I know Dakota McFadzean best for his strip comics and his work on the IRENE anthology. McFadzean has a wry sense of humor; his comics are dark, sinister, and sit on the line of creepy and funny which is unlike much of the work I see in comics that follow the same formal patterns. McFadzean also publishes a zine series titled Last Mountain; each issue is a self-contained short story, usually done in black and white. His latest issue of that series, Last Mountain #5, To Know You’re Alive, was recently published in its entirety in a recolored format and retitled Soon We’re Both Screaming on topic.com. In it, McFadzean contemplates fatherhood, being a stay-at-home dad with a temperamental toddler, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
McFadzean’s comic starts quietly enough, with him describing his life as a stay-at-home dad. He discusses his use of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a way to give himself a break from his toddler son’s demanding behavior and his temper tantrums. But as the comic progresses, the streaming episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on YouTube get a little weirder, the sleep deprivation and tantrum behavior get worse, and it all comes to a fantastically weird and frightening head.
The contemporary anxiety of living in a digital media world is front and center in Soon We’re Both Screaming. McFadzean’s consumption of media is a pain point throughout the comic. His search for a constant stream of bad news plagues him. But the root of the comic is his son’s use of YouTube. There’s a recent flurry of reports of engagement algorithms slipping disturbing or harmful videos into YouTube’s continuously rolling video feed. Videos of Elsa from Frozen being tortured, videos of Nazi and alt-right propaganda, flat earth conspiracies all end up on a feed that was supposed to be for kids. McFadzean’s acknowledgement of this unsettling new trend and his unique use of it in Soon We’re Both Screaming is part of why this comic works as well as it does.
What’s remarkable about Soon We’re Both Screaming is how seamlessly McFadzean integrates the worries of parenthood into this comic, and how well those anxieties bleed into pure horror. The anxiety of modern parenting is right at the forefront of the comic as McFadzean discusses screen time and what the future looks like. McFadzean’s illustration of himself is haggard, the sleeplessness clear on his face. The tension of dealing with someone in their terrible twos as you try to be calm and rational is evident throughout the comic. And in that awful sleep-deprived state, another horror surfaces – that you could lose control, or that you could hurt your child, or that you could have a mental breakdown.
Soon We’re Both Screaming is very directly about McFadzean’s digitally-related worries. But it is also generally about some of the main fears of parenthood. Lurking in the background of this comic is the fear that you can’t protect your children; the fear that you are going to be like your parents; or the fear that you won’t be able to give your child more than what you had.
But perhaps more remarkable about Soon We’re Both Screaming, and why I think it’s worth your time, is how well it blends autobiography and supernatural horror. It’s a standard reflective parenting comic, until it’s not. And in that moment when the boundary is crossed, that’s where McFadzean’s work shines.
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