22 Feb 2010

From The Vaults: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT #1-3

While we spend a great deal of time engrossed in the current crop of comic books, let us not forget those fantastic tales from the past that still sit in amongst our collections but are always worth revisiting...

Writer: Steve Niles
Art: Ben Templesmith

By Matt T


The first thing that struck me about 30 Days Of Night was the premise. In the remote town of Barrow in Alaska, where the sun sets for an entire month every year, a horde of vampires set about having themselves a party. There's far more to it than that, but the central plot rarely strays away from the abject horror of the situation. This isn't your pretty boy vampires, all angst and hair gel, this is a group of animals intent on tearing a small town apart.
Standing between the few survivors and complete annihilation are local sheriff, Eben Olemaun, and his estranged wife, Stella, who find they have to go to extraordinary lengths to survive. What follows is a bloody, thrilling and occasionally shocking account of the 30-day period before the sun reappears. There isn't a whole amount of exposition or dialogue required as a result, with little more than the occasional bout of bickering and attempts to find a sliver of hope filling the word balloons.

Helping Steve Niles' atmospheric writing is the individual style of Ben Templesmith’s visuals. The artist's scratchy, watercolour technique is a real 'marmite' divider amongst fans, but I find the minimal backdrops really bring out the exaggerated physiology of the vampires. Instead of the vamps resembling humans in all but their longer incisors, Templesmith portrays these bloodsuckers as razor-toothed creatures with very little similarity to their prey, and the presence of child vampires is utterly chilling. There's no stopping or placating them, and as the conclusion shows, the only manner in which the heroes can overcome the approaching darkness is to become one of them.
As Eben struggles to retain his humanity in the face of the overwhelming predatory instincts of the vampire infection, he chooses to spend his last minutes with his wife, seeing in the sunset in what some may see as a clich├ęd ending, but personally I find it poignant in a book of such simplicity.

In spite of the obvious attempts to set up a sequel, and the unnecessary subplot of a camcording, helicopter-riding fella from New Orleans who gets killed almost as quickly as he enters Barrow airspace, 30 Days Of Night is a straightforwardly entertaining read. There are plenty of spin-offs and follow-ups, as well as a movie adaptation, but for effective, unfussy shocks and scares you can't go far wrong by sticking with the original.


Matt Clark said...

I revisited 30 Days Of Night recently before watching the movie on DVD, and while it might have felt like a unique and somewhat revolutionary on release, it's power has diminished slightly over the years.

As Matt T says, its simplicity is one of its strengths, but for me it's also one of its drawbacks. It often feels a little too slight, requiring a bit more meat on the bones, a further hint of characterization here and there. And, as mentioned, the New Orleans subplot is utterly superfluous (although it does play into the sequels).

It's still a decent read though, and Templesmith's imagery remains striking and frequently unnerving but in hindsight three issues just seems too brief. It's a great concept and would have benefited from it's first appearance being beefed up rather than diluted over numerous sequels.

(That said, the Red Snow mini, written and drawn by Templesmith, was far and away the highlight of everything that's spun out from the original book).

nyrdyv said...

I have always found the artwork in 30DoN to be the most compelling feature for me.


Steven G. Willis