Return of the Elephant

By Paul Hornschemeier
48 pages, two-color
Published by AdHouse Books

One trait that all of my favorite comic creators share is that I never really know what to expect. I’ve just learned that’s true with Paul Hornschemeier, someone who’s quickly moved his way onto that select group. His first issue of Forlorn Funnies was an inventive and humorous mixture of genres and styles, while Mother, Come Home was a meticulously crafted story of loss and remembrance. I thought that maybe I could expect what to get out of his new comic Return of the Elephant. I was wrong.

A man is taking the afternoon off from his mailroom job. His cousin, he’s told his boss, is coming to visit. When his visitor does arrive, though, it brings back memories from the past… as well as the question of what this visit is really about being raised to the reader.

Return of the Elephant could almost be considered a mystery, but the mystery isn’t for the characters of the book but for the reader. Hornschemeier carefully parcels out information in bits and pieces, letting you know just enough to make you want to learn more. So much of Return of the Elephant is deliberately unspoken, even down to the names of the characters. With each page you learn a little more, but at the same time Hornschemeier slowly creates a sense of terror that grows with each passing moment. What at first seems like a simple visit by a cousin is rapidly turning into something else… but what, you’re never entirely sure until it’s too late. It’s amazing how just small words and phrases like “I figured we could watch” can be so dangerous when placed in just the right moment. Even in the final panels of Return of the Elephant, Hornschemeier is able to put just the right air of mystery and terror into them, keeping the reader’s attention to the very last possible second.

Paul Hornschemeier’s art is as delicate and perfectly structured as I remembered it. Return of the Elephant is designed as a tall, narrow book, with each page consisting of two panels stacked on top of each other. In every panel are soft lines that carefully form character’s face, with rounded noses and soft hair. It’s this gentleness that helps lull the reader into a false sense of security until the menace begins to slowly build. So much of the mood of Return of the Elephant is dependent on Hornschemeier’s art. When our two characters meet each other, at first they’re standing near to each other, laughing, and putting you at ease. It’s once they reach the house that the art begins to hint that something is not quite right. Hornschemeier draws uncomfortable silences between the two of them, a kitchen table serving as a barrier between the two of them as they stare at each other from opposite ends. It’s as the tension builds that you begin to look back at earlier pages and catch hints from the very beginning that there is an air of distrust being built throughout Return of the Elephant, with innocent actions like the applying of lotion to chapped knuckles suddenly feeling sinister. Hornschemeier uses a soft tan for a second color in Return of the Elephant, shading the book to give it a pleasant, sepia-toned effect. It adds to the viewer’s mind that we’re looking into quiet suburbia, the traditional home of “it couldn’t happen here”, a beautiful final touch to this tale of suspense.

Return of the Elephant is a real victory for Hornschemeier, creating something very different from his previous works but no less effective. Reading Return of the Elephant makes me all the more excited for his upcoming collection of his old Sequential anthologies; the idea of seeing still more variety in styles and themes from Hornschemeier is an attractive one. Don’t assume, though, that Return of the Elephant is just a sidestep between major projects for Hornschemeier, though. This is a thoroughly engrossing book that people are going to talk about for some time to come. I’m coming to expect nothing but the best from Hornschemeier, and that’s exactly what he delivered.

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