Pantheon from Hamish Steele was one of our favourite books of last year, so we were delighted to hear that is latest webcomic Deadendia was about to get the same high class graphic novel treatment from the fine folk at Nobrow. As with Pantheon, Deadendia is another hilarious and hyper-colour adventure, with an eclectic and diverse range of characters – but this time is set in an amusement park that’s also a gateway to hell, rather than in the Nile delta. If you’ve ever wanted a book starring a demonically possessed pug, then this is the one for you!
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Writer: Hamish Steele
Artist: Hamish Steele
Price: £12.99 from Nobrow.net
Set in a theme park called Polly-land, Deadendia follows the adventures of theme park guide Norma (a shy and anxious teen who overcomes her fear of everything by working in a terrifying place), her best friend Barney (who’s run away from home and lives in the park while working as the janitor) and his dog Pugsley (who has been possessed by the spirit of a demon so can talk and do magic). You see, Pollyland, as well as a being a theme park dedicated to faded Hollywood starlet Pauline Phoenix, is also a gateway to hell and when one of the demons summons the Demon King Temelachus it sets off a catalogue of events and adventures that see the pair battle demonic party poopers, undead country singers and even journey 10,000 years into the future!
From the opening pages Deadendia has a real Adult Swim/Rick and Morty vibe to it with its quirky and anarchic tone and surreal, larger than life wit (which is no surprise give Hamish’s background in animation). But it also has shades of Lumberjanes with its diverse range of characters. Norma is all anxious angst and is confident when in control, but socially awkward when out of her comfort zone. While Barney is trans and dealing with all the complexities that comes with that, from an unaccepting family through to falling for super cool log flume attendant ‘Logs’. The characters are beautifully written (especially Barney) and their quirks and idiosyncrasies make them into fascinating and engaging company, that you genuinely care about. All of which gives Deadendia a depth and complexity that underpins the silliness that is often happening all around them. Which is also a major highlight of this and Steele’s other work!
As with Pantheon, Steele’s art is sublime – cartoonish and expressive while packed full of detail and personality. The park is lovingly created in minute details (as seen on a double page map on the opening pages), while the supernatural events allow him the chance to revel in some lush colours and create some truly larger than life visuals. Every panel feels like a still from an animation and we would love to see this brought to life on the screen in the same way that Hilda is.
The story is spilt up Into 9 chapters (a legacy from its time as a webcomic) and so is nicely episodic with each one feeling like a self contained episode (again like an animated TV show). However the story also arcs across and builds nicely to an epic finale that spans time and the afterlife. Although we didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Pantheon this is perhaps more a result of personal taste than critical reasoning (and is a very close run thing!). Deadendia is still a phenomenally fun and emotionally complex story that should resonate and be loved by all! It certainly feels like the kind of book that when it finds its audience there are the characters and personalities for people to get really invested in and feel really passionate about, (just as they do with the likes of the aforementioned Rick and Morty or Lumberjanes!). A fantastic showcase for diversity in comics, but also one that is damn hilarious too!