Comic Preview: Alisik brings an undead Burton-esque fantasy to life

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Dec 19, 2017

Ever felt invisible, like no one could see you, even under neon lights -- like ... a ghost?

Under its Statix Press imprint, which showcases European and international comics poised for a cult following over here, Titan Comics has unearthed the new Gothic horror series Alisik, and its surprisingly relatable phantom.

Alisik is dead. Literally. A mashup of Emily the Strange and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, the ghost girl who wakes up dead and wants so desperately to be human again was dreamed up by Hubertus Rufledt. As you can see in these preview pages, the series is hauntingly illustrated by Helge Vogt, who wanted to venture into something darker than all those fairy princesses during her time at Disney. Alisik started as a short animation, which Rufledt was so taken with, he just had to take it out of the graveyard and turn it into a comic series.

Alisik’s feelings of isolation are too human. Anyone who has ever experienced not belonging can relate to this non-corporeal character. She is already misunderstood by all the other “lifeless” in the graveyard (who have been dead for so long they’ve forgotten what it’s like to even be alive), and when she wanders through town trying to get humans to notice her, they are unable to see past flesh and blood. This was one of the main emotions Vogt and Rufeldt wove into the story, the type of loneliness in the middle of a crowded room that can only come from being a misfit.

“[Alisik] is a teenage girl between old zombies from another time,” Vogt tells SYFY WIRE in this exclusive interview. “She feels alone, because she has no friends. But this changes, when she meets a blind boy of her age who can hear her. Of course, he thinks she is alive, but it is complicated for her to explain.”

Illustration by Helge Vogt.

So this is problematic. You’re invisible, which doesn’t matter to your love interest (who thinks you’re alive), and incorporeal, which kind of does, unless you can make some odd excuse for not holding hands. Then there’s the whole issue of explaining why you’re nocturnal and roaming around the cemetery after dark. Is there really any chance a human would date a spirit?

In a desperate attempt to make that possible, Vogt says that Alisik dreams up lies that become increasingly outlandish the more she falls for Ruben, and somehow becomes “the driving force of the cemetery,” that breathes new life into the phantoms around her. Metaphorically speaking, at least.

“We all know these feelings from our teen years,” adds Rufledt. “You feel lost and misunderstood. On the other hand, you are unsure or you may have feelings of inferiority. Sometimes dark thoughts assail you and you want to surrender to a melancholic mood, and we wanted to tell all that with our story. As it were, Alisik is an allegory of adolescence.”

Alisik is not your average spook haunting the tombstones. She doesn’t appear as a skeletal wraith or a zombie with oozing sores, but more like a broken doll (think The Corpse Bride or Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas) drifting through life after death. Vogt wanted to tell a story that was “spooky and creepy, but not really horror or splatter.”

Rufledt also wanted both readers and the other protagonists to like Alisik, which is kind of difficult when half your intestines are spilling out and you’re ravenous for brains. Alisik still has a lifelessness to her and is missing an eyeball, but it isn’t hanging out of her socket like you’d expect to see in The Walking Dead. How the other characters manifest in death recalls how they lived. Flames for hair could mean that one character might have been some sort of pyromaniac in his past life, and the one with a gaping hole in his stomach may have been shot by something massive—and possibly for good reason.

Vogt and Rufledt imagined the world of Alisik under the spell of a dark fairytale aesthetic that recalls German romanticism and Victorian Gothic fiction, along with the anti-princesses of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, and Hazao Miyazaki. There is another Studio Ghibli influence from movies such as Princess Mononoke that lies in the shadows, and that is the issue of there being no definitive forces of good and evil, but rather one hazy shade of gray. Even the Souleaters, which are supposed to be nightmare fodder for the dead and undead, have a certain melancholy to them, and Vogt feels readers will be surprised at how the realm of the dead and Mister Dead himself are brought to life.

Alisik may be the ultimate misfit, because she is nothing but a forgotten sigh to the living, but she can’t seem to find a place among the dead.

Rufledt acknowledges that Alisik experiences a major shock at the beginning (admit it, so would you if you suddenly woke up as a ghost next to your own grave), but as she accepts her disembodied state, she starts to actually like the other Postmortals despite when they died, since they are all relics from past time periods that may have viewed technological advances as sorcery. Enter the new ghost in the graveyard, who comes from an era of smartphones and flat-screen TVs. She’s obviously not going to understand what it was like to finish nightly chores by candlelight, but she also refreshes the stale old cemetery, whose denizens are floating around in a constant state of purgatory.

“They are not in ‘heaven’ and not in ‘hell’ because their case is not clear,” says Vogt. “Every one of them did something terrible during their lifetime. People died because of them. In every one of the four paperbacks, we explore the death of one or the other, and we ask the question if they are guilty for what they have done.”

That should make you wonder who is really the outcast here. Society doesn’t exactly welcome a serial arsonist, or whatever the character with the blazing hair might have been.

So who is really more human in this story, the dead or the living? That, like the rest of the story, is shrouded in shades of gray. Vogt and Ruledt have tried to humanize the ghosts, who may have been unsavory characters in life; even these undead entities, with their dark secrets, are no match for some of the living, who are more inhuman than even the lord of the Souleaters. You would have to question the ethics of a CEO who wants to bulldoze right over a graveyard to build what will inevitably turn out to be the most haunted mall anywhere.

“The wretched dead people are really no more human than the living,” says Ruledt. “Although you would have found that hard to believe at first.”

Check out the preview pages in the gallery below, then look for Alisik in a graveyard (or comics store) near you this February.