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Graphic Novel Review: The Architect by Mike Baron and Andie Tong

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Scott Beiser, one of the great political cartoonists of our generation, is the general director of a maverick independent publishing company called Big Head Press. I first discovered Scott's work when one of my friends hooked me up with  Scott's excellent adaptation of L. Neil Smith's Libertarian science fiction manifesto, The Probability Broach. Since then I've kept an eye on Scott's ever expanding stable of excellent graphic fiction, and I've rarely been disappointed.

Last year Scott raked in a coup by getting comics master scribe Mike Baron to release a new horror story through Big Head Press. It was originally published on their website Big Head Press.com, and it now makes its debut as a graphic novel. You know, something that doesn't go away after you unplug it.

The Architect is a horrific and fun tale of a master builder gone bad and the havoc he wreaks on his family.  Baron excels at fast-paced, tightly plotted storytelling,  and this story is no exception. The neat thing about The Architect is that it serves as a partial answer to the question most likely to annoy the piss out of your author of choice: "Where do you get your ideas?" In The Architect, the story seeds are obvious and it's a testament to Baron's strength as a writer that the tale doesn't just degenerate into a bad Twilight Zone episode from there.

Anyone who has ever been in one of Frank Lloyd Wright's houses can tell you that they're often more than a little on the spooky side. There's nothing overtly wrong with them really, it's just a feeling that you get way back in the far reaches of your reptile brain when you walk around in one of them. The great architect was an oddball while he lived, and it often showed up in his work. It's no wonder that Baron decided to use him as the springboard for a horror story.

The main character of The Architect is definitely not Frank Lloyd Wright. Roark Dexter Smith is a spendthrift, a black magician, and a mushroom worshiper (just go with it), as well as one of the greatest architects of his time. The story is a classic haunted house fable that involves the man's final, unfinished project. The house is inherited by his heir apparent, and a few days' stay at the new digs turns into a nightmare for him and his somewhat eccentric friends. Throw in the fact that the house is located on top of the largest fungus on the planet (which really exists) and you've got the makings of one really twisted horror story.

The artist of the piece, Andie Tong is the regular artist on the UK version of  Spectacular Spider Man. He does a phenomenal job of keeping up with Baron's frantic pacing. The end result is that the art compliments the story perfectly. Andie is a master of light and shadow work, and he's in top form here. Every sequence evokes a suspenseful mood  even when the scene in play is tranquil.  From his character designs to his stellar inking technique, Andie is a near perfect match for Mike Baron's powerhouse writing.

The Architect is a tight, well-written story that makes a great case for equipping fungicide with your usual mace or pepper spray. Baron delivers the goods with a smart script, full of intelligent characters who either get completely blindsided by the bad guy, or who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (you will think twice next time you have to use the toilet.) Nobody in this story walks backwards down the spooky, darkened hallway, and there isn't even a naked co-ed shower scene. The violence is pretty graphic though, (remember, Horror genre) so I really wouldn't recommend this to younger readers. Even young teens might need an adult to moderate. It's smart, tightly written, fast paced fun, and it will definitely give you a new respect for the lowly mushroom.

The Architect is available from Amazon and at finer comics shops near you. If you enjoy a great horror story then give this a try. You won't be disappointed. 

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  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!