Conspiracy theories are a lot like stories. They’re an interpretation of events with extra details changed or added to create a new narrative. This is how twin sisters Dylan and Ollie Sandifer pass the time. They make up stories about old men that adjust reality around them and control humanity with microchips. Then, they start to believe it. Then their family. Now, Dylan has to survive in a world full of murder, violence, and fear. This is HOUSE AMOK, courtesy of IDW’s BLACK CROWN imprint.

Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

This original and clever story was written by Christopher Sebela, with art by Shawn McManus and colors by Lee Loughridge. I don’t think HOUSE AMOK will be for everyone. At first, I didn’t exactly love it myself. However, days after reading it, I can’t stop thinking about it. It is truly a one-of-a-kind, intelligent, and gripping graphic novel bursting at the seams with creativity and horror.

Connecting the Dots

So, what makes HOUSE AMOK so smart? For one, it’s the perspective. 10-year-old Dylan tells the whole story through her point of view. When you’re a kid, everything feels bigger and more important than it actually probably is. Considering Dylan’s circumstances, the things she sees and does seem even more disturbing through her eyes. There’s an air of claustrophobia throughout the story. You really get the sense that Dylan is completely stuck on a stinky school bus with her psychopath family.

Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

Dylan’s narration is where Sebela really flexes his writing muscles. It’s easy to see how Dylan and Ollie are able to convince their family, albeit unintentionally, of this vast mind-controlling conspiracy. Sebela writes Dylan like the talented storyteller she is, but you can hear her fear through her words. The way Sebela describes the conspiracy and the “reality adjusters” are genuinely unnerving and very reminiscent of actual conspiracy theories. Their appearances, while frightening, are nothing compared to the horrors carried out by the Sandifers, which are rendered incredibly in Shawn McManus’ artwork.

Seeing Things

It took me a while to warm up to the artwork. Even after reading the whole thing, I still feel like a few panels could have used more details in the characters’ faces. Close-up shots get the full treatment, but the characters rarely look as good as they do on the covers in between chapters. Of course, detail isn’t everything. The overall style has a cartoonish edge, which is very fitting considering Dylan’s childish yet disturbed point of view of the world around her.

Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

Where the artwork truly shines are the freaky moments where Dylan sees other people, or more often, her family, as big, ghostly monsters. Pale yellows and greens dominate most of this graphic novel, creating a sickly atmosphere. However, when things get particularly violent, Dylan’s world becomes infested with monsters, and her family takes on a very demonic appearance. Lee Loughridge colors these hallucinations in bright red, juxtaposed with the rest of the world. This is a clever way of letting the reader know that something isn’t right.

Meet the Sandifers in HOUSE AMOK

The character designs do a great job of reflecting the Sandifers’ personalities. As twins, Dylan and Ollie look pretty much identical. This was another clever decision on Sebela’s part to show how strongly Dylan is connected to her family. Sebela and McManus could have made her look nothing like the rest of her family, signifying how she’s the only sane one. However, making her a twin makes her feel inseparable from them. This helps the reader understand why its not so easy for her to just walk away from everything. She would be leaving a part of herself behind, and she’s almost completely helpless.

Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

Ollie, on the other hand, is the proverbial evil twin. While she gets along great with her sister, she has no qualms about violence in the least. It can be hard to tell them apart at first, since they look and dress the same. However, their opposite demeanors clear up any confusion very quickly.

You Can’t Choose Your Family

Dylan’s parents, Karen and George, are much more “out there” in their appearance compared to their kids. Karen has a significant undercut and an endless supply of business casual suits, reflecting her role as the one to always take charge. She’s always the first one to pick up a gun or a knife. George’s job is to research the conspiracy and share his findings with the internet, and he certainly looks the part. He’s always wearing a long jacket, a dirty t-shirt, and a dirtier goatee.

Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

Tyler, their teenage son, looks more like a typical teenager. Baggy sweatshirt, long hair, and an overall aloof attitude. Like Dylan, he’s not completely on board with his family’s slicing and dicing shenanigans. However, he bears a striking resemblance to his father, which may imply that he’s going to end up as crazy as him one day.

By the end of the comic, I’ve come to appreciate the direction the creators took with the artwork. The style fits perfectly with the crazy story, and it does a great job of making the reader feel uneasy in all the right ways.

Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

Final Thoughts on HOUSE AMOK

In a way, HOUSE AMOK itself is like a conspiracy theory. It seems simple enough on the surface, but the more you think about it, you start to realize how deep it really is. I have my nitpicks, but that doesn’t take way from the amazing storytelling on display here. Everyone who worked on this graphic novel should be very proud of their work. Again, I don’t think it will be for everyone, but if the premise sounds interesting to you, definitely pick it up. It’s a pretty short read with a lot of creativity packed in. You can buy it by issue, or buy the whole thing in graphic novel form at IDW’s official site. You can also find it on ComiXology.

HOUSE AMOK isn't for everyone, but if you have a craving for psychological horror, definitely pick this one up.
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