Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Peter Tomasi
Artist: Ian Bertram, Dave Stewart (Colours)
Release Date: 14th September 2016
House of Penance is based on the true story of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, and the legacy of the Winchester Mystery House. Sarah’s husband and young daughter died from tuberculosis in the late 1880s. It is said that, after visiting a medium to try and contact her loved ones, Sarah became determined to use the sizeable fortune she had inherited from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to build a new home in San Jose, California.
Construction began on the house in 1884 and, allegedly, did not cease until Sarah’s death in 1922. Though it was considerably damaged by the devastating earthquake of 1906, the house still stands to this day and is infamous for its mysterious, maze-like design: staircases and doors lead to nowhere and windows overlook other rooms. The oddity of the architecture supposedly stems from Sarah’s belief in ghosts; she was said to be convinced that the souls of those killed with Winchester rifles haunted the home.
In the comic, the constant cacophony of hammering keeps away the spirits of those murdered by Winchester rifles and the murderous men that work on the house, as all of its inhabitants have taken the lives of others and are seeking penance and forgiveness. Sarah Winchester provides both. House of Penance is therefore, as the name suggests, a comic concerned with the themes of grief, guilt and atonement. It revolves around two central characters, both haunted by their pasts. Sarah Winchester is mourning the untimely death of her husband and daughter, convinced that a blood-curse lies upon her family due to its association with the production of firearms. Warren Peck is a hired killer with a bloody past, unable to escape the nightmarish visions of the people he murdered for money. Stumbling across the mansion, he seeks refuge and food in exchange for joining the rotating shifts of workers that constantly develop the house. In the final issue, after the desolation of the earthquake, Sarah and Warren’s relationship deepens as both find some solace in the silence.
The artwork is simply exquisite. Ian Bertram appears to channel (Edo) gothic influences in his unique style and organic, spidery penciling. Colourist Dave Stewart uses bold splashes of red to great effect, via Bertram’s wonderful visual representation of the personal demons troubling the protagonists. Set against the neutral landscape of San Jose, Stewart’s jarring palettes perfectly capture the ethereal and sombre mood of the story.
Peter J. Tomasi fuses history with mystery in his narrative mapping of the house and its key character. A touching tale of atonement, loss, and absolution, House of Penance is a fascinating fictional approach to the Winchester Mystery House.
If you want to find out more about House of Penance, check out out interview with series writer Peter J Tomasi by CLICKING HERE.
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The writer of this piece was: Rebecca Booth
Rebecca Tweets from @rebeccalbooth