A Voice in the Dark is a remarkable success story on numerous levels.
First of all, it’s a character and dialogue-oriented comic book. This means most panels are of people talking, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, but mostly talking. There are no explosions, no spandex and capes, no zombies. Granted, there are short bursts of violence but with one exception these scenes are all subdued and restrained, suggestive more than exploitive. If that sounds boring, let me assure you that it’s anything but.
Next, it’s female character-centered. All the principals are young college women. This alone could probably turn away a lot of readers were these young women not as intelligent and articulate as they are, and in a pretty realistic way to boot.
It’s also done in grayscale. Now, personally, I’m a big fan of black-and-white comics just as I am of old B&W films. There was even one period during which I think most of the comics I read were indie comics done in grayscale. But certainly when it comes to the bigger publishers and the mainstream comic market, color is the expected standard.
And, finally, the creator and writer-artist of A Voice in the Dark, Larime Taylor, is a true inspiration.
Taylor was born with a birth defect called arthrogryposis which stunts development of the limbs, and as such he isn’t able to use his arms and hands conventionally. Instead, he writes, draws, tones and even letters the book with his mouth. But if I had not told you that, there’s no way you could know just by reading the comic because every aspect of its creation—the writing, the art, the lettering—is second to none. Just as remarkably, the gorgeous covers, drawn by Taylor, are colored by his wife who is also an artist but who is legally blind.
A Voice in the Dark, Vol. 1 is a pretty generous volume in that it collects the first seven issues of the monthly, the first issue of which was a deluxe-sized 36-page issue, totaling 208 pages. Most trade paperbacks nowadays generally only compile around four to six issues and rarely hit the 200-page mark.
AVITD follows Zoey, a young woman just entering her freshman year at an elite woman’s college that she worked very hard to get into. Zoey is an unassuming, studious type who doesn’t bring attention to herself, but she’s secretly tormented by powerful, vividly violent fantasies and the desire to live them out. And from page one of the comic we are told that she actually did kill someone once, not on some random whim but with provocation. As far as we know so far she’s gotten away with the murder, but her inner turmoil over it and the fact that in every other way she’s a normal, intelligent and sensitive young woman does make her a sympathetic character.
Having a natural talent for radio, Zoey immerses herself as a student DJ at the college’s radio station, hoping that this will provide an outlet for her darker impulses, but when she meets an unlikable campus bully her violent yearnings are reawakened. Things become doubly complicated when a sudden, mysterious string of local murders make it clear that there’s a bona fide serial killer running loose in the town. Could it be Zoey herself? Due to the temporal jumping back and forth in the narrative at first we’re not sure.
A Voice in the Dark has elements that could make it just another exploitive, B-grade thriller were it not written so intelligently and with the admirable degree of restraint that Taylor brings to it. This is a mature psychological horror-thriller comic that’s heavy on the psychology and light on the gore and violence. The dialogue is also on-the-money, convincingly portraying the collegiate world Zoey inhabits. In fact, notwithstanding the disturbing events taking place on campus, the realistic look inside the otherwise enviable lives and routines of these students made me pine for my own long gone days as a student.
Taylor has a realistic yet hyper-smooth artistic style that I took to very quickly and which reminded me of some of Daniel Clowes’ work. It suits both the story and its setting and characters very well. And don’t even get me started on how utterly blown away I am that this man manages to produce this quality of writing and art in this amount on time and to do so consistently.
I don’t mean to overemphasize the disability aspect because I know that most artists, disabled or otherwise, would probably want their work to be received on its own merits. Certainly, as a comic reader I am simply grateful for a title with good story and art that, despite being unconventional in some ways, is being put out by major publishers like Image Comics and Top Cow Productions.
But as a person with my own disability, patiently trying to build myself a new life after a chronic illness took many things away, I am inspired and enthralled by what Larime Taylor has accomplished. He has created something that I can look at whenever I feel discouraged or frustrated and remind myself that, yes, it can be done.
When you consider how hard its creator must have worked to make this book as good as it is and to get it out there the way he has, A Voice in the Dark, Vol. 1, despite its chilling subject matter, really is in a sense a comforting voice for those out there who may feel like they’re in the dark.