by Martin Stiff
I grabbed the hardcover of The Absence, which was originally a six-issue self-published series that ran from 2008 to 2013, on a whim. The art didn't particularly appeal to me, but there was something that grabbed me when I flipped through it.
The story is set in a small English village on the channel coast, starting in 1946, when a storm starts ripping apart a cliffside church, and the local priest has to decide which is better, continued existence in the village, or being dashed to the rocks below. His choice gives us the sense that maybe thingsaren't so great in this town.
The story really begins as Marwood Clay, the only local boy to survive the war, returns home. No one is very pleased to see Marwood - there was some sort of scandal before he left, and the town basically considers him a murderer, although we have to read almost the entire book before we can find out why.
Somehow, during the war, Marwood had his lips and the skin around them ripped off his face, leaving him a ghastly sight, which probably doesn't make it any easier to relate to for both the villagers and the reader. We learn that there is someone else new in town as well, a Dr. Temple, who has brought a small army of workmen with him to construct a bizarre house to very exacting specifications.
As this is the type of English village that doesn't react well to change, no one is particularly happy about anything for the first chunk of this book, and the questions start to pile up. What did Marwood do that makes everyone hate him so much? Why does only one girl, Helen, seem to feel differently about him? What is Dr. Temple's true purpose in building this strange home, and why is so exact about its measurements? Who is the old man who keeps trying to get in contact with him? What did Temple do during the war? Why does he seem to be able to predict random events with such accuracy? Why do people in the village keep disappearing, including the young boy who tries to befriend Marwood?
Stiff packs a lot into this story, and while parts of it feel very improbable, it is a deeply satisfying read. I enjoyed the look at life in an English village, but found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the work that Temple was doing (although I never understood it). His art is kind of rough and sketchy, but it tells the story well, and helps to preserve an idea about a way of life that is pretty much gone.