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In the flurry to get our weekly fix of serial story-telling, it can happen that we forget that comics are sometimes called the Ninth Art for a reason. Every now and then a book comes out that reminds us, yes, comics are art.

For some of us, if that art can be disturbing and nostalgic and just darned cool, well, that's a bonus and a half.

And so it is with RAW Studios' Dark Country, a graphic novel that also serves as a "Making of" book that really shows the possibilities and perils of adapting a story cross-platforms. That sounds almost as complex as the history of this book.

Writer Tab Murphy started out with a short story, which actor/director and comics fan Thomas Jane loved and wanted to turn into his first film.

In all its forms, Dark Country takes the tropes of injured stranger on the road, fear of being in the middle of nowhere, and the new couple that maybe shouldn't be a couple, and blends them all into a slow creeping horror, like the best of Tales from the Crypt or, yes, The Twilight Zone IF Rod Serling had had no censors.

Jane's directorial effort was meant to be in 3-D, but the studio panicked and dumped the film (in 2D) out onto DVD. Mea culpa: I haven't seen it, but now intend to, though wisely the graphic novel seems more likely its own creature and not a slavish adaptation of what Jane did on film.

You'll notice his name on the cover, and that's because with artist Tim Bradstreet Jane formed RAW Studios in order to create the kind of comics he'd want to read. Not just loving Murphy's prose, Jane also wanted artist Thomas Ott to do the concept art for his film. At the time, Ott was unavailable, so turning him loose on the story for a graphic novel is the next best thing.

And a creepy, excellent choice Ott is. If R. Crumb and Bernie Krigstein had a child drawing for E.C., this might be the result. Told entirely without words, the story grows in dark power, a little cartoony at first but rushing headlong into horror. Reading Murphy's original short story, included afterwards, is almost a letdown; Ott's art has done the job so well.

The book also includes 40 pages of behind-the-scenes material for Jane's film, which again whets the appetite for a piece little seen, but one that might be worth tracking down to scare the crap out of yourself tonight. It's clear from putting all three media side by side that the story changes depending on how it's being told, and that's a nice intellectual recognition. But ultimately, what matters is it's disturbing.

If you're like me, however, you had too little time for a good Halloween build-up, and may spend the first week of November still getting your scares on. October Country intersects with Dark Country, and there's no reason you can't travel there all year round.

Derek McCaw

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