Staff: James Maddox, Jen Hickman
Unexpected take on a common theme.
I have a comic today that the author promises me is “not about zombies“ (quite explicitly actually) despite being called “The Dead”. I was told it is about the afterlife, but in a way that would be unique and compelling. That being said, lets jump into The Dead.
So the first thing that jumps out at me is the very grungy art style. I mean I expected grungy from a comic named “The Dead”, but it is quite well done. At times the scrappy line-work made me think it was messy (see the lack of apparent stroke on Sam’s pants on page 10 due to the black background), but it was clearly the look they were going for. A comprehension of how to effectively use perspective is demonstrated early on with a series of very nice dutch angles (I feel like I am watching Battlefield Earth or Thor). Combine the two artistic choices (angle and style) and you can almost convey the vibe of this comic. They craft a very uneasy, bizarre, world that faithfully recreates the feeling of a nightmare at times. There are some great character designs as well, with everyone being visually distinct and memorable. I like to play a game after I read a comic to see if I can mentally picture all of the characters and normally I can do pretty poorly. However this time I could pretty vividly remember just about all the characters visually (even if I couldn’t recall all of their names).
It should be noted that the lettering on this comic is top notch. The onomatopoeia is fantastic, something a lot of comics neglect. They transform the typography visually to mimic the sound (example: “Crash” might be broken up like a shattering window). I really wished more comics took the time to invest in their letting and onomatopoeia, it’s the single thing that separates the novices from the pros. I don’t mean to say “amateurs can’t have good typography” or “the barrier for entry to becoming a pro is outstanding lettering” but in 99% of the really bad comics I read they have really bad lettering as well. It’s kind of the litmus test for pro vs joe in my book and this one really shows off some really stellar work.
Plot wise I think they are following dream logic. While it works, but there is not much “meat” to it. This is more a comic that is meant to invoke a feeling. It’s very piecemeal and kind of stitched together the the begining, but again that is what they were going for I suspect. A lot of dialogue kind of picks up in medias res quite, and while it is effective in invoking that dream logic kind of jumpiness, it does get distracting if you are reading this, even in one go. I can only imagine putting this down and picking it up and trying to remember what the heck is going on. The same goes for transitions; we get a lot of the comic equivalent of jump cuts.
That brings me to a weak point of this comic. While the comic is engaging, it doesn’t seem to “go” anywhere. Near the end we get a bit of plot development with a “bottle game” (with a fun infographic) and a kind of teaser of things to come, but otherwise it feels very aimless. The direction of the plot seems very suited for a video game from the 90s and will no doubt result in some very amusing “high adventure” style storylines but it didn’t engage me like I expected it would.
To be honest, it was a fun little vacation but it didn’t grab me hard enough to really keep me there permanently. Like I like the world and it is a very seductive world, but I was lacking that “draw” that keeps me there. It might be the detached view the story takes but it never really sealed the deal for me. There is this bit about collecting objects to learn more about The House but the comic itself even says they are just doing it to pass the time. I’m sure there is a bigger plot out there somewhere but dangling a little bit of bait about the nature of something so inherently bizarre doesn’t really do anything for me. Like we have a shattered norm (if you are a Joseph Campbell fan, they are in the “special world”) and as a reader I don’t know the relative value of this danger. If they are in the afterlife or whatnot, what does death even mean? If the information is valuable but unreliable, as it is mentioned that it is often speculative, why risk life and limb (if life has a value)? I feel like the comic could have done a bit more to establish us in the world and explain things a little more before just saying “tune in next week”.
Overall, I liked it. Very unique setting penned by a very novel hand, great artwork, and there was some serious investiture into the establishment of the aesthetic of the comic. I was given issues 1-3 to read but I only read issue #1 (as per my guidelines). It’s worth a read if only for the art and setting.
That is not to say it is a bad comic, far from it, so give it a read!