The next comic-book series in this year in review is Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘House of Whispers.’ It’s part of the revitalized Sandman series for Vertigo Comics, a section of DC Comics for mature audiences. Hopkinson’s main protagonist Erzulie is introduced in issue one of ‘The Sandman Universe.’ The reader has come to find out that the boss has left his post and there’s a rather large rift in the Dreaming. Things are bleeding out and the waking, living world has been thrown into chaos. In Erzulie’s case she takes over looking after a set of sisters and says out loud that her protection always leads to bathing in ashes and gnashing of teeth. There’s glee in Erzulie, not of the pain that will happen to these people but in the collection of stories. And Hopkinson is exceptional at that.
From ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ to ‘Skin Folk’ Hopkinson is an author who combines folklore and solid narratives to create relatable characters. Her foray into comics feels seamless. You don’t see a process from non-visual to visual storytelling. You read and look at the panels and become enveloped in a world familiar to how deities are worshipped in today’s world of social media. You see how they adapt and the chaos that can ensue when you leave things lying around for curious humans to pick up.
Sandman: House of Whispers
Rootworking has had multilayered history across the Americas. During the early creation of the United States as a nation Africans who were kidnapped from their respective homes, stripped of their culture and separated from their families may have held onto their sanity and preserved their heritage by incorporating the deities and cultural information they were able to maintain and practice. Years later in Louisiana (a state with a complex, multicultural history) gods and goddesses are still worshipped in the comic-book ‘Sandman: House of Whispers.’
Issues one through four deal with the ramifications of what happens when gods are cut off from their worshippers. It’s similar to what happens in the novel ‘American Gods’ where one of Neil Gaiman’s characters mentions how in some part of the world Jesus can’t catch a ride. In one of the last chapters where the protagonist, Shadow meets the real Odin, he is robust and looks well fed. For much of the book the lead character is with a watered-down Odin who has to do a series of low-level grifting to keep himself sustained. It’s because in the U.S there are some gods who are not revered as they are in their native countries. However, Erzulie has been brought to wherever her worshippers end up residing. When the reader first meets Erzulie she is voluptuous and owns every bit of herself for the goddess that she knows she is. There’s also Uncle Monday, the Alligator King. In top hat and tails King Monday is a dapper god who doesn’t quarrel with Erzulie when she claims the stories of Maggie, her sisters and Latoya (Maggie’s lover).
When Erzulie ends up in the Dreamworld, she is cut off from her sustenance. Her husbands’ search for her and she’s slowly going mad and dying. She and Uncle Monday unsuccessfully attempt to return back to the waking world and once she’s depleted further another Erzulie takes over. Erzulie Dantor who’s all business attempts to formulate a plan. But because each aspect of Erzulie is sharing one body, she’s dying faster. This means she can’t keep her eye on everything particularly her nephew Shakpana. He creates diseases that has wiped out thousands, but he’s always been there to help create a cure. Shakpana is a clever deity, still he writes everything down and in that book is the worst of supernatural diseases that no one may be able to come back from.
The entire series is grounded in a well written narrative. Through there are several moving parts everything works. You don’t have to figure out who’s speaking. Characters are distinct even Erzulie’s transformation to Mama Dantor makes sense. As a reader you still know who Erzulie is. Things don’t have to be explained. Overall Hopkinson, Dominike Stanton, Aneke and John Rauch are telling a compelling story. And though this series deals with the supernatural, it’s steeped in what connects us all, the need to be heard.