Indonesian comic creator/artist Azam Raharjo takes a look at the cosmic evil behind a company’s quick rise as their new venture in the restaurant industry sees uncanny success. While the team members celebrate, one employee, Ferdi, becomes perturbed after a coworker points out the odd employee photo where ‘the consultant’ hovers ominously over him. Ferdi has no recollection of ever meeting him. As the business continues to excel and an employee passes away mysteriously, the true evil behind the company’s success begins to make itself known.

While drawing obvious influences from Junji Ito, particularly his penchant for cosmic horror, Azam Raharjo’s The Consultant is far removed from being an imitation of the master mangaka’s work. Laying the groundwork by instilling a sense of unease in the reader through a bizarre corporate photograph that contains a looming figure known only as the consultant, Raharjo takes an object of tangible familiarity and transforms it into a symbol of sinister evil. While this is not an uncommon set-up within the metaphysical/cosmic horror genre, The Consultant takes some inventive turns that give the work a pronounced identity and a unique spin on the familiar format.

In order to avoid spoilers, the following is best left vague: as the story progresses, we learn that there is something uncanny about the recent success of the company restaurant chain (portrayed by a ravenous obsession with the food from customers), and the death of one of Ferdi’s co-workers acts as a catalyst for the unraveling of the young office worker. The story picks up when Ferdi receives a message from his deceased friend that causes the book to fold in on itself and begin to break down, literally. Utilizing a clever distortion of the pages and paneling, The Consultant spirals into a disturbing conclusion that is grotesquely wonderful and unforgettable. The release is short, yet Raharjo is able to make a large impact while still using full-page spreads in an experimental delivery—both utterly impressive and extremely effective.

The art of Raharjo is not entirely polished, and there are points where it does feel like a subtle imitation of Ito’s style. However, this imitates the same sentiments on the story as once you dig deeper, the differences in artistic approach become apparent and the style feels more refined and unique. Notably, there is a softness to the work that when depicting everyday interactions gives the characters a slightly endearing aura. Ferdi is a perfect ‘every-man’ both in demeanor and stature which works perfectly for navigating the fantastical elements of the story. It is also in this contrast to a softer style with elements of abstract horror that the visuals become unnerving. As previously mentioned, the final pages of the book really exemplify Raharjo’s ability to instill terror in the reader and boasts both his ability as a storyteller both narratively as well as visually.

The only negative takeaway comes from the length of the release, under 100 pages, which leaves certain inclusions ambiguous. Notably, elements and themes are teased but not explored in enough depth to determine if they were added for aesthetics or to deepen the lore. The actual answer to that question is somewhat irrelevant to the experience, but an example of the limitations of short-form storytelling when the reader is posed with a wonderfully realized concept. Additionally, the idea of leaving your readers wanting more is desirable over presenting a concept and having it land flat. There is no denying it would be ideal to have additional pages to dive a bit deeper into the mysteries presented, but in no way does the comic feel incomplete or underdeveloped.

Overall, The Consultant is an intelligently crafted piece of mini-horror that plays with conventions and reader expectations to deliver a unique experience. Mind you, this prowess is established before the final panel, which is one of the most unnerving reveals in any horror comic/manga. So, consider grabbing the title and supporting indie comics, but also the growing scene of Asian creators outside the powerhouses of Japan and Korea. Works like Azam Raharjo’s The Consultant is proof that there is reason to be excited for creators coming out of other regions of Asia and their own unique spin they bring to the medium.

The Consultant is available through Shortbox Comics Fair from October 1st to the 31st. It will then be available through Azam Raharjo’s site.

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