From the paneled pictures of your darkest dreams, this is Graphic. Every month, I’ll be telling you about the best horror in comic books, from the early days of EC Comics to the resurgence of the genre in today’s mainstream and indie publishers. So pull up your blanket, dear reader, switch on your flashlight, and turn the page…
At first glance, Pretty Deadly seems to be a comic book set in the American West. Artist Emma Rios nails 19th century architecture and fashion like she lived through it; colorist Jordie Bellaire’s desert palette is so rich you’d swear you can feel sand on the page. And though the setting of the novel certainly is the Old West, it’s not one that’s ever been on our earth, much less in America. It’s an Old West where deserts stretch on into eternity, inhabited by all manner of monsters, mortals and more. It’s an Old West from a dream (or, perhaps, a nightmare), where Death lords over a kingdom and his daughter rides on a horse made of smoke. It’s the only Old West that could be home to… Deathface Ginny.
Ginny‘s tragic story begins when her mother (known only as Beauty) married a jealous, vile man called The Mason. In an effort to keep Beauty to himself, the Mason constructed a tower and locked his wife away in it. Desperate for freedom, Beauty killed herself, only to be imprisoned by another jealous man – Death himself. Death kept Beauty locked in a magic prison of his own making, but not before siring a child with her. That child he raised himself, training her to be an agent of vengeance and giving her the name Ginny. Eventually, Ginny left her underworld abode to roam the world in search of revenge; against the Mason, and against her father.
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Before we talk about what that something is, we can’t talk about Deathface Ginny without mentioning her phenomenal character design. All of Emma Rios’s characters have a hint of perfection; she uses thin lines to create classical forms, like they were from some lost sketchbook of a Renaissance artist. But in Ginny, Rios stretches the classic human figure to an otherworldly extreme. Ginny is scarecrow-like in her frame but does not look unwell, a symbol of death with both feet in the mortal realm. Then, of course, there’s Ginny‘s face; her sunken eyes shadowed in dark splotches, the pattern of a skull on her cheeks and mouth. Combine all this with the white pallor and yellow eyes brought to us by Jordie Baellaire’s coloring and you have a legendary figure worthy of the name Deathface.
It’s not only her design that makes Ginny such a unique character. In the world of Pretty Deadly, you can be one of three things: a God, who personifies and rules over an aspect of life, a Reaper, who serves the will of Death like Angels serve the Judeo-Christian God, or a Mortal, who will ultimately end up in Death‘s domain. When asked at one point in the book what she is, Ginny answers simply: “I am all three.”
But is that totally true? Yes, her training as a Reaper of Vengeance makes her a deadly force, but her love for her mortal mother makes her turn that deadliness against her father, Death. Her nature as a god makes her especially hard to kill, despite the fact that Death sends his best Reaper after her. And of course, this path of death and divinity means that any connection she might’ve had with other mortals is forfeit. What makes Ginny such a fascinating protagonist is that by being all three beings… she’s not quite any of them.
When talking about character in his writing manual, Story, Robert McKee writes that, “Dimension means contradiction: either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition) or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief).” In Ginny, the Pretty Deadly team has created three natures that are diametrically opposed and plopped a character into the direct center of their impossible Venn Diagram. Like the world she lives in, Ginny is part history, part mythology, and part horror — three parts that come together to form a much larger, much more terrifying whole.
You can meet Ginny by checking out the first volume of Pretty Deadly, which is available on ComiXology Unlimited. Once you do that, let us know what you think of the character by following us on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, and Discord. If you liked this column, go ahead and drop me a line to let me know which other horror comics you’d like to see spotlighted here. For more Women in Horror all February-long, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.