Splashes of Darkness – August edition

Comic-books are a medium, not a genre; they can tell any story and suit any palate. You want horror? I’ve got bottles of the stuff. Welcome to ‘Splashes of Darkness.’

I’m archiving my Splashes of Darkness posts for Ginger Nuts of Horror here at The Fine-toothed Comb as well for easy access, in case you miss any of them. I already covered July’s a while back but I got caught up in other things. Apologies for the delay. Here we are now with the books I reviewed in August: WesterNoir, Peter Pan, Something is Killing the Children, The Bojeffries Saga, and Raygun Roads. Let’s get into them.

WesterNoir 2

 

WesterNoir Books 1-4

The pitch:

Say hello to Josiah Black. T’ain’t his real name of course, but it’ll do for now. He’s running from a long history of blood and sorrow. Trouble is, he spends so much time looking over his shoulder, he has no idea what he’s headed towards. When the woman with the dead eyes hires him to hunt down the fella who killed her family, he learns there are deadlier things than men abroad in those dusty frontier days. Ghouls, vampires, were-creatures – and who knows what else – hiding amongst ordinary people. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, stalking the innocent and devouring the vulnerable. It might be there’s no such thing as redemption, but if Black’s guns can take down a few of these monsters, save some folk that might have otherwise perished, well, at least he can begin to settle accounts.

The taste:

WesterNoir gets its kick from that bottle of tequila tucked away yonder; the one the barman’s been experimentin’ with. Seems he’s been keep the worms back from the usual batches and dropping ’em into it, month by month. Once in a while some damned fool demands a shot of it, neat, but your barman ain’t the killin’ kind. If you’re takin’ it, you’re chasin’ it with a little sugar. A body can only swallow so much stark reality. Best y’all sit down to drink this.

The clue’s in the title, but I’ll lay it out plain for you – WesterNoir is a magnificent mongrel. The creative team behind it have clearly spent some time sneaking around the genre graveyard, digging up the choicest bits and pieces for their grand project – a monster-hunting mash-up set in the wilds of the American West, portrayed with the monochromatic starkness and darkness of the bitterest noir. *Each book is a tight little number, no more than 35 pages, but each one packs a punch.

Seeing is believing

Thoughts on the comic:

AccentUK are an independent comics publisher who place a great deal of value on intelligent stories told from unusual perspectives. Take the time to imbibe a few and you’ll be as blown away as I was. It seems to me their book covers have done them little justice in the past, but the WesterNoir series bucks that trend with their bold headers and dramatic imagery. The books are eye-catching, exciting and intriguing artefacts that demand to be picked up. You can practically smell the pulp oozing from them; and little visual touches like creases, peels and scratches complete the illusion of battered books, long-treasured. These wear-marks may be fake, but the love poured into the tales is true enough.

Over-ripe melon

Dave West writes with real style. Each volume tells a complete tale, expands the world and fills in touches of back-story too. The dialogue is peachy; constantly developing character and plot while showcasing a fine ear for accent. Old-fashioned American dialogue may be formal but it’s chock full of subtlety, and West writes with considerable fluency. His greatest success is in Black’s narrative voice running throughout the stories. The cynical voice-over has long been a staple of film noir, commenting upon both the action and the dialogue to undercut (or throw dramatic new light on) what is happening. It lends a certain tone to a story, and depth to a character that could otherwise appear callous or cold.

Born to it

Gary Crutchley does a similarly grand job bringing the world of WesterNoir to life with his astonishing inks. Facial features are expertly picked out, costume and scenery given recognisable characteristics and atmosphere without ever feeling overworked – which is a wonderful trick if you can manage it. This lush economy can be seen throughout the books in various forms, from both sides of the creative team and, for me, it defines the style of the book.

Josiah Black Wanted

The general sparseness of background detail chimes with the Western sensibility (as do the occasionally ornate splashes of detail, when appropriate), while the bold shadows and harsh lines occasionally evoke the nightmare noir of [Sin City]. He makes use of a couple of watery grey shades to bring out the intermediate depth, but little more than that is required. Sepia tones might have been more appropriate for this world, and a different colour palette would have been nice for those times we look through Black’s special glasses, but I guess an indie budget only stretches so far.

