“This island is big enough for every castaway, but most of us are looking ’round for someone else to blame”
I read the first issue of Trespasser some years ago, but I’m not sure if it was an actual “first issue” or if it was just a first chapter – I don’t know if the book was released in print singles or digital singles or not at all, but now the print collected version is out, so here we go! Alterna published this and charges a mere $9.95 for it, which is a pretty good deal. It’s written by Justin M. Ryan, drawn by Kristian Rossi, and lettered by DC Hopkins. So that’s all the particulars, but what’s the deal with it, anyway?
Trespasser is a fairly bleak comic (it’s labeled on the back as “young adult,” and sure, it’s fine for kids, but it might turn them emo, just so you know) in which a dad and his kid live out in the woods, very much isolated. Early, Ryan and Rossi establish a creepy mood, as the father goes out hunting for food with their old dog, Belle. He shoots down a bird, but this is where the story takes the first twist (on page 5, so it’s not like it’s long in coming) – he checks to see if the bird is irradiated. It is, so he leaves it alone (Belle eats it, which can’t be a good thing). Then, a few pages later, he finds an alien caught in a bear trap. So that’s what kind of book this is! He rescues the alien, but later in the first chapter, he kills the alien and he and his daughter (Maria) eat it (unbeknownst to her – she’s probably ten years old or so, and while she doesn’t cop to what’s happening right away, she does later). So that’s the end of the first chapter, and as far as I read when I first read it. Ryan sets a really disturbing mood – the planet is dealing with too much radiation, and the father seems remarkably unperturbed about the alien, so perhaps the aliens being on Earth have something to do with it being irradiated? It’s a mystery. Obviously, the dad killing the alien will have consequences, but at the end of the chapter, we don’t know what they’ll be yet.
Ryan doesn’t tell us too much about what’s going on – we need to infer it from the story and the art, which both works and doesn’t work. We don’t necessarily need details about what’s going on with the radiation and aliens, because the story is about a man desperate to save his daughter and the lengths (and depths) to which he’s willing to go to do so, even if there’s a big possibility he won’t succeed. Obviously, the world has changed, and the aliens have superior technology, so when the alien’s colleagues come to investigate, we don’t believe that the dad is going to be able to drive them away. But Ryan keeps the focus on the humans, so the aliens become almost mythological, existing on the fringes of the comic as the man unravels. One way in which Ryan’s oblique storytelling doesn’t work perfectly is with what happens to the dog – I won’t spoil it, but something happens to Belle, and while, again, we can infer quite a bit from it (and it comes back around at the end, which is why Ryan puts it in), it leaves a lot of unanswered questions about how much power the aliens have already accrued. But it’s still a tense thriller, because Ryan does leave things to our imagination – are the aliens coming after the family for revenge over their murdered compatriot, as seems likely, or is there another reason? Can the dad communicate with the aliens, or is that impossible? There’s something else happening to the family as well (again, I don’t want to spoil it), so the question of whether the aliens will even get their chance to exact revenge comes into it. The book becomes a meditation on what home means to people, how people react to stress, and how simple decisions can affect so much, and Ryan does a nice job with those themes without being too obvious about them, all while ratcheting up the eeriness around the house. It’s done quite well.
The story is helped by Rossi’s moody artwork, which I described back when I first read this as looking like Eduardo Risso’s, because it does. Rossi uses big blocks of black to shadow the scenes, making the other parts stand out in stark relief. He also uses the shadows to good effect, creating darkness when the book needs it, either simply because it’s night or when the characters are doing something shady. He tilts panels strategically to create a sense of the world’s balance being off, and he does a good job framing the characters in other panels, showing the stark beauty of the world but also how it’s been poisoned, and how the characters fit into this place in a slightly disjointed way. Ryan doesn’t let the story get too graphic, and Rossi does a lot to suggest the violence in the book, which makes it sadder because it’s clear that everyone is trying to come at this from a good place but the world won’t let them. He does a very nice job with the faces of the characters – the dad and Maria have a good relationship that slowly sours, and this comes across well with the way they look at each other. The coloring is beautiful, too – he perhaps overindulges in the yellow/blue complement that is so familiar in popular culture, but there’s a reason it works so well – not only do complementary colors make both pop better, but suffusing drawings with yellow makes them warm and nostalgic, and we see that the house is the last refuge of these isolated people, living in a world that no longer makes sense to them. It’s a cliché, yes, but Rossi still does a good job with it.
Trespasser works because Ryan doesn’t make it too easy on the reader, even if that leads to a bit of frustration. We can fill in enough blanks to see what he’s doing, and this becomes a good comic about desperation and love that goes a bit wrong even as the father tries to do everything right. It has a very creepy mood, which is heightened by the lovely art, and it’s a haunting story that makes you think about your own life and how far you would go when pushed. It’s definitely something to check out, which you can do at the link below!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