Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Graphic Novel: Slash Them All

Before Scream, nobody used meta-hipster references as a psychological defense mechanism in slasher movies. Writer-illustrator Antoine Maillard takes us back to those more grounded times. The high school students of this sleepy coastal town were already neurotic. Their anxieties will only be amplified by the mysterious killer who keeps bludgeoning them to death in Maillard’s graphic novel Slash Them All (translated by Jenna Allen), which goes on-sale today.

This film might be better titled “Bash Them All,” because a baseball bat is the weapon of choice for the silent killer. Somehow, a simple baseball cap successfully obscures his face—thanks also to Maillard’s clever POV framing. After the brutal murders of his first two victims, the high school closes and the adults panic, but many of the students continue partying like before, or maybe even harder.

Geeky Dan and tomboy Pola are the exceptions. They bonded over their outsider status and shared experiences with highly flawed single mothers. There might even be a romantic attraction underneath their friendship, but neither is prepared to deal with it. Of course, their mutual video game buddy Ralph is too preoccupied with Laura, the math teacher’s daughter, to notice their awkward chemistry. As the killer continues to strike, guilt torments two possible witnesses: a low-level drug dealer’s slacker roommate and Pola.

definitely pays homage to classical slasher movies, but it is much more psychologically complex than the genre’s most famous films. There is a lot of bad stuff going on for Pola and Dan and that negative energy almost seems to manifest itself as the faceless killer.

Frankly, there are times when readers might forget they are reading a horror graphic novel, which could be good or bad, depending on your preferred reading experience. Regardless, Maillard nails the small-town horror vibe and he weaves together the characters’ angsts quite deftly.

Maillard’s charcoal illustrations are stark and emotionally expressive. When something violent happens, it looks shocking, but not in an exploitative kind of way. The immature might find it “triggering” at times, but it is in fact a very thoughtful indictment of violence in our culture. Recommended for sophisticated graphic novel readers,
Slash Them All is now on-sale from Fantagraphics.