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Book Review: Ghosts and Ruins

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  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
  • Story By: Ben Catmull
  • Art By: Ben Catmull

Book Review: Ghosts and Ruins

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About a decade ago, when I first moved to Los Angeles, I often went independent book hunting at my local comic shop, Meltdown Comics (shoutout, guys). I would comb the vast shelves with an eye for quirk, for the macabre, for dark inks that didn’t take themselves too seriously. One day I ended up with a self-published, oversized paperback called PAPER THEATER that contained a hysterical sequence of Death attempting to deal with a zombie outbreak. I showed it to everyone I knew. The author and artist was named Ben Catmull.

This month, Fantagraphics Books—premiere publisher of vintage cartoon strips and modern oddities—released a gorgeous black and white tome called GHOSTS AND RUINS, designed much like a children’s book but containing supernatural stories both morbid and mocking of such morbidity. Who else could it be but… Ben Catmull! I was overjoyed, ecstatic, etc.—both that he was still doing comics and illustration (you can’t keep a good man down!) and that the like of Fantagraphics had picked him up after all these years.

I had high expectations. They were all met.

If Escher and Gorey met in Maurice Sendak’s house and decided to riff on Junji Ito manga, you might have something similar to these pages: crawling, sinewy stories of spirits and snails and long-dead cults and dead goats, illustrated with a precise hand sure of what disturbing truths lurk in forgotten corners. “Wandering Smoke” is a wordless chapter containing only drawings of climbing, hair-like swirls, almost reminiscent of HUBERT’S HAIR-RAISING ADVENTURE by Bill Peet—my childhood go-to because the story was both creepy and hilarious. And what better way to describe this book?

The verses are full of such conviction I had the urge to do research upon finishing.

The opening page reads, “It is highly recommended that you read this book alone late at night in the dark far away from civilization, preferably during a power outage.” I may have failed on that front, but I remain no less affected. All fans of black and white horror movies owe it to themselves to hunt this down and subsequently cower under the covers like a kid in the cold.

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