Crowdfunding Review: “ASYL” (Secret Comics, Monochrome May Special)

Welcome back to Monochrome May, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of everything black, white, and gray in between!

Today we’ll be reviewing the crowdfunded vampire horror comic book ASYL by Secret Comics.  For those of you not familiar with the “crowdfunding review” format, we grade a crowdfunding campaign on four distinct categories:

  • Book Content and Quality
  • Communication and Fulfillment
  • Packaging and Shipping
  • Stretch Goals and Bonuses

With ASYL, I backed the physical book tier.  This campaign was exclusive to Indiegogo.

Did ASYL deliver the thrills and chills of all the best vampire tales, or is it dreadfully bad? Read on and find out. 

Book Content and Quality

This is going to be one of the most bizarre reviews – of any type – I think I’ve ever written. Why? Because ASYL is one of the most baffling pieces of entertainment that I’ve ever purchased.

Written by Nasser Rabadi (Stardust) and illustrated by Vic King (Artifice: Re-Animate), ASYL is (according to the Indiegogo campaign page) based on a lost silent film titled Dracula’s Death, and both story and art are meant to be inspired by German expressionist films of the early 20th century.

Sounds great. Right up my alley, in fact. Unfortunately, that description is the most exciting part of the entire ASYL experience, as the book itself is a massive disappointment.

The book itself is 20 pages long, and can very easily be read in less than five minutes. Five. Minutes. There is almost no text in ASYL. In fact, 12 of the book’s 20 pages have zero text, and on the pages that do, it’s still pretty sparse. One might argue that Rabadi & Co. are trying to set the tone of of a silent film. Fair enough. Maybe that was the intent, but most silent films are still able to tell a complete story with stimulating visuals that serve the narrative. ASYL’s artwork simply doesn’t do this.

Most of Vic King’s art in ASYL looks more goofy than it does scary. Most damningly, however, some of it looks unfinished. For a book designed to resemble German expressionist film, many pages don’t make use of shadows very well. The characters often look extremely flat, with poses and expressions that seem more like roughs from a sketch book than a finished product.

With so little story to tell ASYL, it’s just so bizarre that nothing really comes together. The book simply doesn’t make sense. It’s mostly a collection of artwork featuring a scared woman (Lena) who runs and screams with some vampire imagery mixed in. Is she crazy, is she not? Do you care? No. Even by the end, and having read it four times (it’s easy to do when it only takes five minutes), I don’t know what story is really being told here, or what point is trying to be made.

There’s even three blank pages in the book that went completely unused. Why not use those pages for a quick history of the lost Dracula’s Death film, or a description of German expressionist style, or bios of the creative team? Something? Anything? Anything that might add some value to the book. Anything besides nothing.

I should note that the book itself is printed cleanly on decent paper stock, but that’s really the only positive note I can muster.

The word that keeps coming to mind with ASYL is “baffling.” It is truly, bafflingly bad. As a fan of horror, black and white art, silent film, and German expressionism, I should be ASYL’s key target audience. But everything seems unfinished, ill-conceived and poorly executed. There is perhaps something in ASYL that I am missing – some deeper thematic meaning or a key detail that brings the book together. Maybe you are supposed to feel like you, the reader, are yourself going crazy reading ASYL, just like Lena is (maybe?) in the book.

Nonetheless, I can’t find any way to recommend it to anyone.

Grade: F

Communication and Fulfillment

The ASYL campaign ended successfully in January of 2021.  I received my copy of the book on 11 March, so that is a remarkable turnaround time, and well better than average when compared to other crowdfunded projects. Considering that the books were initially scheduled to ship in May, receiving the package so top marks, there.

Nasser Rabadi is a very good communicator when it comes to updating his backers via email, as I received roughly one update per week. While perhaps not quite as consistent on the Indiegogo campaign “updates” page, Rabadi still kept a pretty consistent log of what was going on with the ASYL project. Having backed previous projects by Secret Comics in the past, I was never concerned that I might not receive my book, but those without that experience should still have felt very comfortable with the communication.

Grade: A

Packaging and Shipping

While I did not receive a tracking number for the shipment, Rabadi was very good at communicating when things were shipping out.

The book arrived bagged, boarded, and well packed in a Gemini mailer, which truly are the Cadillac of comic book shipping containers. The bonus items were all flat, so they were dropped on the reverse side of the comic board. It all arrived safe and sound; nothing damaged along the way. Not too shabby for a $4 shipping charge, especially considering that many other crowdfunded comic creators railroad you with $8 to $10 shipping at checkout.

Grade: A-

Stretch Goals and Bonuses

I received three items as part of my book pledge:

  • A trading card featuring Nosferatu-inspired artwork by Jim O’Riley
  • A black and white Secret Comics logo patch
  • A small sticker featuring the book’s heroine, Lena

This is the third Secret Comics project that I have backed, and I will admit that I like the form factor of the trading cards that are included with their books. The Nosferatu card was certainly up to snuff, featuring solid artwork and rounded edges similar to a playing card. The image was printed a bit off center, but that’s a small complaint.

Speaking of small, the patch is a bit on the small side, and the sticker was even smaller. I’m not much of one for patches as bonus items – I honestly have zero ideas for how I might use them, but the Secret Comics logo patch that came with ASYL certainly seems quality enough to me. It might be considered a bit plain to have only black and white thread, but that’s a question of taste. The sticker had a nice piece of artwork featuring a lovely take on Lena, but it is remarkably small considering the level of detail in the artwork. Locket-sized small. Oh, now I get it…

Despite my gripe about the size of the sticker, it’s hard to complain about too much considering that all of these bonuses were included part of a ten dollar package, which is quite a bit cheaper than most other crowdfunded comic projects.

Jim O’Riley’s art for the trading card

Grade: B

Secret Comics’ Stardust wasn’t the first comic book that I ever supported via crowdfunding, but it was the first one that I ever received. I was so pleased with the Stardust experience that it contributed to my taking chances on other crowdfunded projects.

Unfortunately, Secret Comics’ last two projects, Trixie Cain: Blood Reaper and now ASYL, have both been big disappointments in comparison. I simply don’t understand how a book like ASYL could get made without someone – writer, artist, etc. – taking a step back and asking, “What the hell is this supposed to be, anyway?” It is sadly, truly, baffling, especially considering that it shipped months early, so there was still time to fix at least some of the book’s issues.

Sure, things went well enough as far as shipping and communication are concerned, but no matter how well the overall experience was handled, there’s very little that can be done to make up for a botched book. If some of the blank pointless extraneous content was removed and the artwork was finished polished up, ASYL might have been passable as a back-up story or as part of a larger horror anthology. But as-is, there is very little to recommend here, whether as a premium-priced crowdfunded book or as a bargain bin pickup at your local comic shop.

At least I got a cool Nosferatu-esque trading card out of it.

Overall Grade: D (not an average)

Speaking of Ds… am I right, fellas?

Thanks for reading!

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