Are you a fan of psychological horror? Did Humayun Ahmed's Misir Ali series keep you up all night reading in the past? If the answer to both questions is a resounding yes, then Nabil Muhtasim's Shapod Shone (meaning 'With the beast') illustrated by Adrian Anik is well worth checking out.
Set in the '90s, the Bangla adult graphical novel (rated 18+ for violence, gore, and sexual references) follows the main character Jamshed, the son of a famous industrialist and skilled marksman escaping Dhaka to a remote village in Rangpur with his paranormal investigator friend Shiplu and his doctor cousin Samad after being framed for murder.
However, as the trio investigates the village they are hiding out in, they uncover the gruesome secrets that lurk within its dense forests and the truth about the 'beast' terrorising the villagers. The graphic novel comprises all three volumes of the Shapod Shone series, clocking in around 400 pages.
The panels of the graphical novel are flush with unique characters with distinct facial expressions conveying a nuanced range of emotions. Adrian Anik's versatile illustrations are quite effective in conveying the shifts in tone in the plot as it transitions from action, light comedy to palpable horror and gore.
Notably, based on the art style, the illustrator was able to depict characters with menacing and anxious expressions well which made the reading experience engaging.
Moreover, there is remarkable attention to detail in terms of conveying to readers that the story takes place in the '90s from TV shows playing in the background, the character's clothing, brands, and even the brands of cars being used during the time period.
There are also small details like the use of the cinematic fishbowl effect to convey intoxication, turning the safety off before firing the gun, the use of completely dark panels to illustrate a pitch-black night, etc. that made the reading experience immersive and enjoyable.
My only critique with the illustration of the graphic novel is that occasionally, the characters deliver a lot of exposition in a single panel which affects the flow of reading as it appears verbose. A few more pages could have been added to spread the dialogues of the characters into smaller digestible chunks.
As for the plot of the graphic novel, readers alternate between the main arc in pursuit of the beast and the various case studies of paranormal investigator Shiplu in a way that does not feel too intrusive as the individual cases span only a few pages.
Reading the story from the perspective of the protagonist Jamshed was also very interesting as his personality is closer to that of an anti-hero forced into unconventional situations.
Similarly, the paranormal case studies witnessed from the perspective of Shiplu were definitely spooky and helped consolidate his character as a reporter, something that comes into play throughout the story. There is also a scene that takes place within a local tea stall which cleverly captured the essence of rural Bangladeshi culture and community.
While readers may initially feel like the case studies resemble filler episodes in a conventional TV show, the shocking ending ties all these subplots together in a way that left me in awe. The ability to distinguish the truth from what is an illusion is arguably the main theme of the novel.
There is also something to be said about the 18+ rating of the graphic novel given the many mature themes and graphic violence it depicts. While there is gore in Shapod Shone, it is used sparingly to strike fear or shock the audience.
The many themes explored in the graphical novel related to suicide, rape, alcohol and drug abuse and corruption reflected the seedy undertone of both the characters and our society at large. As a result, the narrative of Shapod Shone felt gripping, especially the ending.
In conclusion, if you are in the market for a Bangla graphical novel that ticks all the boxes for a compelling psychological horror story, unique fleshed-out characters, and dramatic and often unsettling illustrations, Shapod Shone is highly recommended.