The layouts are used to control the narrative pace as much as its direction, and this is so finely gauged that you only realise the sheer variety of panel sizes, density and dimensions when you consciously look for it. These are people who know how to grab you and give you a great ride. There are certain images that you do kind of expect; shots and angles that form part of the visual vocabulary of Westerns and film noir. I was exceptionally pleased to see so many of them worked in without once jolting me out of the story.

WesterNoir may be a patchwork creature, but the needlework is very fine indeed. I urge you to seek it out.

 

 

*Book 1: The Woman With The Dead Eyes introduces us to Josiah Black, Jim Wilson and the whole weird West. It’s a simple, harsh bounty hunter’s tale, made more interesting by its structure and the glimpses it affords us behind the curtain of normalcy. It’s essentially a pilot episode, setting up the world, the character and the format, but it has a distinctive narrative voice, reads smoothly and holds a couple of real killer moments. The back up tale is a somewhat forgettable prequel, more mood piece than story.

Book 2 is an absolute blast, and easily my favourite. The Crocodile Tears of the Louisiana Swamp Men throws us into the midst of a devious plot to create a new race. We flash back and forth between the action packed showdown and the beginnings of Black’s investigation. The narration is delightfully cynical and the black-hatted hunter is breathtakingly cool throughout. His choices may be less than admirable, but his single-minded determination makes him a compelling character to follow. What continues to draw me in as a reader though is the emotional underbelly of the anti-hero; his troubled past hidden behind an impassive façade.

Book 3 brings this to the fore and, whilst it lacks much in the way of action, it makes for a more mature read. The Siren’s Song of the Mississippi Mermaids is a deep breath between adventures. Black considers the life he’s walked into, and the life he’s left behind. New opportunities present themselves and they are sorely tempting to a vulnerable man. It is gentle, gallant even; an unexpectedly touching journey. The denouement is a little abrupt (but no real surprise) and it leaves Black in a tricky predicament.

Book 4 brings all Black’s chickens home to roost, packed full of misery and betrayal. Where Book 1 presented Black with the special lenses which reveal the monsters in our midst, Book 4 goes a step further. Just when you thought things couldn’t get starker, he discovers some unpleasant truths about the people he’s been working for – and just how far down the road to damnation he has travelled. It’s harsh, cold and dismal stuff, but it works well to reset our expectations and prepare us for what’s to come.

WesterNoir featured

Written by Dave West

Illustrated by Gary Crutchley

Published by Accent UK

Available now in a collected edition.

Review originally written for Geek Syndicate.

 

 

Peter Pan cover - crocodile scales and Tinkerbell

 

Peter Pan

The pitch:

Don’t even think about skipping this one. I know you’re rolling your eyes and muttering about ‘kids stuff’ but don’t be fooled. This is a labor of love that truly deserves your attention. The whole tale was written & illustrated by Regis Loisel – a multiple award-winning comics creator – between 1990 and 2004. Bizarrely, despite it’s universal acclaim for artistry and incisive themes, it has never been previously published in the UK. Soaring Penguin Press have done a spectacular job collecting together and translating the full run of this Peter Pan prequel, and it needs to go on your wishlist now.

The taste:

Peter Pan is a vivid, exotic-looking blend, artfully layered in a jaw-droppingly large glass, crammed full of fruity bits, gaudy sparklers and some viciously spiky umbrellas. This isn’t some alcopop spritzed up for wide-eyed freshers with deep pockets, though – there’s some serious, dark alchemical shizz going on it there. The flavours wash over you in waves. There’s sweetness for sure, but swirls of biting cruelty and horror too. Consume with care, and take your time.

