The scariest thing is the numbness. I get up in the morning, check Twitter, catch up on atrocities, go to work, check Twitter, learn about more atrocities. If I’m lucky, the night brings some relief, but it’s a 24-hour news cycle and there’s always something awful happening somewhere. Mass shootings, hate crimes, child detainment camps, laws created by openly corrupt officials to restrict human rights, the collapse of the environment. When there’s a new crisis every day and I’m powerless to stop it, the numbness starts to set in. The world is burning, so I will be ice and try not to let it affect me.
And I’m not the only one. The news is a nightmare and we’re getting used to it, moving from one emergency to the next so quickly that we don’t have to time to fully process tragedies. These become everyday occurrences instead of catastrophes, and the numbness just makes it easier for the world to never address the fundamental sociopolitical problems that have brought us to this point. If we stay frozen, we’ll just burn faster.
I’m a white male, so I have the luxury of being numb. I’m not living every day worried about being sexually harassed by strangers or getting killed by the police because of my skin color. I’m gay, out, and proud, but I live in a city with a large, active queer scene where I don’t feel like I’m in danger holding hands with my boyfriend on the street. But there are so many people out there who feel the pain of these news stories in their bones because the fear is something all too real that they cannot escape. Infidel is a comic about that fear and the hate that fuels it.
Written by Pornsak Pichetshote with art by Aaron Campbell, coloring and editing by José Villarrubia, and lettering and design by Jeff Powell, Infidel was released by Image Comics last year to loads of acclaim. Garnering comparisons to Jordan Peele’s blockbuster hit Get Out for its socially conscious horror, Infidel was picked up by TriStar Pictures for a film adaptation directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and NPR named it one of the 100 best horror stories of all time. This haunted house story uses ghosts as a metaphor for racism and Islamophobia, following two best friends as their lives are upended by supernatural forces terrorizing their New York City apartment building.
I read the first two issues of Infidel right when I was starting a new day job and getting ready to move, a hectic time that pushed a lot of my comics reading and writing to the sidelines. The months passed and I fell behind, the individual issues lost in my growing to-read pile. Then I received the collection and it got lost on my growing to-read shelf. Sometimes you have to be in the right mood to engage with a piece of media, and I knew Infidel’s heft and intensity from those two chapters and wasn’t ready to jump back in. I recognized it was high quality and would give me a lot to think about, but it would force me to spend more time with all the things that are broken in our society, which already feel omnipresent. The review window for Infidel eventually closed—we try to keep reviews within two months of release at The A.V. Club—but I knew Infidel was something I wanted to write about eventually, maybe for the team’s follow-up. That follow-up hasn’t come, but now I have this column where I can write about whatever I want and it’s the spooky season, so here we are.
Infidel is one of the most thoughtful debuts I’ve read in recent memory, full of specific and surprising creative choices that tie artistic craft to emotional storytelling. I’m not going to spoil anything about this story because the team is so good at shocking twists, but to put it simply: these creators know their shit. Pichetshote was an editor at Vertigo Comics during the creative boom of the mid-to-late ’00s, and he fully embraces the spirit of collaboration in Infidel, giving Campbell the freedom to interpret the script in the way he best sees fit with his own depth of artistic knowledge. Villarrubia is an extremely talented colorist that is completely in sync with Campbell’s blend of physical and digital media, and he also proves to be a sharp editor who keeps the story focused on both a textual and visual level.