Arts and Entertainment

Nightmares Come to Life in Something Is Killing The Children

Something Is Killing The Children uses the gore of the comic book horror genre to explore childhood trauma and the grieving process.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Stacey Chen

Sharing spooky stories around the campfire and binging horror movies at sleepovers are core childhood memories for many. Whether it is Slenderman or the Boogeyman, our nightmares become plagued by the villains of these tales. Most grow out of checking for imaginary monsters under their beds, but what if that fear were realized? Something Is Killing The Children explores the horror of this scenario.

Something Is Killing The Children is a BOOM! Studios comic book series written by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera. The ongoing series released its first book in September of 2019 and recently released its sixth volume. The books have already garnered attention in the literary world, winning three Eisner awards (the comic book industry’s equivalent to an academy award), including two Best Writer awards and an award for Best Continuing Series. Now with a Netflix adaptation in the works, Something Is Killing The Children is on its way to becoming a classic in the comic book horror genre, joining other famed predecessors such as The Walking Dead, Sandman, and Hellblazer.

The book opens with a boy named James and his three friends, who play a fateful game of truth or dare one night. James asks for a truth and is forced to confess that he saw a monster near the forest. His understandably skeptical friends venture into the ravine to investigate his outlandish claim, but they are brutally murdered. Their murders fuel rumors surrounding child killings in the area; James is later interrogated about this devastating trend. The dangers of this situation are amplified by the fact that only children can see the monsters—they are the only ones capable of believing in them.The book follows the adults in the town’s efforts to rationalize the killings while warrior-heroine Erica Slaughter teams up with James to hunt down the child-murdering monster. Even with a shocking, seemingly simple horror premise, the book expertly explores the nuances of grief, guilt, and estrangement from the perspectives of those who knew the murder victims.

Many people think of comic books as bright and colorful, but Tynion and Dell’Edera separate themselves from convention, never shying away from the horror genre’s characteristic gore. Their successful collaboration is impressive, especially considering how hard it is to capture a creative vision on a mere 20 pages. Dell’Edera enhances the reading experience with depictions of gruesome injuries and alienesque creature drawings, perfectly translating Tynion’s words into impactful drawings. Readers with sensitive stomachs may not be able to handle the sheer gore of Dell’Edera’s artwork, which depicts children being decapitated, stabbed, and even torn to shreds. The style has also received high praise for its ability to establish characters’ individuality through unique design elements like signature color palettes. Erica’s glaring green eyes and black-and-white color scheme, for instance, give her character an aura of intensity that builds plot tension and injects a sense of unease into the panels.

The story’s well-written dialogue and thoughtful character development give readers a sense of personal investment in the plot. Tynion’s writing works harmoniously with Dell’Edera’s bold drawings, capturing the deep emotions that lurk within the panels’ spine-chilling imagery. Something Is Killing The Children stands out because while many comics suffer from underdeveloped plots, Tynion pays special attention to the characters’ dialogue, infusing the visual action with deep meaning. He weaves the thread of the naivete of childhood throughout character interactions, drawing rich connections between them in unexpected ways. Through the book’s surface plot surrounding childhood innocence leading to vulnerability to monsters, Tynion brilliantly explores the susceptibility children have to fear and trauma as well as how it shapes their understanding of the world. In the series’s early volumes, the character of James represents the fear and guilt of a kid who carries the weight of three mourning families on his shoulders, while Erica is revealed to have gone through a similar trauma, using the experience as fuel for her anger at the world and for revenge fantasies. The two of them are also products of estrangement, with James feeling separated from his school and Erica feeling isolated from her adoptive family. When the two meet, Tynion manages to beautifully tie together these themes to portray a heartfelt human connection between a lost child and an adult still finding her path. Through the story’s countless twists and turns, the speech bubbles remain just as captivating as the bloody illustrations around them.

Something Is Killing The Children is not a book for everyone. Many will see its gore as a glorification of death, despite the book’s harrowing portrayal of the grieving process. The Netflix adaptation in the works has promise, but it is hard to imagine a satisfactory portrayal of the gore, emotion, and otherworldly designs of Dell’Edera’s illustrations working on screen. The series itself, though, is still nowhere near the end of its saga, and is expected to have 75 books in total. Tynion and Dell’Edera have managed to take the horror genre by its reins, and they don’t plan on letting go any time soon.