” full page graphic, I thought, “Wow. If only the whole book was that good!” I have no idea why Doub used multiple artists for this short work, or how he selected them, but he definitely did not get uniform results.
To the extent that I could tell from the stories, Doub’s fictional universe is intriguing, and I’d like to learn more about it. Ash is an interesting character, and Eve herself is complex and multi-layered. The vampire protocols avoid cliché and establish some refreshing new conventions, and I’d love to have seen more explanations and details (and less gunfire for panel after panel). Doub is planning a second volume, and I hope that the artwork improves in consistency and clarity. I see a lot of potential in Dusk and its characters, and they deserve further development. Readers can keep updated on Doub’s work at his page on Comicspace.com.