"174" Comic Review

Written by Jamie Van Hove

Published by Marshall Cavendish


Written by Dan Kuah
Illustrated by Dan Kuah
2024, 220 pages
Graphic Novel released on 18th June 2024


A black-tongued spectre licks a sleeping man’s face, maggots ooze from suppurating skin lesions, a woman is sliced into sections by elevator doors, another man’s dreams are haunted by his two-headed spectral son. A satisfying sliver of gleeful nastiness runs through 174, an interconnected collection of supernatural shorts written and illustrated by Dan Kuah.

The titular number refers to a modern apartment block in which the bulk of the action occurs, and, as a longtime fan of the kind of 70s horror anthology films made by Amicus et al and as one who’s perpetually drawn moth-like to the usually disappointing flame of conceptual literature, I’m always intrigued by these kinds of projects with similarly themed interlocking parts. At the start of 174, we’re introduced to the Tale-Teller who… tells tales, surprisingly, and ostensibly serves as our guide to events depicted. Except, he doesn’t reappear again until the end of the book, where I realised I’d quite forgotten about him. There are little faintly moral afterwords to most tales, printed as text, and in retrospect I guess they’re supposed to be the words of the Tale-Teller, but that’s never made explicitly clear and I can’t help thinking how much more fun and atmospheric things would be if these words came straight from the character’s mouth, like those sinister warnings from the EC Crypt-Keeper or Alfred Hitchcock’s sinister admonishments before episodes of his TV show.

Click images to enlarge.

Within the collection there are tales of haunted dolls and phantom brides, floating severed heads dripping blood and protagonists making wealth-bringing deals that go awry - mostly trad horror tropes, but I found some kind of elegance in each tale containing a kernel of creepy cliché; their repeated use potentially acknowledging their previous overuse and possibly asking readers to see them anew.

It seems 174 is something of a departure for Dan Kuah, with his previous works being more cartoony in tone, both in appearance and content. Sometimes a lighter comedic line or character design bleeds into these pages, but at other points Kuah’s art is detailed and dense, at points reminding of Brian Bolland or Phil Jiminez. I wondered if the book was drawn in a linear fashion, as the art seems to get more complex as the stories go on. I like Kuah’s seeming fondness for interesting and oblique angles, frequently avoiding the obvious shot, yet always pulling off what he’s aiming for, never sacrificing clarity for the sake of a cool pic.

Click images to enlarge.

And I don’t want to get all Luddite, but I may be about to appear so. There are some points in 174 where the art appears digitally manipulated – swooshes to denote speed or blurs to depict depth. I’m not one to complain about being ‘taken out of the story’ or anything (I’m generally pretty aware of the fact I’m reading a comic or watching a movie etc), but something of that nature occurs when I encountered these digital tricks in 174; they impede the flow and cause the reading experience to stutter. It strikes me that in this particular example, the effects are unnecessary. Kuah’s art seems capable of heavy lifting and clear storytelling without any added flourishes, leaving the added layers to feel extraneous and maybe indicating an artist not yet confident enough in their art? Does that sound Luddite? To be clear, some of my favourite comics are saturated in computer generated day-glo washes and contain art that’s never been touched by a pencil or ink and I have no preference or attachment to any particular way of creating comics.

Towards the end of the book, connections between some of the stories are made clear, scenes appear again from different angles and the overarching ‘plot’ of 174 is revealed. I found this stuff to be the book’s most satisfying feature, causing little mental gasps of pleasure as I clicked with what was taking place.

Click images to enlarge.

I’d recommend reading 174 in one sitting, if possible, allowing the nastiness to accumulate. Some of the stories are rather slight and might not make much of an impression if read alone, but allowed to mingle with the rest of the contents a pleasing black cloud appears, casting a humorously macabre shadow over everything within.

Alongside the aforementioned streak of gloom, there’s lots more to like in 174, even if I’d have preferred that the stories at some point matched the complexity of the art. If there are more creepy collections to come from this artist, I’ll be very happy to read them.


Story: Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Buy from Amazon UK.
Overall: 3 Star Rating

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