Independent publisher Alterna Comics has produced a fine original graphic novel detailing the final days of a death row inmate, Richard Sullivan, played out against a backdrop of escalating violence, murder and psychological torment in the high-security prison where he is incarcerated.
As Sullivan ruminates on the events that have led him to this point in his life, all the while protesting his innocence, he is forced to confront his inner demons, while also dealing with the brutality of the prison guards and the horrifying knowledge of his fellow inmates' crimes. With his scheduled execution date nearing, Sullivan undergoes increasingly harsh treatment at the hands of his jailers and, as the psychological pressure mounts, his state of mind becomes increasingly tenuous. Railing against his oppressors and the deeds of his fellow inmates, Sullivan moves from self-pitying melancholy to desperation and anger, his various states of mind mapped out in smudgy charcoal monotones by artist Kevin Christensen.
Indeed, it is the artwork that at first strikes the reader with its thickly-shaded expressionism; half-lit faces and bare torsos picked out amid shadow and murk, lending an almost supernatural quality to the work. In fact, I almost expected there to be some kind of supernatural twist in the tale, a Twilight Zone-esque denouement that reveals the whole experience to be the result of Sullivan already having been executed and reliving his last days for eternity in Purgatory. But that would have been too gimmicky and, in actual fact, writer Peter Simeti opts for a payoff much more in keeping with the tone of the tale and weight of the subject matter by retaining psychological realism right up to a bitter end that sees Sullivan exorcise his demons in horrifyingly tragic fashion.
The Chair is clearly the work of a cutting-edge independent publisher. What it lacks in polish and pizzazz it more than makes up for in sheer bloody commitment to telling the story in precisely the way the authors see fit, without pandering to the vagaries of the mainstream market. This may alienate some, but The Chair is to be applauded for proving that modern horror comics don't have to feature zombies, vampires, or other such gimmicks to provide their thrills. The true horror, as we discover in The Chair, lies in the dark corners of the human soul — and that is the most terrifying discovery of all.