Thoughts on the comic:

You may think you know the story, but you don’t know the half of it. When I first heard about this book, I had to wonder whether this hardback mega-trade could possibly be worth the cost. Well let me tell you, it’s an absolute steal for what you’re getting here: six volumes of triumph and tragedy, heart-ache and wild abandonment for a flat fiver apiece. Bargain! The crocodile skin cover-design is subtle, beautiful and ominous (perfectly capturing the tone of the book) and tiny Tinkerbell punctuates it beautifully. Whilst it’s a slight shame the cover isn’t textured to match the image, the sheer weight of the thing, coupled with the classy lettering, is reassurance enough that this is money well spent. Now, let’s open that cover and take a look inside.

Peter and Tinker Bell above London. Text reads - Peter: Hmm... I think you like that one. Ha! Ha! Incredible! Look Tinker Bell, even misery looks nicer from up here! Look at me! Everyone look at me! I'm flying! I'm flying! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

It’s clear from the first panel that Loisel has no interest in giving us a white-washed narrative: ‘London… cold, hunger and misery merge to set the scene…’ It’s a Dickensian nightmare. The houses are cramped, the streets are full of cynical, selfish people and all is awash in the ordure of poverty. Whilst it’s clear that they all suffer together, there is precious little sense of community. The Londoners prey upon each other like rats in a cobble-stoned coffin. The single factor connecting the adult world and that of the young is a gnawing hunger to escape.

So, we come to Peter, a ragged child holding forth to a group of orphans in a tiny yard. When we first meet him, his only magic lies in his words, transporting the children with marvelous stories of far away places and warming their hearts with the ‘words of tenderness’ he claims his mother whispers to him. (That damned harpy!) His struggle to maintain innocence in a tawdry world is heart-breaking, and renders the book firmly in the arena of adult reading, for reasons we’ll explore later. Loisel does an excellent job of portraying the darkness and terror of the adult world from a prepubescent perspective, in imagery, language and inference – laying down the psychological tracks that lead to Peter’s perpetual childhood in Neverland.

This is not a world for children.

Mama Rose is devoured by the Tick Tock Crocodil as Tinker Bell looks on.

If there is one thing that Peter Pan represents, it’s the joy of unfettered imagination, and Neverland fits him like a glove. I was surprised by how much I dreaded this flight to Barrie’s fanciful realm after the revelations of the opening volume – and the tonal shift is pretty sudden – but it doesn’t take Loisel long to find his balance. His artwork is always high quality, but the flames of his creativity burn brightest in Neverland. The island is brought vividly to life, in all its contradictions: blending Greek mythology, fairy tale, stories of the blood-red waves and the Wild West; and I fell in love with it again for the first time since my own childhood.

Tiger Lily, Pan, and various Neverlanders leap into the lagoon. Text reads - Pan: And we'd better hurry!

The character design is fabulous throughout: from Hook’s haggard and bestubbled face to Peter’s gap-toothed grin, while the Lost Boys have never looked wilder. The pirates’ attempts to steal the fairy treasure (and latterly exact revenge on poor Peter) is perhaps the one weak point of the story. It suffers from the same malaise as Barrie’s original: outlandish ploys and schoolboy tactics. That said, Hook is a formidable, terrifying bully when roused, representing as he does all Adults in his grasping nature and cruel injustices. If this is a children’s story, then it’s the kind they tell each other in private: full of brutality, boobs and bloody excess.

Loisel builds ambiguity in at ground level, with parallels and analogues connecting London to that blissful island paradise – not least of which are the fantastical tales told to Peter by Mr Kundal, his mentor and closest friend. The tension between reality and the imagination is the very backbone of the story, and is personified in the Peter/Pan dichotomy. (Pan exists already, you see; he’s a separate being, plucked from the world’s imagination, leading the fairy folk.) It is only in the second half of the book that Peter and he become ‘one’, and in doing so, cement Peter’s position with the Neverlanders.

The topless sirens tempt Peter - Siren 1: Oh yes, Pan is right. Another bath would do you a lot of good. - Siren 2: And it's not lucidity you'll find, but the ecstasy of... the deep...

