As the nights start getting longer in the gradual transition from fall to winter, October is often a month of increasing cold and darkness. It’s little surprise that with Halloween at the tail end of it, October is the month for scares and nightmares. Some of the scariest are the ones in which things are just slightly off of normal and in which we have little to no power to deal with the monsters that hide in the shadows. Little Nightmares, a videogame released in April of this year by Tarsier Studios and Bandai Namco Entertainment, took full advantage of this fear of darkness and the unknown and tossed players into the creepy world of the young girl Six and her desperate attempt to escape from the Maw. Titan Comics has since released a tie-in graphic novel series written by John Shackleford and illustrated by Aaron Alexovich and Dave Santana that seemed perfect for my October horror binge read here on Graphic Reviews. There are plans for four issues and the first two (released in May and July respectively) were collected in a single volume released this month.
Full disclosure: I’m a scaredy cat and watched Let’s Play videos of this game because I wasn’t sure I could handle it. If you don’t play the game yourself, I’d highly recommend watching it, it makes for a very interesting experience.
Without further ado, welcome to the Maw!
Little Nightmares is the story of a young girl trapped deep in the bowels of a nightmarish prison. Waking up in her cell, she decides to make her escape and is hampered by the attempts of her jailers to return her to her cell (or bring her to new, worse places) and the constant hunger that haunts her every step. As the game continues, small pieces of this dark, mysterious world are revealed as the player and Six try to make their way out. It is a game of creepy atmosphere and almost complete darkness except the little lighter that Six carries around and occasionally a bit of ambient light. The game capitalizes on the feeling of dread that this atmosphere inspires and Six must constantly keep moving or be yet one more morsel caught in the grinder of the denizens of the corrupt, gluttonous Maw. In the comic, the story centers around a small fire built by some other survivors. Stumbling across them during her escape, Six pauses to see if she can learn anything from their stories.
At no point throughout the game experience does the player ever truly understand what’s going on. There are small hints and disturbing revelations that have led to any number of theories but few can claim real knowledge of what led to Six getting stuck in the Maw and what it’s all about. So I’m a bit disappointed that the summary on the back of the comic, lays all of these facts bare. It makes for a much less mysterious experience than the game. On the other hand, the writing by Shackleford in no way clears anything up so beyond the facts of the Maw being a resort which capitalizes on “the corrupt heart of modern happiness,” you don’t really learn all that much. The first two issues each tell a story of how a survivor came to be on the Maw and the theme of the day is definitely hopelessness. Only terrible things could have brought anyone to such a dark places and these stories are no exception. The fantastical elements of the game are turned up to 11 here and several of the stories involve monsters who are distinctly Lovecraftian. After reading both stories, you probably won’t know much more but you’ll be thoroughly creeped out just in time for the game’s DLC so bravo to Little Nightmares for that trick.
In picking up this comic, I was most concerned about how well it would translate the unusual and compelling style of the game to the comic panel. Alexovich and Santana do a pretty remarkable job of this. It’s still not quite as visually appealing as the game (this would be almost impossible given the 2D vs 3D issue) but the terrible dread of constant darkness and terrible monsters waiting in the shadows is very well translated in the panels of the first two issues. The use of vivid color in contrast to complete darkness was particularly well done.
Little Nightmares was one of those creepy stories which capitalized on the combined mystery and terror of the unknown to trail fingers along the spines of players in a fantastically disturbing way. The few moments of sheer terror scattered in and the ultimate hopelessness of it made for a great indie horror game. While the comic doesn’t fully capitalize on this, it does give readers a few creepy stories to fill out their experience in the Maw and continue the themes that the game introduced. You still won’t understand the motivations or even necessarily what’s really going on but the atmosphere is once again as dreadful as ever, in the best of ways.