Review by Frank Plowright
Neil Gibson’s introduction to this volume notes how seriously he takes reviews and feedback from readers. Coupled with insecurity being a recurring theme, it prompts speculation about how much this informs the opening story in which a painter fears fame has erased his capacity to truly know whether the work he produces has artistic value. The creative muse differs for everyone, but surely following individual instinct is an essential ingredient of creative success and personal satisfaction.
This is all relevant as Gibson’s introduction also mentions he deliberately modified the content of this anthology based on comments from readers that the stories in the first volume were too dark, while wondering what people expected from a book titled Twisted Dark. The result of this feedback is a selection of stories that overall are weaker, more trivial and in a couple of cases even predictable when compared with the material in the opening volume.
Volume two, however, is a book of two halves. Beginning with ‘Flamboyant’, Gibson recaptures his mojo, and most of the remaining stories again display the variety and unpredictability of that first volume. It’s ‘Becoming a Man’ that’s the standout, coupling the expressive storytelling of Antonio Balanquit Jr with the tension generated by an African coming of age story. It’s clear a disturbing process is to take place, but Gibson sustains the tension for fourteen pages before the revelation, and then has a second bombshell to drop.
Almost all the artists who contributed to the first volume return, and some have improved. Caspar Wijngaard uses a different style from volume one, on a story about the pursuit of popularity, and Atula Siriwardane has the most demanding script, having to convey some very precise emotions. Unfortunately it’s in service of a standard horror story that could have worked more concisely to its surprise conclusion. The sample art is from Mark Olivant, the only artist to draw two contributions. He has an appealing, loose style, but his storytelling is awkward. Looser still, and better, is Mark Martel, although some of his work is a little flat. Elsewhere Heru Prasetyo Djalal is allocated the novelty of ‘Flamboyant’, but his figures are stiff and have no sense of weight about them and newcomer Arjit Dutta Chowdhury’s naturalism is a standout, but on one of the weaker tales.
There are flashes of inspiration, but Gibson’s consistency carried volume one, and that’s lacking here. He recognised this, and his introduction to the improved volume three notes Gibson returning to following his own instincts.