As he twists the key and slowly creeps into the grand gothic mansion left to him in his father’s will, Salem’s life takes a decidedly unusual turn. Aside from the money and house, his father’s secret legacy includes an unfinished battle with creatures from a world beyond ours. Immediately thrown into the sinister conflict, Salem must make contact with his guardian familiar and get help from the colourful performers of Dr Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights, if he is to ward off the evil spirits and avoid the tragic fate of his father...
The Review: While the plot of what I assume may just be the first Salem Brownstone novel - a story first serialised in the award-wiining anthology Sturgeon White Moss - may read like your 'standard' children's novel, the story's visuals make it so much more. There may be echoes, too, of plots from Marvel's Doctor Strange or DC Comics Doctor Fate, but for all both sagas strengths, I'm at a loss to think of one which has such a unique, quirky and, indeed, sinister interpretation like that given Salem Brownstone by artist Nikhil Singh.
From the opening gambit of a son coming home to find their parent isn't what he thought and having to follow in their footsteps, Dunning and Singh weave a macabre tale full of surrealist imagery, combining the the rich history of Lovecraft-inspired demons just itching to break into our world and wreak havoc with odd, unsettling characters in our own dimension, whose motives remain unclear. Not only do Dunning and Singh offer a bizarre tale of good versus evil: without being vital to enjoying All Along the Watchtowers, they lay the seeds, I assume, for a far bigger tale, with mystery a-plenty about Salem's father, his friends - and even his enemies, one of whom plays a vital part in the resolution to this demonic invasion.
Acclaimed by the likes of Alan Moore and Paul Gravett, there's some decidedly unsettling imagery within the covers of this beautifully produced, 'velvet'-covered hardback edition aimed at the 12+ audience - not least of them being the point at which a dupe of the otherworldy demons/gods accepts their offer of great power and has to swallow a flying insect to do so. There is action aplenty, too, as Salem and new found friend, Cassandra, battle to save the world - all rendered with the kind of vision that will surely have tremendous 'Gath' appeal and beyond.
There are some wonderful cameo moments, too, as equally bizarre characters comment on the 'weirdness' of Salem Brownstone's new home and lifestyle, oblivious to their own repugnance. These kind of scenes are so often missing from mainstream fantasy comics, but for my money, must take inspiration from the hapless neighbours of witch Sammantha in 1060s TV series Bewitched, for example, but twist them into something both beguiling and bizarre.
This is a terrific, odd, but haunting first novel from Dunning and Singh, perhaps made memorable more for the art than plotline: but it is Dunning's rich world of human versus demon that gives Singh's art life, and the partnership is evident on every page.
• Salem Brownstone is on sale in the UK from 5th October 2009. The US launch is July 2010
• John Harris Dunning and Nikhil Singh will be in conversation during ComICA in London at the ICA on 24th October, 7.00pm, Nash Room. More details here
"A wonderfully imaginative and stylish piece of work and a perfect example of the adventurous new directions that comic books should be taking in the future." (Comic creator Alan Moore)
"Our new century demands a new charismatic comic-book magician to weave his spells on us. Updating classic conjurors like Mandrake and Doctor Strange with a twist of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, John Dunning and Nikhil Singh have crafted a haunting, hypnotising master of the mystic arts in Salem Brownstone. Their sharp, surprising storytelling and intense, imaginative illustration combine to create real magic on the page." (Comic editor and commentator Paul Gravett)
"Salem Brownstone is a graphic novel that is both original and compelling. There's a seamless relationship between the images and the text, and the characters linger in the mind." (Director Anthony Minghella)
• Nikhil Singh: Official Website
Nikhil is an artist, writer and musician. He lives a reclusive life, but works prodigiously. He has released two albums, formed a theatre group, written the soundtrack to two Canne Film Festival films, done stage design and murals for Miss Kitten, serialised Salem Brownstone with Sturgeon White Moss and staged two solo and several joint exhibitions of his artwork. His mutant alter ego is also the front man for the pop punk outfit, The Wild Eyes...
• John Harris Dunning on Facebook
South African-born John has written for newspapers such as The Guardian and Metro and contributed to magazines that include Esquire, Arena and more. Salem Brownstone is his first graphic novel.
• Salem Brownstone on Facebook
• Sadly, the web site for the wonderful anthology, Sturgeon White Moss, which spawned Salem Brownstone, seems to have been hijacked. If anyone has information or links, feel free to let us know...