Behind the Mask of ‘Norman’

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NormanVol1_CoverEvery serial slasher had to start somewhere.  No one busts out of an abandoned barn with perfect strategy and technique.  Which artery should you sever first?  So many factors to consider in the murder game.  But like the old Carnegie Hall joke says, you must “Practice, practice, practice,” and such is the case with the adorable 8-year old headliner of this graphic novel created by Stan Silas.

When the new kid at school goes missing, the kids in his class try to investigate what is happening as one by one they are picked off in an increasingly gruesome fashion.  What they don’t know is that the cause of the carnage is right there among them – housed in precocious 8 year-old classmate Norman.  The angelic, blonde-haired child is guided by his best friend and confidante, a small demon that rests on his shoulder, and together they plot and plan their activities and how to cover them up.

We must remember, though, that this bright young thing is a baby, bright eyes turned upwards to the blood-soaked sky.  He is still ironing out the kinks of his technique, the perfect kill and how to get away clean.  Long-suffering Norman’s attempts are endearing as he stumbles through threats of discovery and various scenarios to deal the latest fatal blow.  There are close calls, but thanks to careful planning and often sheer dumb luck our favorite kid psychopath comes out unscathed.  His inept teacher Mrs. Jameson and his classmates remain unaware of the danger among them, and all is calm once again in their small hamburg in Midwest America.

Norman not only makes direct points regarding modern sociology, but also doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Jeremy, the new kid who goes missing, walks right into the trap of guaranteed raffle sales and bike repair.  How serendipitous is that?  The insane, alcoholic teacher aptly named Mrs. Jameson flashes enough leg and cleavage to her elementary school students that it’s a miracle she still has her job.  She latches onto student’s parents to the point of stalking, yet still manages to staggers her way into class every morning to bully and threaten her students.  Seemingly at random she will pass or fail members of the class, and decides the best way to punish kids for possible murder by making them do laps around the school in their birthday suit.  Someone has drank away one too many brain cells.

This is one polished love letter to horror movie culture.  Silas has created a world chock-full of references from the familiar staples to the cult favorites.  From Norman’s striped shirt and hockey mask to the mention of room 237 and a mad scientist hellbent on resurrection, there are dozen of little winks to send any horror enthusiast’s dark heart aflutter.  That combined with the chibi-style artwork makes it impossible not to smile and giggle, even as a panicked Norman jams a knife in someone’s mouth because of the screaming.  Precious.

Dark humor is used masterfully by Silas, peppering the story with barbs and social commentary that make you laugh out loud.  From the train wreck of a teacher Mrs. Jameson to the spoiled Grace and her “secret society” she bosses around, the reader laughs out loud at the blissful self-involvement the world faces.  As useless as Jameson is, she is a mouthpiece for the world at large as she drags herself through a sea of children day in and day out.  Not only is it a metaphor for the teaming ebb and flow of a person’s day-to-day, it faces a simple fact we all know; that age old struggle that all kids are a**holes.

Silas presents all the usual suspects with an effortless wink and nudge, clearly displaying just about every possible archetype.  Where he excels where others tend to fall flat is make them interesting and well-rounded, rather than the cardboard assumption of what they should be.  The nerd, the uninterested boy with the queen bee, the klutz, they are all there in vivid definition, radiating not only their role but also their own loveable personalities.  Yes, even the spoiled rich girl. But obviously the breakout star of the piece is the titular Norman.  Outwardly he presents the image of a sweet, fumbling 8 year-old boy – maybe a bit lonely, maybe a bit weird, but likeable nonetheless.  Inside though is the homicidal maniac he knows in his heart he is.  Even though he is nervous and a bit clumsy in his execution of his goals, what might come off as conscience is simply worry of failure.  Not once does he question if he should do it, only if he’s doing it right.  Still trying to find his artistic voice he takes his cues from iconic movies, and although they can have a bit of a rocky journey, he always manages to get the job done.  That doesn’t mean he practically explodes with panic when things don’t go exactly to plan, (which is always,) his anxious little heart hammering as he chokes and lets things get a bit messier than planned.

Thank god for his little devilish voice perched on his shoulder, who not only gives him advice but also can’t help himself from giving poor Norman a hard time when things don’t go exactly to plan.  Norman’s only friend is with him at all times, chatting in his ear, keeping him company and fueling his blood-thirst in the best of ways.  His constant needling will come in handy too in Norman’s development into the unstoppable killer he will certainly become as well, the underlying frustration and insecurity being heartily fed enough to keep his anger at a steady simmer.

It isn’t every day you come across an adorable little bad seed like Norman who fails at creeping you out.  You fall in love with him, looking forward to tracking a sure-to-be a meteoric rise in his choice of career.  Surely, it will be a pleasure for all of us on the right end of the knife.  The wrong end of it, though?  Let’s just say the little sweetheart still has a long road ahead of him.

 

Norman is available March 25, 2015 from Titan Comics.

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