As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read 30 Days of Night, a graphic novel by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
I appreciated both the concept and the artwork in this book. The execution of the concept was unimpressive, in my opinion, but the concept and artwork made up for that. Generally, 30 Days of Night is about an Alaskan town invaded by vampires during a period of thirty days of darkness. As a concept, this is genius. Vampires and a town that gets a month of darkness—these are two things that fit so perfectly together that they feel like they were made for each other.
The artwork fits the book’s dark theme. I’m not an art critic, so I don’t have the right words to describe how the art is executed. But it has an impressionistic feel to it. For the most part, humans, vampires, and objects and scenery are recognizable. But there are occasional panels where blood and death are clear, but the precise manner of death remains unclear. As a result, the artwork evokes darkness and death while retaining a note of mystery. And, as we’ve discussed numerous times throughout this course, mystery and the unknown can increase a sense of horror.
In short, I love the art in this graphic novel. My only issue with it is that occasionally, given its impressionistic style, characters can become indistinguishable from one another. But this was rare; it happened maybe twice for me throughout the entire store. But those times were a big distraction, pulling me out of the story.
Now, I’ll talk about the execution of the plot and writing, with which I was much less thrilled. The story is straight forward and lacking in grace or complexity. The vampires come and they feed, and they are eventually defeated. Typical.
Somehow, the vampires managed to steal all mobile phones and shut down all electricity to make it difficult for the townspeople to get outside help. This is a good idea in theory; after all, given modern technology, the vampires had to something to isolate their victims. But as a practical matter, this doesn’t work. It’s unclear how they actually managed to snatch every mobile phone in town. They’d need a ton of help in advance of their arrival, and as far as I could tell, there was only a single vampire in town prior to the invasion.
Speaking of that single vampire, what was the deal with that guy? I’m referring to the vampire arrested for causing a disturbance in the local diner. He was definitely a vampire, because he eventually bent the prison bars, and he had those funky speech bubbles in that artwork that all the vamps have. I’m assuming he went to jail quietly because he didn’t want to go public with his vampirism until his buddies arrived for the massacre. Maybe he just arrived a little early and had to cool his heels until the main event.
But that doesn’t explain why he died so easily. A bullet to the head did him in. Later, the sheriff and his wife wonder why that vampire died so easily. I wonder the same, especially given that at least two other vampires took headshots—one with a shotgun—and barely blinked as a result. As the sheriff stated, “We’ve got to take his head off.” (Niles, Steve, and Ben Templesmith. 30 Days of Night. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2008. Kindle file.) So basically, the whole existence and death of the first vampire encountered is never resolved.
My last major objection to the story has to do with the woman and her son in New Orleans. I want to know how they got involved with the vampires. Without an explanation, their existence looks like a plot device contrived to give the vampires something on which to blame the fire they plan to use to destroy the town.
Even if I accept that these New Orleans people interested, I still refuse to accept how they discover the vampires are going to Barrow, Alaska. According to the son, “I’ve b … been monitoring the mail networks based on the names and locations you specified.” This line baffles the computer scientist in me. I’ll accept that he can monitor the accounts of particular individuals. But monitoring the mail networks based on locations would mean scanning mail, regardless of sender and recipient, to determine when certain locations are mentioned. This is an insanely huge task, and from the way it’s tossed out so casually, I don’t think the writer understands that. This reminds of those moments in cop shows where they blow up digital images and then sharpen them to magically see everything clearly. Computers don’t work like that.
In summary, I loved the concept and artwork but found the story lacking in many respects. I wonder whether any of my issues with are addressed in the sequels. But if so, it doesn’t cure my issues with the first book, which needs to be able to stand on its own.