SCARY’S HIGHLIGHTS #1: Monsters, Death, and Art

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Hello, adventurous readers! This is B.C. Howard, critic supreme and newest member of The Comicadia Herald! You’re probably familiar with my recent review of Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses and interview with Daniel creator SarahN. I still got more off those coming, but given the eon and a day they take to come out, more and more comics being flushed out into the market, I figured that I should find a quick, easy way to keep you up-to-date on comics worth checking out.

So, I would like to introduce my new, biweekly series Scary’s Highlights!

This series is not meant as a review, but instead a recommendations list. Keep in mind that I’m terrible at keeping up with trends of any kind, so I can’t promise to be on top of the hot comics of the day. This will be curated solely on what I manage to read in-between my hectic, ADHD- crippled schedule. I realize that finding new comics to recommend every other week is going to be tricky in of itself, so I’m all for getting recommendations as well. Just list them in the comments section. I also might repeat recommendations every once in a while if a major update to a comic has happened.

Really, I just want these articles to keep myself and readers updated on good comics. So sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Brokenland - coverBrokenland #1

Created by Drew Morrison  

How do I describe this comic? It’s not easy because the story’s strictly pictorial. Simply put it’s about a dwarfish humanoid living a city full of other odd humanoids. Kind of like Tuca & Bertie except gritty and revolting. On their way to work, our defective Pillsbury Dough Boy tries to have a nice day despite all the nastiness around them by enjoying the little things. Unfortunately, our hero must have broken one too many mirrors because everything keeps going south. Accidentally releasing a hoard of rats while giving out free donuts, getting the pipes clogged at work, enjoying some sun only to be launched into the air and land in a wizard’s hut.

Ah, Mondays.

I do really enjoy this comic, for a lot of reasons too! One is the art which comic aficionados will probably see a lot of similarities to the offbeat alt comix style. As a 90s baby, Brokenland reminds me more of the weird, expressionistic cartoons from that era. I honestly heard the theme to The Ren & Stimpy Show in my head while reading.

I also love this comic because of the flawless execution in sequential storytelling. Brokenland operates on a formalist, grid-focused approach that reminds me a lot of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons on Watchmen. Now, you all might be thinking “Ugh, not more 9 panel grids”. First off, you’re wrong about Watchmen. Secondly, the use of the 9-panel grid doesn’t create a static reading experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. Brokenland reads smooth as butter, each panel showing a gradual movement that gives weight to it. We experience this wild, unique world in real-time with the hero. It resonates with you, both in moments of ecstatic joy and side-splitting humor. Also, there are plenty of variations to the format for wider, more spacious panels.

Brokenland - page

I felt like I was on a ride, and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to get right back on again! Brokenland #1 is short and I wish there were more issues out now, but I highly recommend you give this little book a read if you’re into oddball comics like those of Emil Ferris and Jhonen Vaszquez

Disorder 1.3 - coverDisorder 1/3

Created by Erika Price

This next comic is very strange, stranger than Brokenland. I originally reviewed Disorder at Graphic Policy when it was still being released just as a webcomic. Now, the first five chapters are available in print. Is it worth reading in print? Absolutely! For starters the print material is nice and sturdy, none of that cheap tissue paper thin crap some comics decide to use. Also, as much as I love webcomics, there is something about a physical copy that just makes the art pop out more than when it’s on the digital screen. It really does make a difference.

Okay, so the print collection is top notch. All fine and good. But what is Disorder even about? Well, that’s hard to describe. Erika Price describes it as a series of dark and surreal short horror comics created as therapy.

HOO BOY!

Must have been some therapy because this shit is WILD!

Anyway, that’s about as much as I can properly describe the plot. Each chapter stars humanoid creatures that are a combination of organic and inorganic matter going through various transformations. These transformations involve decay, evisceration, stabbing, tearing, and, quite often, self-harm in the form of all the above. Some chapters have narration, others do not. It doesn’t matter either way though, because understanding what anything means is like deciphering an ancient scroll written in a dead, cryptic language.

