Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Infidel’ TPB, available now from Image Comics.
THIS REVIEW OF ‘INFIDEL’ TPB IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Arpad Okay. Aisha, her new family, and her best friend are all living in a murder house, in a haunted walk-up horror tale more vivid and contemporary than most. Tension already ate at the family unit before the supernatural was involved. Grandma-in-Law doesn’t seem to like Muslims; she’s always making little on-purpose mistakes regarding Aisha’s faith.
But it’s not just Grandma. Relations between all the white folks and people of color in the building are strained. One floor is totally destroyed. Everyone there died. An Arab man was building bombs at home and things went wrong.
Enter ghosts. What makes a ghost? What feeds it? Hate. The grotesque spirits of Infidel are more than rotting meat stench and whispered racial epithets. Fear gives these creatures power and that power damages the world. Aisha can’t sleep. Ethan’s seeing things. Medina is battling monsters.
Infidel tells the story of the echo created by violence. Our world is complicated, casual ignorance in America tends to conflate Muslim, Arab, and terrorist, so a Pakistani-American girl who holds on to the positive aspects of her faith finds herself demonized by her neighbors. The ghost of calamity repeats its trauma. The horror in Infidel is a cycle, a closed circuit. A wheel.
The story that Pornsak Pichetshote is ultimately penning here is of the karmic wheel, and Aisha and Medina’s struggle to break it. Violence begets violence. Feeding into hate perpetuates the wheel’s turning out negativity. Bombing. Fear. Xenophobia. Ghosts. To stop its turn and move it in the other direction takes devotion, love, and sacrifice.
Infidel is as heavy with love as it is hate, despite the ghosts, despite the prejudice and privilege, a shining love to rebuild bridges burnt. Demons aren’t fought, rejected, turned out. That’s their way. Victory lies in the fight to unite. Lovers, friends, family, neighbors, the living and the dead.
So, Pichetshote’s battle is of faith and vision, of optimism against pessimism. Not seeing but still believing. On one side is not knowing and believing the worst, a self-executing prophecy. The other is understanding evil exists but choosing a better worldview, hoping the good rises to meet expectations.
Aaron Campbell’s artwork also embraces dichotomy. His real world is expressed through a tactile art approach, the scratch of pens of many weights, smoky brushes resembling charcoal pencil, the definite, indelible mark on the page, the whole ArtBin.
There’s a bit of a Bronze Age throwback in his characters’ simplicity, but modernized with more work, definition, textures, and shading. Campbell is more concerned with character than contour, a draughtsman’s real that captures faces, rooms, moods. Between his speckled inkpot stippling and José Villarrubia’s blood, all watercolor fade and chaotic spattering, the horror rots the page like mold consuming spoiled fruit.
Infidel’s ghosts exist on another plane, in another way. They’re soft, like a xerox slipping off the glass as the facsimile is being made. If reality is represented with bold, blocky color plates, Campbell and Villarrubia give the ghosts a filmic presence, a mix of computer age digital and analog cells overheated, bubbling as they burn.
The demons are photo collage in a drawn world, warped approximations of people assembled from the most cursed parts. What shouldn’t be real doesn’t look like it is, and what is real, the toll, the bodies, the harm, that’s the scariest part. Aisha’s hospital face, her hospital bed, that’s what frightens me the most.
Jeff Powell employs clear, expressive lettering, a real boon for the series. Infidel has a lot of theory, debate, arguments–this is a book about people connecting, and Powell makes the many voices distinct, emotional, and cohesive. Like the art, fonts flip in ghost world. Relentless, unbound, the raw scrawl of hate, the tap turned on and running. A strong letterer subtly elevates the script, and Powell does just that.
Infidel, a damned powerful read, is the culmination of all these parts. Terrifying art. Worse subject matter. Approached with tenderness, shot through with hope. Is Pichetshote’s message cynical? Realist? Fantasy? The best horror is a mirror, and the answer is about you and your world as much as it is Aisha, Medina, their loved ones, and their ghosts.
Written by Pornsak Pichetshote.
Illustrated by Aaron Campbell.
Colored by José Villarrubia.
Lettered by Jeff Powell.
Edited by José Villarrubia.
Check out this four-page preview of ‘Infidel’ TPB, courtesy of Image Comics!
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