The constant gravitational pull towards the adult world (most clearly embodied by the saucy sirens of both worlds but also, more subtly, by chains of guilt and responsibility) sets up an internal conflict that lends Peter a real pathos in the midst of his cocky charm. Of course, it is in the denial of the ‘dirty’ Adult that Peter Pan derives his greatest power: the boy who never grew up. It comes with a terrible price though – forgetfulness – allowing some particularly chilling events to occur.

Hallucinations. Peter threatens his mother. Text reads - Peter: Adult! Dirty adult! You cheated me! Filth! You never loved me! Never! Ne-! I hate youmother. I am going to kill you! Kill you! You hear? Kill You! (He brandishes a knife. Pan looks on in horror.))

What many readers will find astonishing is Loisel’s inclusion of a Jack the Ripper sub-plot, back in London. It is akin to the Tales of the Black Freighter sections of Watchmen in its apparent irrelevance, yet essential thematic link. I have theories about the psychological depths of this book that I could just go on and on about, but that’s a conversation for another day. Perhaps when you’ve bought it and soaked it all up yourselves, you’ll post a comment or two below and we can explore it further.

You must buy it, though.

This is one of those rare books that gives you more and more every time you read it, whether it’s in the spectacular detail of the artwork or fresh insights to the story, theme or meaning. The artwork is sumptuous, the drama intense and the emotional punches are near-crippling. How many comics can delve into gnaw-knuckle nastiness one minute then move you to tears the next? Precious blooming few, and that’s a fact!

Pan and Hook. Text reads - Pan: Remember when we raided the indians? It wasn't a "trick" but a detour to avoid certain death! - Hook: You're pulling my cock again, with your stories!

I’ll state it clearly one more time though – this book is not for children. On first flick through I thought it was deemed ‘adult’ because of the copious boobs on display, but that’s really not the case. Whilst the sirens (read mermaids) have a sexual nature to them, there is nothing that they actually do which is overt enough to be unsuitable for children. It is the emotional trauma of Peter’s abusive mother that I would protect my daughter from; the salty language used by adults and children alike; the pants-wetting terrors of night-time London; and the horrible lengths to which Tinkerbell goes in her jealousy. I dare say the tick-tock croc would give her nightmares too, but I don’t want to put you off too much. Just be careful where you leave it, eh?

Is it a perfect book? Not quite. Ambiguity makes for a more interesting and interactive read, but it also stops it from ever being wholly satisfying. Critical questions of plot and moral character are tossed into the air without ever quite landing, and remain so, no matter how much you grasp. I suppose that’s Peter Pan all over though: a crowing, glorious, bloodthirsty little bastard; hovering just out of reach – tormenting the grown-ups… forever.

‘May your madness be joyful! Forget all to live.’

Jack the Ripper eyes Peter Pan

 

Written and illustrated by Regis Loisel

Published by Soaring Penguin

Out of print, but second-hand copies available on eBay etc.

Review originally written for Geek Syndicate.

 

 

 

Cover image - Something is Killing the Children

Something is Killing the Children vol.1

The pitch:

When the children of Archer’s Peak begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is Erica Slaughter, a mysterious stranger who believes the children and claims to see what they can. She kills monsters. That’s all she does. She bears the cost because it must be done.

The taste:

You get inured, sometimes. The sheen goes out of the world. All you see is the grim and the gritty, the sour and the shitty. Times like that, you don’t want something fancy laid out on the bar; you just want a hit of something raw to match the horror and hollow you out awhile. What you’ve got here is simple, hard-hitting, and straight down the line: Something is Killing the Children. What? You gonna just sit there and take it?

Thoughts about the comic:

I took a bit of time away from the world of comics while I was setting up my editing business, so I had no idea what this little beauty was when it dropped through the door. It sat there for a couple of days before I cracked the cover. There was something unsettling about the scratchy white lettering, the…directness of the title, the shadowy menace of the cover. It held a promise (and a memory) of fear that I wasn’t quite ready to face. Ridiculous I know, but true horror is a visceral experience; it bypasses rationality.

