THE CHAIR #1 is a fantastic horror comic that uses realistic scares rather than relying on the supernatural or gory visuals.
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Horror comics tend to rely on gory images or creepy characters to scare their audience. Without the musical cues or jump scares that movies rely on, comic creators must turn to over-the-top artwork. THE CHAIR #1, however, is a visually subdued psychological horror comic that scares with its premise. It’s bad enough to be on death row for a crime you did not commit: it’s even worse when your sadistic warden is brutally murdering prisoners. Writer Peter Simeti and artist Kevin Christensen have created a claustrophobic and frightening comic that builds tension through its premise and setting.

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the chair #1

Trapped Between a Rock and Hard Place

THE CHAIR #1 is like SHAWSHANK meets HOSTEL. Former family man Richard Sullivan has spent ten years on death row for a crime he (probably?) did not commit. However, this is no ordinary prison. The evil warden tortures and maims his inmates, all of whom are vicious murders. These prisoners are in a lose-lose situation. Either they wait out until they meet the titular electric chair, or the Warden brutally does away with them. The dilemma is simple, but Simeti really hammers in how psychologically grating this situation can be on a normal man like Sullivan. THE CHAIR #1 is frightening not because there are monsters but because of how horrific the situation is. The story reverberates in the reader’s mind.

Simeti’s plotting in this issue is superb. It’s a simple story but with a wide array of implications. While light on plot, THE CHAIR #1 spends a good deal of time just getting the reader used to the prison space. The Warden’s evil antics are heavily alluded to, but there is nothing to indicate that he is as wild as the prisoners and promotional material indicate. Simeti hints that we are going to see a truly sadistic villain, but we don’t see the villain yet. The variant covers feature the Warden as a maniacal mad scientist, but here we don’t see much of him in the first issue. This issue is a straightforward prison story that seems to save its more outlandish elements for a later on.

the chair #1

Dear Diary

The book is told from Sullivan’s POV and phrased like a series of diary entries. Simeti heightens the direness of his situation by putting the reader directly in Sullivan’s shoes. The prisoner’s personal retelling is calm and methodical which further illustrates how beaten by the system he is. Sullivan has clearly gone through the stages of grief, and his emotional exhaustion comes across in the calm, simple prose. Simeti really hones in on how being so close to death can affect a person. Some prisoners get mad, others violent, but Sullivan falls into a dull calm.

This is first and foremost personal story, but obviously, there are some not-so-subtle political overtones. THE CHAIR #1 clearly draws attention to our broken prison system. There are numerous examples of mistreating prisoners and an overzealousness to send victims to the chair. However, Simeti’s commentary is broad and never really hooks onto what specifically about this system is so broken. This is one theme I would love to see him dive into in future issues.

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the chair #1

If Looks Could Kill

Kevin Christensen’s art is masterful. Christensen draws the comic in a short series of loosely drawn, heavily etched visuals. This book looks like a cross between someone’s dark sketchbook drawings and etched wall art. There is a manic energy in the heavy crosshatching and shading. This book seems like it was drawn frantically by a seriously disturbed individual. The high energy in the visuals is a great contrast to the bleakness of the subject matter.

However, there are some points where the visuals are difficult to keep track of. There are so many overlapping black shadows and simple shapes that sometimes it is hard to see how images connect to one another. I appreciate Christensen’s loose panel-less style, but sometimes it overwhelms the book. If there was just a tad more structure, I feel like he could better get his point across. Overall, the art goes for emotion over clarity which makes for an engaging style.

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Final Thoughts on THE CHAIR #1

THE CHAIR #1 advertises itself as an intense horror book. It has even just been released as a film. However, this description sells the book short. Underneath its shell, this is a deep psychological thriller that has a lot to say about human nature. THE CHAIR #1 is a great start to a series that sets itself apart from most horror comics.

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