Siddharth Kotian’s Eat the Dead
by Travis Hedge Coke
“The man she loved and secretly hates.”
Horror in disturbed water, in fire, in the woods, in the night.
Written and drawn by Siddarth Kotian, Eat the Dead is a little short to advertise itself as a “graphic novel,” which it does, but it is so dizzying, so packed, the tension is so thick that in its less than sixty pages, the comic does more than many accomplish in over three times the page count.
Enhancing the fever dream, the anxiety delirium atmosphere, the panel layouts shift page to page. The storytelling beats contract and expand like the bellows of an accordion. The art shifts in bleeds from representational and tightly contained like film stills to distortions and symbols in staccato fits. The characters come at every moment with clashing perspectives, clashing convictions.
Thick and thin line work, some of the blacks swirling and angled unexpectedly, between Jae Lee and David Finch.
I had already appreciated Kotian’s work on Devi, with filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and novelist, Samit Basu, but Eat the Dead is clearly his book, his baby, and the writing and artwork are inseparable, working simultaneous rather than concurrently. While many comics may lead you to wondering if a panel could have been drawn another way, if a comic could not have benefitted from one more dialogue pass after it was drawn and colored, Eat the Dead reads definite and definitive.
Rather than present us a flimsy justification, having our band of young just folks out in the woods, commit some trespass that snowballs into the horrors that await, Kotian simply hits them with the horror. Their social or interpersonal trespasses are not the excuse for how they are manipulated or hurt.
While many horror stories want us to embrace a moral-causal sense of punishment, and many comics work to keep us unaware of the artifice of panels, of page layouts, Eat the Dead gives us time, and urges us to consider the lack of justification. Stupid decisions are committed to within two panels. A kill is suspended between thirty-five panels in one spread. A thirty-five panel moment, succession of moments, strung like worry beads, strung like a lattice or the precise paneling of a stained glass window.
“The thing makes a sound that is oddly human.”
The evocation of time and consequence is unrelenting. Bi0logical, sexual, and social horror are as alive and writhing as fear of the dark, fear of the future, fear of what is just out of reach and fear that what is just out of reach will, eventually, touch our fingers, maybe even before we touch it.
Where causation does come in, is in characters’ personal justifications for what happens, in, then, bias and guilt. What better roots for good horror? Bias and guilt. The more strained the situation, the more their inadequacies and anxieties come to fore, their guilt drives their condemnation of others, of themselves. Brutally.
Not that they are all especially bad folks. One guy is, but the rest, they’re just folks. They are us. We fear like that. We feel like that. The man who is a one man horrorshow probably is more of us than we want to deal with.
We are, to one another, and to ourselves, brutal. On a scale, but brutal.
“For all its power, it was a loathsome, cowardly creature.”
The monster in Eat the Dead, which lures, lies, manipulates, shames, and corrupts normal folks, but that’s also us. If anything, we may just not be as powerful. That may be the whole of the difference.
Siddharth Kotian’s Eat the Dead
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