Aug 2014

Why I Read: October 20th

Posted by / in Reviews / 7 comments

Dan wrote an interesting review on ZUKHANAUT last week, so I (Delta-v) thought of one of my favorite comics which I’d like to share as well. I got permission from author and artist Marius Hjelseth to do so. (Actually it was Dan that got me the permission–it’s nice to have powerful and influential friends.)

Since October 20th is a horror/mystery, It will take as little extra description, so here goes:



Six people whose only connection to each other is that each has caused the death of someone are sent letters telling them to go every October 20th to a remote abandoned shack in Iceland, and to remain there from midnight to midnight of that day, because “He” will come for them no matter where they are, but only in that one spot on Earth will they have a chance to survive.

When the comic begins, it has been nine years since “The Rules” were given, and of the original six, three are dead, one is missing, and the other two are making their way to the shack. During the time between October 20ths, the group members have researched their situation to try to make sense of what’s going on. At this session, information is shared which casts doubt on the truthfulness and motives of the person–one “Shields Mcklosky”–who sent the original letters.

The survivors embark on a continent-hopping search for Mcklosky, and some answers, but information is scarce, leads are doubtful, Mcklosky goes by many names–probably all false–and those who will talk at all tell of exploits which probably aren’t true either. If at any time you think you know what’s going on, you’re probably wrong, and if you’re confused, it means you’re paying attention.


How I Found It:

I followed a link from Charlie Wise’s webcomic Groovy, Kinda–a fairly frequent occurrence for me.


Why I Like It:

These are realistically depicted people. They aren’t super-sleuths, they aren’t hyper-intuitive, they aren’t even trained investigators. They’re just deeply flawed and traumatized people doing the best they can in a world where every answer brings more questions, and no answer can be fully trusted…..and yet they go on.

I love the fact that the people they interact with are puzzles in their own right, whether they are grudgingly helpful while giving vague hints and warnings, or being suspiciously accommodating, they add their own flavor of uncertainty to the mix.

The story itself is as engrossing as it is perplexing, as there are more than enough, “Oh, I see–no, wait a minute!” moments to keep even the most demanding puzzle solver satisfied, and is, as the saying goes, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” (my apologies to Sir Winston).

Marius is very god at revealing information that seems to stand up logically, and even better at making me doubt my own reasoning, and thus the validity of that information.  This is a real talent, expertly delivered.  I’m not a genius, but I’ve been around, and anyone who can keep me this off-balance for one hundred and forty-nine pages is doing pretty well.

The characters aren’t particularly likable sometimes, and yet I love them. I don’t care if they’re the product of someone’s fertile imagination, they’re real, darn it!

The comic’s style has a strong “film noir” feel to it like Dashiell Hammett, or Raymond Chandler, and if the horror owes more to “The Twilight Zone” than to “The Call of Cthulhu”, it adds just the right note of fear.

There’s plenty of angst and frayed nerves, but also enough humor to keep things from becoming depressing.  It’s a great roller-coaster of a read, especially when you remember that a roller-coaster does more than just go up and down.


Things I Think Could Be  Better:

A minor niggle–I have a hard time reading dark red script on a black background, especially as my eyesight dims. even one or two shades lighter would help.

But now for my biggest (and only other) problem: There’s nowhere to vote! I realize that some creators don’t like or want to bother with it, but when I read a comic I like so much, but can’t vote for it on something like TWC, it feels a little like watching a $100.00 bill swirl down a storm drain. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it makes me sad.


Final Thoughts:

I know that horror isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, or detective fiction either, for that matter, but Marius’ work is so multi-layered that I think it would reward even the doubters.

  • I agree. This is one of the best written comics out there. I’m not a horror fan, and October 20th is so much more than that. It’s a romance, a detective story, sometimes a comedy, and always an intelligent work with a lot of heart.
    It’s his love for his great characters that keeps me coming back.

    • Delta-v

      When I started reading October 20th, I had no idea where Marius was going with it. I still don’t, but it’s been one great adventure, and a heck of a lot of fun. :)

  • I’m a fan of this comic as well. I personally consider it more of a mystery/suspense than horror, though it’s not without its creepy moments. October 20th is great at raising a sense of tension even in the lighter moments, like you just know something bad is waiting and you feel afraid for them.

  • Hipopótamo

    This comic grows on you, the writing is top notch with an interesting premise and a great delivery of the actual plot. Long live October 20th

  • Hjels

    Thank you so much for kind words. I’ll be honest, when Dan asked me about doing a “Why I read” I thought he wanted to ask me questions about why I read Demon Archives, and got quite excited about that,. :)

    This is the first time I’ve put anything I’ve done out for public scrutiny, and I’m indiscribably happy that people seem to enjoy my little mystery tale. Whenever someone compliments my writing though, it’s my obligation to point to one thing though. Early on, my comic looked very different. Alot of the mystery was laid out in horrible exposition, and much of the thing people enjoy, was ruined by a near complete disclosure of the mystery. A kind-hearted user on smackjeeves, “The Hankerchief” as he calls himself did a review of the comic, where he in no uncertain terms told me that my story-telling was broken, and had to be altered to salvage the comic. After the initial and obligatory period of self-denial, I came to realise he was absolutely right. And I removed 8 pages of exposition, and began to redraw the entire telling of the story. In short, without that review, the comic would have imploded.

    I’m glad that people enjoy the mystery. The comic now stands at a cross-roads however. In not too long, some (not all) the answers will be presented, and the story will go from having the characters chasing answers, to dealing with the aftermath of finding them. I’m extremely nervous about how all this will shake out, but I do believe I have something worthwhile coming up, and I hope that the people who enjoyed the mystery will enjoy what comes after it. Though the mere process of getting the answers will not neccesarily go smoothly, and there will be casualties. Actual or metaphorical, you’ll have to read to see. :)

    • Oh dang! Sorry for the confusion! That must have seemed kind of rude of my asking you to write a blog post about why you like my comic :D

      And thanks for sharing a bit of insight behind the story of October 20th. You’ve got a lot of fans hooked with the suspense, and I look forward to seeing how you handle the reveal. We’ll have some of that to do as well and I’d like to learn from how it goes for you :)

    • Delta-v

      However you started the story, and what corrections you have had to make are of little importance compared to what it is like now. Although SF is my first love, I have read over a thousand mystery stories, and by this point in your story, I should have a fair grasp of the way the plot will unfold. With October 20th I have no idea. Your ability to give clues without giving away the ending compares favorably with Agatha Christie’s work (I only beat the old girl to the punch twice, out of all of her stories).

      Most mysteries end something like “The Butler did it, Inspector Fortesque pontificates about the folly of flouting the law, The End” I’ve always felt cheated by this, it sounds like you’re about to rectify that, and I’m eager to see how you do it.

      As long as we’re being honest, I’ve been nervously hoping that I got things right, and anxiously waiting to hear what you thought. :)