Summer is ending. What is there to do but fall in love, peek into the future and fear the potential presence of elder gods? It’s tough being eleven.
A LITTLE LOVECRAFT
It’s a scary world at eleven years old when the golden summer days at your family’s seaside home that used to feel long come to an end. Unspeakable focuses on the story of our unnamed young male lead. He has a mother, twin younger brothers, an absent (possibly dead?), father and a little girl named Violet whom he loves.
The boy’s father has disappeared and left an upstairs room. The upstairs room contains something that needs to be fed. This is the titular Unspeakable. The protagonist cannot be trusted with this task so his mother employs another boy from town – Philippe – thereby breaking the line of succession.
Violet, the girl, is the focus of Unspeakable’s protagonist. She has a unique talent for diving people’s future using such credible sources as a bag of M&Ms. While out with Violet and his brothers one day the children encounter a dead animal; something small, perhaps a gopher. While none of the boys can divine the appropriate course of action Violet knows what to do. She dips her fingers in the animal blood, marks her eyes and speaks an archaic prayer. But the boy hardly gives her actions a second thought – he is eleven. Violet foretells of the land splitting open and a new keeper coming into our world.
Unspeakable continues for less than a page and Violet’s precognitive vision comes to pass. The boy, for all his isolation, can hardly ignore an earthquake. A light bulb breaks in the secret upstairs world and the boy is sent out of doors to fetch a replacement. He catches Violet and Philippe and is struck by the sensation of being left out. As if he is the only one not privy to a collective secret and his world tumbles apart.
Unable to live with this gaping lack he goes to the Unspeakable place, changes the light bulb and it touched by an arcane creature in the darkness. This contact opens a peek into his future and the boy sees everything that lies before him; everything that he will become. Back in the light everything old disappears. Eventually he says his good-byes to Violet and she asks him about his future. She tells him about his secret name, Unspeakable in human tongues.
Writer Juan Santapau presents his protagonist – a likely analogue for his younger self – with a choice: step into the world presented to him by an elder god, or step away from it. In keeping with the detached, very nearly cryptic tone of Unspeakable the boy refuses. He has no need, nor desire, for such things; he walks back to the house “and the summer never ended”.
Unspeakable is at the same time childhood memoir and homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s great legends. Santapau presents it in a matter-of-fact tone that makes the boy’s story almost seem real. It is lovely in its simplicity and obviously the product of detailed planning and work.
Juan Santapau is on art for Unspeakable in addition to everything else he has taken on. He has the unique ability to be a stunning artist as well as a writer. While many of the young children, regardless of gender, appear similar this is not distracting. The protagonist is on the same level as Violet even though she knows vastly more than he. They are of equal strength physically, but the advantage lies in the mind. Their expressions change sparsely and they are drawn thin and weak against a bleak background.
Everything about Unspeakable is desolate. Breakable. Stark.
When Santapau addresses the colouring of the book every emotion gets its own tint or tone. It is painted with swatches that underlie the protagonist’s particular feelings. Though nothing employed is too bright it remains bare in the style of the linework mentioned above and it is absolutely beautiful.
As with his unique restrained approach to Unspeakable’s narrative, creator Santapau knows exactly what he has been planning and executes it flawlessly.
Unspeakable is an incredible issue. It’s done in one. It speaks to the level of sophistication in writing and art that contemporary comic books deserve. Juan Santapau will certainly go on to great things and he has priced Unspeakable so reasonably that it behooves you to experience it.