It had these long fingers...and sharp teeth. I went and hid under the blankets on the couch, and just listened in the dark for like an hour before looking again. But nothing was there. The yard wa just empty.

This is emphatically not Jaws set in the deep dark woods, but James Tynion IV does tap some similar sensibilites: vulnerable people vanishing, periods of uneasy tension both built and shattered by a trail of bodies, an expert haunted by long experience (yet widely disbelieved), and a creature which remains hidden or only half-seen for much of the story. The focus shifts neatly between the panicking populace whose fear sparks our own, and the (ambiguously) heroic hunter we cling to for comfort. Erica Slaughter kicks all kinds of ass, but she’s not the kind of person you’d want to spend time with. She’s more Blade than Buffy, and I have a sneaky suspicion there’s some kind of demonic pact going on with that toy octopus. Hm.

- Cop: What do I do when I get that phone call? The one telling me to let you go? - Erica: You should tell him he's an asshole and that he should have called sooner. Five more kids are dead because of him.

It’s not enough to have a cool character, though; presentation is everything. Fortunately for us, Tynion is a *cracking story-teller with a deep understanding of the craft. Fuck, it’s all right there from the start, at the heart of this book: monsters may be shaped by a skilled hand, but it takes an audience to bring the shadows to life – animated by our shared imagination. The first issue **alone is a densely-packed masterclass that gives us the themes, the world, tone, characters to root for, plot seeds for the future, and a monster that will mess up your pants. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I’m eager to find out.

Hebb meee... Jmms

Bringing this vision to life is the partnership of Werther Dell’Edera, an excellent illustrator, and Miquel Muerto, whose subtle colour-work adds essential depth and highlights to the world. The cool blues, greens and autumnal browns have a chilling effect, helping to evoke the atmosphere of quiet dread in town, raising goosebumps with every shadow and breeze. There is a starkness to the artwork – the  expressions on the characters’ faces, the pacing of the ***panels, the long-shot perspectives of the town to dwarf its sparse population – all of which suits perfectly the mood of Tynion’s story.

- Tommy: No, Dad. Look. It's nothing. I'll get out of your hair, okay? I'm sorry I bothered you. - Dad: Just call first next time.

Dell’Edera uses delicate fine-liners which allow for sharper detail and greater nuance of expression: anger, fear, aggression, suspicion – scratched into the canvas with every twitch and wrinkle. These feel real. Humans captured in moments of quiet vulnerability, emotional pain, and day to day life, rather than conventional comic-book heroes who live in perpetual extremis. That said, the action – when it comes – is furious, painting devastation without slo-mo excess. Both artists and writer understand that the result of an attack is far more impactful than the set-up, giving us the sense of terrifying speed and a helplessness to do anything about it – quite the trick when you consider that all we ever see in comics are static images, perused in our own damned time.

Drop and kick

I was hooked by it. This ticked every damned box for me in terms of emotional investment, gripping plot, a world to admire and explore, and a bunch of questions waiting to be answered. If I have any criticisms at all, it’s that it’s occasionally hard to know whether the panels crawl across the double-page spread or should be worked down individually. I understand why it needed to be so wordy, requiring so many panels and so many pictures for pacing and tone, but flow is an essential part of the reading experience. Can I recommend it? Abso-damned-lutely. Will I be buying the next volume? Hell yeah! I don’t know if this is a limited run or an ongoing series, but if the quality of story-telling remains this high, and the artwork this compelling, I’ll be in it for the long haul.

 

* In point of fact, he’s just won the esteemed Eisner Award for Best Writer, 2021.

** And happily, we get 5 issues in this volume. Savour them.

*** Numerous, capturing small moments, giving us time to think and empathise.

Monster mask and chainsaw

 

Written by James Tynion IV

Illustrated by Wether Dell’Edera

Coloured by Miquel Muerto

Lettered by Andworld Design

Published by Boom! Studios

Available now!

