We all secretly like morbid things. Admit it. It's hard to find a person who doesn't think that Halloween is the best holiday, it's hard to find someone who doesn't prefer Batman to Superman, and it's especially hard to find someone And if you do find such a person, they're probably lying--or they just haven't read Kathleen Jacques' Intershadows yet, a comic that proves just how enjoyable--and how profound, at times--the truly morbid can be. How funny, to boot.

Based on the idea (propagated by McDuffies, I think) that art gets people to look at a comic and writing keeps them there, it seems prudent to talk about the art first. Fortunately for Intershadows, the art is particularly worthy of being talked about. Jacques was at one point an art history student, and it shows, especially in the earlier strips--this Aubrey Beardsley parody stands out, for one, but there are all sorts of other jazzy referential layouts, like this one featuring Denny and Teresa all Voyagered-up, and this dead-on parody of angst-ridden journal comics (made especially funny by the fact that the character who ostensibly drew the comics has more reason than most, shall we say, for feeling angst-ridden.) The really intense layouts mostly belong to the first year or two of the comic, but there are still a few nice surprises to be found here and there--this subtly animated page, for one. And whatever the layout, the art delivers--the gutter-dwelling Hell-O-Vision crops up all the time, and the linework is consistently chunky and fun to look at.

The writing is a slightly different bag. The characters are well-defined and always spot-on, of course, even if some of them don't have a lot to do--Dylan and Kristan, for example, who more or less dominated the Intershadows prequel Coolville, mostly just turn up for brief gag strips now and then, despite being pretty interesting. The core of the comic, at this point, really comes down to four characters: the ever-diabolical Damien family (serial killer wannabe Jean-Paul and psychotic-yet-perky Jenny) and the ever-incorruptible Sanders/Wretsky family (Teresa, Jean-Paul's once and probably future victim, and Denny, Teresa's androgynous husband and perhaps underqualified protector.) Jean-Paul and Jenny are always entertaining and creepy, facing both their own troubling mental issues and their well-rendered sibling dynamic (which manages to be at once heartfelt and horrifying--on one page Jean-Paul expresses concern for Jenny's bizarre multi-religious decorating schemes, on another Jenny holds an axe over Jean-Paul's head following a psychotic episode)--but the focus on the Damiens means that the Damiens carry most of the weight of the plot, which leaves the more unambiguously lovable characters to do little more than react, however entertainingly and endearingly.

This isn't to say that the writing is bad, because it just isn't--in fact, it's superlative. But for a comic whose cast is incredibly charged with tension, quirks, and outright mania, not a lot happens in Intershadows--in the three-plus years since the strip was born out of the ashes of Coolville, almost nothing has happened beyond a few strangely heartfelt encounters between Jenny and Denny, a creepy almost-meeting between Jean-Paul and Kristan in the woods, and the icing of a background player by Dylan's always-bitchy and currently-homicidal ex-girlfriend. What makes this a shame in some ways is that the world of Intershadows--which draws not only from itself, but from some seven hundred prequel strips and years of secret high school notebook drawings and probably still more besides--is one of the most detailed, dramatically charged worlds in all of webcomics. Take any character, and you'll find not merely a profession and a vague trait--Character A is kind of a jerk! Character B is more restrained! Character C is, gasp, a girl!--but a rich history of personal failures, ambitions, and the complicated consequences of past decisions--Kristan is a drifter with abandonment issues and dyslexia; Denny's moody twin Raine has a missing hand, a robotically dark view of the world, and a weirdly loving relationship with Jean-Paul's tormented ex-psychotherapist; even the saintly, responsible Teresa has a moralizing bent, a sometimes-unhealthy relationship with Denny, and a sometimes-sketchy past as a teenage mother. All of this makes any individual comic a wonderfully nuanced read, but also makes it difficult not to wince sometimes at the untapped potential out there, just waiting to be brought to light once the slow movement of the plot gets around to it.

Recent events promise to change this dearth of events by throwing all of the cast together for the first time since Coolville, really, so now's the perfect time to start reading Intershadows if you aren't already. But be prepared for a fairly slow journey, if one that's stuffed with witty lines, excellent use of details, believably flawed characters and relationships, and a sharp, winning sense of morbidity in all its comic goodness.

-- John Thornton

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