The Webcomic Overlook #104: Lily of the Valley
It can’t be easy writing a story from the perspective of a serial killer. They come from a frightening world view, where other humans are disposable meat. HBO struck gold with Dexter, true, but the show incorporated a story element that seems like a bit of a cop-out: the title character satisfies his bloody urges by killing other serial killers. It sets up the question of whether Dexter is truly redeemed. His kills aren’t altruistic when you boil down to it, but that plot point is a safety net, since … hey, it’s only bad guys he’s killing, right? He’s making the world a better place. A serial killer you can love!
But what if you took that safety net away? Would the story still be compelling, opening the door dark possibilities not often explored? Or is it something that’s ultimately despicable and painfully unreadable — darkness for the sake of darkness?
Adam Atherton and Luiza Dragonescu’s Lily of the Valley is, thus far, off to a strong start. After missing out on a contract with Bleed, they regrouped and won the Zuda contract by scoring first place with Lily of the Valley, their second entry. The comic also seems to be a hit with horror fans. The comic came in second to fellow Zuda-mate and digital comic juggernaut High Moon for the Best Horror Comic of 2009 by horror comic fan site ComicMonsters.com. Pretty impressive for a comic that isn’t even 30 pages long yet!
The promo art threw me for a loop at first: I’d assumed that the gal leaping heroically in the banner ads would be some sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer analogue. Even the name sounds like it should be a nice light-hearted horror romp! When you hear “The Valley,” don’t you imagine San Fernando Valley, what with the girls and the bleach blonde hair and saying, “Shut up!” and “As if!” to each other while chatting on their cellphones? Boy howdy, Sunnydale High is probably located right around the block!
Oh, what a fool I was.
It turns out Lily is a remorseless and unrepentant serial killer. She’s also a victim of overmedication (this is what free health care in Canada looks like, America!), but I won’t get into that much. She’s less a vampire slayer and more the Green River Killer. Who does she target? Hell, anyone will do.
Her very first murder, chronologically, happens after she dispatches the popular girl in high school, waylaying her and bashing her head in. Lily is an outcast, and for once she’s been pushed just a little too far. Despicable as that action is, you can at least understand where Lily is coming from. But when the comic opens, it seems that any random victim will do. In the first eight pages (the Zuda money pages), we see her gleefully sneaking out of her room to stalk, murder, and behead a seemingly innocent victim. This is less understandable.
She evades the police because, frankly, the police are stupid. I understand serial killers do escape justice. However, Lily’s modus operandi lacks a lot of subtlety. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of CSI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, The Mentalist, and other crime procedurals, but from the comic panels it seems that Lily doesn’t really do anything to eliminate fingerprints, bloody footprints, or DNA from the crime scenes. Frankly, this doesn’t speak well for law enforcement in the Canadian Maritimes. (To be fair, the cops on Dexter are similarly addlepated. It seems that lousy cops are a requirement for stories with serial killer anti-heroes.)
Atherton’s art, I thought, was very clean and crisp… which makes it all the more shocking when the blood starts to flow. By patiently and methodically unveiling the thought processes and actions Lily takes before inevitably dispatching her victims, Lily of the Valley effectively captured the horror and brutality of Lily’s actions. At times, even the everyday, nonviolent images start to look unsettling, following the Lynchian philosophy of how the everyday becomes grotesque symbols when given the proper context. Additionally, I love the idea of basing the setting on the Maritimes. I have never been there, but I’m guessing it’s an unholy combination of Stephen King’s Maine and the dreariness of the Pacific Northwest (which, let’s not forget, is the setting for both the Twilight and Mercy Thompson horror series). Atherton and Dragonescu might be spearheading a promising future location of horror fiction.
By the time I reached the end of the comic, I found that I was a little torn. On the one hand, Lily is a very unlikable character, and seeing the world through her eyes for even 20 pages is a tad unpleasant. On the other hand, she’s effectively unlikable. I mean, if you make the character sympathetic and you end up rooting for the serial killer, isn’t half the battle lost? I have to credit Atherton and Dragonescu, at least, with writing a comic that centers around such a fundamentally unpleasant character.
The last page I read sees her battling the Ghost Boy, who I assume is the symbolic representation of her inner ugliness as a killer. Can this mark as a turning point for our character? Like this is a metaphor for her battling the monster inside? Or perhaps, as the subtitle “A love story for the over and under medicated, the disenchanted, the excessively violent, and the soft spoken,” Lily finally finds a soulmate whose love can turn her back from her evil ways (or, conversely, encourage them)? The possibilities ahead are intriguing and unpredictable. (My going theory, by the way? My guess is that “Lily” is an idealized creation like Tyler Durden — which explains why she can get away with so much even though she’s not dressed for killing — and “she” really Ghost Boy, a sexually confused young man who shows up in the police sketches. A stretch, I know… but it makes me feel clever.)
However, I don’t know if I’ll stick around to find out. Lily just doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who I’d like to see even receive redemption. And if that isn’t going to be part of the story, and the comic is all about Lily living out the joy of crushing the lives of innocent people, then why would I want to keep reading it?
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
* NOTE: this article has been edited heavily. I originally credited the work solely to Adam Atherton (credited as writer and artist), but then I found out that a Luiza Dragonescu also had writer’s credits. I tried to rewrite this piece as best as I could to give her credit. Apologies if some of the pronouns still come off wonky.
Posted on January 20, 2010, in 3 Stars, dramatic webcomic, horror webcomic, mystery webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Lily of the Valley, Zuda Comics. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.