 

 

 

The Bojeffries Saga cover

The Bojeffries Saga

The pitch:

We’ve all heard of The Addams’ Family and The Munsters, living the high life in their imposing American-Gothic piles, but what you may not be aware of is that Alan Moore gave us a British equivalent in the 1980s. They’ve been quietly living out their bizarre lives on a council estate in the Midlands ever since. The ‘curiosity dampers’ around their house have started to fail now, so we can finally take a look at their bizarre little world. Leave your preconceptions at the door, wipe your feet, and step inside to meet the Bojeffries.

The taste:

The Bojeffries Saga is the kind of beverage you eye with suspicion. It looks vaguely familiar, nostalgic even, but there’s something a little off about it. You take a sniff. Is that the Dandy? Hm. There’s a chemical tang like Viz or bleach. (Mental flashes: hours spent throwing up, followed by an uneasy peace; your cheek resting on the cool, comforting porcelain of God’s telephone. How funny.) You give it a doubtful stir and take a swig. An eyeball bobs against your lips. Ah yes, that’s the stuff. Gothic humour with… hm… mm … wet farts and stale Wotsits. Erm. Excuse me—

Family time

Thoughts on the comic:

First up, there’s Jobremus, the head of the household, wearily struggling to keep his family in check. Uncles Raowl and Festus are (respectively) a cheerfully dumb werewolf and a bitter old vampire. Grandpa is in the final stages of organic matter, so it’s best to tread carefully around him. Young Ginda – Jobremus’ moody daughter – is quite possibly the most powerful creature on the planet, and the baby puts off enough radioactive energy to power nations! Finally there is Reth – son of Jobremus – eternally trapped in the body of an 11 year old boy. His only dreams are escaping this madhouse.

Uncle Raowl

The Bojeffries Saga is one of those culty comics that you either love to bits or have never heard of.  I was in the latter camp until this little gem popped through my door for review. It all began in the pages of Warrior, birthplace of V for Vendetta and Moore’s own take on Marvelman. At that time, British humour was being transformed by the alternative comedy scene and, whilst very different tonally from the brash antics of The Young Ones, The Bojeffries Saga does follow a similar path in that it deconstructs the classic British sitcom.

Of course the critical question is ‘is it any good?’ The answer is a resounding, ‘yes!’

God bless us

I fell in love with these characters from the very first page, and the whimsically dark sense of humour tickled me the whole way through the volume. The last time I saw straight up comedy in a British comic, outside of the little newspaper strips, was probably in my Beano and Dandy days, so it was really quite refreshing to read a book that was completely unshackled from lengthy back-stories or complicated plots; something that could just be read and enjoyed for what it was.

House of cards

The artwork by Steve Parkhouse is smashing stuff, though the style varies massively from story to story – presumably in part due to the extended period of time over which it was produced. In each section though, he manages to give his Midlands suburbia a truly Gothic feel, with dramatic silhouettes giving depth to the night. His hatching makes things dirty looking and bleak, and there’s something kind of scrappy about his paneling, but all of this adds to the low-rate charm.

His gallery of grotesques are not restricted to the house, which is another pleasing feature. So many comics these days try to make everyone and his mother aesthetically pleasing when the fact of the matter is that most people are kind of weird looking. You could (almost) say the Bojeffries Saga has a kitchen-sink reality to it, painting people (and behaviours) as they really are rather than prettying them up. In this way even Parkhouse’s most extreme freaks of nature feel familiar and comfortable.

Our Factory Fortnight

There’s no getting away from it: we are the Bojeffries, and the Bojeffries are us.

There is no particular main character; everyone gets their chance to shine in a personal story. Obvious favourites will be the uncles with their crazy Eastern European ways and their profound innocence in the face of modern society. Ginda is a surprisingly funny person to watch in action (though you would never actually want to meet her). Reth and Jobremus are Everymen with little personal impact, but their reactions can be priceless to behold.

