Through the years many pieces of literature have stuck with me in many different fashions, some I have forgotten, others have shaken me to the very core of my being and left my mindset forever changed. One such title is a short story I read in JR high titled “THE METAMORPHOSIS” by the great Franz Kafka. In that story the author made the very bold comparison of the lives of human beings to that of insects by presenting readers with the plight of a traveling salesman who wakes up one morning as a giant, well, insect. The book was very blunt with its comparisons, and by the end of it I was exploring the deepest recesses of the internet to explore this type of metaphor. In many ways this story lead me to Terrance Zdunich’s little Indy effort titled ‘THE MOLTING”. And while the comic might not be as literal a study into the importance of the human existence it does offer some very interesting thoughts into its habits. Read on for the full review.
“THE MOLTING” is the story of a dysfunctional family in the early 90s set against the decaying landscape of Anaheim California, dubbed ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’. Within the pages of the first 3 issues (thus far, there is to be 12 in total) readers are introduced to the twisted mind of ‘Guilty Susie’, a demented little girl with hair the color of fire and some major psychotic tendencies. We are given Susie’s story of grief, panic, dementia, and loss that shapes her entire life from there on. As an adult the girl has settled into a seemingly normal life that she shares with her hapless husband and her two teenage sons, Joseph and Trevor, but when a beautiful young girl named Sandra finds her way into the lives of the Pryzkind family things begin to change. Add to this a lot of bugs (A LOT of bugs) with plenty of foreshadowing and good old fashioned metaphors to parallel themselves against the foundation of the average middle-class American family, and you have Terrance Zdunich’s “THE MOLTING”. Or, at least, a generalized idea.
There is almost entirely too much going on within the pages of Zdunich’s story to fit into an oversized paragraph, and at times, the confining pages of an illustrated comic book. You will hear me talk a lot about layering and literary weight within the comic book medium as if I am giving a presentation on the subject to a class of college students (Hey! Stop texting!) and if I were to do so I would be holding a copy of this book. There are many instances where you can be reading a comic book and it feels like the author is restraining himself somehow. It can be in many different areas whether that is the narrative, the dialogue, the pacing…whatever the case may be it can go in either one of two directions: the author will A) find a way around the walls that he has before him and transcend the medium entirely, or B) he will fall flat on his face. In the case of “THE MOLTING” the title seems to be straddling that line, but leaning toward success.
The first issue of the story follows young Susie and her brother as they pack their bags and move their shattered lives into the home of their closest relatives. Rather than consoling the children and helping them through their grief, their aunt and uncle begin to reveal crueler intentions. The adults only wish to extort and take advantage of the custody of the children, and in doing so set in motion a chain of events that will lead to further death. This is how the author chooses to begin his exploration (more so a dissection) of the American family and the moments that can shape a youths’ entire life. The issue stands as possibly the strongest of thus far offering a lot of heartfelt weight that will prove to speak volumes to those who are the product of a broken home themselves. Physical, emotional, and psychological abuse only begins to describe the events leading up to the eventual climax that serves as the foundation for the rest of the series.
In issue two we are introduced to Susie again, but by now the little girl has grown into a woman who lives with her useless husband and their two teenage sons. It is at this point that the series is allowed to branch off a bit and explore the lives of the Pryzkind family and their interactions. Most of what goes on within the pages is less balls to the wall entertainment and more of a case study of sorts. Imagine that you were given the ability to watch a dysfunctional family in anywhere America for an extended, unedited, and uncensored period of time. You are given the ability to see everything that they say, that they do, the good things, and the awful things that no one is supposed to know. You are a voyeur in one of the most horrible ways imaginable. In effect, you are like the cockroaches that live within the walls of your own home seeing and hearing everything.
This is what “THE MOLTING” is at its very core- a raw look inside the lives of ‘normal’ people. You get to see all the good, all the bad, and all the little things that happen in between. So much so that by the time you open the pages of issue three you can almost empathize with all the characters, and in a way, relate to what they are going through. It’s almost impossible not to latch onto a certain character and invest yourself into them in some way. This being said credit has to be given to Zdunich for painting such an unflinching look at the lives of what could very well be anyone’s next door neighbors. And that is where the true horror lies within these pages.
Artistically and aesthetically “THE MOLTING” is a triumph of its own. The task of creating this world in which the characters live is solely on the shoulders of the man who created them and the hard work shows. Every page is detailed to the teeth, and even the cracks between the panels are filled in in some way. The inks and art style themselves are fairly simple and traditionalist which complements the story very well by not trying to be something it’s not. Also of note is that the issues are printed on much better paper stock than your normal comic book and as a result they are a bit larger. Luckily they still fit into a bag and board, albeit very snuggly.
When all is done and read the first three issues of Terrance Zdunich’s “THE MOLTING” is not for the average horror reader and more so for those that are looking for something deeper in their reading material. Very comparable to such genre films as “BUG”, this is a series with more legs under it than any cockroach out there, and if you dare to take on the workload that goes along with taking Terrance Zdunich’s sociological master class then you will not be disappointed. As for me-I’ll take a seat at the front of the class.
4 Out Of 5 Skulls