After seven-plus years of working together on the beautifully brooding epic fantasy series Monstress, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda used their pandemic downtime to switch gears a little bit, launching a new original graphic series called The Night Eaters, the first volume of which came out in October 2022 from Abrams Comic Arts. This new series moves the action from a Lovecraftian steampunk fantasy world to New York City circa 2020 — but that realistic setting makes it no less magical, and possibly even more horrifying. Here's the official synopsis:
Chinese American twins, Milly and Billy, are having a tough time. On top of the multiple failures in their personal and professional lives, they're struggling to keep their restaurant afloat. Luckily their parents, Ipo and Keon, are in town for their annual visit. Having immigrated from Hong Kong before the twins were born, Ipo and Keon have supported their children through thick and thin and are ready to lend a hand—but they're starting to wonder, has their support made Milly and Billy incapable of standing on their own?
When Ipo forces them to help her clean up the house next door—a hellish and run-down ruin that was the scene of a grisly murder—the twins are in for a nasty surprise. A night of terror, gore, and supernatural mayhem reveals that there is much more to Ipo and her children than meets the eye.
Takeda and Liu do an incredible job with the freaky mood setting right off the bat. After a brief flashback to a younger version of the mother, Ipo, the bulk of the story takes price at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Siblings Milly and Billy are trying to keep their new restaurant running despite all the complicated ventilations protocols; meanwhile, Ipo refuses to wear a mask, despite the urging of her children. It's a subtle, but brilliant way to create a chilling atmosphere by reminding us of these early pandemic days full of eerie uncertainty. It adds a layered, looming threat over this Chinese-American family — not just because of the virus, but because we as readers know that this is time when hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise, largely because of xenophobic associations with COVID-19.
But The Night Eaters is not a story about COVID-19. It's about the cosmic horror of generational trauma — and, in a way, real estate. The COVID-19 is just a brilliant bit of set building. Artist Sana Takeda does the rest of the heavy lifting with her lusciously painted pages, with the sickly textures of shadows and plants creeping on the edges of every scene. Even before the true supernatural horror rears its head, you're still never quite sure what's real or not. Are the walls covered in molding, or mold? Is there some evil spirit following you, or is just the general claustrophobia of existence at this time?
The Night Eaters is undeniably an immigrant story, although even that plays out in surprising ways (I'm hesitant to say any more than that). There's a colonialist element, too, with Ipo and Keon meeting in Hong Kong, but still not quite being welcome in the western world, even as permeated the culture they knew. Milly and Billy are a delightful pair of twin protagonists, too — each painfully normal urban 20-somethings in their own uniquely opposite, struggling with sex and video games and social lives and, oh yeah, all that diasporic trauma. These characters and the world they inhabit both feel deeply lived in … even as we learn more about their lives and their family that brings the story well beyond the realm of the familiar.
It's difficult to say more about The Night Eaters without giving too much away. But suffice to say: this is a beautifully nuanced story, with careful sketched characters, all brought to life with stunningly immersive artwork. And the end of the volume left me eager for the follow-up in a way that I didn't expect.
The Night Eaters, Vol. 1: She Eats the Night [Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda / Abram Comics Arts]