Home ain't always what you expect.
Bram Stoker Award nominee (Best First Novel, Less Than Human) Gary Raisor's fascinating new graphic novella, Empty Places, finds much to plumb from that single sentence. Narrated from the point of view of an unnamed homeless man, the trenchant themes of home and the journey to find it are all that more resonant. Much of Raisor's story concerns the narrator's friend Jake, whose repeated entreaties to go "back home" to Texas from the Chicago streets on which they live have taken on some urgency. Jake is dying, and believes he needs to make amends with a past he has abandoned, and the people he left behind.
At the same time, we learn that visits from spaceships (depicted here as old-school flying saucers) have become almost commonplace in this otherwise hauntingly realistic world in which our narrator and Jake live. More, the inhabitants of these Spaceships are revealed to be the evolved descendants of animals scooped up from our planet millions of years ago, now returning to earth as humanoids for "visits." The concept of evolved "posthumans" is a long-standing science-fiction staple (everything from Planet of the Apes to Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic comic book series Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth) but their existence here is presented in such a matter-of-fact manner that it doesn’t seem all that fantastical.
The details of the transients’ journey from Chicago to Texas are heartbreaking as told through our plainspoken narrator, relaying details like being rousted from train yards with no real inflection. Only when he and Jake arrive in Kansas City and witness the landing of one of those evolved-animal Spaceships does the narration intensify. Both hobos sense there’s something different about this one – the inhabitants, they deduce, aren’t here for a visit. Thousands of hairy, horned humanoids emerge to perform a ritualistic dance in an empty wheat field, a sequence at once fascinating and horrifying. Artist Jeff Austin (Femforce) excels here; his recurring eye motif comes to the fore, his early focus on Jake’s tearful eyes and the wide pupils of our narrator now focus on the often blank, glowing eyes of the aliens. For the first time, Empty Places approaches horror: the appearance of these creatures is demonic, a connection made explicit by Jake’s tearful Baptist reaction.
Our narrator’s interpretation of what the creatures are, and their purpose on earth, is far subtler, paralleling Jake’s journey back home. Raisor’s dénouement is Empty Places at its most powerful, approaching questions both personal and cosmic without offering easy answers. What’s better, he asks: dying believing a pretty lie, or living while knowing the sad truth? Perhaps more important are his questions about the nature of home – what it is, what it means, and how important is it to return. This ties in neatly with the concept of sailboats, Raisor’s most important textual image. Early on, Jake says that sailboats “fill up the empty Places in his heart,” further cementing Empty Places’ notions about journeys and their uncertain destinations.
Empty Places is available in multiple ebook formats, which also include Raisor’s original text story.
Buy it here: Crossroads Press and Amazon.com.