A feature that favours the best magazines is consistency. This is not just in the quality of the contents, though this is very important, but in the layout. A regular reader likes to know what to expect when they pick up a copy. A young magazine will experiment with layout and design but even the well established evolve. Changes are good as long as the evolution takes place at a reasonably slow pace and nothing too radical happens between one issue and the next. That is the kind of thing that loses readers. ‘Black Static’ has changed from the initial format but the contents are largely consistent with a couple of thought-provoking articles from such as Stephen Volk and Christopher Fowler, five pieces of short fiction followed by book and DVD/Blu-ray reviews. What makes this magazine stand out from mainstream ones is the showcased artwork even though not everyone will like all of it.
Stephen Volk takes as his discussion point TV series, comparing the US and UK approaches and considers the role of the story arc across a whole series rather than a weekly episode which may or may not add to the character development. Mike O’Driscoll takes as his theme films that genuinely scared the watcher when first seen and which don’t recapture the original sensation when viewed years later. While both of these offer insights into the development of both the viewer and that watched over a period of time, Christopher Fowler(website) takes issue with the nature of popular TV programmes decrying the dearth of imagination in them and the over reliance on ‘reality’.
Of the five stories, two are post-apocalyptic. The first, ‘The Compartments Of Hell’ by Paul Meloy and Sarah Pinborough has a surreal edge to it. After some unknown, overnight disaster, the only survivors were those high on drugs. The result is that only the unpleasant or weak are left. There is no big pulling together of the remnants of humanity since to survive you have to stay high and junkies will do anything for the next fix, especially as now they know they will be dead without it. Whereas this story begins the morning after the event, ‘At Night, When The Demons Come’ by Ray Cluley is more in the vein of Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’, as the apocalypse was some time ago with groups of survivors coping in the ruins of the cities. The danger they face are winged demons, which are all female, intent on killing and eating any moving thing they can catch. Thus human women are regarded with suspicion in case they turn into demons. Comparing the two, the Meloy and Pinborough is more effective than the Cluley one, partly because the reactions of the characters are much more believable and partly because it works well at the short length. Ray Cluley’s story could easily benefit from more space to examine the structure of the new world in more detail. As it stands, comparisons are going to be made with tales with a similar premise.
‘Going Home, Ugly Stick In Hand’ by Nate Southard is an oddity. It is unusual as it uses a second person narrative, a technique that can make a story more sinister. The main character is returning to his home town for the funeral of a friend. As the story unfolds, it is clear that this is a town with a nasty secret. He is also returning to face the monster that has killed his friend.
The other two stories both use children as view point characters. In ‘The Covered Doll’, Cheryl Ann is about five. She is aware of what goes on in the world around her but doesn’t always understand its significance. Her father is doing his best to bring her up but his efforts sometimes fail. The covered doll of the title is both real and a metaphor. The antique doll her father gives to Cheryl Ann gets damaged and he makes a cloth bag for it, telling her that as long as she doesn’t take it out it will still be as beautiful as she remembers it. It is a well told, deeply observant story of the issues surrounding raising children in poverty. It is the best story in this issue.
The other story, ‘The Wounded House’ by Barbara A. Barnett, has a thirteen year-old first person narrative. The girl, Maggie, has an active imagination so it is difficult to know where the line between reality and fantasy is drawn. Maybe the house is haunted. Maggie certainly feels that there are places in it which are scary as if monsters are lurking in the shadows. Although well-written, it is too brief and the atmosphere isn’t developed enough.
Of the artwork, Darren Winter’s illustration for Ray Cluley’s ‘At Night, When the Demons Come’, is an exceptional piece of fine art. The other piece worth mentioning is Ben Baldwin’s atmospheric illustration for Nate Southard’s story which captures the essence of the story well.
The book review section Peter Tennant is always worth looking at as most of the books are small press releases which are not easy to otherwise catch up with in your local bookshop. This edition, though, does not have an in-depth interview with an author.
This issue of ‘Black Static’ has the same consistent quality of previous issues. If you liked them, you will be pleased with this one.