With BTTM FDRS, Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore have created one of the most terrifying monsters to ever take up residence in a basement, but that’s not all you need to be afraid of in this new graphic novel. Where a creature might not directly relate to your daily life, other dangers are all too real and show Daniels and Passmore to be masters of both kinds of horror – “jump out of your skin” and “blood run cold.”
Whether it’s the monster in the basement or an ignorant white man, Daniels and Passmore have a deep understanding of what’s scary (and what getting called scary can do to an area like Chicago’s “Bottomyards”). Darla was born there but this is her first time moving into a place of her own.
Nothing says “welcome to the building” more than a stranger demanding you let him inside. An encounter that’s on par with how the rest of Darla’s move-in day goes, she soon realizes she’s been unwittingly part of a gentrification scheme to raise the rent and force the woman who formerly lived there to move.
Darla puts up with a lot – guts coming out of the toilet, noises that can’t be traced to a source, an undependable best friend. Any one of these things would send another person running but Darla tries to make the apartment work, all while designing a presentation for the clothing line she’s trying to start.
Full of gross, body horror and insightful reflections on race and class, there’s a lot to unpack in this graphic novel but some of the scenes that have stuck with me the most are the ones that show how much crap women put up with, from a world that won’t let us feel safe doing anything. Going to the grocery store alone at night shouldn’t be a frightening proposition. Wondering whether you’ll be able to get into your apartment again without any trouble shouldn’t be something you have to question yet Darla has trouble and, even if she didn’t, she’s not allowed to go about her business without fear.
Reading this book, it’s obvious Daniels and Passmore have a deep knowledge of horror and all its tropes (those Christine vibes when Darla says “Cars are evil”). Bad phone reception and characters who take too long to call 911 can be found all across the genre, yet in BTTM FDRS the truth is scarier still. Darla always calls 911. It’s the police that make light of her plight and refuse to send a squad car.
Passmore’s use of color draws attention to lighting and how much sight matters when it comes to horror. It also has an opposite effect to what light usually does, in brightening a room, by drawing attention to how bare Darla’s apartment is, with her clothes standing out as the one pop of color. Those clothes are Darla’s ticket to the cotton candy colors of the boutique that she hopes will invest in her line and the lettering, which Passmore did as well, adds so much inflection to Daniels’ dialogue. The changes are slight (a thicker letter, an elongated word) but they make all the difference. In horror, too every sound is elevated so you’ve got “chuk” every time a key turns in the lock. I do wish the speech bubbles for the sounds didn’t have tails, like human speech bubbles do. Usually that indicates life and a key’s not alive. If that’s the tradeoff for genuinely being scared, though, it’s a small price to pay.
BTTM FDRS goes on sale June 25th from Fantagraphics.