Author and artist Greg Chapman was twice nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, the highest honor in dark fiction, and his newest creation, Bleak Precision, illustrates why. The chapbook collection of art and short fiction opens with a charcoal rendition of a naked woman clutching a wall in despair, a pair of wings discarded nearby. The image is both beautiful and disturbing mostly because of what’s hinted at in the details, as in the claw-like curve of her fingers into the wall. This motif of rich subtlety runs throughout Bleak quite smoothly, slithering throughout the mostly black and white art and short/flash fiction, leaving the reader and viewer uneasy if not thoroughly deliciously disturbed.
Each piece establishes an unsettling mood in a unique way. “Kakophony” presents a monologue of a child’s inability to escape the deafening sounds of abuse. “Unrequited” is a quietly unfolding pathological love letter. Anyone who can relate to being incessantly annoyed by a neighbor’s unrelenting noise disturbance will take heed with “Mongrel”; both “Scar Tissue” and “The Pest Controller’s Wife” establish progressively growing squeamishness that climax in satisfying conclusions. My favorite of the bunch, “Fascination,” is a morbidly original tale of a mortician’s daughter who becomes fixated on one of her father’s corpses and catches the attention of a morgue assistant in the process. Although we don’t spend a great deal of time with Julie and Paul, Chapman’s words paint their characters like tranquil ponds, their surfaces revealing subtle hints at the dark secrets hidden in their depths.
The author includes a bonus Ink Heist essay, “Horror Fiction: A Bleak and Depressing Look at Truth,” in which he advises fellow writers to “be bleak and depressing, make your characters unlikeable but most of all, tell the truth.” Chapman delivers on his promise, providing a literary mural of disturbing beauty in a concise and effective package.
Order a copy of Bleak Precision by clicking the cover art.