Book Review: Steven Deighan & Terry Cooper – Feels Like Stephen King

Feels Like Stephen King cover

Steven Deighan has been plugging away in the indie horror scene for almost a decade now, and published his first collection in 2006 (which I reviewed for now-defunct site Yet Another Book Review). It was a promising if unpolished set of stories and I felt it was worth keeping an eye on Deighan’s work. Now, along with illustrator Terry Cooper, he brings us a short graphic novel titled ‘Feels Like Stephen King’. At a bit under 40 pages it’s more of a graphic short story than a graphic novel, but who’s counting? Aside from hardcore comics fans who are already grumbling at my use of the term “graphic novel”, of course…

Deighan’s story focuses on a somewhat autobiographical subject: Eric Bain, a young horror writer who is struggling to get his work noticed by a publisher. As the story opens he receives a returned manuscript in the post, and at first is filled with anger at another rejection. Once he reads the cover letter, however, he realises that DM Publications wish to publish his novel ‘The Dying Game’. As his relationship with the head of the publishing house develops, however, Eric finds that his life is beginning to resemble something out of one his stories.

A writer’s life beginning to resemble his fiction is not exactly an original conceit; chances are that Stephen King himself wrote such a story at some point. Off the top of my head I can remember two: Eric Brown’s novella ‘A Writer’s Life’, and Mike O’Driscoll’s ‘The Unbecoming’. These stories were more concerned with the nature of an author’s identity than with the intrusion of actions of cruelty and madness into a horror writer’s private life; the violation of what ought to remain a boundary between fiction and reality. Brown and O’Driscoll’s stories blur that line; in Deighan’s story, the line is made more and more tense until with a sudden thrust it is penetrated and sundered entirely. In an interesting use of colour, the point at which this occurs is the only non-grayscale page in the book, perhaps to highlight the vividness of horror against the comparative greyness of everyday life.

Cooper’s artwork is well-drawn, skillfully conveying emotion in the expressions and poses of the tale’s characters. Scenes and small details are also imagined well. I’m less of a fan of the occasionally pasted-in photographs for book covers and backdrops – the latter are quite subtle but once you spot them they distract. The shading is a little erratic at points too; it’s best when at its darkest in the story’s gloomy scenes, or at its most minimalist in the brighter domestic moments. On the whole, though, the art captures the scene and mood well.

My main criticism of ‘Feels Like Stephen King’ is one that I recently made of Terry Brooks’ recent foray into comics: that it does not make best use of the medium. Of that book I said:

“…it is as a graphic novel that ‘The Dark Wraith of Shannara’ is flawed. This rests on the way that the tale has been written and structured, seemingly as a short story with pictures rather than something that embraces the strengths of the graphic medium. This problem is obvious in every caption of narration, in every transitionally disconnected panel, and in every bit of expositional text. As the story does not always flow visually, the author and reader are forced to rely on this omniscient crutch. The old writer’s adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ is rarely this obviously and damagingly violated.”

The weakness of the adaptation from a short story or synopsis can also be identified in Deighan and Cooper’s effort, but it is less severe in this indie effort than in the book from a major publisher and writing talent. This may be down to the story being shorter and more concise, more focused on the tale that it wants to tell. The brevity of the story allows Cooper to make better use of each panel, avoiding the transitional disconnect that plagued Brooks’ comic. The narration, however, still clings to many panels, leading the reader along with an overt authorial presence which keeps them suspended uncomfortably just above the dialogue and art, which ought to be an equal presence. It’s arguable that this particular story would be difficult to tell without narration, being as it is heavily drawn from the protagonist’s internal monologue, but at the very least this presence could have been pared back.

These criticisms aside, ‘Feels Like Stephen King’ is a compelling and well-illustrated short story that highlights Deighan’s developing grasp of theme, narrative and generic tradition, and (as best I can tell) is a strong publishing debut in the format for Terry Cooper.

Steven Deighan’s website | Terry Cooper’s website

Comments
2 Responses to “Book Review: Steven Deighan & Terry Cooper – Feels Like Stephen King”
  1. Terry Cooper says:

    My link is : http://www.terrycooper.co.uk

    or;
    http://www.kangazang.com

    Cheerrs for the review!
    Terry
    :D

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