A standout horror book with a potent mixture of ghostly horror and relevant racial tensions.
In her introduction for Infidel, American author Tananarive Due talks about how in the age of Jordon Peele’s Get Out, a new wave of horror has arrived, bringing with it stories featuring inclusive characters all readers can identify with while using the genre to reflect on real-life horrors such as racism and xenophobia. During this current American presidential administration, you’d think we have had enough horror to witness as racial tensions rise, but it’s fictional works like Infidel that shows us a truth worth exploring, even if it chills our bones.
Living with her agnostic boyfriend Tom in an apartment building, Pakistani-American Aisha Hasan is getting stared at by her paranoid neighbors in the wake of a recent bombing that occurred in the building. As much as Aisha wants to be part of Tom’s family involving his daughter and mother, she becomes haunted by entities fueled by xenophobia.
Although you can definitely see the Get Out influence in terms of a central character feeling trapped by the people who judge simply over her skin color, the comic’s mixture of the supernatural and a political subtext seems reminiscent of Babak Anvari’s 2016 ghost-themed horror Under the Shadow, where the female protagonist is defined by her interpretation towards Middle Eastern traditions, which leads to terrible consequences for her. This can sum up Aisha, who is simply a good person trying to get rid of her harsh past involving her devout mother, but when the evil haunts her nights, paranoia becomes her and everyone else’s greatest enemy.
Very much in the style of a haunted-house chiller, writer Pornsak Pichetshote embraces the tropes of the genre and takes the story in unexpected directions, most notably the change of protagonist halfway through the comic when Aisha’s best friend Medina takes center stage. Medina’s presence does lend an alternate voice to the story and shows how racism can be discussed differently, as despite the fact she was growing up alongside Aisha, Medina is defined by her lack of trust towards most people and anger is her most powerful emotion — ultimately to somewhat negate what eventually happens to her best friend early in the story.
Despite how scary the comic is, Pichetshote finds room for humor, especially during the initial issue where Aisha bonds with Tom’s daughter over countless Star Wars conversations while the mother bakes a Sarlaac Pit bundt cake. As this is fiction that acknowledges other fiction, some of the supporting cast do have these self-aware discussions of the potentially terrifying situation they step into, such as the fear of stepping into a haunted building to then a big revelation that knowingly evokes Ghostbusters.
As far as horror comics go, this is one of the scariest ever published. That largely comes from Aaron Campbell’s art, where the ghosts are truly horrific with their deformed anatomy and surreal appearances. No matter how scary the image can be, it’s hard to create tensions in terms of pace, but Campbell changes the panel layouts in nearly every page so that it doesn’t feel one-note. Along with José Villarrubia’s muted colors, each of Infidel‘s settings are unique and the heavy use of shadows adds to the fear.
Image’s recent wave of horror comics has been largely excellent, but Infidel might be the standout with its mixture of ghostly horror and relevant racial tensions.