Disorder is not a comic that follows the rules of traditional storytelling. It is not interested in appeasing a mass audience. This is an exercise in pure esoteric expression. Either you get it or you don’t. So, for that reason alone, some folks might not be interested. For me, the fact I don’t get it is why I keep reading.

I love this comic’s art style. It’s all black and white, chaotic yet executed with masterful precision. Each chapter tests the boundaries of comics formalism. The line art, inking, panel bordering, lettering, etc., are all pushed to the limits in creating the most horrifying imagery possible. Reading Disorder feels like tumbling through a nightmare full of sights only possible within a realm where there are no rules, and everything has a meaning to it that cannot be understood through traditional reason. It reminds me of reading the manga of Junji Ito or watching the animations of The Brothers Quay. I might not understand what I’m looking at; I might not even want to look.

Disorder 1.3 - page

And yet I can’t stop reading. I allow each panel to wash over me with a new sensation of terror, a new cathartic release of pain. Perhaps this isn’t a comic for everyone, but I can guarantee you’ll not find anything like Disorder anywhere else.

Honey & Janice - coverHoney & Janice

Created by Niina Salmelin

What would happen if you combined the dark imagery of Disorder with the offbeat tone of Brokenland and added in a buddy comedy/road trip/supernatural tale of life & death?

The answer is you would get Honey & Janice.

Originally conceived as an animation, Niina Salmelin then took her pet project and made it into a comic she uploaded a page per day during Inktober, all while working on her ongoing webcomic. Just like any overachiever, it wasn’t long before she released it as a one-shot comic.

Honey & Janice follows the misadventures of a witch and goat…something, two escorts whose job it is to lead souls through the Land of the Dead to their final destination. On one assignment, they end up having to escort a pure soul to Heaven as a favor to an angel. Problem is that the duo are agents of Hell, and where they go trouble follows with them.

The simplest way to describe this comic is fun. Pure, unironic FUN! Honey, Janice, and the pure soul (represented as ye ol’ sheet ghost with two holes for eyes) get up into all kinds of shenanigans while slouching toward the Pearly Gates. They get stuck in traffic, get on a bus full of crying misfits, and avoid getting eaten by kaiju-sized demons.

And you thought dealing with the DMV was bad.

Niina Salmelin is an expressionistic artist who usually works in watercolor. For Honey & Janice, she switches to a limited color palette of black, white, and red. She also experiments with cross-hatching, giving the comic a sketchier and grittier look than is usual to her art style. Panel grids in this comic are not structured in an orderly fashion. They jump, bounce, expand, shrink, do it to left, do it to the right, and get down tonight! Salmelin arranges panels according to whatever the hell she wants, so long as a page is big and splashy.

There is no doubting the pure energy and intensity while reading Honey & Janice. With each page structured as it is, you feel your knuckles gripping, your kneecaps locked and ready for a signal. Reading this comic is like ripping through an empty highway at top speed in a chrome Mustang while Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” blasts out of the speakers.

You might be surprised to learn that a comic brimming with chaotic energy and packed with enough devilish imagery to make the Pope crap himself has a heart of gold to it. This isn’t just an exercise in aesthetics. Like all of Salmelin’s work, themes of friendship, love, and loyalty are played throughout by characters that have strong bonds and you careful deeply for. Near the end, we learn about the story of a dog who…Oh God, I don’t want to spoil it! Just trust me when I’ll say you’ll be crying and cheering by the time you’re done with this comic.

Honey & Janice - page

That’s it for now, folks! Hope you find some enjoyment in reading these selections! If you’re interested, follow the links below to purchase them, and maybe even consider following the creators on social media as well. Until next time, read comics and drink responsibly!

Links to comics:

Brokenland #1

Disorder 1/3

Honey & Janice

Links to creators:

Drew Morrison

Erika Price

Niina Salmelin