By Becky Cloonan
31 pages, black and white
Published by ComiXology

If you asked me what I buy every year at the Small Press Expo above all else, the answer would be easy: mini-comics. Because they don’t go through the distribution channels the way that bigger publishers’ books do, finding them can be difficult at best more often than not. That’s one of the things for which I’m especially thankful for when it comes to digital comics; the idea that finally there’s an easy way to get hold of comics that otherwise might be out of reach, between distance and limited print runs. Take, for instance, Becky Cloonan’s Demeter. This dark and spooky comic is one that I almost certainly never would have seen otherwise. But now? I can’t get enough of it.

In Demeter, we’re never told exactly when and where the comic is set. It’s almost certainly sometime in the past (with a reference to Poseidon hearing someone’s plea), in an isolated sea community. But with Demeter, the specifics don’t really matter. What does matter is that it’s the story of Anna and Colin, and their love for one another. When the boat Colin was on seven months ago was destroyed by a storm, he was the only survivor, but his memories were lost in the waves. Now, as Anna struggles to have their lives return to normal, there’s something waiting and watching just out of reach, a dark bargain waiting to be fulfilled.

To say that a lot of the writing in Demeter is mood-based is an understatement. It’s a dark story that just drips with emotion and ambience, and as Anna’s fears slowly grow, that rubs off on the reader. It’s much to Cloonan’s credit that it’s not solely the art that conveys this, but the writing as well. Anna’s narration reminds me a lot of gothic novels like Wuthering Heights, where the voice telling the story is in many ways what grabs your attention almost more than the plot itself can do. It certainly helps, of course, that Demeter is excellently paced; Cloonan gives us a slow reveal, and if you had to map out the tension in this story it would be like a tilted sine wave; it rises and falls, but each time it falls it doesn’t quite return to the low point of before. By the time the climax occurs, there’s no turning back for the reader. Or, indeed, for Anna and Colin. This is really Anna’s story—Colin is in many ways the pawn, part of the secret that Anna is holding in her heart—and I like how Cloonan is able to have Anna withhold information to us because Anna is in many ways blocking it out herself. If she stops and truly recognizes the deal she made, she’ll have to accept the consequences, and that’s the crux of the story.

It’s no surprise that Cloonan’s art looks amazing as ever. There are the parts that you’ll take for granted when it comes to Cloonan; strong grasp of anatomy, easy-to-follow page layouts, beautiful sweeping backgrounds. All of that is delivered in Demeter and it’s easy to just drink those features in and call it a day. But there’s all of the smaller touches that are just as intriguing here. When the two are together and Anna thinks, "I wonder if he feels it too," at the bottom of the page, the image of the waves in Colin’s eyes is haunting and hard to ignore. Then you turn the page and as the waves surround the duo for the top half of the page, it’s the perfect transition and timing. With the waves becoming outside instead of inside in-between pages, that sudden jump-cut grabs you as a reader. It’s fast and bold, and it works perfectly. With the ocean being such a critical part of Demeter, a lot of attention is paid to it, and in many ways it’s the third main character of the comic. Every time the ocean (calm or crashing) appears, it seizes the scene and makes the comic all about it. And really, that’s how it should be.

Demeter is a strong and gripping comic, and while it’s also available for order in a hardcopy format from Cloonan’s website, I’m thrilled that it’s able to get a wider release through the digital medium. How much did I love Demeter? I’m ready to buy her other two one-shots from earlier that are also now available via ComiXology (The Mire and Wolves). This is far too good to wait for the (hopefully) inevitable collection. Highly recommended.

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