Harbor Moon by Ryan Colucci
When I received Harbor Moon, I was very excited. The cover art is amazing, and it’s nice to see werewolves closer to the horror niche instead of fuzzy puppy love stories. Also, graphic novels are great. This review is spoiler-free.
Harbor Moon was written by Ryan Colucci and Dikran Ornekian. Illustrations were done by Pawel Sambor.
Synopsis from the author’s website:
When professional soldier Timothy Vance receives information from someone claiming to be his long-lost father, he takes a trip to out-of-the-way Harbor Moon, Maine. It turns out that man hasn’t been there in thirty years and pretty soon Tim’s life is in danger. Fighting for the truth and his survival, Tim discovers that Harbor Moon is harboring a secret. The entire town is werewolves and the man he was looking for may be just like them. Just as a ruthless band of werewolf hunters descend upon the town, Tim must decide whether he is going to stay and fight or turn his back on what he really is.
Edited to add: Mr. Colucci has very generously offered $5 off the price to Three Crow readers. E-mail him for details.
So I’m a little bit of a comic book nerd. My first impression was this would be something like Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night. Comparatively, Harbor Moon is less survival horror and more urban fantasy, but without the estrogen and sparkling vampires. This is a good thing.
Sambor does a lovely job with the artwork. I have a few nitpicks, but take a look at some excerpts. There are more available on the artwork section of the website.
So the art really won me over. The pictures speak for themselves and I’m not going to ruin the effect by trying to describe them.
But, there were some things that detracted from my overall enjoyment. Some of the panel layouts make chronological order hard to determine. Between panels there are times when the art style switches from abstract to caricature to detailed close-ups. Some of these changes are based on the tone of the story, but often they end up feeling disjointed and distract from the narrative.
Another issue is that several of the male characters look alike: square-jawed serious men with furrowed brows, cropped hair, and shadowed eyes. This isn’t a failure, but compounded with some of the narrative issues, it sometimes makes the story hard to follow.
I am going to admit right now that I have a strong bias for character-driven stories, which explains some of my problems with the narrative.
Harbor Moon is a small town defending itself from predatory invaders. The inhabitants are close-knit and militant. Its suffering from internal issues as well. For most of the story, various elements in the town harass and mistreat our protagonist. The battle versus the werewolf hunters failed to garner much sympathy from me. A lot of the townspeople had been so nasty, I wasn’t inclined to feel sorry for them. The hunters were also an unsavory bunch, and two-dimensional in their fanaticism. It wasn’t so bad that I wanted everyone to die in a geyser of pretty red spray during the finale but it was hard for me to care about what happened to most of the people.
The real issue is a lack of connection with the characters. The story is told in third person limited, switching between many characters. There are no aside textboxes except to label location. Everything is told through dialogue and art. This method manages to tell the story, but doesn’t build a rapport between reader and character.
This is more a mix of genres than true horror. The driving force of the story is the mystery-centric plot, which isn’t a failure, but the lack of characterization does weaken the overall impact. Maybe having the protagonist narrate in text boxes would have helped. There are shades of depth to all the characters, but by keeping everyone at arm’s length, it is difficult to see them.
I’m not a fan of introductory character pages, but given the issue with a lot of the men looking alike, there are points when it is hard to tell who is talking and what relationship they have with everyone else. The solution to one of the mysteries is also nearly lost in dialogue and loses its effect because there are more pressing matters at hand and no one bothers to even ruminate or comment on it.
There is also a romance that progresses rather inexplicably. Going directly from “hi, I’m milking you for information, even though you nearly got me killed” to “let’s kiss and build a future together” doesn’t work. Unless they’re both totally neurotic and desperate.
Colucci and Ornekian both worked in film. A lot of these issues reflect that background. Many of these actions would work very well in film, but they aren’t as suited for the printed medium. They’re relying on action and dialogue to tell the story, which is how movies should work. In Harbor Moon, it doesn’t work as smoothly. Where an actor might have little gestures or aside comments that make a character, printed medium often relies on more words.
One of the antagonists has a very humanizing moment toward the end. It isn’t too maudlin in its execution, but it gives insight into his behavior and evokes some sympathy. It’s a few lines, and a series of small panels but this particular moment manages to carry itself on just that. Maybe this is what Colucci and Ornekian were striving to achieve with this format.
Despite the nitpicking, Harbor Moon really is a good first graphic novel. There are a lot of little details that give it depth. The werewolf lore is modern and it left me wishing for more information. John O’Callaghan’s journal is a nice touch. I like the pretty pictures, and the not so pretty ones too.
This interview gives interesting background that the novel should have incorporated. Colucci does try to keep it spoiler-free. This information implies the problems did not come from a lack of foresight, but rather an issue in execution. As mentioned, this is Colucci’s first graphic novel, so while it could be more polished, it is a promising first book. The website has several prints for sale, and right now Colucci signs the covers of all the graphic novels ordered from the store. I look forward to seeing more material by everyone involved.