Strange Embrace #1 (1993), page 8 panel 3. Drawn by David Hine.
With all the accolades Shaky Kane is getting (and will no doubt continue to get) for his art on The Bulletproof Coffin, it's pretty easy to forget the other side of that book's creative equation, writer David Hine, can draw too. And not just "draw" in the belabored, Grant Morrison, comics-writer-drawing manner: Hine, on his Gothic-modern freakout comic Strange Embrace, drew with a power and vision that pushes him to the front of the post-EC horror artists' group. Hine follows the oldest, best rule of horror here, and throughout all his ink-drenched artwork for the series. It isn't what you see that scares you, it's what you don't.
That said, his work in black and white is nothing short of incredible (a fact obscured by the recent Image Strange Embrace reprints, which inexplicably added color to the pages). This stuff is dark, but never over-shadowed or obscured -- the panel above finds a crooked balance between open space and closed, the whites slashing the thick blacks to ribbons, bringing every pictorial element into crystal-clear relief. It's difficult to use this much shadow in a frame and have it turn out a picture of anything at all; but Hine slaps every single dark area down into the perfect place, pounding depth and weight into his composition without sacrificing a thing.
There's nothing like a perfect control at play here, however. Hine's brushed inking seems to carve the shapes onto the page as much as draw them, the rough-hewn detailing and outlines perfectly evoking the substance of the wooden idols that dominate the panel. Those fear-masks' domination, on the other hand, is hardly random -- rather, it's painstakingly achieved with a masterful use of the widescreen frame. The V-shape depicted points away from the reader and into the page at the hapless Anthony Corbeau, who clings to the small bit of light available, the very presence of his near-collapsing shape inevitably bringing shadow to it. He drowns deep in the blacks of his own panel, hapless compared to the distended bulk of the statues that lurch toward us on the return leg of the V, their alignment and the camera angle bringing them closer until all depth disappears from the frame and we're left with the expressionistic grotesque of the mask that fills the last quarter of the panel from top to bottom.
Read across, this panel is a horror story in miniature, a progression from normality to human anguish and then into an alien whirl of images that finally swallow us whole, leaving nothing but the implacable markmaking of their existence. This panel is a balancing act between dark and light, humanity and horror, drawn in a space somewhere between control and loss thereof that mirrors what's inside it better than any word balloon possibly could.