Review: Spa

Erik Svetoft, 328 pgs, Fantagraphics,, $34.99

I haven’t been to a spa for many years, and after reading this wonderfully creepy graphic novel by Erik Svetoft, I’m in no hurry to go back. Bringing to mind the works of Junji Ito, Spa uses stunning black and white artwork and the mixing of simple character designs with disturbing biological horror to tell a tale of disgruntled employees, snobbish guests and some very unusual pigs.

Set in a classy European spa, the book follows a quirky ensemble cast, each with their own problems and story arcs. It’s clear from the unsettling opening scenes that the cast will be in for more than just a relaxing getaway. Sure enough, the weirdness starts to creep in with the appearance of an oozing black substance, bringing chaos all the way up to the book’s mind-bending conclusion.

Spa deals with themes of power and class differences, following mistreated employees, shallow, oblivious guests and a debt-ridden director. It was amusing to see the characters casually shrug off violent or horrifying scenarios, as when a guest is mistakenly shot by a harpoon and simply states, “No worries. Accidents happen.” The spa must maintain its perfect image, after all.

While not especially action-packed, the book’s mood and pacing draws readers in immediately, often resembling a disturbing dream sequence by David Lynch. The simple and quirky character designs bring a bit of cuteness to the work, and combined with the odd dialogue and framing, I was reminded of Wes Anderson’s movies.

Spa is absolutely recommended for fans of weird horror, especially the works of Junji Ito, Davids Lynch and Cronenberg and Alex Garland. While clearly a terrible advertisement for spas (or maybe a wonderful advertisement, depending on your tastes), as a horror graphic novel, it’s fantastic.