Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Moto Hagio’s ‘The Poe Clan’, out now from Fantagraphics Press.

Required Reading: 'The Poe Clan, Vol. 1'
Cover to ‘The Poe Clan Vol. 1’. Art: Moto Hagio/Fantagraphics Press

by Arpad OkayMoto Hagio’s vision of undying romance is a fairy tale heavy with gothic mystery, intrigue, and hedonism. Somehow all with a PG rating despite having things like boarding school boys planning to sexmurder the entire student body. To pluck a rose. Finger guns. Toxic relationships. A kiss on the throat. The Poe Clan is all things romance from longing to laughing to living forever on the blood of the powerful.

Somewhere between vampire and the fair folk you have the Poe. Androgynous and opulent, crass, brash, and fearless. Cautious, for all monsters who survive the ages must be cautious. Alone, together, and hungry. And sexual tension you could cut with a knife in the cat-and-mouse relationships between the Poe and the victims they stalk. Between the Poe and each other, between anybody and everybody in Hagio’s world.

She writes like Shakespeare: randy, passionate, full of tragedy, and quite funny. Brother Poe licks a palm before he bandages it. His sensual treatment of the world clashes against his hatred for life. The stories pique and peak until the curtain is pulled back for the reader, not to reveal secrets, but the stage on fire. The actors are in peril, and out go the lights.

Here’s a secret. Immortality is a prison. “Do you think tomorrow will be a better day?” is a question that haunts the book. With no end to their days, there are no days for the Poe. Only today, now; the dream of tomorrow is poison. The Poe don’t even get now. Romance, horniness, that’s now. But there are no vampire children, no vampires growing old together. The rose is never plucked. Only today, outside time, forgotten by God.

The counterpoint to the hopelessness of eternity is the immense power of the secret, internal life. Vampires are the hidden stranger. Creatures that pass in human form. Yet who doesn’t feel that way, who lacks an inner life they don’t let show? Who is bereft of secrets? Vampires and romance, those are about choices that can’t be unmade. In modern opt-out society, permanence is scarce. Secrets endure.

All this, crowned in blood, a vampire book.

Hagio’s artwork is as delicate and versatile as her storytelling. Finely sculpted lines that suit the period piece dandies and blushing ladies of good breeding, the sweep of their hair and the fold of their cloth the impossible hold of perfectly piped cake frosting. Storms of Van Gogh swirls. Wind and rose petals and sparkles and fading into dots before disappearing completely.

The look is vintage magazine ads and fashion plates, Blondie Bumstead with a touch of Mucha. The romance staple of (vampire) eyes in the sky. Hagio nails the art of putting serious and goofy in the same panel. Peanuts and Devilman side-by-side. Hagio’s artwork as seen from today feels more prescient than retro. Feeling both old and timeless really works for this particular read.

So there is a wealth of unsettling, contradictory imagery, beautiful scenes poisoned by the deep sadness they hide. Outer chic and inner torture galvanize the story. An embrace that kindles disgust and mutilation is casual discussion in Hagio’s unending day of topsy-turvy. The casually insidious slips by without pause. Even with both hands around it, the story shifts, writhes, ceaselessly twisting.

“Protected from time by God,” is my favorite single line from Rachel Thorn’s eloquent translation. That potent irony sucker-punch lands because of Thorn’s understanding of Hagio’s intention as a storyteller as much as Thorn’s grasp of the language Hagio used to write with. Their combined words are robust with meaning. The voice of The Poe Clan reads clear and vivid and true.

The Poe Clan forty-odd years on is a forerunner of modern horror with its sophisticated themes and complicated characters, wit and open sexuality. Told as a fairy tale plucked from illustration’s golden age, behind the harlequin mask is red death. But that’s the point. We like it cute and pretty and delicate. And we like it tumultuous and torrid and deadly. We embrace the rose, pricks and all.

Fantagraphics Press / $39.99

Written by Moto Hagio.

Illustrated by Moto Hagio.

Translated by Rachel Thorn.

Edited by Kristy Valenti.

Enjoy this 8-page preview of ‘The Poe Clan’ Vol. 1, courtesy of Fantagraphics Press!

More Required Reading…

The Laphams’ cryptic, lurid, frightening ‘Lodger’ one of Black Crown’s best

Read ‘They Called Us Enemy’, a rich, complex vision where truth is paramount

Wroten zeroes in on the struggle for and with maturity in ‘Cannonball’