For our October indie graphic novel selections, we named Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness, with co-writer Tracy Lynne Oliver, and artists Rebecca Kirby and James Fenner. From the moment the original cover debuted, this OGN was obviously going to be something special. And not just because it was a Roxane Gay story. Rebecca Kirby’s art and James Fenner’s colors already told a story of light and darkness and isolation. The rest of the book? Magnificent. The Sacrifice of Darkness is one of the most brilliant literary experiences so far this century.
The Interwoven Love Stories in Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness Reminds Us That There is Beauty in Dark Times
We’ll get to the biscuits soon. (Image: The Sacrifice of Darkness, Archaia/Boom Studios)
We follow two couples throughout Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness: Hiram Hightower and Mara Blessings in flashbacks, and then their son, Joshua, and his childhood friend Claire in the present. Hiram and Mara’s story is one of tragedy waiting to happen. Joshua and Claire’s is just the opposite: a story of hope.
At the start of the story, Hiram, suffering a depression we don’t quite understand yet, gets into an “air machine” powered by a newly-discovered element and flies it directly into the sun—effectively killing it. All that’s left is an ever-shrinking red scar in the sky and utter darkness. And the town takes their anger out on Joshua and Mara, calling them “son” and “wife” of “a sun killer.” When we start seeing how Hiram and Mara fall in love, it’s painful—we know how this ends. We know that Hiram’s love for mining turns to hate. In fact, the more beautiful their story is, the more it hurts to see it.
However, though Hiram and Mara’s story starts in an age of light, Joshua and Claire’s start in an era of darkness. Yet, because we don’t know their ending, there’s a mix of hope and fear for them. But mostly hope. It’s in the way Claire befriends Joshua—a kid outcasted for no fault of his own. Seeing this young girl defy her peers to befriend “the son of a sun killer” brings that hope.
Both Love Stories in Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness are Connected By One Powerful Element: Biscuits
We get a glimpse of the story’s real hero in the top right corner panel: biscuits, and their sidekick, jam. (Image: The Sacrifice of Darkness, Archaia/Boom Studios)
Light and dark. Hope and tragedy. Compassion and being outcasted. These are really heavy themes, and the weight of them is ever-present throughout the graphic novel. But there’s another reoccurring symbol: biscuits. Specifically, the biscuits that Mara bakes. Never underestimate the power that a well-baked biscuit (or any food) plays in getting people to fall in love. Why do you think we generally go to dinner on dates? Food is the way we connect with each other. In the early days of both stories, we see them sharing these apparently divine biscuits.
But as cute as the biscuit-sharing is, these scenes add levity to the story, keeping it from becoming an outright depressing story. The Sacrifice of Darkness is literally a story about darkness. And it gets dark. Harrowingly dark. And yet, while we watch the Hightower family suffer because of Hiram’s actions, and as the world grow increasingly darker, there’s this innocent baked good bringing joy to two generations of a family. That’s more than cute. These biscuits? They’re beautiful.
(I was kind of hoping Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver, her co-writer, would include a recipe at the end. I need some magical biscuits in my love life).
Rebecca Kirby and James Fenner’s Art Turns a Great Story Into a Masterpiece
And just a slight dash of Middle-Earth. (Image: The Sacrifice of Darkness, Archaia/Boom Studios)
As a writer with the artistic skills of a blind armadillo, I generally try not to either praise or criticize art too much in my reviews, unless it really stands out. This art really stands out for all the right reasons. Without bombarding us, Rebecca Kirby expertly and subtly portrays these characters’ emotions’ depth and weight. Kirby shows the difference between anguish, anger, despair, and fear with only slight changes to her pencils. And the same goes for love, wonder, joy, and hope.
Her landscapes and backgrounds, however, are vivid and fully realized. This is a fully realized world in both writing and art. But it’s not just Kirby’s pencils that create this world—James Fenner’s colors are crucial to Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness. Every page looks like they’re in the middle of a sunrise or sunset. Fenner’s colors often capture that magical time of day photographers love so much called the golden hour, at sunset. And sometimes, the pages have the brightness of the morning’s first light.
The art is deeply impacting without trying to be. The last time I’ve felt this affected by the art in a graphic novel was Nate Powell’s in John Lewis’s March trilogy. As much as I love comics, I generally reread stories for the writing. But since I read Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness about 24 hours ago, I must have flipped through the book to absorb the art again a dozen times.
This is Tracy Lynne Oliver, Rebecca Kirby, James Fenner, and Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness
How the sun dies. (Image: The Sacrifice of Darkness, Archaia/Boom Studios)
All comics and graphic novels are team efforts, so while most reviews, like this one, and writeups will refer to the book as Roxane Gay’s The Sacrifice of Darkness, don’t forget that there are three other creators, and all four are equally talented. Here’s a fast lesson about why this happens. One, it’s easier. In comics, writers’ names are always listed first, and so they’re referred to first. It’s also how citation works. We use the first creator mentioned. Plus, my editor would kill me if I kept writing “Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, Rebecca Kirby, and James Fenner’s The Sacrifice of Darkness” every single time. Just know this: The Sacrifice of Darkness is incredible, and if you take out any of these four talented individuals, it might still be good or even great, but it wouldn’t be this special.
Want to read the original short story, “We are the Sacrifice of Darkness”? It’s hard to find, but you can order the American Short Fiction issue, #55, at their site.
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.