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Let Me Out

Writer: Emmett Nahil
Artist: George Williams
Book design: Carey Soucy
Oni Press
200 pages

Four friends face fearsome foes and then encounter a devil.

The recently released graphic novel Let Me Out by Emmett Nahil and George Williams is set in the fictional town of Columbiana, New Jersey. The year is 1979, long before smart phones but word about anything travels fast in small towns and a terrible thing has happened in the woods just outside the city limits. Pastor Holley’s wife Kelly has been found murdered. FBI agent Garrett takes the lead on the case along with the help of local sheriff Mullen. With the unwitting help of a couple proxies, the townspeople are fooled by the pair whose true intent is to deflect from their own evil deeds. Their scheme involves “Satanic Panic,” a fever dream of an idea percolating in the minds of some gullible Americans. A pentacle marking Kelly’s forehead makes for lurid gossip. The locals are all too willing to scapegoat four young adults whose misfit nature binds them as friends even as it sets them apart from the town’s pervasive banality.

If the rhyming Satanic Panic of the late 1970s and early 1980s seems like a strangely quaint notion from today’s vantage point, let me assure you that there were people who believed it could be real. I was twenty one in 1979 and living in my rather boring central Illinois home town and for a decade my family had attended an evangelical church similar to Holley’s. While punk rock had yet to filter down to my rural area a good number of people were convinced that the band name KISS was an acronym for “Knights In Satan’s Service” and there was nothing anyone could say to stop them from thinking differently of four men wearing punkified Kabuki like makeup. Never mind their shock rock lyrics and onstage personas. The absolute evil of Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre frightened and confused people when reports of the attack and deaths broke on the nightly news in 1978. 1979 is also the year that a horror of another sort materialized when Jerry Falwell formed his Moral Majority organization as a way to influence society and politics with his particular version of Christianity.

In Let Me Out Nahil and Williams are telling a tale of two horrors, the profane and sacred if you will, connected by emotional and psychic energy through the protagonists, the previously mentioned four “social misfits.” Mitch Sahadi, Terri Fontaine, Lupe Perez, and Jackson just want to live being themselves but even their families present challenges when their desires don’t meet parental expectations. Outside of their homes they’re looked at with suspicion and contempt for being queer, punk, trans, and BIPOC. A waitress at the local diner seems the only exception. Terri and Lupe are ridiculed and intimidated by their boss Colin Nelson who feels entitled because his father owns the grocery store. Jackson’s mother insists he contemplate the perils of sin while they listen to Pastor Holley’s sermons on the radio. As awful as these micro aggressions and indignities are, it’s Mitch who suffers the worst after being targeted by a few members of the “Cis Guys Goon Squad” for daring to be himself in a public place. At some point in life — and perhaps now in your present — we’ve all experienced these or similar tactics to keep us from deviating outside what is considered to be right and proper social and moral standards, to conform to the horror of “moral majority” type norms. What saves Mitch, Terri, Lupe, and Jackson is the mutual support that binds them together as friends and also found family. Let Me Out is chock full of loyalty and aid. The friends’ mutual concern for Mitch’s health to Jackson watching out for Lupe to avoid being questioned by cops are two examples out of many touching incidents.

Facing off against this quartet are FBI agent Garrett and Sheriff Mullein who manipulate an unwitting Pastor Holley into helping their cause. Nahil and Williams had fun creatively speaking with the pair’s dialog, deed, and depictions as they played with tropes associated with conspiracies, malicious government agencies, and inept cops. There is a delicious dynamic between these two alpha male types as Garrett reasserts dominance over Mullein who vacillates between reluctance, resentment, and willingness. To be clear, Garrett is indeed evil and the very competent mastermind behind a plot capitalizing on the time’s Satanic Panic to deflect from his own nefarious actions.

The tension Nahil and Williams have been building since the opening pages palpably ramps up as the friends are discovered by Garrett and Mullein while trying to hide in the woods and then confronted by a sublime horror literally manifesting in front of them, drawn by Mitch’s distraught and angry emotional state. “Better the devil that you know than the devil you don’t know” is an old saying that simply does not hold true when the devil you know wants to do you harm as is the heart poundingly tense situation in which they find themselves. As a survival mechanism marginalized people develop quick wits and the ability to tell friend from foe. Relying on this skill, Mitch realizes they’re all safer embracing the all too very authentic devil standing before them. Nahil understands how a little black humor amplifies horror. Here are two examples of Williams visualizing it.

Looking at a sampling of George Williams’ art on his site what stands out is a gestural and energetic style with roots in animation and cartooning. In Let Me Out the gestural quality is readily apparent while Williams takes a somewhat different approach to convey an unsettling energy to match the more somber tone of Nahil’s script. For example, Williams’ slightly off kilter panel borders and layout create a subtle uneasiness going from page to page. The perspective in individual panels may be exaggerated to play another trick on the mind. The artist to draw the main cast and background characters in a variety of body shapes is appreciated.

The devil in Let Me Out is different from the horned and hooved and naked muscular male that might make some people fantasize about being dominated. Williams’ depiction of the devil in the story draws inspiration from Baphomet, a deity the Knights Templar were said to worship beginning with the First Crusade. Let’s sidestep that historical minefield for the points about Baphomet which are relevant to this story. That being how Baphomet was conceived to symbolize a balancing of binary opposites: half human and half goat; half male and half female; encompassing good and evil both. A very clever idea to use a gender rebellious devil to interact with the queer heroes.

Carey Soucy’s use of color saturated, highly abstracted, half tone imagery for front and back matter pages is a smart choice to complement the tone of the story inside the covers. Several pages of cover sketches and character designs round out the book. There’s also a playlist which is appreciated since it satisfies nagging personal curiosity about the sort of music creative people listen to while working.

Let Me Out is indeed a horror story but most importantly the message at its core is about found family and how drawing strength from and supporting one another can help you survive and thrive whatever sort of fear and hatred that comes your way.

It should be mentioned that Let Me Out comes with a content warning about LGBTQA discrimination and transphobia including misgendering and deadnaming, as well as strong language and graphic violence. Oni suggests for readers to please take care when reading.

Let Me Out is Nahil’s first graphic novel. Visit Nahil’s site. Williams has collaborated with Hamish Steele on the Croc and Roll comic on Webtoons.

Look for Let Me Out at your local comic shop or bookstore. Comic Shop Locater and Indie Bound can help you find comic shops and indy bookstores. Give this UPC 9781637152362 to order a copy from a bookstore or order one through Bookshop. If all else fails, order a copy from Amazon. Please note this is an affiliate link and Gay League will earn a small commission if you make a purchase.

October 25, 2023
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