What stands out above the characters though, is the quintessential Britishness of the strip: everything from our pass-times and traditions to the foibles of working class life, our attitudes to sex, and that mightiest of drinks, Bovril. It even comes out in the formats used: One story ‘Our Factory Fortnight’ is produced as wordless illustrations combined with short passages of text below, just like you’d find in the old annuals of the 1950s. Another story, ‘Song Of The Terraces,’ is done as a light opera à la Gilbert and Sullivan.

My favourite story is a brand new one, written to round off this definitive collection. In it, Moore brings the Bojeffries bang up to date (well, to 2009 at any rate) to show us what life has been like for the family since they achieved fame. With this, Moore brings our modern obsession with celebrity and a (supposedly) broken Britain. The characters are boiled down to their essential qualities by contrasting their onscreen personas with their abrasive family life. Watching them trapped in the bell jar of the Big Brother house is like watching ourselves: funny and tragic at the same time.

The Bojeffries may be ridiculous, but they are also true. Recommended reading. Just have some Alka Seltzer to hand for the morning after.

Uncle Raowl at the Audition

 

Written by Alan Moore

Illustrated by Steve Parkhouse

Published by Knockabout Comics

Available now!

Review originally written for Geek Syndicate.

 

 

Raygun Roads cover

Raygun Roads

The pitch:

I agreed to read and review Raygun Roads without knowing a thing about it, and I’m glad as hell that I did. If I’d seen panels or read the blurb in advance, I’m pretty sure I would have passed out of hand. Punk band superheroes, you say? Psychedelic imagery and fluorescent colours throughout? Yech! Let’s just say on my first flick through, I really didn’t think it’d be my cup of tea. Shows how wrong you can be, I guess. As with so many other hidden gems scattered in the long grass of indie comics, Raygun Roads kicks arse. Owen Michael Johnson is a truly great writer. It may not be the prettiest book you read this year, but it’ll light a fire under you in a way that very few comics manage to achieve. This isn’t just another *cape brawl or feeble excuse to perv over the female form; this book actually means something.

 

The taste:

There’s a neon concoction lying on the bar, strangely unattended. It’s alluring but…dangerous somehow. Smoke flows gently down the sides. You approach it cautiously, squinting as you get closer. You can’t even begin to guess at the contents, but the smell’s so potent the room starts to spin. Round and round it goes, like a record. The needle drops. Guitars howl a warning – or is that encouragement? Raygun Roads is the punk-galactic gargle blaster of comics. Part satire, part social commentary and part world-rattling rant, this is one drink you won’t easily forget. It’ll blow your fucking mind.

Vince and Raygun. Text reads - Vince: I'm terrified. What happens if I give in? If I just want to go back to the job centre? - Raygun: Then the prawns never leave here... and you become Ulysses... and I will never have existed...

 

Thoughts on the comic:

The structural conceit is that of a vinyl record, with story segments forming the songs. Raygun Roads is the singer with the Kittlebach Pirates, a raucous punk band tearing up the music scene in some other reality. Essentially, this is her album. She’s everything the aged establishment despises – an encapsulation of defiant youth – but as the needle drops and the story begins, a world mourns her passing. It’s a vivid and fascinating opening, smashing home the importance of the character before we find out why. The identity of the mourners, and the treasured paraphernalia surrounding Raygun in her coffin, speak volumes about her artistic lineage and the values of the creative team. The end blurs into the beginning as we flip from side A to side B, to side A, to side B – and this is a concept I find utterly thrilling. The comic is designed to be experienced over and over again, allowing layers of meaning to accrete over time. It doesn’t just say it’s a music album, it functions like one. It’s a veritable mind worm.

