And on the seventh day, they discussed Victorian, erotic body horror.
“To be a woman is to live a life of body horror,” writes Marguerite Bennett in her introduction to the Insexts trade. This idea drives the book, which follows Lady Bertram—whose status as foreign and woman and married into money establishes her completely as “other” in Victorian society—and her servant and lover Mariah as the two come to accept who they are: killer insect ladies.
I don’t want to beat the metaphor to death here. These two women own their otherness so they can find happiness, and in doing so tangle with conventional religious morality, xenophobia, social norms, and the like. It’s a fascinating book that deals in extremes to highlight the (sometimes) more subtle, normalized tendencies in our own culture to alienate women who do not conform to or comply with society’s expectations. Imagine the Vastra and Jenny plots of Doctor Who, but with the “Lovecraftian penny dreadful” dial turned to eleven—Lady Bertram and Mariah accept no half-measures and take no prisoners.
The book’s lines and colors establish a world that is dark and dingy at its most normal and grotesque when the horror elements burst into the panel. And burst, they do. The art is visceral, reveling in the messiness of Insexts’s world. Series artist Ariela Kristiana and colorists Bryan Valenza and Jessica Kholinne leave no room for squeamishness—and that is necessary to drive home the extremity in Bennett’s script.
Here’s an important lesson about this column: the fact that a book is excellent—Insexts is my favorite of the Aftershock titles I have read so far—does not always mean it is an easy blind recommendation. I picked it up because I have enjoyed Bennett’s writing and Kristantina’s art on other books—and because I know that I enjoy reading books about experiences that are vastly different from my own. More than anything, reading Bennett’s introduction is what sold me on the book. So seek it out—she has tweeted it, and it is available in Amazon’s preview of the book. Do a little legwork on this one and see if you think you might be interested—and know that I’m glad I read it, and I look forward to more.
- Insexts, Volume 1: Chrysalis (#1-7)
Writer: Marguerite Bennett | Artist: Ariela Kristantina | Colorists: Bryan Valenza (1-5, Jessica Kholinne (6-7) | Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri | Editor: Mike Marts