Worry Doll. (2007)

Author Matt Coyle
Artist Matt Coyle
Publisher Mam Tor Publishing
Genre Psychological

"There are no facts, only interpretations." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Talk us through it

A trio of children's toys - a golliwog, a ventriloquist's dummy, and a rag doll - discover their family murdered in the lounge room. The toys leave the house and embark on one of the darker road trips you are ever likely to encounter this side of a Clive Barker nightmare.

With a steadily mounting body count going down as the toys go bush the reader is left dazed and confused. Things reach a head at the Elm Motel as the police arrive in the nick of time before yet another murder goes down.

Ready to open the blood coloured toy box?


"I don't know what possessed me" - Narrator.

Hey major spoilers ahead yo!

Matt Coyle's ambitious graphic novel Worry Doll might just slip under your radar as it appears to be a children's story book. Of course if your kids like dark, slightly morbid, gothic outings, them let them loose on this one. Just don't send me the bills for the psychiatric treatment they are going to need after getting through the harrowing experience that is Matt Coyle's work. Strangely my Wife, noted anti-horror person, decided that Worry Doll should be reviewed by ScaryMinds after she caught an ABC program on the author/artist. So just what do you get once you start to read Worry Doll?

If your definition of a "graphic novel" begins and ends with the sort of movie tie-in Dark Horse are apt to release, then you are going to be floundering in deep water with Worry Doll. Rather than utilise the normal speech balloons and panel style of a comic book outing Coyle has definitely inked up with the aim of producing an adult orientated children's book, if that makes any sort of sense. On each left hand page is the text of the book broken into three columns. The first column is a page header introducing where the story is at, the middle column has the actual page text, and the right hand column has recurrent dialogue lines from an unknown source. More on the dialogue lines later in the review. On the right hand facing page are the full page illustrations giving a visual vibe to the written text. It's a pretty effective layout and will fool you on first reading. Worry Doll is going to take a couple of repeat sessions to get a handle on.

Matt Coyle's writing and artwork raises this graphic novel to the very pinnacle of the art form in Australia. Quite simply the best book of it's nature it's been my priveledge to read.

Matt Coyle is an excellent writer and his prose style, while appearing to be simplistic, holds a realm of meaning that he leaves for the reader to work out. We are in first person narrative form with the Narrator revealing what happened over the course of a murderous rampage that was only halted, we think, by police apprehension. At first things appear to be driven by the three dolls but Coyle has a much darker goose to cook here. We gradually learn that the Narrator is a psychopath who creates elaborate scenarios for himself via the contents of an old suitcase he brought in some unknown second hand shop. The contents of the suitcase take on a life of their own as Coyle gradually gives the reader an insight into the fractured mind of his Narrator. But the Author isn't content with one revelation, and I was left sided by that one, he has a whole bunch more coming at us making the reader question his/her assumptions through the course of the book. Just who is the Narrator talking too? Initially I thought it was a Police Interrogator, but am now thinking a Psychiatrist or maybe Psychologist. Just when did the actual narrated story end? Just when you think we are up to the present Coyle has another twist coming at you. It's definitely sterling stuff and should have you happily re-reading to get on top of the multiple layers and intricacies involved in Worry Doll.

I guess most readers will come to the book via the artwork, which is certainly what attracted my Wife to the whole fandango. Coyle's illustrations are interesting in both technique and content. Everything you see is hand drawn in ink, and the technique certainly lends each drawing a gothic and dark visage. Coyle has so much atmosphere going down on each page that you wonder how many sleepless nights he experienced while getting Worry Doll ready for publication. Any single illustrated page would make a great framed print for your study, assuming of course you don't mind dark and disturbing visions in your work space.

There's a great deal of subtle imaging going down that requires you to spend time scoping out each of the illustrations to get the full impact. For example on page six we get the family murder scene, and it's such an exquisite composition that you are dragged into the picture even after it has hit you between the eyes with all the force of a fully swung sledgehammer. Prior to this page Coyle had been leading us down the garden path with what we assume is going to be a somewhat darker Winnie the Poo fable. With page six he prompt takes us off the much travelled path and into some pretty dark woods. At the top left of the illustration the toys are looking at a scene of utter carnage that catches both them and the reader by surprise. While the carnage itself is pretty drastic Coyle has a sly wink at the reader with a print of Miffy happily looking on from a poster on the wall. It's this attention to detail in the overall composition of the illustrations, (page 29th we have a doll throwing up), that will delight the reader, there's more going down than a quick flick through the book allows for.

One of the questions I was left pondering after multiple readings of Worry Doll was whether or not the three dolls took on a life of their own as opposed to the dark musings of the Narrator. Towards the end of the book we actually get a couple of illustrations of the Narrator himself indicating there's more than one point of view in use. The three dolls would have clearly been happy to throw Buzz into Sid's yard, and would have boasted of their achievement while dismembering various other toys in a sort of miniature re-enactment of the Cenobites from Barker's Hell Raiser way. But do they ever act independently of the Narrator? Coyle I believe gives an indication of an answer while leaving it to the individual reader to determine the answer on their own. Of course I may be reading way too much into the illustrations here, but food for thought, and I personally applaud anything in the horror genre that makes the audience think about things post consumption.

Of course Coyle isn't above raising modern suburban fears as he goes about his business of entertaining the readership. The Narrator, who we assumed slaughtered the family, had always liked the house that dripped blood, in fact he is fixated on it and claims he had always wanted to live there with his friends. I leave it the reader to reach their own levels of paranoia over that idea, post reading I have certainly been making sure my house doors and windows are bolted at night!

While the carnage at the house is certainly enough to drive some nightmares I believe it's during the road trip that Matt Coyle unleashes his full vision of the abyss the Narrator is in. The creepy looking dolls are certainly taking on a life of their own, as is the car in a sort of young boy's fantasy kind of way, but Coyle really nails it when the Narrator views other people as dolls. That's one hell of a concept Coyle has happening, the Narrator as god like with everyone else simply play things.

Matt Coyle, in summary, gives us a disturbing and challenging read that presents the most unlikely protagonists and asks the reader to try and work out exactly where their sympathies may sit. Superb stuff really and I simply have to finish this review in order to sit back and fully enjoy Worry Doll once again.

For those regular readers, yes horror themes, some extreme violence, and very much adult orientated ideas. This is a dark fable about the mental state of a psychopath, read at your own risk, but do read it is my advice.

Worry Doll is available from Mam Tor Publishing, which is a Brit outfit, yes they do post Internationally. Unfortunately the graphic novel does not appear to be available from an Aussie source, but if you find one write on in and I'll update with the details. About the only issue I had with Mam Tor, the book arrived real quick, was a slight problem with their packaging. My copy arrived with one corner of the book bent right out of shape.

For anyone wanting to check out Matt Coyle's other activities, check out his official site here.. I do note there's been a previous book featuring Mr Coyle's wonderful illustrations, yo Santa hold up on that list buddy!

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

- Matt Coyle drives us deep into the heart of horror with an entirely original vision that should achieve cult status.