Writer: David Hine
Artist: Mark Stafford
Release Date: 18th October 2018
In LIP HOOK, the latest offering from the “Man Who Laughs” partnership of David Hine and Mark Stafford, we visit a small rural village somewhere in England and watch as two outsiders – one a beautiful, manipulative woman and the other a surly, violent man with a gunshot wound – roll into town trying to outrun the cops and maybe make a quick buck, only to end up sparking off a destructive, harrowing series of events.
Hine and Stafford have crafted a fascinatingly disturbing backstory and aesthetic for their titular village, and whether it’s the toxic and hallucinogenic marsh gas which requires the inhabitants to frequently don gas marks, or the fact that Lip Hook’s chief export appears to be disgusting insects, everything here seems designed to put the reader on edge.
The inherently grotesque nature of Stafford’s artwork helps to make the entire story feel decidedly uncomfortable, and the way his murky colours blend together here during some of the more disturbing sequences makes this feel like a fever dream in graphic novel form at certain points of the story.
Hine delivers blocks of exposition along the way where we get to find out a little more about Lip Hook and its troubled history, but for the most part it’s the things left unsaid which provide the most intrigue.
It’s also interesting that for all the weirdness and secrets tucked away in the darkest shadows of the village, it’s the new arrivals themselves who really set things moving, and the way their scheming escalates and rapidly takes on a life of its own ensures that the pages keep turning in rapid fashion here.
Hine and Stafford gradually ramp up the tension and pace throughout the course of the book as things spiral out of control, leading to a wild and violent conclusion. And while (for my tastes at least) the denouement sees the story losing some of its unsettling edge in favour of a frantic horror sprint, there’s no denying that the shocking events and overall ‘feel’ of this book are likely to stay with the reader for a long time to come.
Fans of Hine and Stafford’s previous collaboration will be in absolute heaven here, and the way the pair play off each other’s strengths throughout the course of this graphic novel is fascinating to watch. As I mentioned above, absolutely everything here – from the character design to the colours and even the lettering – is designed to enhance the creeping dread of the story, making LIP HOOK an easy book to recommend for fans of rural horror.