Nightmare Man tells the story of a man who discovers that the sleeping torment he suffered as a child might not just be in his head. A tale of childhood fears that would sit well amongst classic comic horror books. The one-shot is written by Mathew Wilding and illustrated by Matt Rowe.
Nightmare Man in its One-Shot Glory!
There is a certain rawness to how this one-shot comic opens that I feel is particularly engaging and rather relatable for anyone who has had a therapist who does want to help but seems to fail to grasp exactly what it is you’re dealing with. This is where we’re introduced to Alex; in therapy as he deals with anxiety related to his divorce and other issues, while he tries to communicate exactly why the man at the cafe freaked him out so much. See, it turns out this man at the cafe very closely resembles a man Alex used to see in his nightmares as a kid, and it understandably has him a little bit freaked out.
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I mentioned rawness earlier and perhaps I should elaborate on that point. This opening is pretty real for anyone who has gone to therapy. Iit may not be quite as intense as it is for Alex, but it has all the hallmarks of a standard therapy session. This very realistic starting point helps ground the story quickly into something tangible for the reader, and this in turn grounds the more fantastical elements later in the story (and, in my opinion, makes them a little more sinister). It also helps the emotion land harder, as you can feel Alex’s stress as you read. It almost makes his fear infectious even.
I’m talking largely about the start of the story since I don’t want to spoil too much and feel it is best if you read it in its entirety, unsoiled by any foreknowledge. It’s also because what I say about the start applies to the rest of the story, this rawness of emotion infused into every page. As I mentioned, I feel it only makes the horror more insidious since it’s all enhanced by the stress and fear of our protagonist Alex. This is an evil that gets to his core, and in turn it reaches into ours. It makes Alex’s fears our own.
Nightmare Man Art
As much as I talk about the rawness in the story, so much of this does come down to Matt Rowe’s fantastic art. It’s dark and gritty and all feels so very real, yet it never loses clarity of focus. The art knows where it wants you to look and most often that is into Alex’s terrified eyes, making us confront exactly what he’s feeling. The art pulls us into that world and threatens to drown us in the horror.
Every panel feels almost claustrophobic, even when the actual framing is pulled back. The colour palette of each scene is quite subdued, yet used incredibly well to highlight exactly what should be centre stage in the image. Alex feels trapped, helpless. This world could chew him up and spit him out if he isn’t careful, and that’s before we even see the titular ‘Nightmare Man’.
Yet, as much as I talk about rawness and horror, I can’t deny there isn’t a fun quality to the art. It isn’t all doom and gloom and fear, there’s so much character detail and nuance that help bring it all to life. Things aren’t static, even when it’s just two characters talking. Idiosyncrasies in the characters just give them that extra aspect of real that flows so well with everything else to make it all so much easier to believe the more unbelievable of the story’s aspects.
Backup Story- ‘Little Things’
I also want to make a small mention of Nightmare Man’s small backup story titled ‘Little Things’. By Wilding and Rowe, compared to many backup stories this feels like a perfect pairing for the main story as it matches every detail so well. If I was told that it was intended as a way to explore more of the world Nightmare Man inhabits I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest, it just feels like it belongs there (beyond the obvious point of it being the same creators).
The bones of the story are about a man suffering from mental illness with a bag he always says is filled with ‘little things’ when asked about it. Yet the story gives us much more than that within the few pages and also delivers a story about growing up, how relationships change and how life can often appear to become nothing more than an empty husk once we pass the threshold into adulthood. It’s a story, ultimately, about being careful with our expectations. It’s also a wonderful story that only helps to make Nightmare Man a very deserving purchase.
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Check Out Nightmare Man
If all of this fills you with intrigue, then you can go to Source Point Press or Sequential Decay, or inquire at your local comic shop about a physical copy. It is available in stores from May 25, 2022.