Whispers in the Walls
So much of our current comics culture is centred around the safe and the familiar, no matter how shocking or stunningly written they may be the majority of the stories that we read are series that have often been retreading the same territory for upwards of fifty years now. So it is something of a novelty to pick up a new story that you know absolutely nothing about, one that both begins and ends within the pages of the single book you now hold between your two hands. Such was the case for me when I purchased Whispers in the Walls. I knew nothing about the book when I first picked it up: i had read no reviews, heard no fan responses, couldn’t decypher the front cover art and felt that the synopsis on the back was brief to the point of pointlessness; mentioning only that it featured an orphan and had a pedigree that lead back to Guilermo Del Toro ( Though these days what doesn’t?). Yet something drew me to it, there was a strange power in the book, something eldritch or perhaps as the title suggested Lovecraftian; regardless it was strong enough that i shelled out the cash for it over all other books in the store.
Normally knowing nothing about a story is a boon to the experience, it is more enveloping when you are constantly kept guessing at what the next page and panel would bring, but in this case the mystery felt more like a bad thing. Though this is somewhat the point, the plot is kept very ambiguous for a very long time; keeping the reader in the dark as to who is who and more importantly who is what. It’s not even clear until the final throes of the tale what genre story this is because the tone and scale change on such a whim. Worsening this is the fact that every detail we do discover is quickly undermined with a twist or counter-revelation so that we, along with the child characters, don’t know who to trust or why not. Again this is the theme, the story of the children stuck in this strange orphanage is structured this way intentionally but when we don’t know for sure who to root for we generally just don’t and thus we don’t care, which is fatal for any story.
This distance is deepened by the art, which while wonderful at first glance actually wounds the story somewhat. On a panel by panel basis the pictures look beautiful and the glossy but gritty cartoon style suits the fractured fairytale / dark fantasy nature of the books content, but when read in succession something feels off about their flow. For me their storytelling is flawed in a subtle but super important way; it’s as if something has been lost in translation, like the visual language of the Spanish scene doesn’t quite equate to ours and so while the words were all right the sentence structure of scenes seemed unnatural and jarring. This broken english does extend to the writing, though to a lesser degree; some lines feel a little forced or flat – as if they were translated too literally, with only coherence and not creativity in mind – though this is but a minor issue, one that wouldn’t have phased me on its own but serves to strengthen the package of problems that I had with the book.
That it alienates its audience in this way is such a great shame because the book otherwise has a lot to offer.The mythology that it eventually builds up is an interesting one that I would love to see explored further; the way that it cobbles together the iconic characters from classic tales into one cohesive story is impressive enough, but that it then twists them in such a way so that neither the monsters nor the monster hunters truly have the moral upper hand is actually quite incredible. What it tries to say with this story is a little more hit and miss, but to my mind including any kind of metaphor is admirable. There are religious undertones thanks to the treatment off the omniscient voice in the protagonists head, one whose whispers tell her what is right, what is wrong and what to do about it. The most important metaphor, however, is one of war though in a macro sense it is almost missing, you would be excused for not picking up on it at all were it not for the occasional line or action that hammered it home far too bluntly; this imbalance though is probably more to do with the translation than terrible writing.
Sometimes taking risks is rewarded with a pay off, but at most others it’s best to simply ignore those voices in your head and stick to the safe path; I still wonder, which was this? To me the book felt mediocre at best, but I can’t place any concrete blame for that within the pages of the comic itself; everything that got in my way of loving it was external, was with me. So many of the flaws feel like they are my own fault: because I didn’t know what to expect my expectations could never be met, because I wasn’t expecting metaphorical, morally ambiguous high-fantasy I wasn’t in the right reading mindset and primarily because I don’t speak Spanish I had to read the less than ideal iteration of the story. I’m torn on this one: so if you’ve already read it I’d love to hear your thoughts so I can see what was just me, and if you haven’t maybe you can do so and enjoy it now that I’ve given you a vague idea of what to expect. I certainly don’t regret the purchase, but next time I might just stick to Batman.