Long Lost is the latest debut from newcomer Scout Comics and it’s certainly a unique flavor. Mixing elements of Southern Gothic, east Asian horror, and slice of life webcomics, Long Lost is a creeping experience that’s hard to put into any one box.
Fired from her job, shut-in Piper Laurent is surprised by the sudden appearance of her sister, Frances, as well as a mysterious masked being who, politely, insists that the sisters must return home for their estranged mother’s birthday party if she ever wants to see her dog again.
Long Lost’s strengths lie in its particularities. Piper and Frances both feel like real human beings. They’re flawed and real, and that both means that they’re frustrating and short tempered and that there are strong hints that neither one is neurotypical. The specific complications of the sisters’ relationship are engrossing, but writer Matthew Erman holds to a realistic style of dialogue, where known information is rarely repeated for the audience and both cruelty and kindness can frequently blunt a conversation before it develops.
Likewise, the ‘magician’ is archetypally resonant but the story denies us the comfort of being able to identify it or any of the rules surrounding it, a choice that already removes a major element of monstrous fairy tales. However, the creature’s distinctive speaking patterns imply that rules do exist and remind that breaking one of them could have disastrous consequences. This half-subversion of classic tropes is one of a number of clever choices that make Long Lost decidedly unsettling.
It’s a bold choice to give nearly every character more information than the reader, creating a tense read that depends strongly upon the oddities of its characters to hook the audience and bring them deeper into the mystery that Erman is crafting. Though, in the abstract, this strategy could easily be quite off-putting, it really works for Long Lost. However, it does draw attention to the greatest flaw of the series thus far.
Put simply, this series doesn’t seem suited to its monthly release schedule. It’s slow, with ample indulgences for tone and subtle exposition and it doesn’t concern itself all too much with the arc or flow of the issue itself. There are two whole pages of seemingly unnecessary driving to music for instance. The issue just doesn’t seem to care too much about its place in a serialized installment, the structure recalls a section of a thoughtful movie more than a short film or a television episode, and that hints that this book is intended to be read in collection.
The cleverness of the issue is slightly undercut by the degree to which our protagonists discount the supernatural after briefly accepting it. The last half of the issue is predicated on an ominous, but highly familiar ,horror trope and the fact that the sisters not only don’t notice that but barely even seem to accept it as an incredible bit of bad luck that plays against the issue’s strengths. Admittedly some of the issue’s most intriguing and unnerving moments come from the contrast between how serious the things that the characters have long since accepted as normal feel to the reader, but it doesn’t quite ring true here.
Lisa Sterle’s artwork remains a huge part of Long Lost’s appeal. Gorgeously rendered in monochrome, the art jumps between scratchy, simple reality and polished, dreamlike horror using little more than line weight and shading.
In fact, much like one suspects of the Magician’s invitation, the lack of color is a ruse. More than many books in full color, Long Lost squeezes impressive potency out of its shades and contrasts. Whether that’s the simple, enigmatic power of seeing Sterle’s lines over grey rather than white or the seeping, watercolor look of both nature and the supernatural, the effect is unmistakable.
The body language and expressiveness is also a strength. Despite the simplistic style, you can definitely see how Piper and Frances are built and carry themselves differently. It’s also interesting to see how rarely our protagonists smile. Keep an eye on that and you’ll notice, rather quickly, what matters to Frances and where she and her sister struggle.
Quiet, introspective, and realistic in its discomfort, Long Lost grows more engrossing with its second issue. It still doesn’t quite feel like this book is paced for monthly release, but the maddening coil of its mysteries is beautifully timed and pleasantly distinct. The pieces continue to come together this month, making Long Lost a fascinating step off the well-trod path of mainstream comics.
Long Lost #2 is currently available in comic shops from Scout Comics.