Review – Winnebago Graveyard by Steve Niles and Alison Sampson

Winnebago Graveyard
By: Steve Niles; Alison Sampson
Release Date: November
Publisher: Image Comics
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
Rating:


Winnebago Graveyard is the story of a young family on a summer road trip. When they come across a fair, they stop for the day, intent on fun and absolutely no cell phones. As the day winds down and they’re set to go home, they find their Winnebago is missing, presumably stolen. When the fair’s employees are unwilling to help, they walk on to the next town. But the sheriff here is completely disinterested in their problems. The whole place feels off, wrong. Strangers aren’t welcome here, and soon a missing Winnebago will be the least of this family’s problems.


At heart, this is a quintessential horror story, one whose concept everyone is familiar with. A small town found on the side of the road being frightening and completely unnatural isn’t a new idea. But it is a concept that I am just as willing to read as an adult as I was when listening to scary stories told by my father on long road trips when I was small. It’s because of this classic scenario that I was drawn to Winnebago Graveyard.

So where did it fall so very short?

Unfortunately, pretty much everywhere.

The story, while classic, did nothing to stand out from the hoards of similar tales that flood bookshelves. The atmosphere is tense and frightening. The pages are filled with gore. But there is little else to speak of.

We are immediately introduced to a family on a summer road trip – mother, son, and stepfather. I liked this family dynamic. Having a stepparent is quite a normal thing, and yet I find it suspiciously missing from many stories, graphic novel or otherwise. (Or else, the luck of the draw has made them surprisingly absent from my reading list this year). However, the characters themselves were very generic. None of them had any stand-out qualities; there was nothing memorable about them. We spend only a scant few pages with the trio before the action begins. This wasn’t nearly enough time to get to know the family and make the reader care about them. I felt very ambivalent towards the protagonists. I didn’t much care what happened to them. And when what happens to them is falling to the mercy of a cult of bloodthirsty Satanists, well, something is amiss.

The opening pages of the graphic novel does have one of two sections within the story that I appreciated, though. I always love seeing familiar tropes and real life situations turned on their head or explored in ways not normally scene. This section does that well, using the age old ‘put that damned phone down, you don’t need it’ everyone whose been a teenager since cell phones became common house hold items has heard. The actual danger of locking cell phones away is brought to the forefront here when they find the Winnebago is missing. The easiest, most obvious out of the entire situation is taken care of. I also found it fun to see the most obvious argument for having phones on a person at all times played out – that of emergencies.

The characters are very generic. None had any stand-out qualities; there was nothing memorable about them. We spend only a scant few pages with the trio before the action begins. This wasn’t enough time to really care about them or their plight. I felt ambivalent towards the protagonists. I didn’t much care what happened to them. And when ‘what happens to them’ falls to the mercy of a group of bloodthirsty Satanists, well…

As events progress, the situation becomes more and more dire. The second plot aspect I liked happens as the tension is ramping up. Unlike nearly ever horror movie ever made, these characters actually notice danger – at least the majority of the time. When things seem off, they are sure to get out of the situation as best they can. This is a great deviation from the usual. The character’s never felt stupid, which made their lack of personality all the more unfortunate.

Now, Winnebago Graveyard starts off with the antagonists of the story and a decent amount of gore. As the graphic novel continues it finds this dark, frightening footing once again and runs with it. The blood and guts could possibly be a turn off for some people as some pages are very gorey.

The art in this graphic novel shows few details and is largely uninspiring. Colors are muted, using a lot of dark blues and blacks while in nature, and muted browns and yellows while in lighted areas. Characters are lumpily drawn with very round faces and squinty eyes. They’re boring looking, which isn’t an issue in itself, but does little to further endear characters who are already missing a good deal of personality. Scenery isn’t depicted almost at all. Grass, dirt, rocks, even trees are nothing more than thin outlines colored in the same monotone, muted colors. There is very little to look at which is odd for a graphic novel. Yet with as little dialogue in this as there is, it really hinders the story. Normally when there is sparse dialogue or narration the art speaks instead. With how flat the panels are and with how few details are ever shown the art isn’t ever really given this chance to tell a story by itself.

Perspective is something which, in some scenes is used quite well. In others, it needed a second round of editing. Some cells, particularly those showing people, have very questionable features. For example, when the son is handing his cell phone to his mother, two hands are show, the phone being passed from one to the other. However, the teenagers hand is abnormally small, looking more like the hand of a small child beside his mothers. The cell phones are also quite oddly sized, being roughly the size of a flip phone while clearly being modern smart phones. This really dragged me out of the story and left me focusing on how odd the artistic choices were rather than simply enjoying (or trying to enjoy) the story.

A few places used perspective to their advantage. The road twists and turns at odd angles. The town sweeps and bends, each store front identical to the next as far as the eye can see. These added to the horror element of the story and were used to the work’s advantage. However, combined with the lack of ability to convincingly depict people in relationship to one another and their environment, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all a happy accident.

Am I being too harsh on this graphic novel? Maybe a little. I was very surprised though at just how dark this story got and just how little I cared. I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters. The antagonist’s motives were at once explained in too much detail to hold the fear of the unknown and too unexplained to weave a convincingly deep tale.

Winnebago Graveyard was a disappointing horror story. Feel free to make the decision yourself. The entire story is only one volume long so there’s no waiting to finish the tale. But if you are looking for a very well plotted horror graphic novel there are many more satisfying stories to be had.

Read If:
You like loosely plotted hack and slash horror

Don't Read If:
You like detailed art in graphic novels

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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