Mourning Raygun

The full title of the comic is Raygun Roads and the Infinity Loop Death-trap of Ulysses Pomp. (I know!) Pomp is the villain of the piece: an all-purpose representative of capitalist oppression, spitting out platitudes and withering scorn in equal measure as he farms the energies of his slaves. Vince Paradise seems doomed to become one of those slaves. He is our Everyman character, a familiar figure we can empathise with. When we meet him he’s just a kid at the job centre desperately trying not to be ground down by the system. He wants to be creative, inspirational, but the only jobs available are mind-numbing and mechanical. He’s an insignificant speck to the careers advisor, but given the chance he might just become the saviour of the world. Raygun Roads and The Kittlebach Pirates burst across realities to give him that chance. From here on in it’s a hell-for-leather ride through the cobwebs of the mind in order to defeat Ulysses Pomp and ultimately fulfil Vince’s potential. Along the way they’ll fight alcopop zombies, face their darkest fears and find a way to transform the nature of the generic office prawn. (Just… go with it.)

Mind control

The artwork is, as I’ve indicated, pretty ugly – but it’s ugly with a purpose. It’s meant to shock, it’s supposed to be extreme. Punk art is confrontational by nature, and if it doesn’t shake you up it’s simply not doing its job. Indio does it in spades, in a pistol-paced parade of psychedelic scenes, screaming with satire and anarchic outrage. He has a verve and an energy that leaves the reader speechless. Breathless, even. There’s a feast of detail within, referencing all sorts of rebellious pop culture iconography, from 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, to The Bash Street Kids and The Banana Splits. It’s art that keeps on giving, much like Kevin O’Neill’s work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Part of the joy of the experience is in spotting new details and wrinkles of meaning-by-association every time you read it. It’s bright and bold, rude, raucous and endlessly inventive stuff. Sometimes the art seems to overpower the script, which was problematic for me. Although I ‘got it’ first time round, it took a second and a third read through to take it all in. The satire is laid on so thickly, the metaphors so extreme, that they overwhelm the senses. How can you take in tricky concepts and sly humour when your eyes are being blasted by an orgy of neon nightmares? It’s excessive, true, but in a way that leaves your brain fizzing for more, rather than turning away in disgust. You want to understand it.

Ulysses Pomp. Text reads - Pomp: All that rage! All that confusion! All that purple hair dye! What greater darkness? What greater conduit for destruction than a pubescent boy?!

So, what does it all mean? Well, that’ll vary from reader to reader, but here’s some of what I took from it. It’s not just a **story, it’s an allegory. The comic talks directly to us, with Vince as our avatar. In the context of the story Raygun is a free thinker and a rebel, railing against the tyranny of The Man, the apathy of the abused masses. But think about the title. What do the words Raygun Roads mean to you? Symbolically, I see her as a road-map, showing us the way to a brighter future. Gleaming, optimistic and exciting. It’s a place where opportunities are expanded, not crushed. Raygun is a saviour in the best tradition – by inspiring us to save ourselves. The book shows us a way of looking at ourselves, and at the world around us. It’s empowerment driven by fury, creativity cracking the cage around it, it’s life in all its vibrant and defiant glory. Confused by the narrative? Join the club. Wondering what the bleeding hell is going on as you turn from page to page?

Vinces. Text reads - Vince: Dude if you keep thinking so literally the universe is doomed.

We all live in Vince’s world. Every day we ***witness the mundane apocalypse of individuality. To paraphrase the comic, it’s up to us to harness the metaphor and do something about it. Owen Michael Johnson is doing his part. What about you?

Raygun Roads featured

Written by Owen Michael Johnson

Illustrated by Indio

Published by Changeling Studios

Available now!

Review originally written for Geek Syndicate.

thefinetoothed.com Your work, elevated.

Further reading:

If the writer in your life wants to test the waters with my editing service, you can buy them a Gift Voucher for a Deep Sample Edit.

If they have a short story that they need to get ready for submission, you can buy them a Gift Voucher for a Short Story Full Edit, which works out around half the normal price.

And if you’d like to buy the writer in your life a professionally performed reading of their story, you can buy a Gift Voucher for that too. It’s even less than half price now, and that price will only be available until December 31st 2021.

 

Email me at dion@thefinetoothed.com or catch me on social media. Links are at the top of the page.

Share this page:

1 thought on “Splashes of Darkness – August edition”

Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected
Skip to content