Salem Brownstone: All Along The Watchtowers graphic novel review

Paul checks out a new graphic novel, that proves to be a fairy tale for adults...

Just as Hansel and Gretel walked into a forest and discovered a house of candy only to encounter something more sinister inside, so the reader of Salem Brownstone is drawn into a magical world that holds dark secrets. This is a lively, stylish fable from two new young British-based comic book talents that carries with it the spirit of independent creators such as Dan Clowes and Bryan Talbot.

Returning home to reclaim his heritage after his father’s death, Salem Brownstone discovers many family secrets, not least the fact that his father was a magician who fought extra-dimensional demons. Salem is soon expected to take up the mantle to continue the fight against these archaic beings. With the help of his guardian familiar, and the weirdly wonderful performers of Dr Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights, he remains this world’s only hope against  this alien invasion.

A life-long fan of comic books, writer John Harris Dunning has shaped a hero that has been shaped from the realms of mystical and gothic fantasy. He has siphoned off elements of Tim Burton’s cinematic realms,  Aleister Crowley,  and  popular magically powered heroes such as Dr Strange, Zatanna and  Mandrake. There are also echoes of Victorian faerie fiction and the nightmare world of childhood and the Brothers Grimm.

Nikhil Singh’s artwork seems perfectly bonded to the words, weaving its black and white spidery line drawings into a visual briar patch that grafts words and  images indelibly together on the page. The wiry elongated figures are reminiscent of  Henry Selick’s designs for Jack Skellington in A Nightmare Before Christmas, as Simon Bisley’s work on Nemesis. However, there are stronger, and indeed, favourable, comparisons with  the delicately erotic darkness of Aubrey Beardsley’s work, emphasised further by the book’s plush purple cover that shadows the fin-de-siècle decadence of  the Yellow Book in which Beardsley’s work was originally published.

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Salem Brownstone is a fairy tale for adults, proving that graphic novels can still harness the imagination beyond mere muscle-bound superheroics.   Confidently told and imaginatively realised, this is a haunting cosmically aware Alice In Wonderland for the new century. I suspect that there are more adventures to come after All Along The Watchtowers. For now, this is a spellbinding beginning.

Salem Brownstone: All Along The Watchtowers is out now and available from The Den Of Geek Store.


4 out of 5